Making 14 pounds of Tibetan pastries for the Wood-Sheep year…

The intricately designed and colorful rhug rhug Khapsey

With the Tibetan New Year or Losar around the corner (Thursday, in fact), I spent my Sunday in the kitchen, cooking Khapsey(s). A khapsey is a Tibetan snack or pastry, made of whole flour, sugar or salt and butter/ghee or oil; some varieties of khapseys are even topped with ground sugar or melted jaggery.

Khapsey literally translates into “mouth, eat” — meaning a snack to eat. With the help of my two Amalas — my own and my husband’s — we made a wide variety of Khapseys, mainly because they were giving in to my quest to make all the kinds of Khapseys made in the different regions of Tibet. (Here’s a great read on Tibetan Khabseys)

Of course, we made lots of different types of dough — colorful ones for the colorful khapseys; sweet ones for the rhug rhug or regular small khapseys; salty ones for the Bhungu Amjos or Donkey’s ears; Sichuan pepper-flavored, salty, oiled dough for the Amdo khapseys; and non-salted/non-sweetened ones for the Sangha Bhaley and Tseytang-Kotsay (two other types of khapseys that are topped with ground sugar and melted jaggery, respectively).

Khapsey dough, flattened using the noodle maker

Khapsey dough, flattened using the noodle maker

Khapsey dough, with one side colored orange

Khapsey dough, with one side colored orange

Here’s what we started off our Khapsey-making session with… the scorpion.

The scorpion is the first Khapsey that is made with the Khapsey dough and is meant to soak up all the bad luck and ills of the past year. Tibetans don't eat this scropion-shaped Khapsey, but instead, they hang this near their stove in the kitchen.

The scorpion is always the first Khapsey that goes into the wok full of hot oil. Made with the Khapsey dough, the scorpion is meant to take away all the bad luck and ills of the past year and any that may be prevalent during the khabsey-making session. Tibetans don’t eat this scropion-shaped Khapsey, but instead, they hang this near their stove in the kitchen. (There’s also the snake, but we didn’t make that this time)

Then the others followed… The Bhungu Amjo or the Donkey’s ears — Salty khapseys that are shaped like donkey’s ears and take pride of place in Tibetan altars as Losar decorations. They’re also lovely to have with Tibetan butter tea, or regular sweet tea.

The rhug rhugs are the regular sweet Khapseys. These are great to taste and easy to carry around during picnics or offer around when guests come visiting.

We also made the sugar-coated Sangha Bhaley — not too many of them because I was trying out the recipe for the first time. But it didn’t turn out too bad.

Sangha Bhaley -- Khapsey topped with ground sugar. This Khapsey is popular among Tibetans from Lhasa

Sangha Bhaley — Khapsey topped with ground sugar. This Khapsey is popular among Tibetans from Lhasa

We followed that up with our version of the Amdo Khapseys, or Khapseys made in the Amdo region of Tibet. (We’re from Tsang, central Tibet; Amdo is in East Tibet).

The Tsang-pa version of Amdo Khapsey

The Tsang-pa version of Amdo Khapsey

And then of course, we made my favorite — the Tsey-tang Kotsay, which is spaghetti-pasta shaped khapseys that are topped with melted jaggery.

Tsey-tang Khotsey

Tsey-tang Khotsey

And after the day-long khapsey-making session, the three of us put them all away in cartons, until they will be unveiled for the altar decorations due later tonight.

Of course, we offered the first of the khapseys that came out of the hot oil to the Gods, what we Tibetans call “phue” or the offering of the first of anything. (Remember, my post on the first drops of the morning tea? More here.)

See you in the Wood-Sheep year!

The luxury that is blogging…

Writing a blog is a luxury. And I learned that the hard way.

When you start writing a blog, you mostly do so with some very lofty ambitions. And if you are obsessively organized like me, you also create a blog publishing schedule, writing your pieces around this predetermined structure. Of course, if you are always pursuing perfection and order, you are even more likely to take into account possible scenarios or days when you may not be able to meet your own publishing schedule. So you save some pieces for those “rainy days,” in the hope that you quickly outlive that particular or series of ‘abnormal’ circumstances that hamper your normal routine; in the hope that you are fortunate enough to be able to quickly go back to life as you knew it and resume your regular publishing schedule.

