Some years ago, I was invited to be a guest author on the website TransitionsAbroad.com, an online magazine which provides helpful and timely information about living and traveling abroad. This well known and award winning website featured a webzine on Asia which includes an article I wrote entitled This is China, Living Abroad in a Land of Paradoxes. Below you can find the introdution as well as a link to the rest of the article (and pictures) on TransitionsAbroad.com.
Sitting in a dark room in front of four men who were dressed in burgundy robes, their hair shaved close to their heads, I nervously held a cup of warm butter tea in my hands. I pretended to like it. But when they refilled the cup, my enthusiasm waned—the tea needed more sugar. But I was not really focused on drinking. I was engrossed in a conversation with four Buddhist monks in the upper kitchen of an ancient temple just outside of Lhasa, Tibet.
The youngest of the monks in the dark room–who also happened to be one the cooks at the monastery—had previously offered me an invitation to join them as I explored the temple. Later, after I had climbed the rickety steps to the kitchen, we were joined by some of the more senior monks who had come to ensure that lunch was being prepared. After a long morning of motionless meditation and praying I was not surprised that these men were hungry.
While the cooks were cutting up vegetables and warming the stoves, I tried out the little Chinese I knew in order to attempt to communicate, while they filled in the gaps with the little English they had learned. We talked about their lives as monks. I introduced myself and told them about my family back in America. They were interested in my life, but they were far more interested in the World Cup, which was nearing its completion during my visit to Tibet; the monks wanted to know the latest scores and my predictions. The monks also were anxious to find out whether I liked to play basketball and what I thought about world politics. The questions asked caught me by surprise but I attempted to satisfy their thirst for information.
It was only after I was on the bus back to Lhasa that I began to understand what I had just witnessed. These men had committed themselves to a sacred discipline that had existed in China since ancient times. They had spent their days in dark rooms lighting incense and reciting ancient chants. Yet they still yearned for knowledge of the outside world; they still desired to be a part of the great changes that were and still are occurring in their country. I realized that these monks were representative of a culture that is at once desperately fighting to hold on to its traditional roots, yet is eagerly welcoming modern ideas and technology. This paradoxical struggle has created a unique mix of the old and the new. This is China.