Home Is Where the Yak Meat Is.

05:48 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

We left the urban chaos and the pollution behind the mountain passes and headed to Tagong, a small village of one street, two monasteries and endless blue sky. China's Wild West. Pigs foraged and Yaks idled in the street but once night began to fall, packs of dogs descended on the town. When the shadows grow long, the Tibetan's know its time to go home.

Home for us, was a Tibetan homestay. My girlfriend and I wanted to experience the culture first hand, so we decided to stay with a local family. Our contact quickly arranged the homestay and before I could second guess the decision, our host was guiding us to his home. I was taking a big step out of my comfort zone.

Geden, our host, lived a beautiful stone home with the rest of his family. Unfortunately, he couldn't speak English, his Chinese wasn't great and my Tibetan is non-existent. He introduced us to Rekou, his sister and the family's matriarch, and gave us a tour of our new home. We went to the upstairs room which had eight beds and a Buddhist shrine and left our bags. It looked like we were sleeping with the whole family in a single room. I was by then well out of my comfort zone.

We were also shown the toilet.You stepped out of a window frame into a giant wooden box and did you business from a height of a few metres. No lights, no water - just free-fall poo. I was really missing my comfort zone.

Downstairs, an army of neighbours were busy preparing a mountain of momos (Tibetan dumplings). I was having trouble taking it all in and I was so scared of offending someone that I was constantly smiling and thanking people. They probably thought I'd banged my head a bit too hard in the giant wooden poo-box. Rekou sat us down with some black tea and steamed yak momos. As we tried to communicate there was lots of attempted conversation, mainly through the universal language of hand waving. I looked at the room around me. I saw a yak-dung powered stove, shelves of cooking pots and some homemade furniture. I was really nervous but my girlfriend was beaming,
 "Its like being in a National Geographic magazine" she said. I nodded in reply but I couldn't see how that was a good thing.

After eating, my girlfriend and I went for a walk and a beer. My eyes were seeing amazing views but my ears were ringing with 'what am I doing here?' We quickly supped our beers and headed home before the street dogs took over.

I was worried about how I'd pass a whole evening with people from a completely different culture. Then the answer dawned - teach them English. I've been doing that in an alien culture for 18 months already. Geden was a willing student and together we taught him a few basics, "Hello" and "my name is...". He gave us a few Tibetan phrases too. It was just a few simple words but everyone was learning something and enjoying themselves.

As the evening continued, different members of the village came to meet us and talk. Young lads, married couples and even the local cat-lady came to visit us. Each new face was a friend and I could feel myself relaxing. Tibetan people are incredibly warm. Whilst Chinese peoples' personalities often seem crushed beneath the weight of their societies rules and expectations, Tibetan people are genuine and sincere. They seem unburdened by the modern world and even the grown men innocently laugh like children. Tibetans are also endearingly clumsy. Some spilled tea here, a dropped dumpling there and constant tripping over the furniture. Maybe it's the mountain air. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed being aware from pretense and formality.

Our neighbors found my girlfriend and I to be equally exotic and interesting. Everyone was excited to see that I wore Tibetan prayer beads on my wrist. They all wanted to touch them and ask me if I believed in Buddhism. I think I impressed them with my poor rendition of "om mani padme hum". Inevitability, the conversation turned to how white I was. My soft, white skin must look utterly bizarre to people whose lives depend on herding yak throughout the year.
Village visitors and plates of food kept on coming but I was exhausted and it was time for bed. I'd had a great night which turned even better when I realised the family would be sleeping in a separate room downstairs. A modicum of privacy that my western sensitivities needed. I has a quick pee out of the poo-box and then collapsed  to the sounds of a trickling stream, barking street dogs and the Tibetan mantra playing from the bedroom shrine. I'd have preferred some quiet, but for the life of me I couldn't work out how to turn off the mantra stereo.

Breakfast the next day was local bread and butter tea. Butter tea is a salty, fatty drink which at best, claws it way down your throat. I had to try and not heave though because I was sat with a monk who was fascinated by my hairy legs. What he was doing there, I have no idea but he shared breakfast with us. All the time he stroked the hairs on my leg like I was a bloody cat. He showed us his lack of hair and we all had a laugh. By now I was taking Tibet in my stride.

We spent the morning horse-trekking. I've never ridden a horse before, so it was good fun. I was reading a book about Genghis Khan and I was enjoying imagining the galloping Mongol hordes firing arrows from their horses. Those warriors horses however, probably weren't being lead along by an old Tibetan lady. Afterward we wandered around a Buddhist temple. I love Buddhist temples. The smell of the incense, the colours, the tranquility. Its impossible to take a bad picture in Tagong. There are amazing views in every direction. As our time in Tagong drew to a close, we sat upon a hill over the village and watched the world go by. The background was dominated by the holy Yala mountain. Occasionally a motorbike rode by playing Tibetan pop songs or school children came over to say hello. I felt very peaceful.

Back in our Tibetan home, we were old news and most of the villagers were busy doing their own thing. We ate yak stew and chatted with a local artist who working in a new monastic building in the village. Then we sat down with Rekou who introduced us to Tibetan soap-opera, along with her best impressions of the characters. After only 24 hours, I felt at home with my Tibetan auntie, watching soap operas and drinking black tea.

The mornig dawned and our time to return home arrived. My girlfriend and I were excited to get back to showers, internet and non-yak-based food products. Despite that, we were really sad to be leaving our adopted family. Tibetans are just so warm, friendly and endearing. In my 18 months in China, I can't think of a more rewarding experience.