Tibet: Kumbum Monastery Part 2


At last we entered the final area, a little square enclosed by different buildings. Each one was somewhat squat, no more than one or two stories tall, with grey shingles. Everything looked almost stylized to the imagination of an Eastern temple. Out there in the cold near all the monks in red, it all felt very real regardless. The monks eyed us and we them, standing as strangers barred by language from a straight connection. Even if we had the tongue to tie our two groups together it would have been an entirely higher level of courage to break the ice. It was nothing particular about Tibetan monks. In the majority of temples we went to the monks did their own thing and let everyone else do theirs.

The tour guide told us to sheath our cameras at this point. In a certain area we could take pictures of monks, buildings, whatever else. Inside buildings and deeper within the monastery, they disallowed photography. I felt somewhat glad for it. Pictures help with capturing and keeping a moment but not necessarily for enjoying it. It is a tricky tradeoff where I remember less of what I could not take a camera to, but absorbed more of it at the time. At this point we entered the Grand Golden Tile Hall. Here and in the Potala Palace we got cut off from our cameras and it made the dimly light and sublimely colored Tibetan tapestries come alive.

You can see the gold tiles of the hall we would soon enter.
You can see the gold tiles of the hall we would soon enter.

The bright and glaring sunlight made its exit and only gentle lamplight wore on our eyes now. The intricacy of the tapestries and the cloth covering the hallways was so intense that it felt overwhelming to try and take it all in at once. All the complex interweaving patterns created a sense of what the world’s cosmological phenomenon might look like. Pockets of well-organized tomes stood not far off either, sparking off endless thoughts on what they contained. Wild parts of my mind flirted with ill formed ideas of tantric secrets, but it was more likely the scrolls contained sutras and religious history.

Eventually we came to the large golden statue of Tsongkhapa himself, the man whose spiritual deeds sparked such grandeur. The golden statue itself was beautiful and awe inspiring in its own right, but the atmosphere meant everything here. A church inspires with ceilings that stretch on endlessly high, and cavernous expanses allowing all a seat. Kumbum felt small, but personal. The hallways were spacious enough, but crowded with so many banners and colors showered in dark light that in some way it felt packed and expansive at the same time. In this area we saw more monks and visitors giving offerings and sitting before the statue of Tsongkhapa. The holiness of the area radiated in a way I can only imagine Notre Dame or the Sistine Chapel or the Hagia Sophia might.

A dear friend I had made on the trip remarked to me how incredible the experience felt to him. He called it one of the most intense experiences he had. I had to agree, and felt good doing so since I heavily pumped up Kumbum to him while we explored Xining. I try to keep a healthy balance between cynicism and romanticism, to not to get swept up into breaking things down into nothing or building them up so they become everything.

Never forget to look up!
Never forget to look up!

Yet, Kumbum deserved respect and absolutely should radiate holiness and awe even by objective standards. Kumbum is one of the oldest religious institutions in Tibet and second in importance only to Lhasa. It should inspire in the way Notre Dame might. Centuries of tribute and donation from a mostly poor peoples, centuries of elite support, centuries of a good section of many people’s resources funneled into this site.

The result was sublime. As we loaded back on the bus, I felt enlightened by an understanding of how so many people could give so much of what little they had to a venture that never paid them back materially. Grandeur and awe incite such a flood of emotions that they become a payment all their own. As I reflect, it is not so unlike the sky scraping buildings of New York or the terrifying obelisk we dedicate to George Washington.

Nation means nothing on its own, and neither does Capitalism, but seeing all that steel and all that marble help me admonish these ideas. The abstraction springs to life in form of the finest construction people can manage. Incredible skylines remind us of how far we have come. Named after businesses, they make remarks on what might have got us there, or at least paid for the construction. Marble monuments that seat Lincoln like Zeus in a hallowed hall solidifies America into a material realm. In Tibet the grandeur of golden Tsongkhapa does not seem so different, bringing to life an abstract idea of this man become sacred symbol.

