Saturday, September 24, 2016

Trip of A Life Time - Part 3

Cheri Goemba

On the second day in Thimphu, we hiked up to Tango-Cheri Goemba, a monstary and Buddhism college that was at the outskirt of the capital.

The hike was not long, about 45 minutes or so, but it was steep.  By the time we got to the monastery, everyone was feeling the steepness and the altitude. Our guide made the driver hike up with us.  Halfway up the driver wanted to turn around. We kept up cheering him along, he finally made it to the monastery with us.

As we were touring the monastery, a foreign young lady walked by and said to us if we'd like to see their work of conservation of ancient wall paintings.  She exclaimed that they very rarely get tourists coming by because no one knows they're there working.

A team of about half a dozen young people from around the world were working on the conservation of the ancient wall painting in the monastery.  I got to chat with few of them and asked about their conservation work and their findings, as well as the material the wall was painted originally.  They all recently got their master degrees in Conservation from University of London.  They had been coming to the Goemba for few years now and 4 month each time. While the conservation work cured, they'd go to other conservation sites around the world.

I was very impressed. I was also envious of their work.  Every morning they'd hike up the mountain and work on the beautiful old paintings.

It really was a neat experience to see them working.  I had been to backrooms of museums to tour restorations but I'd never seen conservation on site until now. Also, having many art friends myself also meant having to listen to egos. Often, that ego was paired with an arrogance of caring about nothing else in art but what was immediately relevant. It was sad that this disregard and willful ignorance of art older than 50 years old seemed to be not uncommon among artists that I know. It was even more disturbing to notice many college art programs fostered that notion of caring about only the hot and the trendy art.  So the chanced encounter with these young people from England, China, Korea, Columbia, etc, working on the conservation felt really good. It was a treat to chat with people that have a deep appreciation of art and culture and worked in painstakingly slow pace, no rush, no ego. It was a total treat to see the paintings that most tourists are unaware of. Our guide Deechan said she'd never been to that part of the temple and never seen the paintings all these years of taking tourists to the Goemba.  The colors used on these paintings were derived from the natural pigments were much more subdued than the bright, saturated colors that tend to be used in the newer temples in Bhutan. The overall composition were the most beautiful and thoughtful one I've seen in the the whole trip to Bhutan.

I don't have any photo to share how amazingly beautiful the paintings were as no photographing were understandably  allowed in any temples.

local Bhutanese visiting the Goemba

After lunch back in town, we visited the ongoing building site of the big Buddha statue and its temple.
The project was funded by a millionaire from Hong Kong. People of Thimphu seemed to be happy with the shiny giant golden Buddha being built on the mountain visible from the city

The last visit of the day was to Trashii Chhoe Dzong, where both the Thimphu administrative government and the leading temple were located. We had to put on our long sleeve shirts to visit Dzongs.  Dzongs were basically fort structures that housed both municipal government as well as the main official temple of the area with large courtyards between the buildings that often held festivals. This one in Thimphu was impressive. This was also where the king of Bhutan worked. His modest palace was right next door. Speaking of the king, Bhutanese really love and revere their king. The king's picture was everywhere in the country.

Deechan explained to us that Bhutanese don't have last names. Only the royals have last name, so it wouldn't be proper and respectful if commoners have last names.

Trashii Chhoe Dzong

After returning to the hotel, we walked around the one block downtown nearby.  Yes, the downtown of capital of Bhutan basically was just one block, and no traffic light.  In fact, there was no traffic light in the entire country. In the late afternoon the downtown was happening with many young people walking around. Many stores were like corner store type that sell soda, cookies, etc. Some were clothing stores, and there were quite a few cell phone fixing places, only a handful of souvenir stores on the block.  We bought some drinks and chips and headed back to the hotel to hunker down for the evening as there was not much to do at night. I asked Deechan what do young people like herself do at night, she smiled and said, "Karaoke." 

She warned us not to walk around downtown after dark because all the stray dogs would come out. She said there is probably more stray dogs than people in Bhutan. The good thing is, according to the guide, city governments are starting to spay and neuter the stray dogs.  If a dog's ear is clipped that means the dog has been fixed.

We started noticing our guide Deechan would pat any stray dog that came up to her, and sometimes she would feed them. She would talk to the cats, dogs, cows and chat with old folks. She laughed and said, "I'm loud, that's why the old people all like me. They can hear me."  She said many people feed stray dogs.  Temples feed stray dogs too.  

Downtown Thimphu

Dogs chilling in the afternoon on Thimphu street

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Saddle Shoulder Sweater

A quick interruption to my travel post.  I finished a new sweater.

