Langmu, Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, China

After a wave to the nice police sending us off, we were headed to our final destination, Langmu (town and monastery). And you know how I thought we travelled on the Worst Road Ever to the grassland field site? Well, as luck would have it, we found one that was even worse than the Worst Road Ever. We ended up on a rutted and impossibly narrow mountain road that really could benefit from some nice sturdy guardrails. Thankfully we never encountered any cars coming from the opposite direction, as there would have been no way for two vehicles to pass on the road without one dropping off the side of the mountain. It was either a miracle or there was good reason no other car was travelling on this road. Perhaps it wasn’t really a road but rather a yak trail. Our van bounced and skipped up and down mountains hugging the inside of the road with our hosts giving regular assurances to our agitated driver that we were almost at our destination. This was not the case for quite some time. When we finally saw Langmu, we were like the marathon runner who finally sees the finish line. Instead of a medal, we got this:

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Monastery and town in Tibetan culture seem to have a symbiotic relationship and it would be difficult to separate one from the other. Just as the Tibetan person is inseparable from their family, they are inseparable from their Tibetan culture and by way their connection to the monastery and their faith. Prayer beads are an extension of the person. Monks are part of the community. A fellow Tibetan whom you meet for the first time is seen as a brother or a sister.

We were incredibly fortunate to have our Tibetan friend along for our first experience of Tibetan culture. During the journey we heard stories of his childhood and family and what it was like for Tibetans of his generation growing up in China. There were subtle pressures on their Tibetan identity that were presented as choices: keep their Tibetan names or use a Chinese one in school and they had to choose between Tibetan or English in school. For a culture that is fiercely proud of their identity, there was a lot to prove. But it’s different for the Tibetan youth of today. We met our friend’s 15 year-old nephew whose father and mother are both Tibetan. They live in a Tibetan prefecture yet if we didn’t know him, we would not be able to identify him as Tibetan. The Tibetan youth of today appear, act and sound Han Chinese with many no longer even able to speak the Tibetan language. A culture assimilated no longer has anything to prove.

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