And yet, the dead and the dying may have other plans for you — distorting all your meticulously designed plans and teaching you, instead, that normalcy and the mundane are sometimes a luxury that most cannot afford.

And so it was! In the weeks of November and December, no week resembled another. My family was either saying our goodbyes to dying relatives, or being there for friends who had lost their dear ones and, in that respect, grieving for those dear ones who were also our friends, or remembering our own losses, those we faced each year for three consecutive years.

So, when my friend playfully reprimanded me with the words “19 November,” I quickly defended my stance knowing she was referring to the date of my most recently published post. She told me she understood, but that exchange left me thinking about life and death, and normalcy and change.

For Tibetans, being “tem-po” or consistent (not the other meaning: risk averse) is considered one of the greatest virtues a person can have. Whole families are known by this characteristic and lauded for it. Being tem-po meant you were reliable at all times, that you were rock-solid — there through thick and thin. A tem-po person isn’t overly in awe when you suddenly become the next Prime Minister of a country or do the opposite, by turning his back on you when you suddenly lose all your fortunes. A tem-po person is just that, tem-po/consistent, through it all.

No darkness outlasts the sun that follows it

No darkness outlasts the sun that follows it

And so, as the new year dawns, I find myself hoping that I am a tem-po person in the blogging world. That I gain your trust and appreciation for not disappearing during the “rainy days,” for not letting change or ‘abnormal’ circumstances get the better of my blogging and that I keep writing and sharing.

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PS — Special shout outs to my blogging community for all the sharing this year. Thanks particularly to my early friends in the blogging world: Qwerty Chronicles and Perelin Colors.

Appealing for unity through song

The Tibetan Song of Unity, first sung by Sherten in 2010, was a song that displayed the Tibetan people’s intrepid spirit in the face of China’s strong clampdown on all things Tibetan.

Please click here for the link to that beautiful song…Enjoy the lovely music! (The lyrics is given below.)

The Sound of Unity by Sherten
(Translation by High Peaks Pure Earth)

Amdo, Kham and U-Tsang all belong to the same family
We have a common destiny

Let’s all blossom together like flowers
Hand in hand in harmony

Hand in hand in harmony
Let’s step forwards

If you care about the future of our nationality
All three provinces should unite

Amdo, Kham and U-Tsang all belong to the same family
We have a common destiny

Tibetans of the land of snows
Unite as one!

Amdo, Kham and U-Tsang all belong to the same family
We have a common destiny

Hand in hand in harmony
Let’s step forwards

Everyday Lhakar!

Today is Lhakar. It literally translates into White Wednesday, signifying the Dalai Lama’s soul day.

Lhakar is also a day that Tibetans everywhere have dedicated to committing acts of self reliance as part of the Lhakar movement — the Tibetan people’s grassroot movement that is based on the principles of non-violence and self-reliance.

Around the world, on Wednesday, Tibetans are asserting their identity through various acts of non violence and resistance. Tibetan communities in various corners of the world — be it Nangchen in Tibet, or New York in the US or Dharamsala in India — are making it a point to hold weekly gatherings on a Wednesday as part of the Lhakar movement to collectively “do something Tibetan.”

Tibetans are "Tibetian(s)" according to the Indian-government-issued registration certificate or RC book given to every Tibetan refugee in India

Tibetans are “Tibetian(s)” according to the Indian-government-issued registration certificate or RC book given to every Tibetan refugee in India

Tibetans are using this movement to express their pride in being Tibetan, through eating or cooking Tibetan food, speaking the Tibetan language, learning a Tibetan prayer, or wearing the Tibetan traditional dress. Many have taken to blogging sites to make Lhakar pledges of actions they will take to assert their identity.

On the face of it, many of these acts are simple, everyday ones — acts that we may otherwise take for granted. However, when these simple actions come together to form a part of a larger global movement, such as this one, they become immensely significant, relevant and hence, that much more impactful.

In keeping with the Lhakar movement, I have decided to change my blog post publishing timing to Wednesday, instead of Thursday.

Still, that does not change my belief that, for a Tibetan, every day is Lhakar — and hence, every day warrants a Lhakar act.

Starting problem

Two Tibetans greet each other during a wedding

Two Tibetans greet each other during a wedding

Introductions are perhaps one of the most difficult, time-consuming, nerve-racking ordeals that a Tibetan refugee has to go through.

