Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Knees and other thoughts

Thinking about Tibet and organizing my thoughts and images of that journey had to be put on hold for the past while: friends always come first. I spent much of last week in Seattle, at one of the major hospitals, advocating for a dear friend who had  knee replacement surgery.
It appears that we all should take an advocate with us when we are planning a hospital stay.  There are lots of controversies swirling around of late about the state of health care in many Western countries: many of the stories are negative. It was definitely appropriate that I was there ( or someone else could also have been the watchdog!) to intervene when people were not paying the attention they ought to have been doing.
My friend's ability to walk without severe pain has decreased enormously over the past few years and in the images below you will see  the evolution of her new knee joint. 
#1 ... the degree of displacement of the bones of her lower leg.  The fibula bone is posterior to the knee in a very dramatic way.  When I saw this image I wondered how she could possibly walk.
#2 ... an image of her "new knee" in place and her now straight leg.  The unusual looking ladder on the front side of her leg are the staples put in the skin until it heals.
#3 .. the new knee joint in a frontal view ... look at how straight it is!  Remarkable.
The first Total Knee Replacement surgery occurred in 1968.  It was an unthinkable option when I was in nursing school.  I think of how much my grandmother would have benefited from such a surgical intervention.  This surgery was a great success and my friend is at home recuperating ... doing her exercises diligently and imagining hiking up a small hill next February to assist with an art installation. 
Meanwhile it's time for our family to gather and await the birth of a new grandchild in the next few days ... then it will be time to get back to documenting my Tibetan adventures.
#1 Side view pre - surgery

Side view of same knee with new joint in place

Front view with new joint in place and the oh-so-straight leg.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lhasa: small word ... large impact!

Stepping through the wrought iron gateway of our hotel onto the narrow, congested street was a small but momentous act for me.  The emotions running through my head and heart were huge.  I'm here. This is Lhasa, Tibet.  Turning right, my back to the main, westernized thoroughfare at one end of the narrow street,  I strolled toward the heart of the Barkor - the center of spiritual Lhasa.  I was stopped by the view of a non spiritual, but necessary item of daily life in Tibet, yak butter!  One of the ingredients of yak butter tea, the piece on the table must have weighed several pounds.  I did wonder if Tibetans use yellow food coloring in their butter too?  Don't think yak milk comes out that color.  But somehow that measure of daily life grounded me.
Yak butter
Walking slowly on, trying not to gape as I took in the sights, sounds, smells and activities around me, I arrived at a 'T' and stopped. Quietly making their way from my right - in a clockwise direction - lips moving, prayer beads slipping through fingers, prayer wheels spinning in many hands - were Tibetans dressed traditionally or in more westernized clothing - making their way around the Jokhang Temple ... the heart of the Barkor. Some chatted with companions as they walked, others moved in silence.  I had previously witnessed such a procession of Tibetan refugees around the great stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal.  But here it was Tibetans, in Tibet, circumambulating this most sacred of temples.  I could only stare through my tears.  A continuous line of pilgrims stretched for blocks as they waited along the wall of the Jokhang for admission to the temple.
Circumambulating the Jokhang
On both sides of the street were merchants, selling just about anything you could imagine: souvenirs of every kind - hand made and commercially produced, household items, food items, raw foods, cooked food to eat, statuary of every size and shape, prayer flags by the thousands ... it was dizzying.  Who was shopping?  The people in my group, Tibetans, Chinese tourists, monks ... and looking at the photos I took - there were so many things I didn't really see, mostly because it was all just a bit overwhelming.
Note the woman on the stool, right, with traditional turquoise hair ornaments.
The sacred and the saucepans - side by side
And amongst the congestion and commerce appeared a small fairy ... wings and all!  I walked on behind her, as her mother tried to hurry her along ... she wanted to pause and look at everything - and finally I couldn't resist taking her photo.
Tibetan fairy!
Walking on there was a sudden flare of intense white smoke.  It was difficult to see where it was coming from.  Finally we could see an enormous incense burner which had obviously just had an addition of (probably) cedar branches added to it.  Most of the large censers we saw, in all of our travels in Tibet, were being fed with cedar branches.
Jane, from our group, walking toward a military watch point.
It is forbidden to take photos of the police or the military in Tibet and China.  Fascinated by the burst of white smoke, I took the photo totally oblivious to the fact that I had captured one of the military watching posts that are placed at regular intervals around the Jokhang temple - following the upheavals in the city in 2008.  I later witnessed a soldier stop someone who had taken a photo that displeased them, demand to see the image and then tell the person to delete the image ... and watched as the man did so!  The watching posts are manned by four soldiers bearing semi-automatic large guns - two of them facing each direction.  They are ever vigilant.  Later in our stay Amy and I adjourned to a rooftop restaurant for a cup of tea and to rest.  Sensing someone was watching me I looked around and it wasn't until I looked to an adjoining building that I realized there were soldiers, with guns, phones and binoculars watching us, as well as the square below.  Posing Amy carefully, the soldier under the lavender colored umbrella can clearly be seen behind her.
The observed - Amy
The observer.

