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April 20, 2013
A Stranger in a Strange New Land...
Sixteen hours in coach and three crying babies later, my flight landed in the bustling capital of Lhasa, Tibet. While I wondered why so many people were taking a horde of their small children to Tibet, I had to stay focused on my own crazy reasons for being here. I had to keep my promise to Sensei and find his nephew in order to protect the world---or you know---something like that? This has been a crazy weekend to say the least, but no time for that now, Rin! I have a monk to track down!
I managed to get into town with no trouble and once lost within the unfamiliar setting, I started my search all too suddenly realizing the sad reality that I knew absolutely nothing that could help me find Mr. Hong's nephew. I'm looking for one monk in all of Tibet, I thought. That won't be too hard, right? What, I just have to spot a bald guy in an orange robe doing Kung Fu or meditating? Wait, I guess I shouldn't stereotype him because for all I knew, was it more like the "fryer" looking monk with the silly haircut and the Robin Hood style cloak. Do monks even look like that anymore, or do they all wear jeans and T-shirts like the rest of us? Man, I thought, I should have Googled this or something? If only I had a picture to follow, then maybe this wouldn't be so hard.
I wandered the city aimlessly for hours, looking through windows, searching across markets, and even reading a few flyers in hopes I would catch something, but I didn't even get close to finding anything helpful about a monk named Anil. After being turned down by two other monasteries, I was starting to feel just the slightest hint of discouragement towards my mission, and I sat on the curb with my lowly backpack, sulking as I reread that scarlet letter from Mr. Hong over and over again for clues. I even held the paper up to the sun in hopes Mr. Hong had pulled a dollar trick and there would be a hidden message within the parchment---no such luck though.
"This is hopeless," I sighed, "What am I even doing here? I must be out of my mind. I ate some bad Ramen that was it, Rinry, it caused you to hop on the first flight to Asia and now, here you are with no clue about anything. I really think I must be slightly insane..." A few locals stared at me funny because I was babbling to myself. Embarrassed, I grabbed my bag and started walking to another setting before someone called the loony bin to come and collect me. They had Nuthouses in Tibet I'm sure? I thought quickly as I rounded the corner into a more desolate looking part of town. "Man, Rirny, you sure got yourself into one heck of a mess, didn't you?" I said, growling afterwards, "Argh! Stop thinking out loud idiot, or people are going to think you're crazier than you already are!"
Suddenly an old cackle from behind made me jump and I shot around to see an old man with about three teeth left to his name just staring at me with a friendly twinkle in his eye. I took a step back and flicked my hand in an awkward wave as he watched my every movement, that smile of his was never fading.
"Uh...Hello?" I hummed nervously. With a goofy grin he waved back at me and then shoved his hands back into his long manila colored sleeves. I looked around for witnesses, but they seemed to ignore the two of us and took another stroppy step back, "Well---it was nice meeting you, I guess, but I have a monk to track down, so yeah---" I slipped my worn out ocher backpack over my shoulder and ever so gradually started my timid retreat back towards the busy part of town.
The old man merely laughed at me and I just stood there dumbly, trying to think whether this bald guy spoke English or not. The Hong's taught me a little Mandarin growing up, but according to Google, people in Tibet could speak a variety of languages and some of the other "older people" can be unpredictable in what languages they speak. Oh well, anything was worth the shot? I guessed. It couldn't get much worse than just standing here in the middle of the road like a freak, now could it?
"Nǐ huì jiǎng yīngyǔ ma?" I asked, pretty much proving what a lousy translator I actually was.
He pointed a frail finger in my face and said to me with his wrinkled eyes gleaming, "It is said that he who talks to himself is a genius."
Oh good, he can speak English! This old guy was just weird and crazy then I guess? I cleared my throat and managed a normal speaking voice, smiling back at him in disagreement. "Where I come from, it means you're psychotic. Society frowns on that sort of thing in America."
"Traveler, may you find all that you are searching for in our fair city," the old man chuckled again. He gave me a small yet humble bow, and then immediately turned to go onward down the road and on his merry way.
After a moment I turned to look after him, but it was the strangest thing---the man just disappeared altogether. Wow! He certainly was quick for a man of his age, wasn't he? Odd too. I hope everyone in Tibet wasn't as strange as that old man was. Oh jeese, I hope Anil isn't some creepy old man with random "infinite wisdom". That could make things potentially awkward.
"Weird?" I muttered before groaning and slapping a hand over my own mouth to keep from talking to myself. Talking to myself!? I slapped my forehead. I had just managed small talk with perhaps one of the only locals that spoke my language fluently and I let him get away without asking him the location of another temple of monks! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! There are over fifty (maybe even more) monasteries in Tibet and Sensei didn't exactly give me a specific location or a face to follow. These people are no help, I was a hopeless maniac, and a map would have done me wonders right about now, but noooo---Sensei couldn't have scribbled it down on that letter, could he?
