Saturday, June 25, 2011

My Photo Shoot with a Tibetan Monk

We were hiking up past the monastery in Litang to the grassy hills behind it when we were approached by a monk. He was smiley and friendly and couldn't speak a lick of English. From his wild hand motions in the direction of my camera, I could tell that he wanted us to take his photo. Ok. I was the tinsiest bit apprehensive as most people who request to have their photo taken (other than Han Chinese who want to pose in photos with us) ask us for money after we have gone ahead and taken their photo. But Litang has been different in so many aspects, and this seemed to be another one. So I took his photo.

He wanted to see it. He was mildly pleased, but wasn't completely satisfied. He wanted another. He posed. I snapped. Who am I to turn down such a fantastic photo opp? A monk's saffron and maroon robes set against the colbalt blue sky? Click. Click. He posed more. He pretended to read my little notebook. He pretended to meditate, to pray. It was entertaining. Mostly for myself and the monk though. Not so much for Jonathan, as he was left to fend off all the salivating stray dogs on his own, while protecting all the monk's belongings that the monk had dropped into his arms.
The real question was, why was the monk so adament that I take a slew of photos of him? We were finally able to slip away and go on the hike that we were intending to go on. On the way back down the hill, however, we were spotted by the model monk and chased down. Quite literally. He wanted more photos. After each time I took a picture, he would inspect it. He rubbed his greasy fingers all over the screen and pointed out various ways I could improve my shot. He kept pointing to the sky 'tuga,' 'tuga' he said over and over. That's what it sounded like anyways. Finally I got the idea that what he wanted was a photo of him and just the sky. I tried to convince him that because we were standing on a hill, with the ground rising up behind him, that a photo of his whole body surrounded by blue sky would be impossible. 'Tuga!!' So we went further up the hill. He framed the shots with his fingers to try and show me exactly what he wanted. Nearly a half hour later I finally managed to take a photo that he was happy with. But the question remained: 'what did he want me to do with this acceptable photo?' I tried writing down my email address and giving it to him so I could email him the photos. That didn't seem to be what he was going for. He wrote something in Tibetan in my notebook. I don't know how familiar you are with the Tibetan language- but it might as well be morse code with all the incomprehensible lines and dots. Did he want me to mail him the photos? I couldn't see how well that would go. I copy the Tibetan down on to the envelope and just drop the package in the mail? How far could it possibly get? Do I write, 'Tibetan monk, Litang Monastery, Middle of no-where, China,' on the envelope? I began to wonder if he wanted the camera. I got the idea that perhaps he wanted me to take my camera down to the village and somehow bring him back up prints. Apparently he wasn't aware where he was. Yaks were the main traffic. There was no Walmart photocentre. There were barely flush toilets. I brought his message down to the owner of our guesthouse, who was also Tibetan in hopes of shedding some light on his mysterious message. 'This doesn't make any sense,' she told me gravely, shaking her head. 'He doesn't write Tibetan very well at all.' So, maybe he wanted the photos to be displayed on our blog? That must be it.


Anonymous said...

I will keep this short and sweet. My last 3 epistles have well and truly been lost in transit or is it translation. HeHe! Love the tuga tuga's. I hope your subject was well pleased. All ok with us in NZ. Winter upon us, but the longest day is past. God Bless. Love from M & M

PS: the young folk all ok

Parentals said...

the tuga tuga sky is an amazing backdrop for these pictures.

Harper Cosper said...

It's kinda funny that this monk loved having his picture taken. That aside, these pictures look great. Maybe the monk fell in love with his pictures and wanted more.