Lessons from Tibet

Adorable Tibetan girl waits to see His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama speak on the Capitol Lawn

A week and a half ago, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was giving a public peace talk on the Capitol lawn as part of his DC tour. New roommate CS and I went to see him, and I learned many important lessons as a result. But most of these are probably not the ones you are expecting:

Rebecca Black knows her shit. Ok, it was a Saturday, Saturday as opposed to a Friday, Friday, but do you know how much you accomplish when you get up at 7a.m.? A whole friggin’ lot. Look at my schedule for the day:

7:00 a.m Waking up in the morning, gotta be fresh gotta go downstairs
7:30 a.m. Tibetan dresses sure are more complicated than I remember…
8:00 a.m. Head to the capitol to see the Dalai Lama
8:30 a.m. Make new friend
11:20 a.m. Die of heat stroke
11:30 a.m. Visit Botanical Gardens!
12:15 p.m. Lunch at the Museum of the American Indian*
12:45 p.m. Peruse the National Galleries
1:30 p.m. Chillin’ in the Kogod Courtyard (National Portrait Gallery)
2:15 p.m. Library!
2:30 p.m. Call family
3:30 p.m. Reading!
4:00 p.m. Nap!
5:00 p.m. Clean kitchen/plan wedding/acquire tickets to Hanson concert
6:00 p.m. Make pasta from scratch!
8:00 p.m. Watch Michael Bay blow shit up for two hours
10:30 p.m Very scholarly conversation about what an asshat Michael Bay is and also how Transformers 3 is set in a completely fictional DC with tall buildings, narrow alleys and randomly old palatial apartments that do not exist anywhere within District boundaries.
11:45 p.m. More reading!
11:47 p.m. Fall asleep reading.

SO MUCH ACCOMPLISHMENT FOR ONE DAY. We hit up five Smithsonians in a two hour time period. I should get up at 7 every day! Normal Saturdays, I’m lucky to get clothes on. Heck, it’s a Monday right now and I’m still in my dressing gown.

*Most delicious museum food you’ll ever find. Seriously. I have never actually been to the museum part of that museum, but I have eaten there at least half a dozen times.

Randomly wearing another culture’s traditional dress is a totally appropriate idea. You may or may not know that I spent a summer interning at a Tibetan high school in India. This means that I happen to own several Chubas (traditional Tibetan dresses, sometimes spelled Chupa) that I once put one on for work every day, but now have little to no opportunity wear them. And here was an almost-plausible excuse to pull one out of the closet! So what if it’s a 10,000 degree July day, it takes me like 20 minutes to figure out where all the ties go and I feel totally self conscious being the random white girl dressed in cultural garb! It’s festive! At least, that’s what CS tried to convince me.

Rockin’ a chuba with my teaching mentor in India. Not sure why I look so sweaty. I blame the monsoon.

Turns out that it was a good idea, because if there’s any message that being a random white person in a Tibetan dress going to see the Dalai Lama sends to the world, it’s “Hey, that random white person is almost certainly headed to see the Dalai Lama! I bet I could ask her for directions.” Which is how I made a new Tibetan friend! Let’s call him Tenzin.**

Tenzin was visiting from New York, where he’s lived for the past 5 years. We chatted about the pros and cons of New York and DC, his job and of course, why the hell I was wearing a Tibetan dress. I explained my background with the Tibetan school and we talked a little bit about the Tibetan community in India. As we parted, he said I that I should try to go see some of the Buddhist teachings that were going on at the Verizon Center all week. He offered to ask around if anyone had extra tickets and let me know.

And then later that evening, I got a call! He’d gotten a handful of (really good) tickets for myself and some friends to go see the Dalai Lama’s teaching the next day! All because I’d run into him in the metro in a chuba. Well, and also because Tibetans are collectively the nicest people the world, who will go out of their way to help complete strangers, but you know, the dress too!

**Hilarious Tibetan joke!!!

When you update your phone software, all of your alarms will reset. I had been wondering for several days why my alarms had suddenly switched from Seabear “Arms” to the factory default noise, but it didn’t dawn on me until Sunday morning at 8:47, when I woke up exactly an hour and forty-seven minutes later than planned, that all of my alarm settings had reverted with my gingerbread update. Why 8:47? Well that was the time I received a text message from my new friend Tenzin, whom I was supposed to meet at 8:30 to pick up tickets. I then spent the next hour frantically running around the city, wearing yesterday’s clothes and breathing my morning breath on everyone I met. So in summary, always triple check your alarms, because your phone thinks it’s smarter than you and that you only want to wake up on time Mon-Fri. The saddest part is, I really should have learned this lesson a year ago when I almost missed a plane for the exact same reason.
Visors are cool. Somebody alert the Doctor. Fezzes are out, visors are in. Reason #782 Why I Love the Dalai Lama:

He even cracked some hat-related jokes.
Buddhism is hard, but not as hard as being the Dalai Lama’s interpreter. This guy is my new hero:

Superpowers are pretty cool in comic books, but some of us possess less cool but extremely useful superpowers in real life, too. For instance, I have a superhuman capacity to open stuck jars. Glamorous? Not in the least. I would have the worst superhero name on the planet (Jar Lady?). But my powers do come in quite handy. Just ask my roommates.
Anyway, Geshe Thupten Jinpa has been the Dalai Lama’s english interpreter since 1985, according to Wikipedia. But his interpretation skills extend far beyond the normal human level of ability. Sunday’s teaching focused on some pretty complex (at least to me) Buddhist concepts, which I had a difficult time following. As the lesson went on, His Holiness abandonned trying to express the more nunanced ideas in English and would carry on in Tibetan for upwards of 15 minutes at a time. A normal interpreter’s nightmare, but problem for Thupten Jinpa? Of course not! Easy Peasy! He would just spew it all back out in flawless English, some of which was so fancy that I couldn’t really understand it as a native speaker. Dude has serious skills.
The Dalai Lama is like Santa Claus. If you’ve ever seen him on TV/heard him talk, you’ll know that The Dalai Lama comes across as the world’s jolliest man. He tells all sorts of self-deprecating jokes and has an infectious chuckle. Plus, he likes to dress in red and wear funny hats! But he resembles everyone’s favorite portly gift-giver deeper ways, too. Not the flying around on Christmas and sliding down chimneys ways. The ways where he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows when you’ve been bad or good so for the love of God stop playing with your damn cell phone while I’m talking to you.
I tried really hard to pay attention the whole time, but the teaching was three hours long and a lot of it was over my head/in Tibetan. So especially after my three friends had to sneak out early for a previously-scheduled event around hour two, I found myself losing focus. And then, as I was checking my email on my phone, I heard HH the Dalai Lama switch back into English and say,
“The modern world celebrates distractions.”
He might as well have finished that sentence, “so stop reading Prince of Petworth on your phone, Alix.” It was like he knew that I wasn’t paying attention. He went on for the next ten minutes to talk about how easily we are distracted by material goods, and how for some reason this is considered a good thing, etc etc. I felt shamed. Also, now I can’t help noticing every time someone checks their phone during a conversation/lecture/movie/concert/meeting/religious activity. Just stop. The Dalai Lama can see you.

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