I groaned and mumbled under my breath, "This was a waste of time. I shouldn't be here. What am I even doing!? Sensei, I'm lost! I need a sign---or---well something! I need your help!"
I jumped and looked to my left at the weird bird that was giving me a stare down from the other side of the alley; it was some sort of Crane? A tall bird with long legs and a long neck; it had white and black feathers, and these crazy, glowing red eyes that were literally staring into perhaps my very soul. Now, normally a demon bird would literally be worthy of a turn and run, but for some reason I couldn't look away. The crane bobbed its head at me and I gazed at it dumbfounded, watching as it extended its massive wings and started to fly away into the overcast skies. When it was a few feet away, the odd crane stopped to look at me and then flew a tiny bit farther before repeating the motions again and again with a growing impatience.
Without even realizing it, my foot suddenly found itself taking a step toward the odd bird. "You want me to follow you?" I asked before growling again. "Wait!" I snapped, "Talking to an animal doesn't count as talking to myself, sweet! I would have gone for a flyer or a billboard, but alright universe, we'll play it your way?" I waved to the sky where the crane continued checking back for me, "Demon bird, lead the way! Seriously though, what do I have to lose if I'm reduced to trailing after a massive oriental crane?"
---Maybe just my breath and dignity. This goose chase took me straight through Lhasa and into some mountainous area where I lost track of time and distance after a few hours of hiking. Now all I can tell is that I think I'm on a higher elevation and I might be on a mountain somewhere---honestly I wasn't too sure. My feet hurt, the air was thin, and my eyes were still glazed over as I followed the hypnotic monochromatic feathers of that freaking crane! At this point my consciousness drifted in and out as though this stupid bird was brain washing me with every look back to make sure that I was still following it. The sheer weirdness was definitely at a highpoint, even for me. I groaned and the Crane squawked at me again to keep moving.
"How many stairs are there on this stupid mountain!!!?" I bellowed out loud, my voice echoing me as the emptiness alerted me to how zoned off I had gotten from Lhasa. "And just in case anyone out there is listening, I just wanted to point out that for the record, I was talking to the stupid, demon Crane, not to myself!!!" I laughed maniacally, "I swear universe, I am not crazy, but I will be if this universal sign makes me climb one more frickin' frackin' staircase!"
As I lowered my shaking fists from the universe a shutter ran through me and I looked abruptly to the right only to meet glances with a confused, bald monk who was staring oddly at me and my crazed ranting. He dressed in a long, orange robe and belt sort of fashion with bright warm colors and a rolled up parchment in his hands. Orange robed monks it is then. Thank you the universe!
"Oh! Uh...hey?" I waved awkwardly, "I was just---following a bird---up a mountain---and I am so glad that I ran into you! Maybe you can help me out---uh---you know, with something? I just had a couple of questions for you sir..."
He gave me an odd stare and turned to walk away in a rushing haste, disappearing through the thick leaves beside the ground in staircase built into the mountain.
"Wait!" I called, "Please, I---I just need to know where that bird sent me! I was waiting on a sign and I think it lead me here! Wherever here is? Come back!" I rushed off towards the rocks and trees where the brightly dressed monk vanished, but he disappeared---he just up and vanished almost as quickly as that old man had back in town. What was it with these people, the water!? I thought to myself in frustration, taking one long, heavy breath to calm down just before I hear the sinister---
"You!" I muttered with contempt, "Alright you stupid chicken, what's the deal!? Why did you drag me all the way up here? What's your angle? What sort of sign are you supposed to be anyway!?"
The bird blinked at me and shifted its head to the side.
"Oh, got nuthin' to say, do we?" I scoffed, "Seems about right you feathered spawn of evil! Dragging my butt up a literal mountian..." I groaned, "You must think you're pretty funny, don't you!?"
The crane shut its eyes and let out a breath before sitting down amongst the boulders and ivy near the staircase I took to get up here. It almost seemed to mock me by taking a rest and I rubbed my temple in frustration, trying to see just how far down this stone-carved staircase actually lead. I couldn't see the bottom. I was actually up so high that I think clouds were sliding across the bottom perifrial view I had of the mountain.
"Oh....that's---no that is just great!" I laughed meekly, "What have you gotten me into?"
"It will not speak to you," a calm voice echoed.
I jumped and looked towards the trees, but could not pin point the speaker. I spun around, but there was nobody nearby, not a soul in sight. Maybe I was starting to lose it if I'm imagining voices again?
