Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Thanguan 4

Here are a few remaining photos from Tangaun, beginning with a couple of shots of the lama, the 85 year old village priest. The portrait was done one sunny day when nothing much seemed to be happening at the temple. Jiwan was taking some photos for him, but I'm not sure what for.

The other shot of the lama was taken during a puja offered the day after we arrived. My bag of bananas and oranges, that I had brought into the temple for Jiwan and myself, was presumed to be an offering and was afterwards distributed to all the locals that were hanging around the temple.

This woman is carrying firewood. It seems the villagers spend quite a lot of time scavenging for, cutting, and collecting fire wood. Sometimes you'll walk through a stand of trees and notice that all the branches below three meters have been removed. As I mentioned in a previous post, almost all cooking is done on wood stoves.

The village celebrated Losar, the lunar new year, at the school ground. A stage and tent were erected and a lengthy talent show was preceded by interminable speechifying by representatives from a number of political parties, each one of which tried to talk louder and longer than the one preceding him. This photo shows mostly women and children. The mean showed up after dark. So did the cold. I don't think I've been so cold since I lived in Wisconsin.

As soon as kids see your camera, they start posing.

Finally, on our last morning we made a few offerings of our own. Dechen and Phuntsuk made a small puja to dedicate the work we had done and afterwards Jiwan and Phuntsok hung fresh prayer flags.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Thanguan 3

We spent our days in the temple drawing. After dark there was often no electricity, which came to the village only 5 years ago, so we spent our evenings watching the stars for as long as we could stand the wind that would start to blow at dusk. Otherwise we'd spend the night chatting, huddled under our blankets, the wind whistling around the walls of our small stone and clay building just next to the temple. The structure was a simple rectangular box divided in two, the back half used for sleeping, the front as a kitchen. A small toilet was attached to the outside, and all were covered with logs, thatch, and on top a tin sheet to keep the rain off.

Our home for 5 nights (from the rear of the temple, pictured right)

the artists' suite

Except for electricity, which is in short supply all across Nepal, resources were scarce in Thanguan. There is no natural water source, requiring water to be directed from a neighboring mountain. The morning seems to start with someone from each home brining water containers to the village hose, where one person directs a slow trickle into the buckets. On at least one day, there was no water at all.

On that occasion, grandma, the temple caretaker, slung a bucket in her straw basket and headed off down the mountain to find a spring. At 73 years old, its amazing she can walk up and down the mountain (and in nothing but some flimsy sandals), let alone carry 15 liters of water on her back. But she did. She also did all our cooking and cleaning up, preparing two meals a day (at around noon and again just after dark) as well as morning and afternoon tea. She was a sweet old lady who like most of the villagers spoke only Nepali and Tamang, but who had actually traveled a bit, to India and Bhutan.

granny and the guys

As there are no roads into the village, everything has to be carried up the mountain, which is the most likely explanation for why the villagers don't use LPG for cooking. Instead it seems most homes use wood stoves, like the one you can see in the photo here, taken on the occasion of the New Year's dinner we prepared ourselves. It seems my classmates have lungs of steel. I had to flee the room and otherwise stood outside and fanned the smoke.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Thanguan 2

Jiwan surprised me on our first working day when he said he would like me to draw a set of 35 Buddhas on a wall space about 2.5 meters high and 2 meters wide.


Our workspace: Jiwan to the left of the window, me to the right


I was expecting to paint simple things, like vines of flowers along the borders of the walls. I wasn't expecting to compose such a large piece of work. But as I've had lots of practice drawing Buddhas, it wasn't such a huge departure. All I had to do was draw larger than I've been accustomed.

the central figure, first drawn

Once I completed the central figure, Dechen and Phuntsok arrived and the three of us together completed the other 34 smaller Buddhas, using a stenciling technique to quickly reproduce identical images. Once the Buddhas were completed, we then added in a similar fashion the seats and then using hand-made compasses the sun and moon.

stenciling in charcoal dust

pencilling over the charcoal

Jiwan, meanwhile, was composing a painting of Guru Rimpoche and his 26 disciples.

In the same amount of time, he completed 27 different figures while the three of us completed only two originals and 33 copies.

(almost) completed 35 Buddhas

Jiwan's Guru Rinpoche & 26 Disciples (minus one, I believe)


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Thanguan 1

Last week I lived for six days in a Tamang village in a remote mountain area. I did my first real art work there, saw a shooting star, bathed in a mountain spring, and attended the village New Year festivities.

It was an amazing week.

And it was made possible by Jiwan, an upper classman at art school who comes from a Tamang family of painters, including his father, who operates a thangka studio in Bhaktapur. His ancestral village in Kavre recently completed construction of a new temple and was in search of a painter to do the interior walls, typically painted in the style and form employed in thangka. Jiwan was asked to do the work as a kind of professional coming-out project. In turn, he invited some of his classmates to help with the work and I was grateful to be included among them.