The thought makes me feel so close to so many far places but so grounded in my home. I could understand the motives and sentiments of almost any monument, but the true meaning is different. My fingers might grasp at the meaning of monuments, but I wondered how much I could ever close in on it without living in the society that made them. I still wonder if I can only properly feel the full cultural pull of the National Mall.

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Tibet: Visting Kumbum Monastery Part 1


Before boarding the train to Lhasa and the Tibetan Autonomous Region proper, we had to see Kumbum Monastery. Kumbum provided the first real glimpse into the traditional Tibetan culture and religion that all of us had heard so much about.

Few places matter more to the Yellow Hat or Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism than Kumbum Monastery. Voices in media often speak of Tibet as one entity held tight by one faith. The reality has a few more grits to sort through. Tibet once had heavier pagan or shamanistic beliefs but these seriously started to lose prominence when one of Tibet’s great dynastic kings, Songtsen Ghampo took over. Songtsen was no small talent, quickly taking control of much of the Tibetan plateau and patronizing the region’s early Buddhism. Eventually he would even rout the forces of the Tang Dynasty.

Later on the Bon faith would arise in contrast of Buddhism, though it could never get quite as hard a hold. Tibetan Buddhists themselves could not quite agree on everything and splintered into several sects that rose and fall. The Dalai Lamas and the Gelug School now iconic across all the world started up in the 14th century with Tsongkhapa and a small town outside Xining that would become Kumbum Monastery.

Standing outside Kumbum
Standing outside Kumbum

Our bus wheeled up to the outer wall of Kumbum early in the day, just as it opened. We had all layered up but the cold winter morning could cut through any number of layers. The whole place was quiet except for us shivering and chattering. For a while everyone just stood outside, waiting for a signal from our guide to head in.

An eager salesman with a plucky grin spotted us. He had the reigns of a shaggy white pony in his hands and offered rides for anyone willing to pay. None of us were much pliable to the offer, though. As tourists we likely disappointed, not buying from the stands of handcrafted goods outside or opting in on pony rides. Most of us were saving up for Lhasa, a place bubbling with commerce and worship.

Doing business
Doing business

Aside from our group Kumbum did not have so wide an audience this early in the morning. A Tibetan woman and her kid came walking in with us and there were a few other folks scattered about. I do not doubt that, come a little later time, the place would get a bit more active. Still, Kumbum was a monastery slightly removed from the really big population center, so it may never have had so many worshipers as monks.

The sparseness of the monastery added to it anyways, at least for a visitor from far off. Generic holiness as I knew it always had this idea of solitude surrounding it. Generic holiness shows itself in form of a person alone in a church atoning, like in the movies. Yet if there was anything that the Yonghegong monastery in Beijing and my sometimes unstable routine of bible study taught me, it’s that faith and religion come alive when people come together underneath it. The people make the faith as much faith makes the people. That dialogue with an idea of something holy or unworldly good was always what gripped me.

Two people headed in to the monastery
Two people headed in to the monastery

Still, Kumbum easily shined through the biting morning cold and everything else that kept attendance away did not mean much. The monastery gradually wove upward into the side of slightly sloping mountain. The sharp red, gold and greens burst to life in the sunlight and from that moment I could feel myself romanticizing everything. I fought against that urge. I love the romantic but it can really run against you if you really want to grip something.

Red arches welcomed us into the monastic compound. Our long linger in the cold came to an end with a row of white stupas topped with colorful spirals at their tops and intricate colored patterns at the bottom. Each stupa represented a different part of the Buddha, Shakyamuni’s life and teachings. The sun shined down and the tour guide led us further in. First we visited a few rooms on the outside of the complex, shrines to various religious figures. We could not take pictures inside and unfortunately my memory cannot hold all the specific images. Still, the colors in all the temples, the deep reds and oranges stitched into so much incredible quilt work, and the glimmering gold of mighty statues has not left me. Rather, the colors just bleed into a mess of mixed images that won’t separate for all my pulling at them.

neatly lined up stupas
neatly lined up stupas
A closer look at the stupas
A closer look at the stupas

We walked through the thick and brilliantly colored cloth that covered the thresholds of some of the shrines and dropped small donations as we went. Sometimes we got shawls in payment for a donation. They feel thin to the hand and would not combat the cold, but they have beautiful color and decoration. They came with a meaning too, red for passion and love, orange for prosperity, and so on. Even with the meaning attached the shawls reminded me that I was as strange as a person could be to this place, separated by layers of culture thicker than a thousand of these shawls.

