The truck went over another bump and I was thrown, again, on top of the bearded stranger. There were about 30 of us on the flatbed lorry on the dirt road out of Lhasa. He smiled, again, but he didn’t seem comfortable and kept trying to move away. He smelt odd and was clearly cold. December, Himalayas, 12,500 feet above sea level: and he hadn’t learnt to rub himself in animal fat to keep warm!
But I was glad to see the smile. I’d never spoken to one like him before, blond, bearded, so different from the people in Lhasa. I told him why I was leaving Lhasa. First, I was going to be a monk. Leng the Monk! The monastery at Ganden had been mostly destroyed by the Chinese, and the monks scattered: it was now the duty of young Tibetans to become monks. Second, Lhasa was busy, full of people my parents had taught me not to like. The Chinese who came as friends and stayed as conquerors. The folk from the countryside, with the red braids in their hair, who had rough manners and were in Lhasa as traders or pilgrims. They turned profits into gold and drilled it into their teeth! I liked the girls, particularly those with faith who plaited their hair into 120 braids, one for every step up to the Dalai Lama’s Palace, the Potala.
When we got to Ganden I offered him some tea. He didn’t seem comfortable again. I don’t think he had had our yak butter tea before and I had heard that sometimes it went straight through people unused to it. Still we talked for a bit and I learnt about his country before I had to go.
I had to go. I had a new life to start. I had talked to my first Westerner and I hope, during a lifetime in Ganden Monastery, I manage to meet another. Surely there’s time; I’m only twelve years old.