Thinking about that first exposure to Lhasa ... fully aware that it was no longer a small city with a totally spiritual focus ... but a city that had long been under the control of the Chinese government and one which the Chinese have very purposefully peopled with Han Chinese immigrants .... it was the vibrancy and vitality on the faces of the Tibetans we encountered on our first walk around the Jokhang temple that (perhaps foolishly) was somehow reassuring.  My amazement and gratitude at actually being there never diminished.  I recognize now that trying to collect together my thoughts and emotions around such an experience will be a much more complex undertaking than I had first imagined.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Lhasa: how might it have looked then ... and how it looks now!

In the mid 1920's an eccentric French woman, named Alexandra David-Neel, walked from Yunan province in China to Lhasa, Tibet.  She made this journey, with her adopted Mongolian son as her companion and, was the first Western woman in the holy city of Lhasa: their journey is detailed in her book My Journey to Lhasa.  Of the many verbal images she creates in her writing, one that sticks in my memory is her description of coming over the final mountain pass and seeing the Potala Palace atop a hill and Lhasa laid out before her on a huge open valley. Few buildings impeded her view of the Potala Palace in all of its imposing architectural wonder.  Grainy black and white photographs show the buildings without giving any impression of the grandeur of the surrounding scenery.
Approaching Lhasa airport
Our flight departed Zhongdian in the rain and our route north and west was mostly seen through peek-a-boo moments when the clouds cleared and the rain stopped beating on the plane's windows. However what terrain we did see was covered in muddy water and the visible mountains appeared bleak and unfriendly.  I found it a little disconcerting to not see huge, high mountains - we were after all journeying to the roof of the world.  The awareness came slowly that of course they were not huge and high mountains - we were after all between 10 and 11,000 feet above sea level already!
Between Lhasa airport and the city
Settling into the small bus, which met us at the airport, our journey continued.  Lhasa airport is about an hour from the city itself.  We stopped to see this series of sacred sculptures in the wall of a mountain between the airport and the city.  The white items are khata (usually white scarves associated with Tibetan religious practice symbolizing goodwill and compassion) which people have thrown to gain the highest place on the side of the mountain.  Hoping their prayers are closer to heaven, we wondered?
Where one used to first see the Potala Palace!
The bus moved on toward the city - all eyes were to the left waiting our first views of the Palace.  Instead this was what we saw!  American writer, Canyon Sam (Sky Train - University of Washington Press 2009) had detailed very clearly what to expect on arriving in Lhasa today. However as the bus continued on toward the center of the city the first view of that amazing building, perched on the top of a mountain, appeared through the bus window. No less amazing than I had imagined.  Moving on away from this amazing sight and the modern thoroughfare ... the bus turned into a tight, crowded narrow street in the Tibetan part of the city and stopped outside our wonderful, Nepali managed, traditional hotel where we settled in for the next four days.
Potala Palace seen through the dirty, wet window of the bus

The Dhood Gu Hotel, Lhasa