The tour guide showed us complex statues made from Yak butter, and important offer given to Tibetan temples and monasteries, before we walked off the beaten path to somewhere deeper in. Along the route we ran across some monks making their way into the main complex where we would soon be. They worse Nikes and eagerly eyed their smart phones.

So much color!
So much color!

It might seem a sharp contrast, but Buddhism and Capitalism do not often clash so much. Even before capitalism ever came about, any religious order needed money and resource to stay alive. Often those resources had to come from the surrounding towns, the monks and abbots too busy with holy scripture, prayer or meditation to manage all on their own. So monks in many places lived as a privileged class funded through heavy donation.

My father never pushed Buddhism very hard on any of us, but he had demystified it for me. Buddha does not wipe away the little terrors people feel. Even monks stay human, eating human food, finding human shelter, at least until the accounts say they burst into clouds of lotus flowers. Like any religion Buddhism could coexist alongside anything from something as small as smartphones or as sinister as fanatical violence. I was glad to see monks in Nike’s as another reminder to not fetishize faith.

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Work


Sorry for the not posting in so long! I spent a while working on this poem. It took up a lot of my free time. I tended up a voice and a source of frustrations. I wrote it so it alternates between trochee tetrameter and iambic tetrameter. Try and read it for the jaunty rhythms, or the indecent words! Whatever you prefer.

Work Work Work Work
Breath between your breaks by measure
Work Work Work Work
Measure Meter into pace quick
Work Work Work Work
Haste up pace to stay in high place

Recall all the things you dodged
While with open eyes you dozed
Stalk the single moments missed out
Which one had it hit you should have

Could have torn you up from slumber
Answered your steep midnight hunger
Stomach twists as mad as ever
Did I duck a curing tonic?

I will stand at the assembly
Until I produce the part to
Make me feel entirely me and
Bury regret beneath papers

Work Work Work Work
Get close to heaven holy snug
Work Work Work Work
So angels sing your deeds well done
Work Work Work Work
Salvation too comes costing much

Like protestants on nailing stints
Addressing grievance toppling Popes
Corrupt and people’s steeple tropes
for sake of something greater than

it could end equal or off worse
but only trying leads to change
the devil’s in the details so
on grand schemes lean and hold out hope
that captured gains provide in net

intentions good breeds folk much loved
and time in tiny measure metes
out their ends like all mortal men
a bad word from so smart accounts
can sentence a soul to disdain
so rig the records to keep clean
these acts you own through ink and sweat

Work Work Work Work
Pump out to be completely full
Work Work Work Work
Devour each hour, end empty lulls
Work Work Work Work
Pull in to be swollenly whole

Baby please earn me ring money
Accolades to stay in spade full
Win those “make me messy” metals
Get your sick spouse sweating to the
rhythmic licks that flick along to
Soundtracks of your competence porn

Churn out butter for the little
monster me I slaving made at
someone else’s burning hot stove
Scratch off “make us fat cats” cheddar

Steep your spoils on kids and kinfolk
Spend the rest for stress relief and
Bid a mistress sit on your face
Sip on south saliva hip drips

So we grind away get wild from
Dancing glancing issues off us
Sweetly civil people get drunk
Sniffing skunk scent glugging cleaners
do the daily shit get sugar
on the Fridays gather fuck its
Make them sweeten Monday folgers

Work Work Work Work
To feed the village that raised you
Work Work Work Work
Return to hometown a hero
Work Work Work Work
To be the words your parents taught