The yarn was Knit One Crochet Too Brae Tweed.  Needles US #7.
I wish the neck didn't stretch out so it wouldn't be so floppy when buttoned.  Oh well.

It was knitted in round from top down in one piece.  No sewing. yeepee.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Trip of a Lifetime - Part 2

Then Bhutan!!
Bhutan, oh Bhutan. I've been back home for 3 weeks now.  It was not only because the busy new semester with the most stupid drama after drama created unnecessarily by people (what an unfortunate way to be welcomed back,) but I just couldn't figure out a way to write about my trip properly.

I'm certain part of me have changed because of this trip. It was like I'd peered into an alternative world that showed a different way of living. And that way of living leads a deeper sense of contentment and thus a stronger appreciation of life.

After Taiwan, it was so nice to be somewhere not nearly as humid.  Bhutan was a lot dryer, though not as super dry as here in Nevada, but very pleasant to walk around.  Coming from about the similar altitude of 6000 to 7000 ft above sea level, I felt right at home.  

Yes, Bhutan, in many ways reminded me of Tahoe, but with taller and steeper mountains and wider range of greeneires besides evergreens.  Bhutan was so green, and mountains everywhere.  I have never been to Tibet, but according to Ellen, Tibet was much more desolated landscape in contrast to the greens in Bhutan. Most of the towns we visited were situated deep in narrow valleys carved by the rivers over time.

You can't talk about Bhutan without talking about the landscape because that is what made the culture and its people.  Bhutanese' relationship to the land is very different than what we're used to.  Rather than seeing land as something to take advantage of or to be conquered, there's is a deep respect, and there is a humbleness towards the land. This was obvious in the way our guide talked about places.

Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan

We flew from Taipei into Bangkok and changed flight there.  Bhutan airline is currently the only airline that flies into Bhutan.  Its current route starts at Bangkok with a quick stop in Kolkata in India, and lands in Paro.  

On the flight, I chatted with the young Bhutanese man who sat next to me.  He told me the education in Bhutan is free for all its citizens.  If grades are good, the government would pay for college education oversea.  Many young people choose to go to India and sometimes Thailand for college education. In return they'd work in public sectors for at least few years upon finishing their education oversea.  Also, basic health care is free for the entire country.  That was the first time in my life I'd ever heard people talk about their love of their government. I came to find out during the trip that sentiment seems to be shared by the entire country. Everyone in Bhutan believes their government is taking good care of them (of course, we didn't go to South Bhutan where there was the history of Nepalese speaking people being kicked out of the country.)

I'd flown into many places in my life, but never had I seen an airport where every passenger that got out of the plane being so enthralled with the landscape around.  Everyone stood on the tarmac and was taking photos of the view around.  It felt magical to land in the middle of beautiful mountains and clear sky as the backdrop as if we're indeed landed in Shagri-la.

Paro Airport

Paro Airport

Our guide, Deechan, greeted us after we exited the custom. She turned out to be this amazingly wonderful, knowlwedgeble, fun, easy-going, and kind, young lady we absolutely adored. Our driver was Nangay, a big, quiet guy with shy smiles that reminded me of my brother.  Both Deechan and Nangay accompanied us the entire trip. Our group was small, just the 4 of us plus the guide and driver.

On our drive from Paron to Thimphu, the capital, we stopped by a roadside temple that had a suspended chainlink bridge over a roaring river that swinged quite a bit as we walked across. It was our first encounter with the many, many temples we visited on our trip.
Deechan said to me, "All my years of taking people here, I'd never seen anyone who was fearless and just confidently walked across the bridge the way you did."  I laughed, maybe I had plenty of confidence in Bhutanese engineering, or maybe I was just too excited to be fearful.

At Thimphu, we had a late lunch at a restaurants that was obviously catered to tourists only.  I later learned that there just are not many local restaurants as Bhutanese people don't really go out to eat. We had our first introduction to Ema Datsi, the most common Bhutanese dish with chili peppers cooked in watery cheese sauce.  Ellen and I instantly became addicted to it.  Later in the market, we saw stalls after stalls selling chili peppers of all kinds.

Market in Thimphu

incense stall

After lunch we visited National Memorial Chorten.  The place was quite happening. Many old folks like to come here to pray and hang out.  Deechan joked that if people need to find their Grandma or Grandpa in the middle of the day, they'd try to come here first.  At the Chorten, I had my first introduction to walking clock-wise around the prayer wheel 3 times that's unique to the Himalayan Buddhism.

