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The Miracle of Tibet Emmy Zeng

T

ibet is simply one of the most remarkable places in Asia. It offers fabulous monasteries,

breathtaking high-altitude treks, stunning views of the world’s highest mountains and one the most likable peoples you will ever meet. As an American photojournalist I was assigned to experiment the life of Tibetans. First, I flew to Beijing, and then I took a connecting flight to Xining. When I got to my hotel in Xining it was already 2am. As it was already very late, I decided to stay up to watch sunrise in Qinghai Lake, the largest salt-water lake in China. After watching the sunrise, I went straight to the train station for my 7:00am train. The train ride gave me amazing views of several natural wonders, including the Tongtian River and the Gobi Desert. I arrived at 8:00am the next morning. When I stepped out of the train it was so cold that I felt like the wind bit my face. Lhasa was very different to Beijing. Lhasa was surrounded by mountains and lakes. The green grass and trees grew on the mountain. The crystal clean lakes were home to fish and other animals. Thick clouds flooded on the bluest sky I had ever seen. While Lhasa had some modern architecture and cars, the religion was felt on every street, as there were many Buddhist temples. I met my host family at the train station. My parents are Chinese so I know how to speak Mandarin. Luckily, my host family could speak mandarin as well. The communication was easy for both of us. The family had a young boy, who was around ten years old. He was short and strong with a dark face and curly hair. He was wearing a bright red shirt with a dark blue robe that hung around his shoulders. The temperature could change so dramatically here during one day so the robe-like clothes were convenient for people to take off when it got hot in the day or to add when it turned chilly in early morning and night. The boy was a bit shy at the beginning, but I soon found out he actually was very warm and talkative. Once he considered me his trusted friend, he talked constantly to me, sharing how many buffalos their family had, who were his closest friends in his school, and what he wanted to be once he grew up. I liked him instantly. The boy’s parents looked more serious, but they were actually quite friendly too. They welcomed me warmly and then left their


son to do the talking most of the time as we began the journey to their home. They lived far away from the train station. We took a threehour bus ride to reach their village. When we arrived, we were all vey weary. They lived upon the high mountains, and this elevation made me dizzy and nauseous as if I had the flu. They noticed my changes, and they understood that I was not able to adapt the elevation. My host family believed that butter tea could make me feel comfortable with the high-altitude, so they began to make this Tibetan specialty. To make butter tea, a person must first boil brick tea in water for a long time to make a thick, red juice. Once my host did this, she then poured the juice into a specially made round wooden pail and added butter and salt. After that she used a special stick to beat the tea up and down vigorously in the pail to completely dissolve the butter and tea. Finally, she poured this mixture into a pot and put it over a low fire. Soon, the tea was ready for serving. However, there was a custom to follow when drinking butter tea. When the host filled the bowl for the guest, the guest must first chat with the host instead of drinking the tea at once. When the host lifted the teapot for the second time, then the guest was allowed to drink the butter tea. When I tried a cup of butter tea, it was very warming, but I found it to be quite strong and extremely salty. However, it did make me feel less dizzy and nauseous, so I was grateful to have it. I could understand how it would be wonderful to have a cup of butter tea in the cold winter. The host family told me that butter tea was a very nutritious drink, suited for high altitudes and cold regions. According to Tibetans, butter tea could resist coldness, protect the body, and eliminate fatigue. Moreover, Tibetans mainly eat meat such as mutton and beef, which can lead a high acid content in the blood. However, they believe that by drinking butter tea the body is balanced. I also found out during my stay that Tibetans drank several cups of butter tea in the morning before they went to work. Tibetan houses were usually made from wood and stone. These materials were available to get from the nearby forests and mountains. Most of the houses had very thick, stone walls and were painted white. The roofs were built with scores of the tree trunks and then covered with thick layer of clay. When the roof was finished, it was flat. Their houses usually had a big window facing south to let sunlight in. The most interesting part of their houses was a guarding wall built around to keep animals in and outsiders out.


Tibetan Buddhism, the predominant religion of Tibet and Mongolia, is also called Lamaism. I noticed Tibetans spend much of their time in prayer or doing religious activities. For example, they thought the spinning prayer wheels and hanging prayer flags would earn them merit. Also, Tibetan Buddhists sent their sons to monasteries, participated in pilgrimages, and gave good deeds. They presented gifts to lamas to earn merit. My host family was very faithful. They always went on a pilgrimage trip. After I left, they would spend one month or more on the pilgrimage trip. Their journey was long and dangerous. Thieves, weather and diseases were all big challenges to my host family. But I guessed their faith would help them pass through all the challenges and get to the Potala Palace. As I boarded the plane in Lhasa headed for Beijing, I reflected on the experience in Tibet. This amazing journey taught me that different ethnic groups have different traditions and customs, which are influenced by where they live. All of these ethnic groups are important to China. They are a really big part of China and are what makes China special.


15 emmy magazine article  
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