Remember all the ways you drain
Your ancestors’ aspirations
How failure cuts a mark on bark
Of family trees for ages seen

Recall all resume mistakes
Distractions you indulge to dodge
The things left half assed on the side
Of empty Ritalin-less thoughts

Where did you let your focus go?
Forgetting things that made you you
The job you do the things you make
The blood that parents passed you on

Let drive and deed out weave your goals
Pull you to far flung fields to plant
Your seeds, they grow they go, like you
They walk, they work, they dream of home

Work Work Work Work
Because it is the only way
At dollars and household hollers
Work Work Work Work
your coffin can attest to how
you inched better measures out
Work Work Work Work
The sweet taste of sugar will sour
So scour for salt to store your food
Work Work Work Work
As grandpa did making your clan
To beat your folks at games they taught
You how to masterfully play
Work Work Work Work
An empty object up until
It fills to sickly prickly burst
Wax on wax off until you get
It off and turn each chore to joy
Since every break turns task and work
When time involved is more than small
Exchange it how you have to that
Work’s pleasure triumphs leisure’s song

America My Love, Fifth Refrain


Now not every man
fits the scheme
laid out at his starting place

Reaching the finish line
can take a touch of the divine
But out here in the west
we are plenty ready to test
where we draw salvation’s line.

We’ve got godless Christians
indecisive agnostic Unitarians
ex-Jehovah’s witnessing new shit
turned angered atheists,
same great judgmental taste
with 0 faux-spirituality calories

This cat was an eastern scholar,
you dig?
He never gelled with Christ
got along better with Krishna
never ran with Hebrew
but Buddha let him know what’s what
and more importantly, who’s who

As a daoist he believed
rhythm and flow
would show him
which way to go
and just what
he needed to follow

He wanted to move like the rivers
flow gently against godless green earth
erode the hard, the blearing light,
with soft and dark might
Wash out the endless noise
of the God damn know-it-alls
with blurry half certainty

But fall through
the tiny crack
of electronic disturbance
The mechanical wack
the mental half slap
of technical perturbance

and he brought his fist
to the side of his skull
Pounding at the temples
like they were front doors

Ding dong.
The hot air in his head
shot out in a clamor
like wind striking chimes

The man was so reverent
of context
that he put himself
as next best
after all the world,
and worry
of friends in flurry
and family in a hurry

All the fury pent up in his chest
steamed out of his knuckle
and back into him
through his thin skin
Bruises on thighs
Bite marks on arms

Little bits of Anger and loathing
fit tight like hand-me-down clothing
pinning against his chest

He just could not rest, knowing
that he reconciled the world
while leaving himself unfurled.

He never broke down
in some great tragic way
he had some concussions
but mostly just
internal repercussions

He felt small
mediocre
shallow and beaten down
because he never could pull
his two hands back
and just fully relax

These little things ate at him
until they grew big enough
to swallow his greatness whole
leaving him to work away
the rest of his days

Living vicariously
through a poor forged family
he never managed the inadequacies
running through the flowery
fields of his squiggly cerebrum,
just let them grow like ugly weeds
in his less-than-zen garden

Some say
if you’ve got hate in your heart
let it out
because your body will
break and ache
at each chance to
vent the steam swirling
through your cortexes

It does not blow
out your ears
like the cartoons tell the kids
It does not fall from the sky
burning bits of holy vengeance
flinging out of kung-fu fists
Like the movies tell the teens

It just dams itself up
and quietly
Snaps
like an aneurysm

But busting brainily into your headstone
at the old enough age of 68
seems a damn sight better
than beating the streets til
someone guns you down at 36

An apple a day keeps the doctor away
like a little bit of repression,
each time you get to thinking,
keeps the therapist at bay

I dunno if
adages new
become true
when adding ages

I dunno if sayings
ever truly get old
after being retold.
All I know is that
what you try to deny
likely denies you too

But what do my
young eyes know
about personal vengeance
and retaliatory reprise?