I turned back to the crane, not three feet away from my face, but instead of seeing that cynical bird, I was glaring right into the unexpected sight of a young monk petting the crane like it were some sort of loyal dog, rather a demonic creature of evil. Seeing him caused me to jump back with a yelp. Neither the young monk, nor the vicious crane moved a muscle, but the boy was watching me as I started to look around for a path this guy might have appeared on. There was nothing around in any direction except for the wall to wall bushes and trees next to the boulder where the crane roosted. The leaves in every direction were not tussled or tossed a single solidary inch, and with no path---no, there was absolutely no possible way that he could have snuck up on me, no way!
"Where the---when---h-how the heck did you even get there!?" I frantically asked the boy.
"Simple," he grinned smugly, "I walked."
"That---that isn't what I meant! There's no path? How---" I pieced my words in shock then sighed heavily, rubbing my sore eyes before glancing back to notice the boy completely gone. "Hey!" I shouted, "Wait! Come back!" I looked to the red eyes of the devil bird and panicked, "Crane! where did that guy go?"
The trees rustled and he fell downwards, hanging by his knees as he laughed and nodded his chin back towards the bird. "The Black Necked Crane is a very wise creature, but I fear not wise enough to speak back to you. This bird cannot answer the questions you ask of it." The monk was obviously making fun of me, but his constant popping out of nowhere was seriously starting to give me whiplash.
I didn't let the odd boy out of my sight, and in return he simply dangled upside down from that tree branch, swinging lightly as he hummed and smiled down towards me. This monk was young---like the youngest person I'd ever expect to see here and he acted the part as well---goofy and mischievous like a child. I didn't even think that he was that much older than I was, in fact, the monk looked about my age. He had black hair that was shaven pretty short and his robes were a mixture of red, orange, and yellow fabrics; the weirdest trait were his eyes which were striking green instead of a black or brown color like everyone else had in this country. Why was this monk so different from the others? I wondered. Why did he not run away from me like that other fellow?
"Well you seem pretty smart, Monk," I scoffed, finally breaking my trail of thought, "Before you dissapear again, can I ask just who you are?"
"A---" he started, but an elder monk came and shooed him off.
"Leave here, you should be in studies!" The monk muttered after scolding the young boy in another language. Maybe this was what actual "Tibetan" sounded like?
The old man shouted angrily at the guy with the green eyes, until he frowned and fell forward, landing professionally to his feet before he shot off into the bushes without another word to anyone.
The older monk, a bald man with a long goatee, started doing the same shooing motions towards me until I found my foot touching those stone steps off the mountain. "You should not be here," he spat at me. "Be on your way at once traveler, this area is forbidden to outsiders."
"I meant no disrespect---" I eased, "It's just---well, I just lost my foster father, and he told me---"
"I apologize for your travels---" he interrupted sourly, "But the temple does not take in orphans. Please wander back to the city where you belong, at once."
"Calm yourself, Champo!" another old voice chuckled. In fact, it was a familiar, kind of voice---it belonged to the old man! The one I spoke with back in town! How did he get all the way up here on the mountain, and manage to change clothes so quickly? He wasn't even out of breath!? Did he have a clone or a twin brother that I was unaware of or what?
"You!?" I gasped, looking at that snaggle-toothed smile of the weird old man from town.
"I should have known. Now what have you done?" Champo frowned to the other monk.
He motioned calmly for me to wait for an explanation, but instead of talking to me, the toothless monk started talking to that long bearded, grouchy fellow again. His tone was so serene as he explained himself; he said, "Obviously Rabten has seen the signs in this girl," he pointed towards the crane, "As have I, and I know that you have as well, my old friend."
"You know that there is no place for her kind in the world anymore! The secret has been buried for over five generations, and it is our duty to keep it that way!" Champo growled, "You never listen to warning! Her presence causes much more harm here than good."
"I have a letter!" I eased timidly, "Maybe you can help me translate---I'm starting to think I might have misread it or something, but it might help!" I translated the thing like a pro---so, yeah...I totally just lied to a monk. I'm sure that was wrong on many a level, but I needed their trust and something in my gut told me that Mr. Hong's letter would help them to do just that.
"Ah yes," the nice monk nodded, taking the letter from my hand. He and the Champo guy read it over before each of them continued arguing and they even pointed to me a few times but I couldn't make out what they were saying. They were yelling in that odd dialect again, I only caught bits and pices most of them being the names of Mr. Hong and that crane. Not so sure how those two things related, I thought. Still, I just stepped back and watied for their fight to come to an end.
"She will leave!" Champo directed towards me in English so I would catch the hint. The other man halted me and steered the conversation to other unknown parts of their odd language. I finally caught hints of Korean and Japanese---words I knew by heart in Mandarin also slipped into the pot. These guys were pulling a Mr. Hong! They took bits of different languages to argue in so that I would be thrown off! From what I could tell, Champo was saying a few very unkind phrases in my direction, while the other monk simply argues on my behalf. Still, no matter how professionally the old man was arguing, Champo would not be swayed by his words.
