Tibetan Style Blankets

Shemelep Nama Mama Tibetan Style Blankets Green Blue Red Border 1m by 1m Amdo Tibet

I knew I had a good feeling about 2017. I was starting to feel guilty about not bringing in any money recently so I asked K if we could see if there would be any interest in our blanket business. I prepared an advertisement for Wechat, and got a lot of feedback. Then I created a group to discuss with potential customers. The response was overwhelming! It was certainly enough to get the ball rolling.

Over the weekend and Qingming Festival, we received 15 blanket orders and many people are asking when we’ll take the next batch!

We took this opportunity to go to Gansu and get wholesale materials. I haven’t been this excited about something in a really really long time. Right I am working on pricing and marketing.

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One thing I’m worried about are the tailors. Not that they will do a good job or not, but how quickly they can finish, and if they have a good understanding of the colors and sizes. We were not able to stay in the village for very long, so hopefully with the help of their younger relatives and smart phones, everything will be clear. Whether the work can get done quickly or not is another matter. That is a cultural difference.

So these days look for my blogs and pages for Shemelep (which means Butterfly in Amdo Tibetan) to be updated and refreshed. If you know someone who may be interested in a blanket inspired by Tibetan traditional robes and Amdo Tibetan culture, feel free to contact me.

Shemelep Nama Mama Tibetan Style Blankets Green Gold Brocade Edge Zhouzhuang Jiangsu China K

City Life

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Greetings from Xining! I am very happy to be coming to you from my chosen second home. Over the last month we have been settling in and figuring things out. As with city life in general, we have been busy! And the day continue to fly by.

K is sometimes busy with his work, but has a lot of time to spend at home at the moment too. He enjoys it and it is improving his language abilities as well as his understanding of how larger systems operate. He likes the challenge and hopes to continue with this company for a long time.
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KL has started Chinese kindergarten. After a search around the area we found several kindergartens, and chose to go with the one that is nearest to our place. This kindergarten is supposed to be famous for instilling a love of music and dance into the small students.

Honestly, we struggle to send her to a Chinese kindergarten. There are a number of reasons for this. Disappointment at the lack of Tibetan kindergartens in the city is one.  The probability of her picking up habits there that we find undesirable is another. But aside from keeping her at home with us all day, we have no other choice.

There are some benefits though, and they are really important. She has started to learn Chinese. Every day she comes home with more understanding of the language. I think it is an excellent time for her to start learning the language that she is going to have to do most of her academic study in for the rest of her time in China.

For now, she makes exaggerated noises and facial expressions when she attempts to speak it, which I think is just hilarious.

She seems to be adjusting alright, she’s gone from not wanting to go in the mornings, to not wanting to come home in the afternoons. I’ve had a mother and a grandma come up to me and tell me that their kid likes to play with “L”. That’s always a nice feeling.

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As for me, according to my husband, I am “resting.” And by that I think he means not at the moment bringing home the bacon. But that does not mean that I’ve been idle. On most days I achieve my goal of 10,000 steps (recorded by my handy fitbit). I’m also scouring the web for work opportunities, and networking with friends online and off, in order to succeed in my plan to be able to settle down in Xining for the long haul.

Some ideas I’ve had so far have been to start a baking business, revive our blanket business (which I think we will do!!!), and do some course development work.  I know I need to be patient and allow myself time to get immersed into city life, and to also rest, truly rest, because the last two years have seen adverse affects on my health.

I continue to be optimistic, and with exercise, a positive attitude, and finally being back together with my family, I am turning my life around.

Dos and Don’ts when visiting a Tibetan Monastery

Dos and Don'ts

For many travelers to Qinghai, a visit to a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery is at the top of their to-do lists. Aside from traditional schools of religious study, in recent years many monasteries have become popular tourist attractions. Here is a list of Dos and Don’ts to help visitors respect the local culture and people, and to secure a satisfying visit.

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1. Learn a bit about the religion and culture before you arrive.

These days it is not hard to find general information about cultures and religions. Check out a book at your local library or browse trustworthy websites so that you have a better idea of what to expect when you arrive.

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2. Observe the local people.

They say “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” It’s no different in these Tibetan holy places. This means first you’ll have to spot the locals. (Hint: they are not the large groups of people following a megaphone and a flag). You won’t want to do everything the locals are doing, but follow their cues. If they’re avoiding something, you might want to as well. If they’re going in a certain direction, there is probably a reason for it.

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3. Follow basic monastery etiquette

Tibetans circumambulate around temples and monasteries clockwise. This means the temple or monastery they are walking around should always be on their right side. Prayer wheels should also be turned clockwise and with your right hand. To do the opposite is ignorant and disrespectful. An exception to this is monasteries that belong to Bon, a pre-Buddhist animistic religious tradition where everything should be done counter-clockwise and with the left hand.

If you are not a Buddhist yourself, consider being content to observe. Doing prostrations or other religious rituals without really understanding them can be disrespectful.

