That aside, I spent a few hours talking with the monk I met last time, learning a bit more about his personal spiritual journey and the monastery. I also began to practice my version of Tibetan. My friend Maria warned me that the local dialects would be quite different than the phrasebook’s teachings, and she turned out to be correct! What is known as “Tibetan” to the rest of the world, is the Lhasa dialect, which vastly differs from the many other Tibetan dialects spoken around the area, such as how they speak here in Kham. Although I have many useful phrases from my “Lonely Planet Tibetan Phrasebook”, my local Kham Tibetan hosts understand it—not! Of course, a lot of it is me, but when I speak the phrase phonetically, Bama (one of my hosts at the hotel) will read the Tibetan and correct me. The sounds she uses are completely different from those recommended in the guidebook! I fearlessly keep trying, and she kindly keeps correcting. Sigh. And my lovely Tibetan friends here do not read Mandarin, and speak only a little, so the WeChat app is of no help, because it does not translate Tibetan! In fact, many translation apps do not support Tibetan! After much searching, I was finally able to discover a page on Omniglot http://www.omniglot.com/language/phrases/tibetan.php, which offers some of the phrases in audio example. I could find almost nothing on Amazon, in the way of translation guides and language learning books, while hundreds of these language books are offered for other languages such as Mandarin, Spanish, Italian, , Korean, etc.! It’s rather irksome! But that may come as a result that it was forbidden to teach outsiders the language until the last century or so (I don’t recall the exact time frame, so my statement on time may be incorrect.
Tuesday, July 17. Yesterday, I just spent resting and trying to explain to my hosts that I wasn’t very hungry, but they would have none of it. Luckily, the phrase “I have altitude sickness” is in my phrasebook, so they encouraged me to rest. I still had three delicious meals, with too much food. Even when I have felt fine and famished on my previous visits, they want me to eat more and more. I wish I could, because the food is so delicious! For breakfast, I had some of the leftover noodle soup served at dinner the previous night: vegetarian and so satiating. But I was also served steamed bread and spicy radish “kimchi” (Chinese-style kimchi is slightly fermented and spicy, but using different spices and resulting in a distinct flavor). Oh, and the requisite breakfast teas: Chin Cha and Lei Cha. Chin Cha is, I believe, a Chinese black tea that is heavily diluted and drunk all day here. It is a clear, brown liquid, and very good. Lei Cha has milk in it, but it is thin and not heavy-feeling. It is a pale white, and slightly thicker in consistency to Chin Cha, but still, a thin consistency when compared to Indian Chai or English-style tea served with cream or milk, the American way.
Then there is the delicious food! I was not hungry at lunchtime, and had gone back to bed to rest and nap, feeling very fatigued from the altitude. But around 3 I felt a little shaky and knew I needed to eat. The useless phrasebook got me nowhere when requesting a small bowl of yogurt (nga sho go), although I was eventually served the yogurt (sho), and small dishes of spicy sauce, Tibetan bread, roasted baby potatoes, and an amazingly flavorful dish of spicy, piquant mixed veggies. Of course, I ate it all; not wanting to be rude, and because it was too delicious to stop eating! I’ve discovered my hosts’ tricks when it comes to mealtime: I am initially served one or two small dishes (like yesterday’s breakfast of steamed bread and radish kimchi). Thinking that’s all there is, I eat most of it. But 10 or so minutes later, whoosh goes the curtain between the patio kitchen and family area, and a few more plates are placed in front of me (again, yesterday morning: noodle soup). The problem is, that after the first course, I am full! Thus, at lunch, I am half finished with the tangy yak yogurt and bread, when—voila!—potatoes and spicy dipping sauce appears! At dinner time, I am still feeling full from lunch, and have no appetite, but Lamu (my other host), knocks on my door and physically insists I come eat dinner with them, despite my hand-signal protestations. Once again, the food is astounding! A large pot of spicy stew overflowing with yak meat, tofu squares, vegetables, and the infamous Sichuan pepper. It is not too spicy, not greasy at all, and oh so flavourful! I am dying to know how the foods are seasoned so I can replicate these delicious meals at home. I would feel so much more content in Chengdu if I could eat properly and enjoy my food—for I am even tiring of the Korean food I make! The flavor is much more complex than the bite of the pepper and the nuance of yak meat. The broth is extremely savory and a mixture of flavors that blend perfectly into a rich broth. Bamu, my vegetarian Buddhist host, brings her own small pot of stew over. One of the aspects of this inn that I love (English name for GouZhuang Nam Wu Hao is “Primitive Trade Place Inn”) , is that I always eat dinner with the hosts, family style! And we get to eat food that is not served to the guests!!! I think it is tastier, for they are served some kind of traditional Chinese dish stewed in a specialized pot nearer to the shape of a tagine, but for boiling rather than oven-baking. Anyway, Bamu sits next to me with her pot of stew and of course I try it, and it comes as no surprise that it is equally delicious. By now, I have learned the Tibetan term for meat: “sha”, and she explains there is no sha in hers, while the larger dish has yak meat. I discover something chewy and maroon-colored in her soup, and thinking it is some kind of vegetable, I am surprised to discover it is a large flat noodle, about the size and texture of a lasagne noodle. Her brew is filled with veggies, glass noodles, and these interesting maroon colored noodles. I presume the dough contains some kind of vegetable or herb that is a deep red, offering a unique eye-catching color to this delicious vegetarian stew. Both are delicious; I am encouraged to keep eating beyond fullness, and I enjoy both and then retire to my room to read, write, rest, and sleep. But unfortunately, sleep is very fitful due once again to my anti-friend: altitude.
Wednesday, July 18. I had difficulty falling asleep last night, and awaken frequently as my body gulps in air. I find myself awake and—not really gasping—but aware of the desire to take deep breaths due to the feeling of “not enough air”. As you’ll find below, the altitude is messing with the acidity of my blood, my brain’s oxygen sensors and CO2 sensors, all which combine to cause my body to stop its inherent autonomic function so necessary for me to wake up in the morning—breathing!
The following is excerpted from “Altitude Physiology”, presented by the Institute for Altitude Medicine. If you are interested in learning more about altitude physiology, high altitude health, and AMS prevention and aid, click:
Trouble sleeping is quite common at high altitude. The low oxygen directly affects the sleep center of the brain. Frequent awakenings, a light sleep and less total time of sleep are the main problems, and these usually improve with acclimatization after a few nights. Some persons, however, will have trouble sleeping despite acclimatization.
WHAT IS PERIODIC BREATHING DURING SLEEP?
This condition, which can cause trouble sleeping, happens quite frequently but is not associated with altitude illness. It results from a battle within the body over control of breathing during sleep. Oxygen sensors in the body command the brain to increase breathing, which causes the lungs to blow off CO2. But CO2 sensors in the body then tell the brain to stop breathing, because CO2 is getting too low. So breathing then stops for about 12 seconds, until the oxygen sensors take over again. The result is an irregular pattern of breathing, with 4 or so large breaths followed by no breaths. The first large breath will sometime wake up a person, with a sensation of feeling breathless or suffocated. This pattern may continue throughout the day as well, but typically is most disturbing at night as it frequently wakes a person multiple times. Although uncomfortable it is not dangerous. It is easily treated with a small dose of Diamox® (62.5 or 125 mg) taken before bedtime; this smooths out the breathing and improves sleep and raises blood oxygen.