"Friendly guy, isn't he?" I mumbled to the crane as the two started arguing fiercer than ever. The bird blinked up at me and I looked around nervously, "So, are you Rabten?" I asked, "They keep pointing to you when they say that word. That's a weird name for a bird. I hope you didn't get me into a whole mess of trouble coming here, Rabten!"
"Rinry Hong," the nice old monk ushered suddenly.
"I was talking to the bird!" I jumped.
He smiled at me sweetly and held out his wrinkled hand for me, "Please, come with me," he motioned, "Champo and I will take you to the monastery where you belong."
"For real!?" I smiled. Honestly the thought of having to trail back down those stony old stairs made my spine cringe, so being offered a place to stay was amazing news for my feet.
My loud outburst made the grouchy monk scoff at me with rolled eyes, but the nicer man from town continued his hospitality until I ran ahead to catch up with the angry Champo. As I followed close behind he sneered in disapproval with every step I took through the thick wall of leaves.
I was quickly led into a vast utopia hidden behind the forest. It was utterly gorgeous and covered in clouds and ivy as far as my eyes could reach. It was beautiful here. There were dozens of monks on a patterned stone courtyard below, all practicing Ba Gua (which was a peaceful Kung Fu style that I remember Sensei teaching to me). There were these massive flying squirrels---no actually they looked more like lemurs, and they were soaring all over the place; a few of those crazy Cranes were also fluttering about as the entire lively hidden temple started to grow deathly silent and eerie with whispers. As we passed by the other monks, each of them all stopped whatever they were doing and followed me like a pack of lions lurking towards their next meal. What, have they never seen an American girl before?
"Here we are Miss Hong," the kind monk motioned. It was some temple carved into the side of the mountain, and from the sight of all the ivy tangles through the stone bricks, I could just tell that it had been here for literal centuries. I looked into the dark doorway as it echoed back at me eerily and timidly I took a step back and turned around to catch an eyeful of the massive mob of monks that stood curiously behind us, all watching me with such concern that I could help but blush in awkward silence.
"Uhh..." I stretched, "What----am I supposed to be doing---exactly?"
"You will be fine," the old man assured, "All will become clear after you step inside."
"Is it time already?" a few voices mumbled; meanwhile the other faces in the crowd were still as stone, each monk a replica of the last as they all watched me with intrigue.
"Go on my child," the kind monk pushed, "You shall be fine. Into the temple, you must go now, there is no place here for arguments."
"Oh yeah right, like that isn't shifty at all?" I mumbled; however, with loads of uncertainty, I took a step into the dark temple and in a flash the outer world disappeared and the entrance shut completely closed right on my heels.
"Oh...crap...oh no...oh no," I sang nervously. "What have I gotten myself into now?" I grumbled, "And yes universe, that statement was for me. I'm just crazy enough to do this---whatever it is I'm doing, so I'm crazy enough to talk to myself, I admit it!"
I wandered aimlessly for a few brief seconds of blackened solitude before bumping into something hard and cold. I jumped back as a beam of sunlight fell into the temple through a crack in the cave walls, and the light spread across the statue to reveal a dusty monk made of stone---a monk who has tattoos of some arrows carved onto his hands and on the center of his forehead. He seemed so familiar, like I'd caught his face off of a commercial or an old history lesson. There was also another monk, a girl with the same arrows, and there was an Eskimo man next to her and a similar looking girl a few rows down that was also dressed like someone who lived up at the North Pole. A few statues down, there was some Japanese painted lady and an old man with a crown that looked like a little puff of fire sitting on the top of his head.
They all looked so familiar, but where could I have ever seen such odd people was beyond me. I'm sure I would have remembered such strange characters if I met them face to face, and I certainly can't pinpoint the artist who could have carved these things out. This was a hidden monastery; I'm pretty certain that these statues were not on the history channel or uploaded as photos on the internet. Still though, it felt as though I knew them. They had something to do with me. It sounded impossible, but could these be---wait, were these people supposed to be---
"Are these the Avatars?"
- Lhasa is the administrative capital of the Tibet. It is the second most populous city on the Tibetan Plateau and is one of the highest cities in the world. Lhasa contains many culturally significant Tibetan Buddhist sites and is the only place I could find with an airport a few months ago on Google.
- Champo is actually a name meaning "friendly" in Tibetan.
- The Black Necked Crane is a medium-sized crane in Asia that breeds on the Tibetan Plateau. It has a special connection to Rinry that she is not fully aware of.
- Rabten is Tibetan for steadfast/faithful.
- This is the first Rinry has experienced odd connections with nature and figures.
- That odd young monk who spoke with Rinry will appear again in the next chapter.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|A Break in Time|
|Intro - Chapter One - Chapter Two - Chapter Three -|