i go for an evening stroll to work up my appetite before plunging into a nameless café to the twitters of the waitresses and the crap shoot of food, never expected but always good. two tibetan women chat animatedly as they squat to pee in a dirt triangle formed by two industrial buildings. i cut down a wide paved alley with a stream to the left sunk six feet below the road. narrow footbridges cross it at every house, just a foot wide concrete slab. a little girl comes out of a house and with prodding from her mother, shyly takes the my offered piece of chocolate. her mother gets her to say “sha-sha” (chinese for thank you) but bye bye is too much for her. i sit on a rock by a pile of fresh cow manure that reminds me of home. after a few minutes of writing in a notebook, the little girls pops her head out of her door and yells bye bye, quickly darting back in the house again. my laugher rings loud and clear off the white washed buildings of stone.
i pass magnificently carved doors bright with buddhist yellows and reds, overhung by intricate tin awnings set in walls of pressed cow manure, the hand prints still visible. i stop at “the happy tibetan” restaurant and a young family man sits across from me grinning. i steel myself to hold my smile and eye contact for a length of time uncomfortable to an american but natural to a tibetan. i show him a ticket with the photo of the potala and we make admiring noises. he refuses the carrot i bought from the affable vegetable seller in the rows of the covered farmer’s market where there’s piles of vegetables, spices and pigs heads, somehow still smirking and bristly. the man’s daughter, six and brightly curious, accepts my chocolate cheerily. the patroness understands my hand gestures for food with none of the hemming and indecision of the young waitresses. she doesn’t try to decipher what i want or worries that i might not approve. she just nods and brings a bowl of tupa (noodles) sprinkled with yak meat.
after the meal, i sit and read the idiot as myshkin gets his first taste of high society with a biting commentary from dostoevsky. a wrinkled and still beautiful grandmother puts my chai cup into my right hand so i will drink and she can refill the cup again. her friend comes over and picks at my notebook with stubby fingers, small cracks in the skin filled with the permanent dirt from a lifetime of farming. i show her all the filled pages, proud and showing off but she only wants a blank piece.
i enjoy the tibetan’s smaller sense of personal space. my elbow tickled by new friends, a sign of friendship and laughing. old women touching their forehead to mine in a show of respect. also, the little regard for personal property. curious old men looking thru cameras left on tripods and books paged thru when i set them down to start my meal. perhaps the impermanence of this world allows greater freedom with the unimportant objects filling it.