Toucan Sam Smells a Toilet and Other News

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Friday, April 21, 2006

News From Abroad
Thanks to Al Gore's invention of the information superhighway, I am able to read the news from around the world. Sometimes, earth-shattering news is plastered on the electronic headlines. Other times, I check the science and nature news. Is it just me or is there a lack of science and nature news on some media websites? Lately, I came across the following headlines:

Tectonic Plates Slowly Moving
Haven't we known this for a while now? They probably wrote this years ago and, when they're lacking news, the editor says: "Bob, it's time to get out the tectonic plate story again."

Geologists Find Ancient Worm Feces
I'm glad they're employed. After all, somebody has to look for ancient worm feces.

Stomach Pains: Sri Lanka's most honored elephant falls ill after eating scores of cookies
We want to know: who fed the most honored elephant scores of cookies?

A Tourist's Guide to Shangri-la
Since the Lonely Planet China never can get the Shangri-la area right, I thought I'd help, with a guide to Shangri-la. Here are some things a tourist should experience and write home about...

At Noah's Restaurant, sit in a corner and watch Noah's cat terrorize the customers. When the cat meows (which is all the time), he sounds like he's getting declawed at the vet. As these sounds emanate from the kitchen, see people's expressions as they wonder if they accidentally ordered cat stew.

Visit one of the world's most rank bathrooms. All ten of the worst restrooms can be found in China. Most tourists visit them all at some point, as they're conveniently located anywhere you go. In the north part of town, near the Flying Horse statue, turn east towards the bus station and follow your nose like Toucan Sam finding a box of Fruit Loops: " always knows..."

"Fruit last!"

A trip to Shangri-la is not complete without hocking a luggie like the locals. Don't worry, it's okay to hock a luggie indoors or out. Even Dr. Seuss can hock a luggie in Shangri-la. "You can hock a luggie in the bar. You can hock a luggie, see how far! You can hock a luggie in the bus. You can hock a luggie without a fuss. I like hocking luggies, Sam I am."

Be sure to make the authentic hocking sound, the raspier the better.

Assist in a drive-by. Find some local friends and buy packs of firecrackers. Then, drive around the corner, slowly, light a pack and throw it out the window, preferably in front of the police department. Take off laughing as the cows, cats, dogs, police, and pedestrians jump out of their skin.

Any authentic Shangri-la visit must include a trip to the local China Mobile outlet. Here, stock up on pre-paid minutes and download your favorite song into your phone. Be sure to turn the ringer volume up all the way. When someone calls, wait so that everyone around you can hear your favorite song. Not yet...the chorus isn't over.

Wrestling the Monk and Name-calling
My friend Tashi is not your average monk: he's crazy. He also happens to be one of my housemates. He also thinks I'm crazy.

We have names for one another. Tashi calls me "Si Laowai," translated roughly as "Bad Foreigner." I call Tashi "Ta Nyun," Tibetan for "Insane Monk."

In the middle of the Napa Hai wetlands, we challenged one another to a wrestling match. As he's one of the biggest monks in Shangri-la, he was in another weight class, but what the heck. I almost ripped his maroon monk shawl by mistake and at 11,000 feet we were out of breath fairly quickly, as Yunhua and Gomba laughed at us.

Gomba also gave me a Tibetan name: "Lhongten." It means steady mind and heart.

Burning Skins
All across Tibet, a Dalai Lama-led revolution is underway.

It doesn't involve the overthrow of the Chinese government.

But it is a revolution that will save thousands of lives--the lives of tigers, leopards and other wildlife.

Recently, the revolution spread to Qinghai, where villagers brought their best dancing clothes and burned them. The Dalai Lama had spoken and word had reached China: wearing animal skins ends the lives of wildlife and is not part of the dharma.

The police said to the crowds of pyromaniacs: "you cannot tell others to burn their dancing clothes."

Too late. The Revolution has already begun.

Traversing the Himalayas
Another of my monk friends traversed the Himalayas and lived in India for eight years. The pass he crossed into Nepal was high and snowy. He dodged checkpoints and led a secretive life for much of the journey. While he was in India, he studied Tibetan Buddhism, where they can freely practice without the spectre of China hovering above them. "Why did you return?" I asked. "Here are my people, my friends" was the simple reply. Many monks have taken this arduous trek and many remain in India, yet others return to their home, their friends, their people.
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