Grateful because I'm still a first year student who until now has done all his art work in the classroom on slate and paper. It's all been practice work. But here was an opportunity to put lines and color on a wall, art that will remain for perhaps decades, that will be a part of the religious life of the community for two or three generations. I saw this as a very rare opportunity, a fortuitous culmination of the practice I've done over the past seven months. And while at first I was worried I might not have much to do, I returned with greater confidence in my art.

The village of Thanguan is at 60 kilometers not all that far from Kathmandu. But in Nepal that's the equivalent of a couple hundred in countries that have roads. Getting there is on a good day a half-day journey requiring a taxi ride to the city bus station, two bus rides, and a three hour hike up the mountains.

The view along the road to Thanguan

Once there it is stunningly beautiful. As there are no roads, there are no cars or motorcycles. The air and water are crisp and clean. There is none of the garbage piles so common in Kathmandu. There are no neon signs or bright lights and the night sky is alive with stars. It was a pleasure each evening to simply sit and watch the sky; one evening we were rewarded with the site of a streaking meteor. The views during the day were equally spectacular. The temple sits on the highest rise of the mountain and commands a view of a river valley on one side and the Himalayas on the other.

The temple front

From the village below, the temple at the top of the rise

The river valley on one side

And the Himalaya on the other

Jiwan and I arrived on Wednesday and on Friday two more classmates arrived. Phuntsok and Dechen are monks from Bhutan and together with Jiwan were wonderful companions for the week. They repeatedly surprised me with their solicitousness. I suppose as the old man I was afforded special consideration; or perhaps it was because I was the outsider; or perhaps simply that my friends are such lovely people. I was given choice of beds and number of blankets; I was allowed to use the scaffolding when drawing; no one entered the temple while I was doing my morning meditation, even though they were up and would otherwise have started working; when riding the bus,

Jeff, Jiwan, Phuntsok, Dechen

they were concerned about my comfort, even though we were all freezing by the last leg of the journey; both going up and coming down the mountain, all three offered at different times to carry my bag; and perhaps most touchingly, I was treated as a fellow artist and never made to feel that my skills were less developed or my contribution worth less.


Friday, February 1, 2008

Mutsumi and Yoshimi

miThe former I think most of you know, my partner of the last 14 years. The latter is an ex-school teacher, resident of Australia, and current knock-about who once worked with Mutsumi in the office of the Working Holiday Association. I had the pleasure over the past week to be guide to Kathmandu for these charming ladies, who seemed to have enjoyed their experience of Nepal, which included lunches with my Nepali families; an afternoon with the nuns of the Muktinath nunnery; full days in Patan and Bhaktapur; a 6:00am prayer ceremony and breakfast with the monks at Shechen Monastery; tea with my classmates at my art school; a wedding at Gokarna temple; and unfortunately for Mutsumi, contact with a local cold virus and a visit to a Tibetan acupuncturist.

At Kopan Monastery

Our niece Arya

In Patan

Wedding at Gokarna

With the brother of the bride, a Gurhka who arrived
in Nepal from Iraq only the day before.

Perhaps the most amusing anecdote of their one week stay occurred on the day of their arrival, which saw a nationwide strike against a government price hike in fuel prices. This was the third such increase within the last two months, and where the previous two were greeted with resignation, this last brought people into the streets, where they blocked the roads with piles of burning tires. Any vehicles that attempted to run the blockades were either vandalized or their owners forced to pay an exorbitant people's tax.

So, what was I to do? I had to get to the airport because Mutsumi and Yoshimi were arriving – and with large suitcases. How to get them and their gear back to Boudha and the guest house? I asked some of my acquaintances in the area and ended up taking their advice of making the 45-minute walk to the airport, accompanied with a porter to carry their luggage should there be no taxis available.

Luckily, it wasn't raining. The day was cloudy and foggy; low visibility at the airport forced several flights to circle the valley waiting for conditions to clear. My porter and I got to the airport before Mutusmi and Yoshimi's 13:00 arrival, but the plane circled for nearly two hours before it was announced on the monitor that it was being diverted to Kolkata. A small group of us waiting for this flight walked over to the Thai Air office for more details and were told a decision would be made in the next hour to two hours about whether to bring the plane back to Kathmandu or to send it back to Bangkok. Having no where else to go, especially as there were no buses or taxis to take us anywhere, we settled into the sofas of the Thai Air office to await word on our diverted flight.

No more than 10 minutes later, one of the staff answered the phone, then shouted something in Nepali to the rest of the office, and suddenly everyone was up out of their chairs and heading to the door. The flight was arriving.

Mutsumi and Yoshimi later said there was no announcement about the flight being diverted, nor did they feel the plane move out of its circling flight path. When at last we met, they were happy to be off the plane – but perhaps after learning about the strike not so happy to be on the ground.

How often have you had to walk from the airport? It was a first for all of us. But the ladies shook off their initial disappointment and began to see the humor and the uniqueness of the experience. As we had a porter to carry the bags, they could walk in ease and begin their sight seeing of Kathmandu, passing through residential areas and the grounds of the valley's biggest and most important Hindu temple.

And now, of course, it's a wonderful story they can tell of their first adventure in Nepal.