I mean, how do you explain to free citizens of free nations, the concept of having to escape one’s homes to preserve our culture, nurture our traditions, save our identities, practice our beliefs, and, mostly, to have the freedom to believe, to speak, and to dissent.

While two generations of Tibetan exiles have been able to achieve this feat, the challenges for today’s generation of Tibetan exiles have increased manifold. With China’s growing prominence as a global superpower, mainly owing to its financial clout, many nations and their leaders have forgotten, or are turning a blind eye to, the Tibetan issue.

And so, it is an uphill task for Tibetans to do that which most people of free nations consider the simplest part of any conversation — introduce themselves.
The conversations, rather introductions, usually follow a similar course, and the only exceptions are those with people who have some prior knowledge about Tibet and the Tibetan issue.
It always begins with the customary question:

“Where are you from?”

The Tibetan replies: “From here.” (Assuming we’re referring to places in India, “here” would be the Tibetan refugee settlements in north and south India where most Tibetans are based)

Stranger exclaims: “From here? You don’t look local at all? Your family moved here?”

Tibetan responds somewhat innocently: “Yes. Our parents moved here from Tibet many years ago.”

“Right, right. Tibet is in India, right?”

“Wrong. It’s a separate country by itself, towards North India.” — replies a rather patient, but slightly shocked, Tibetan

“Oh! You mean you’re from North East India?” — asks a now excited stranger who feels he/she has just had an a-ha moment

“No. We’re Tibetans. From Tibet. It’s a separate country altogether. Our parents followed the Dalai Lama into exile after Tibet was occupied by the Chinese.” — says the Tibetan in response, all the time marveling at the stranger’s general knowledge (or the lack, thereof)

“Right, right. You’re all the Dalai Lama’s people?”

“Yes, you are absolutely right” — the Tibetan heaves a sigh of relief. All is well with the world again

“Hmm. Interesting. I would really like to visit your place. So what did your parents do for a living?”

“Farming and seasonal sweater selling business.”

“Wow. You have a farmhouse?”

“No, it’s not as grand as it sounds. The size of the land for cultivation per family is based on the number of family members at the time the land was distributed by the state governments of the various settlements that Tibetans reside in. For example, a three-member family should have about two to three acres.”

“Oh, okay. So, what do you grow there?”

“Mostly maize.”

Nice. By the way, do you know how to make momos?”

“I do indeed.”

“Will you treat me to momos if I visit your place? I had them in Nepal last year, but I can never seem to find a good place that sells momos here in the city.”

“I’d be happy to.”

“I want to learn how to make momos as well. Will you teach me one of these days?”

“Sure. It’s fairly simple once you get the hang of it but you still need a different utensil to make momos.”

“Where can I get that?”

“I’m not sure where in the city but I do know that most of the shops in the Tibetan settlements sell them.”

“Then I definitely must go to these places. Anyway, I’ve noticed this for a while among people who look like you and have been meaning to ask — what is this bead-like thing you wear on your wrist?”

“These are prayer beads.”

“Oh, okay. What do you call them?”

“Tren-nga”

“Is it a fashion statement? Most people who look like you have this.”

“No, it’s not a fashion statement. We wear these because we use it to say our prayers and chant mantras”

“My God, this is so interesting. By the way, what did you say your name was again?”

“Tenzin.”

“How come everyone seems to have the same name?

…and so, it continues. And the Tibetan then explains why most Tibetans have names starting with Tenzin or Karma or Tsering, depending on which high lama gave him/her the name, how it is all dependent on the sects of Tibetan Buddhism; following which, the Tibetan has to explain the four different sects of Tibetan Buddhism, how they differ and how they’re alike, and why we had to come this far to practice our centuries-old beliefs; which then brings us to the next question of why Tibetan Buddhism is such a rage in the west and how folks like Richard Gere and Sharon Stone came to be Tibet supporters and whether they are also Tibetan Buddhists; which then brings us to the next question over how monks in Tibetan Buddhism become monks or nuns nuns, what say they have as individuals to decide their fate, the life they lead as monks or nuns;… and so it continues, the questioning and the answering.
So, you see, it’s really just a starting problem, no brake problem later though.