~Austin R Ryan

Wide and Wider Still, part 2


My first experience with the Beijing subway went overall pretty well. I remember standing on the train, when a homeless man came by. He had no arms or legs and scooted himself and his tin pot along. The type of homeless people you see in China perturb like nothing else. A homeless man in any city presents an interesting predicament. Growing up city to city, I’ve been trained to ignore homeless people my whole life. My parents never outright told me how to treat them. I observed it from every thinking, feeling, and compassionate adult in the area. Ninety percent of them turned their nose at homeless people. What should make me so different? After all, altruism’s wasted on homeless people. This is what we are all told we know. Money serves you better than them. They’ll waste it drowning their sorrows in liquor. They are probably scammers, dressing down for cash. If you give one of them cash, the whole street will ask for it. If you give just one of them cash, why not give cash to another? What made the first more worthwhile. Homeless people present a moment to decide if you want to judge someone. They present a very real moment in time where you can look a person dead in their eyes and decide just what worth you see there. When someone brushes by a homeless person it is not that they have a cold heart. They do not want people around them to suffer. They probably do not think homeless people worthless. It is just that judging challenges a person. Judging annoys a person. Judging downright exhausts someone. It depletes you, even if you think you made the altruistic move. Even if you think you made the sensible move. So the only move to make is to pretend you have no judgment to give at all.

It is hard to get an interesting photo of a subway station, even if it looks interesting.
Watch out!

 

Homeless people are a predicament. I could never know where they came from. I could never see where they would end up with my dollar. I never will have the information to make me feel secure in my judgment. I have ignored more homeless people in my life than I care to admit. I will not make much excuse for it. It is tough to deal with, but I have done plenty of tough things before.

Chinese homeless people are particularly exceptional. They tend to be amputees, and they tend to wear tattered rural clothing. A lot of them have darker, leathery skin from all the years under the sun. They look like they come from another country. They seem like refugees from some harsh distant land with an ever blazing sun. In reality, they come from the same land brimming with young adults in designer clothes. They come from the place with seas of steel towers that stretch for miles. But the sun feels sharp here too.

It felt striking seeing this man amidst all the people commuting in their nice formal wear. The subway sped on anyways. Holographic ads ran alongside the subway car, telling us about new luxury goods. The visualized inequality does not feel uncommon. I would see plenty more homeless people in my time here. The contrast still shocks me. It reminds me that even this humongous city only offers me a small slice of an even more vast country. Somewhere in this vast country capitalism has yet to fill everyone’s coffers.

Beijing feels massive all on its own. Exiting the subway, I expected something similar to the cities I was used to. It was not so different. It had the same model that most cities follow, except a lot more packed. It seemed like buildings were pushed closer together and generally more people walk, drive, and bike in Beijing than even in New York. Despite the crowd, Beijing feels about as calm as DC and much calmer than New York. I find my campus more hectic than the city. The bikes of Peking University feel endless. Lots full of bicycles litter the campus. I cannot recall the last time I walked anywhere during peak hours without having to wade through bike traffic. The part of Beijing I saw on my walk to work felt calming compared to the cluster fuck of bikes at Peking University. Of course, not all of Beijing felt so calming. Later I will discuss the parts of the city that made me feel truly schizophrenic.

The walk to my office occurred in a more residential, notably not that notable downtown neighborhood. Any part of a city can feel notable because most cities barrage you with big buildings. Any part of city feels like it might be brimming with something, because a decent amount of people live and build there. Though, there are parts of any city that are almost purely functional. They may have tall buildings, but the buildings house office space. They might have street vendors, but they are not pushy like the ones on touristy avenues. Likely, they don’t push because there’s no great competition around them. They might well be the only street vendor there. Houses still sprawl out, full of interesting architectural features and interpersonal dramas. But none of the houses put that is on display, so it is odd to spend a lot of time looking at them. This part of Beijing felt functional. It had a large bank, residences everywhere, and lots of office space. It also had plenty of stores and some street vendors too. Still, nothing popped out.

