Barber cutting boy’s hair

SYNOPSIS:  About altitude sickness, and about some women in town; nuns and hairdressers. 

All was well after dinner with Ben, two nights ago.  I even got some blogging done.  I went to bed the usual time, around midnight, but by 8 AM I knew all was not well.  Just the thought of getting up made my stomach turn; I felt dizzy, lightheaded, and as if I had been put through the wringer.  After I had mustered all my strength to get up just once, it got worse.  For 24 hours I was in hell.  The most worrisome of it all was a racing heart.  Yesterday, I had stopped my altitude pills.  Today, I paid the price.  I guess I was adjusting to Tibet the hard way now. 

I know that my reaction to altitudes is more volatile than that of most others.  Common wisdom around here is to take altitude pills for no more than two days after you arrive and then your body is fine.  Not mine.  I texted my guide and gave him the day off.  He did not have to worry about me straying from the prescribed path.  I was not leaving my bed today. 

Penny, the hotel owner, would have liked to take me to the hospital, but except for a cool blog experience, I figured I was better off just staying put.  I knew what I was going through.  I prayed to my pantheon and only got up when I absolutely had to.  I was forcing a few sips of hot water into my body every hour in order not to dehydrate on top of everything else.  And by the next morning, around 3 AM, I could feel that slowly but surely I was turning a corner.  Yeah!

I delayed the start of the day for a few hours and by 11 AM, my guide Tenzin and I were walking the streets.  He was going to show me the nunnery in town and a few more things, but by around 2 PM I had lost all energy and called it quits. 

There are several nunneries in town.  Historically, they are responsible for a lot of accomplishments as well as for a lot of rebellions; disproportionately to their numbers.  Once you pay your dues, the nuns (in contrast to their male counterparts), do not mind if you walk around their compound taking pictures.  I observed them pray, in their shaven heads, robed in red or yellow, just like the men.  I observed them doing laundry and working on prayer flags as well as wigs for the butter lamps.  A huge pile of wood in the court yard testified to other chores they do around here.  Lots of potted plants gave their monastery a homey feel.  Leave it to the women!

Before calling it a day, I asked Tenzin for advice as to where to get a haircut.  There was one street I would have called Barber Row.  One hair salon or barber after another lined one side of the road.  He pointed me to one of them, old-style, run by a Tibetan woman.  As I saw many of the other shops stay idle for long stretches of time, her shop had a steady flow of (male) customers).  All of them, her included, found it rather amusing that I put myself in line for a hair cut.  Celi has assured me that any idiot can cut my hair.  I went by that and had Tenzin earlier write up a short instruction letter in Tibetan for her:  Just cut off about one inch all around until all hair is at even length. 

And so I waited my turn, watching her carefully cut one of the Tibetan boys’ hair.  An inch was left standing at the top of his head, all around she shaved him down to almost a tonsure; but at the very back of his head, a long pony tail remained.  I hear this is the hot fashion among Tibetan boys.

An older man was next who, like me, just had an inch taken off all around.  And then it was my turn.  Under the watchful eye of the last Panchen Lama’s black and white portrait, I was stretched out on a barber’s chair of the 50’s.  Not exactly gently, she washed my hair and with skillful hands, cut my hair just right.  Not too much, not too little.  That was worth the wait.  Now I could face hikes and excursions.

But first, it was time to get more rest.  After yesterday’s episode, I can’t be too careful. In the morning, I had still moved as slowly as an 80 year old.  By the afternoon, I felt almost back to normal.  But this is just the beginning of my Tibet journey.  I can’t chance draining myself of energy.

Just before dark, I ventured out a few blocks East in the direction of the Main Mosque.  A lively night market was underway with many food stalls cooking up Muslim delicacies.    Muslims had settled in Lhasa long ago.  They had come as traders from Kashmir and gone back and forth during the various seasons.  On the invitation of one of the Lamas, they were encouraged to settle and build a mosque.  They did.  And they became Tibetans in their own rights.  They spoke Tibetan and intermarried with some.  But if you look at the Muslim population today, it is clear that a much more recent wave of Chinese-speaking Muslim immigrants has followed.  They have little to do with the locals and don’t speak their language either.   Their food looked great.   But my stomach was not ready for exotic food yet.  A bowl of rice and a few vegetables seemed more appropriate. 

I am just glad I made it this far today.

Good night!