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4. Don’t take photos of monks and local people (unless they say it is ok)

If you are a foreigner who does not look Asian, you will learn quickly about how it feels to have cameras thrust in your face. Be respectful of the local people’s feelings and follow the golden rule. Remember they are people, not exotic animals in a zoo. They’re just trying to go about their daily lives.

It is often also requested that visitors not take photos inside temples and shrines. As a general rule, it is not recommended to take photos inside buildings. (I know, it’s really frustrating!)  Taking photos outside is almost always ok.

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5. Don’t be loud and rambunctious

Tibetans can seem really relaxed in their holy places compared to followers of other religions. Sometimes pilgrims will even elbow their way through a crowd to keep their pace. All the same, as with any place of worship, we should be quiet and respectful. Don’t play loud music, roughhouse with your friends, or damage any property when you’re visiting a Tibetan monastery.

Following these tips will help everyone to have a better experience when visiting Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries.

Did I forget anything? Let me know in the comments! How was your experience at a monastery in Qinghai?

Dos and Don'ts

When Cultures Collide

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Compared to most of the (multicultural) couples that I know, K and I are remarkably peaceful. Our relationship is based on logic and reasoning, and we often give each other the benefit of the doubt when there are misunderstandings. That and we’re both just really relaxed personalities, and don’t need to make mountains out of molehills.

Recently however we’ve been going through a difficult time. We’ve reached a problem in our relationship where there isn’t a right or wrong answer, just cultural ideas and a strong adherence to them.

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I’ve written before about the plan for me to move to a tier one city in China, work at a (teaching) job that provides housing, and save as much money as possible so that we would soon buy an apartment of our own. For a while, I too thought that was the only way that we could save up to finally settle down and have a place of our own.

But the more I hunted for jobs, and contemplated a new life far away from my family, the more I felt myself resist. I looked at my sleeping daughter and could not find a worthy enough justification in my mind for leaving her again, this time longer than ever before. I worried that I’d work another thankless, unhappy, and tiring teaching job, alone, and without any emotional support or understanding from the people I would need it from most. I dreaded another Jiangsu; the most miserable year and a half of my life to date.

Even though I put measures into place to make sure I would have a better time than I did on China’s east coast; making sure that wherever I went I’d have foreign friends and a somewhat potentially less ugly teaching experience, it still did not seem worth it to leave my family behind, especially our young daughter.

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So I chatted with a lot of people that I trust and respect, and who are in similar relationships and situations as we are, and learned about other opportunities, other ways to make money without needing to be separated from the people I care about most.

Times were already strained here, we were staying with K’s sister, and I was doing my best to be a good Tibetan wife (washing, cleaning, attending to everyone as best I could, and putting up with Yak Yak!) so I was already not dealing with things very well. K was practicing for his drivers tests and he was under a lot of pressure too. But as New Year Holiday was ending for everyone, I had to tell him how I felt.

He did not take my news well.

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As most of you reading this are fluent in English and most likely come from Western countries, you may be sympathizing with me a bit. I know in America where I come from, parents are responsible for raising their children, and being a good influence on them, especially in their younger years. It is also important, however, to know how situations like this are handled in Tibetan society, and their attitudes about family and child rearing.

From what I have been told and what I observe, most Tibetan children are raised by their grandparents, and later their teachers. Parents are away at work, and unless there are special circumstances (for example, K’s brother can look after his own kids because they attend the same school where he teaches), they don’t have much interaction with their children, especially when they are young.

They also have full confidence that the grandparents (usually the father’s parents) are doing a good job, and don’t worry about their children’s care. It is the parent’s job to go out and work, often very far away from home, to bring in the money necessary to support the family.

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So in the Tibetan mind, going away to work is NORMAL, and an EXPECTED sacrifice a parent does for their family.

Because, as a foreigner, I have such a higher earning potential in large Eastern Chinese cities (and in my case, have a much better time getting work visas), it is a no brainer that I should be on the next flight out to Shenzhen. My family would still be there waiting for me when I came back.

I understand and sympathize with my husband. If I was in his shoes, I would be frustrated with me too. But what can we really do about it? In this situation, whatever we decided, somebody would end up frustrated. Either I sacrifice my health and time with my daughter during an important time in her development, or he gives up his chance for us to buy an apartment much sooner than would otherwise be possible.

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We decided to stay in Qinghai, and that I will try my hand at online work. It’s been a dream of mine for quite some time, and it is something that people here have absolutely no faith in. Things are better in our relationship recently, now that we are on the practical path of securing an apartment to rent, finding A a kindergarten nearby, and stating the online job research-and-interview process.

I feel a lot of pressure to make this work. I feel like I have one shot to prove myself in this. The heat is on, but I am optimistic. And I am very happy to soon be with my nuclear family, away from extended family, and finally following my dreams.

Tibetan New Year

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Losar Zang! It’s Tibetan New Year these days (15 days!) and as usual, this year things have been crazy. Lots of ups and downs, but that’s always the case. Here’s a little bit about what we’ve been doing for Losar this year.

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This year, since we’re staying with sister in law, we stayed in county for New Year’s Eve. We ate snacks and enjoyed the Tibetan New Year performances on TV. Unfortunately for SIL, she had to go to the hospital to take care of one of her husband’s relatives, so after they left we just went to bed. Had a lot of fun in my ladies WeChat groups though!