Initially it made me feel out of place. But having done the walk a few times, I like it. I do not feel any more included in the area. Most people there will never know me. Many will continue to do triple takes upon seeing me walk through. Their eyes will pry at the how and why of where I am. It can make me uncomfortable. When I am all about myself, I ask them what right they’ve got to go looking at me like that. When I calm down and click into the context I can understand it. I am a very odd sight. It is not like in America, where we see people of different hues constantly. America’s full of different sorts of people. We do not just have Mexicans, we have El Salvadorans, Hondurans, Venezuelans, Argentinians and more. We do not just have African-Americans, but Africans form Kenyan, Egyptian, South African, and many more places still. America’s melting pot status took on a real, physical form. I took that for granted. In Beijing there are Asians and then more Asians. Even in the very touristy areas, Asians vastly outnumber anything else.

In a way China must be diverse. With a dominion strung out over so many miles and lands, people can act like tourists in their own country. The same goes here in America, where there east and west coasts flood with tourists coming from the across their own country. But to my observations at least, America’s got more pigmentation than Beijing. Even in Indianapolis, I got used to seeing white people, African-American people, Asians, and Latinos. I might even see some Europeans or Africans as well. In DC the variety intensifies further. In the great crowds of Beijing, a non-Asian person really sticks out. I cannot blame them for staring, because they do not get the same opportunities to see out of the norm people. In America out of the norm almost is the norm for cities. Street performers dot the urban landscape. Foreigners of all sorts come here seeking education or attractions. America’s a weird and colorful place. I forgot until know just how much I loved it for that.

Do not think that means China looks dull or boring. Beijing might appear more homogenous, but I doubt that truly is. Besides any off that, Beijing has a liveliness all its own. I see some of that liveliness on my walk to work. That is what I love about it. I do not feel very included, or even that settled into routine. The walk there and back always rings of a certain strangeness. That strangeness comes from liveliness that I am not a speaking, understanding part of. I might belong to it in some physical sense, but I cannot understand or grasp it. So I love my walk to work because each time I feel introduced to a fascinating aspect of life across the world that I did want to know about. I wanted to see how Beijing looked and lived. That was one reason I came here. On the way to work, I get a glimpse at that. Even better, I do not get to know it fully. The mystery makes it all the more enticing. I cannot analyze it until it becomes dull. I cannot sink so far into it that it seems mundane. Every time there is something fresh about it, because it has something I cannot quite get my hands on. Much akin to the general act of living.

As I walk to work, a few women sell all sorts of tech gear on a blanket just outside of the subway. Another couple of stands set up even closer to the subway. They sell all sorts of bottled drinks and plastic wrapped snacks underneath large cafeteria umbrellas plastered with worn “Coke” and “KFC” logos. How did they get their hands on those umbrellas anyhow? When I get further along the street vendors fade away into little mom and pop convenience shops. The shops usually sit just outside large tenement communities with their own gates and gardens inside. To get to my work I have to walk through one of these communities. The instructions felt strange at first. My boss told me to walk through a little community of bike repair stores and fruit stands sitting inside the courtyard connecting a few apartment buildings. How would they put an office building in here? It seemed odd that the Economic Observer, a major independent publisher in China, would set up in the midst of it all. As I walked through a street lined with cars and scooters I saw all sorts of people cross in and out. Some older, more traditionally dressed people lounged. In the meanwhile, well to do businesswomen flocked out as fast as they could. Porsches parked near rusty bikes. The apartment buildings gazed down at all of it.

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The building I actually work in used to be a kindergarten. A playground still sits outside. It brims with the blasting sort of color children love. It is all bold blues and streaks of glowing red. Inside, the tiled floors have painted designs meant to teach children simple English words. My actual day at work felt much less entertaining than getting there. Since it was the first day, I learned what I would do, and then decided to head out. My co-workers never offend and I like most of the work I do.

