Tibetan Toy Soldiers

by Ant Stone on October 8, 2007

in Tibet

I couldn’t do anything but stand there. Kids of every age took turns to scramble up and over me as if I were a long lost climbing frame, those that couldn’t quite conquer the summit of my shoulders grabbed my hands and insisted I span, and span, and span. Surrounding walls were decorated by endless reams of colourful streamers, a cool expanse of water nearly tempted me in to paddle and a pet zoo turned up to keep everyone entertained. It was the spirit of a kids birthday party, and I was so excited to be invited. The only problem, I’d failed to bring any presents, though (most of) the kids knew exactly what they wanted; ‘munee, munee!’ they yelped in their sweetest voices, hands upturned and eyes switched to a well-rehearsed cute mode.

Immediately the wall decoration revealed itself as a towering cliff faces adorned with endless swirls of prayer-flag bunting, the water expanded into the mystical Nam Tso lake (not, as some believe it to be, the highest lake in the world) and the pet zoo turned out to be nothing more than a bunch of nomads believing I wanted to sit on a yak for a photo. I escaped the embarrassment of having to explain how much I would detest the idea by completing a kora around a sizeable lump of rock, it’s base riddled with cave dwellings. The bright blue surface of Nam Tso reflected the azure of the sky above, while the sun shone down in it’s extraordinary way. The day was a pleasure to own, though I soon discovered that up here, the night skies fight hard for glory. As the cold night air drifted in from neighboring mountain ranges, stars pierced the sheet of darkness, instantly pinning my head backwards. The Milky Way spread itself between the horizons, while a Welshman named Mark picked out seemingly invisible constellations. It was only the bitter cold thrashing my face that caused me to skip passed snoozing Tibetan mastiffs and retire to my abode for the evening, a cozy tin shed which gladly appeared to be a storage unit for the world’s blanket supply.

Nam Tso lake lies at 4718m, meaning any exertion takes a lung or two of effort, but we managed to stagger up two of the highest mountains hills in the world to take in the view, with live acoustics provided by the ripple and roar of the prayer flag bunting. It wasn’t the lack of oxygen, but the inhalation of a suspect omelete at breakfast that found me heaving a mound of my own. We returned to Lhasa city, drained of breath but full of amazement after a short glimpse at the Tibetan countryside. The amazement continued to spiral when we cut through Barkhor Square, where we spotted an elderly, feeble Tibetan man aiming his catapult at unsuspecting tourists. I immediately remembered a moment a few days previous in which I was crossing the road and my forefinger was hit sharply by a ball-bearing. Believing innocent until proven guilty to be a fair and just system, I withheld my intended punishment (incorporating a flying prayer-wheel).

With confrontation successfully avoided, I headed for Sera Monastery (once again) to take some inspiration from the monk’s brotherly nature. However. I was astounded to discover a courtyard full of the maroon-robed skinheads yelling and abruptly clapping each other into submission. They were raucous and relentless, and I felt powerless to stop the imminent downfall of one of the world’s most revered groups. I was just on the verge of intervening, when it was pointed out I was witnessing a monk debate. I still don’t fully understand the scenario (mostly due to it’s Tibetan argot) but loosely believe it to be an education based exercise in which young monks debate the scripts and other relevant issues; what time they have to go to bed, who does the washing up and how long they can use the internet for. Or so I believe.

With all conflict soundly expelled from my torso, I left Sera revitalised. I had a spring in my step and a cold in my nose, but that didn’t stop two more of them cute Tibetan toddlers wriggling up to me, though before they could break the spell I whisked out a couple of toy soldiers (a new trick of mine) from my pocket and sent them on their merry way. I’d sprung only a couple more steps when I heard an unforgettable racket bellowing towards my behind. I turned around to see a cloud of dust encompassing a gang of ten more kids, none more than 6 years old and all in search of a new toy soldier. I couldn’t do anything but stand there. The smallest – ergo cutest – placed a hand on each of knee caps, stopping me in my tracks he slowly looked up at me. I explained in my non-existent Tibetan that I was toy soldiered out. He got the drift. He rested his tiny head on my leg and started crying, tears dampened my leg. I wanted the world to swallow me up, I realised I’d just turned up at another party without a present. Still, that’s my tomorrow covered.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Natalie (lil Sis) October 16, 2007 at 1:50 pm

hey big bro….where r u , u not bin getting me emails? Hope you r okay dont forget to decide where you r in march and then get your credit card out!! love and miss u,,, lil sis xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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Emma Rigby-Burr October 19, 2007 at 5:37 pm

Hiya, everything sounds amazing and your writing is stunning. I’m off to Thailand on sunday for a few weeks but your now India way so i guess we won’t met this time but i’ll be back at my house in Hua Hin in jan/feb so we could meet in BKK if your nearby. Take care, em xxx

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