Day 10: TashilungpoThe next morning we visit the monastery (fascinating, though even climbing a small four-storey tower totally exhausts me.) Everyone else is very enthusiastic about a Chinese restaurant they discovered last evening. I heroically manage to drink some mineral water and eat a boiled egg without throwing up.
After lunch we head off to Shigatse and the Tashilunpo monastery two or three hours away. We stay in a quite nice-looking and definitely expensive hotel right opposite the monastery. The hotel is owned by some kind of high-rent development corporation that is, in turn, owned by the monastery. The brochure suggests a very intimate relationship between the monastery, the government, and various financial players - perhaps more than most Westerners would consider entirely seemly, though in Tibet the monasteries have always been heavily invested on the material plane. However, the possibility that at least some of our money may end up supporting the monks is all that keeps us here, since the service is appalling to nonexistent - it reminds me of China ten years ago, where businesses would be enormously overstaffed but no-one felt that actually serving customers was their responsibility.
The monastery is full of Chinese tour groups, and soon I start gravitating to them rather than our own group. Even though my Chinese is far from great, I still learn much more from the Chinese tours than the English ones. Not only are the guides much better informed, but the Chinese tourists even seem more interested. I stand with a group in front of a depiction of the Six Realms of Existence, and the young Chinese guide not only gives an extremely erudite description of the realms and the whole tanka, but also extremely practical and humorous examples of how they correspond to different ways we humans behave. The tour group has many questions - some have a humorous edge but all are sincere and intelligent, and some are even discussing how to apply these concepts in their home and work lives. When I ask our Tibetan guide about the Six Realms, he says he doesn't know about them. How is it possible for a Tibetan not to know about the Six Realms? Is he censoring himself? Or does he think we're not interested?
Tomorrow is the start of a major festival at the monastery, when a giant tanka [see photo on next page] will be displayed. Some of the others walk up to the frame from which the tanka will be hung: I can't even manage the 50 feet of ascent. I have to face the fact that I am not getting better.
After leaving the monastery I go in search of a doctor, and find one only 200 yards from the hotel, sitting in his white coat on a folding chair on the sidewalk. His nurse is managing the small dispensary and store behind him. I explain my symptoms, and five minutes later I leave with a packet of gentamycin sulfate antibiotic tablets. My bill is 35 yuan (less than $5.) My nurse ex-wife and a Western doctor I meet the next day both say that this is the wrong antibiotic and ineffective orally, but it does the job just fine - 24 hours later my appetite and strength are back. Perhaps what the American health care system needs is more doctors sitting on the sidewalk.