National Memorial chorten

Friday, September 16, 2016

Trip of a Lifetime - Part 1

It has been nearly 3 weeks since my return from this trip of a lifetime to Taiwan and Bhutan. There is so much to sift through in my head, so I'll take my time to share my trip in few posts.

I'd been dreaming about going to Bhutan for a long time.  But it was always a distant dream, both geographically and financially.  So, it was truly a gift that in early May that I got a text message from my sister Ellen asked me if I want to go to Bhutan with her and her family. I replied, "Heck ya, but I don't have the money. So, you guys have fun."  3 seconds later I got her text, "I'll pay for it."

My sister has always been very generous towards me.  But this was beyond generous!

Ellen, being the oldest sibling, always acted more like a parent towards us than our parents.  I, being the lazy, messy kid, would constantly get on her neat-freak, over-achiever's nerves, hence our endless fights when we're growing up.  Now we're older, though her perfectionist personality has not changed a bit, she has been very kind and generous towards me.  She does all my dental work for free, and every time I'd saved up enough money to go on a trip, she'd hand me an envelope of few hundred dollars and wished me a good trip. The first time was my 2-month long backpacking trip to Europe after college. I funded the trip with a scholarship.  My parents said "OK, have fun" and hung up the phone. Yet, Ellen totally freaked out.  The day before my flight, she gave me some traveler's checks and a phone card.  She sternly told me I must call her whenever I arrive at a new town.  She was a broke Dental School student at that time living in New York City, yet she gave me her savings so I could have a safe trip.

Now her and her family goes on exotic trips every year and this time they invited me knowing how I'd love to go.

A trip to Bhutan is not cheap.  In order to avoid much cultural and environmental impact caused by tourism, the Bhutanese government requires visitors to spend minimum $250 per person per day in the country (including visa, lodging, local transportation, guides). This is the country's way to have high value, low impact tourism.  Also, all tourists have to have an officially registered guide regardless of the number of people in the group.  A 9 day trip plus airfare to Bhutan was way out of my league.

In the middle of August, we flew to Taiwan, and stayed there for 4 days.  While my sister and family stayed at her in-law's place, I stayed at my mom's vacant apartment.  They invited me to stay with them but I was so grateful to have my mom's apartment all to myself.  Taiwan was super hot and humid beyond words in the summer. I was happy to be able to walk around in my underwear and take shower twice a day and have a nice, good AC all to my spoiled self.

A typical street view of Taipei

If you're like me, coming from a cooler and much dryer climate, Taiwan is not a place to visit in summer. The first day  I thought I was going to pass out from heat just walking around.  Every morning I'd get up way early while it was still cool enough to walk around outside and walked 2 blocks for a traditional Taiwanese breakfast, the highlight of my day. The rice balls, the soy milk, and the scallion pancake with eggs, there is just no better way to start a day than this.

The breakfast I love so much. 

Dumplings for breakfast, total deluxe.

My sister and I spent our first day walking around our old neighborhood, delighted by the fact that not too much have changed in the past 30+ years.

Taipei is not the prettiest city in the world.  The city developed rather organically over the years, not much planning or zoning regulations in the old days, during the time it was working hard to go from a developing country to a developed country.  Taipei, being the Taiwan's capital, has turned into a very densely populated city.  I spent the first 12 years of my life there.  Although my family moved a few times, it was always in the same neighborhood, only blocks from previous apartment.  It was and still is the neighborhood with the most parks and trees in the city.  I remember we always lived next door, or across the street from a park. My childhood memories was filled with walking to different parks nearly every evening after dinner with my family.   Now my parent's apartment is outskirt of the city in a newly developed neighborhood with high rise apartment buildings.  Although the area is modern, super clean, wide and well-managed sidewalks, it doesn't have the same charm as our old neighborhood.

Other than eating, and a day of walking around the neighborhood we grew up, regrettably, I didn't do much because it was simply too hot.

It's OK, I know I'd visit Taiwan again for sure.  4 days were plenty this time.

yummy plain noodles

Who the heck puts the ingredients on top of shaved ice???
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
Not all changes are good. 
and it was difficult to find shaved ice nowadays in Taipei...
I was sad to see this.

The neighborhood we grew up in Taipei

The block where our house was.

Our old street block.

Mom's current apartment in Taipei.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

New Pattern - Allegorical

My new pattern Allegorical is now available!

It's a shawl knitted on bias from one end to the opposite border.  The shawl started with textured stitches and followed by stranded colorwork worked in flat (really, colorwork in flat is not as hard as you think.)

Suggested yarn is sport weight. I used madelinetosh Tosh Sport.