After leaving, I decided to check out a small park that my boss recommended to me. Parks appeal to me. Parks provide a spot of calm in an urban environment. They can pack up with people, but all that beautifully arrayed nature keeps my anxieties in check. Here in Beijing the parks feel particularly beautiful. Most of them center around bodies of water, featuring multiple bridges and paddle boat services. On a clear day, a Beijing park has a lot to offer. Rows of weeping willows sway over quietly rippling waves of water. Each park features an expanse of great green trees running up and down slopes along the coast of the rivers and ponds. This park was not even exceptional, but it seemed beautiful all the same. After that I would visit the Yonghe temple and Ditan Park.

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Both inherited ceremonial significance from the days passed. Ditan Park used to have shrines dedicated to a goddess of the earth. Emperors used to sacrifice animals in the middle of a large courtyard at the center of the park. While the foliage all still stood well maintained and ordered, the buildings themselves had seen better days. Grass grew wildly up beneath the grey tiles of the sacrificial courtyard. The goddess of the earth came back after all this time to reclaim her shrine. Signs at various points told visitors to refrain from superstitious activities. It did not seem anyone came for worship. The park had a few families, a few Asian tourists with their own cameras, and a good deal of old people performing calisthenics.

The Yonghe Buddhist temple could not have been more different. Beggars and incense salesman formed a line all along the outer wall of the temple. I gave money to one, determined not to ignore them. The beggar next to him immediately got pushy. For whatever reason, it made me feel indignant. I did not know what I expected. Giving does not make you a saint, and no saint ever became kind out of a desire for reverence. Kindness can be forced, and if there’s no other recourse it should be. But I missed the point. The point being the universe would not give me immediate reward. It may give me no reward at all. The reward’s not the point.

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Inside the temple everything looked well preserved. Great ornate buildings housed just as decorated statues of various holy figures. People entered with hands full of incense. No signs told them to avoid superstition. They walked in, stood outside or inside of one of the temples, and went about their religious ceremony. To give a quick breakdown, the physical act of a religious ceremony means a lot more to Asian traditions. In Buddhism there are mantras, which involve chants of verbal worship, but there are also mudras. Mudras serve as something like a chant done with the body. It can involve the whole body, but mostly refers to hand and arm gestures during meditation. One woman performed a very complicated mudra every time she took a step. It involved carefully moving her arms through the air in various circular motions until she stopped and bowed so low her forehead touched the ground. The grey from the stones and the black from the ash of burnt out incense covered her forehead. Most other people had other forms of physical ceremony. Many people went to each shrine, offered up a stick of incense, and bowed low three times. I saw a few people hold the base of the stick of incense to their heads as they bowed. I read about this, but seeing so many people engage in forms of worship made all my religious texts come to life. The place felt hallowed in no small part due to the respect paid to it. Yonghe provided a strong contrast to Ditan. Their holiness did not completely come from the buildings enshrining long held beliefs. It did not float in the air either. That true sense of holy stemmed from the people themselves. Examining it, I wondered how religiously Buddhist I ever was. I rarely chanted, and I could not imagine doing what they did. But religion’s a tricky word, and I have already talked about too many tricky words today.

I left Yonghe feeling very intrigued with the whole affair of religion. Though, I often felt like that. Religion, philosophy, whatever you call it, deeply affects the thinking of thousands of people. Historians study it regularly because of the role it often plays in the lives of the people of any given period. As a history major, I ran into it plenty. As someone curious about the whole affair of life, and how other people interpret this madly wide space we live in, I run into it more than what’s healthy. In that regard the introspection and intrigue did not feel fully new. The questions it made me ask, I had asked before. The punctuation marks became a bit more packed.

After that I headed back. I lived through the first week. Once things got rolling I would feel much better. Routine started to scrape itself together. My mind weaved back into old familiarities. The internet helped with that, too. Consciously I just wanted to know I could contact the people I loved regularly. Something subconscious brooded behind the internet as well. Having the internet again let me go back to my routine of leisure. I could return to my well scheduled web-comics and youtube channels. The internet let even my passions fall into neatly folded schedules. The internet helped me turn everything back into a form I could understand. My mind would digest its food again in three perfectly timed meals a day. No stomach pains needed, my timetable turned on again. Still, I had let my eyes feast on something huge. I let my mind know I was not home. I hopped off the boat, to realize the ocean feels more massive from a foreign shore. No amount of timetables, schedules, and webpages could tear that full sensation off the contours of my sensory system.