The next day we were off to the village for the first day of Losar. On this day, the sons in a family will come home with their families. Sister in law and her family also usually comes on the first day, because let’s face it, the foreign Nama, daughter in law, is of no real practical use. Asking brother’s wife to do everything is asking a lot, so Sister D goes to help.

But actually K’s family is really relaxed. I vowed to be of more use this year, and did my best to follow Brother’s wife around and learn how to do things and help her as much as I could. actually there wasn’t much for any of us to do, even on our busy day, so I spent time taking photos and soaking up the atmosphere.

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In the last few years, the traditional Losar trees, filled with dried fruits and candies, are slowly being replaced by plastic trees that look remarkably familiar to me.

Then the family decided that several people wanted to go to Lhasa. Leave it to Tibetans to plan things like journeys that take 24 hours by train at the last minute. Oh well! That meant that K’s parents and a bunch of sisters, and Yak Yak, are gone for about three weeks! The holiday got exponentially better once they left for some reason. Not sure why.

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We went back to the village to experience some of the other New Year traditions. There is one where each family member rubs some roasted barley flower and water on their face, arms and hands. This is to remove any sickness, discomfort or bad things from your body. Then they donate it along with some fruits, vegetables and small change to a figure they create, also made from the roasted barley flour and water, to eventually be tossed somewhere outside the village, symbolizing all the bad things being removed from the village at the beginning of the new year.

I had the good chance to go to the place where where they were preparing everything at take some photographs. There are some really talented people in this village.

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Now the main festival activities are over, and we are enjoying peace (sometimes) in the county. This morning A got a very long phone call from Yak Yak and other aunts and relatives who are enjoying their pilgrimage to Lhasa. We hope they have a wonderful time!

On Holiday in the Salar Town

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Greetings! I am happy to report that my Winter Holiday is off to a healthy start. Every day that K and I are both here, we get up very early and go out walking/jogging. This has been really great for me for many reasons.

It’s great to get my body moving again, after spending so much time curled up in a ball trying to stay warm. It’s also great to get out of the house and enjoy the local surroundings. Finally, it is wonderful to have some time with K that is uninterrupted. We have such great discussions from psychology to our plans for the next few months.

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Last week I went back to Shenzhen and Hong Kong, for another stamp. It was the best trip yet. I had the chance to spend time with each of my WWAM friends there and meet the newest baby “T” as well as her wonderful grandparents.

Traveling to Shenzhen has solidified how important it is to have friends who can relate to your life on some level. As much as my hair shines and gets wavy when I enter the southern humidity, my heart becomes light and relaxed when I know I’m about to spend a fun week with other foreigners with Asian husbands. They’re wonderful ladies and I am so fortunate to know them. That is one positive thing about needing to make these expensive trips.

But these trips need to come to an end, because we can’t afford for me to keep making them. Thus we are looking at our options. There are basically two. One is for me to get a job that can actually provide a work visa, and the other is to apply for a visiting family visa. Judging by our financial situation, I will have to go for the work visa.

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Since my days in Qinghai are again numbered, I’m trying to enjoy the meaningful moments, while trying to ignore the annoying aspects. It can be difficult whilst we are staying with K’s sister. We are hoping to be able to rent our own place here for the next couple of months, and we really need to, because let’s face it, I have accumulated too much stuff.

What good is an Empty Bowl?

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I’m sitting in my office, in the dark, so that the students don’t know that I’m here. I’m soaking up the last bit of uninterrupted (and unjudged) bit of Internet and ME time before I take my leave of this school, probably for good.

As it usually happens, when I can enjoy some time to myself, my head fills with ideas and dreams for the future. I figuratively lick my lips as I peruse Pinterest, finding fulfillment and inspiration in the creativity and genius of others. I smile as I fill one of my new notebooks with ideas for blog posts and web articles. I know more than ever, that I will truly be happy if I can run with some of my great loves, and that it can only be acceptable if I can earn some money from them at the same time.

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I’m apprehensive about trying to make a living in a field besides English teaching. I’ve been teaching ESL to Asians for six years of my life. I’ve taught at all levels except kindergarten, in three provinces and four different places. For my life in Asia, aside from one blissful year of editing, teaching is all I know.

But I am completely burned out. I was even given the chance to work at what I always thought was my dream job this year, and it was equally as hard as any of the other teaching jobs I’ve had. In different ways, but in the end, I’m leaving with less energy than I went in with.

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I’m introverted. Teaching drains me of energy. Teaching in Asia, where many jobs for foreigners are little more than dancing monkey roles, makes it even worse. And knowing that all the energy you put into your work is completely unappreciated does little to boost ones morale.

I’m aching to try something new. I have so many ideas! But I have no support from my family here, because ideas are not solid, and cannot be relied upon. They are just dreams that take risk, and thus might fail. It’s good to be practical. I do appreciate that. But if I don’t do something different soon, I won’t have anything at all left to give anyone.