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Missing Tibet (part two)


Tibet the culture

This is an ancient land with an ancient people. The people have ancient values and views. For example they would put plastic barriers on their highways to discourage tiny little worms from trying to cross the road. This way they don’t take innocent lives. In fact a young girl was killed when she was trying to pick up a worm on the highway and bring it to safety. She was admired as a local demi-saint.

The cultural respect for life is in every bone of every Tibetan. Most of them would rather die than take another life. This explains why they do not fight; do not join the army; do not have tall buildings(digging will kill worms); do not plant or farm(to avoid killing worms and bugs); etc.

Another cultural significance is they don’t seem to be very materialistic. Most commoners live in mud-huts or government supplied brick houses. The most prominent Tibetan we’ve met live in a house without hot water and dependable electricity. He still burns yak dung for fuel and his daughter still milked their own cows.

Life is old there. Life is slow there. Life takes a deep breather and skips a few heartbeats there.

Death is also present. We saw this most odorously in Yaqing at a Sky-burial ceremony.


On a concrete slab, three bodies are brought in by pickup tracks. One infant, one old man and one mid-aged woman. The infant is white as the sheet it was brought in. The old man is brownish and is placed facing down. The woman is purple and green like a drowning victim. The relatives of the deceased burn the belongings in a pit. The smoke rise up to the heaven to be reunited with their former owners.

Lamas chant for what feels like hours. This gives the vultures time to gather on a nearby hill. I doubt there is any other place in Tibet where these raptors gather in such a show of force. Three to five hundred vultures converge on this particular day.

Then the cutting starts. A man dressed in butcher’s apron approaches the bodies with his tools: a machete, a knife and a large firefighter’s axe. He works on the infant first. The fragile body is reduced to a meaty pulp with only a few strokes of the axe. Next he makes some marks on the back of the old man using the blade of the axe. Using the markings he expertly severe all the back ribs at the joints, exposing  the major organs. Finally he crush the femurs and the shinbones of the old man.

At this point I was on the verge of vomiting. Somehow this does not seem real. From afar it looks like a horror movie. But it is every bit as real as life itself. Every crushing blow is metal against a human bone; every popping thud is tools piercing some human organ. When the smell gets too much I decide to relocate.


I climb onto the slanted hill where the vultures stand in wait. At this particular event a person can get extremely close to these wild scavengers. Not that you would want to, for they carry all kinds of parasites.  As the vultures gape down at the bodies with their intense eyes their beaks start to drool and hiss.

What happens next is totally unanticipated for me. When the butcherman split open the drowning victim the stench becomes too much to resist. One vulture flies in and lands on the platform. The rest of them swarms in without hesitation. Soon, all we can see is feathers, all we can hear is  gawking, and all we can smell is decaying flesh.


Why do people come to observe the sky-burial ceremony? The buddhists say this gruesome scene shows the true essence of the human body. The body is merely a vessel that houses our souls. Once the soul leaves, the flesh is no different than any other animal’s corps. Buddha teaches us not to be too preoccupied with our bodily image nor take too much worldly pleasure to heart. When we leave this world it is our benevolent deeds, our positive karma energy and our intellectual imprint on this world that matters.

At the end of our stay I couldn’t wait to leave Tibet. I want to go back to my hot showers, my soft bed, my tall mocha frappes. I feel suffocated by her beauty, by her rawness, by her intensity, by her inhibitions. Tibet is a mute and deaf lover who forces you to FEEL with your skinned heart and scraped soul.

I will miss Tibet and one day I will come back to her. I may be a different man the next time I see her. What will people call me then? A son? A husband? A brother? A father? A grandfather? A good man? A pure man?  A giving man? A selfish man? A misguided man? A crazy man? A wise man? A strong-headed man? A faithful man? I do not know but I know what I want them to call me – A TRUE MAN.


Tibet, I long for the day we meet again. I want to kneel down at your feet and confess all my transgressions.  Your soft water will drench and cleanse me of all my insecurities. Your gentle breeze will bring in angels from the sky and carry me over lush green mountains and valleys to a place of infinite light and beauty. One fine day…I shall return.


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