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A lot of travelling in China would turn into handling that sensation of overwhelming fullness. When something like that strikes me, first I feel like hiding. It has taken me years and years and years to realize the importance of accepting. Life’s always seemed bloated. There’s so much color and so many constants floating around. The first memory I have, I recall myself looking out at the wide blue sky shining over my tiny, fenced in backyard. When I was that young, it really was endless. My next nearest memories sits me by our ancient desktop. Even then you could use it to explore endlessly. Gigabytes of data splayed out all across the undeveloped internet infrastructure. I grew up watching it all come together into this huge and sometimes hideous network of intertwining facts and stories.

We had so much to learn and so much to do. All the old pursuits of sportsman and readership remained, but now we had video games and technology. Back then, if I can still digress, I loved to play games that gave me a sense of something wider. Most of my strategy games stored information about civilizations in encyclopedias buried at the back of menus. I would stare through the glaring gloss of the screen to get at the info. It would burn my eyes to the core. I constantly played games that let me lead thousands of soldiers into battle. I liked the clash of civilizations and the personal dramas that expanded beneath each click. I never knew why. It took me longer to get into shooters. By the time I did, the internet abounded with newly laid roads leading to blog after blog. With each year the internet got better and better. Each passing year somehow facilitated the intake of media more than the last. Somehow it gets easier still, to the point where no one uses RSS feeds. I stopped needing those old strategy games. Maybe I found a wideness to substitute the one I lost. Maybe the world suddenly flushed full of shit to wrap my head round and I got tired of thinking against something in my spare time. Perhaps the strategy games got worse as I got old. It could have nothing to do with me. Maybe I think it has something to do with me because I can find every story, email, and status update I wrote and suddenly I am as wide and fractured as the world I am in.

Who knows anything about me anyhow? Certainly not myself! My part wasn’t even thinking when I started making moves on me! I myself am fine with being lost on that “me” front. After all, I’ve been watching me for some time now, and I am pretty sure I’ve found me a shady fellow. So much jibber-jabber could never be wholesome. No sir, I wouldn’t go letting me in my house if I were myself, methinks.

~Austin R Ryan

America My Love, Refrain 3


Heard a man tripped out on Benadryl

Just for a cheap thrill

And some time he needed kill

Saying it seems somewhat shrill,

 

But everything has its cost

and his mind floated the bill

 

Never came out of it the same

It was quite a shame

 

These were the words, my ears came to tame

 

It is quite a shame

It is quite a shame

It is quite a shame

 

Being catholic can cut

Deep into the gut

And sometimes I wonder

Just for mind to ponder

How many still meander

Around their desire

Until it burst from them like fire

 

Never could catholicize my eyes

The proselytize really crucifies

But someone with mouth from word

Of gods great and grand herd

 

Once bothered to tell me

Of a banner man

who did pail with driving a nail

But never feared a hammering

When it reached for the tail

 

This one’s an old ale.

Probably something you know

something you inferred

or thought occurred

Even if from your ears,

the tale was deferred

 

In his hand he had the devil’s smooth grip

 

His heart all a flutter

his head all a flip

When a boy brushed by his healthy hip

 

He wasn’t a pervert like the rest…

I don’t mean to be crass, but

He just longed with his ass

 

And loved with his dick

 

Father, father you did your best

you smote smut, you saved the sick

You churned out charity, you prayed so merrily

but alas, alas you never loved a lass, a lass

father, father you’ve become a bother, bother

and no man’s left here to stop your slaughter

Jesus was your only reference

and Christianity your Alma mater

no real wonder

When the covers got looked under

they saw your eyes caught

between recompense

and soft, fleshy plunder

 

~Austin R Ryan