Today was a much-needed free day. Russ and I decided to take it easy on this day by hanging around the hotel. Because Lhasa was still fairly high at 12, 000 feet above sea level we still found the altitude to be exhausting especially when walking or climbing up and down stairs. The St. Regis hotel had a large supply of oxygen for their guests available. A rest was just what we needed.
After a lazy morning, catching up on our emails and reorganizing our stuff, Russ and I took a walk through the center of the city. At first glance the city of Lhasa appeared to be quite modern with concrete high-rises of offices, apartments etc. But as soon as we walked down the side streets the stores were back to the hodge-podge of tiny shops selling anything with everything all mixed up. A restaurant beside a telephone store and beside that a clothing store then a household item shop then a meat store. This made it very interesting and exciting to walk through. At one shop they sold live chickens, ducks and fish in tanks. You picked out what you wanted and got it really fresh. Russ ducked by this shop as fast as possible. Odd considering he used to be a butcher. We Canadians do not like to face up to real life, we prefer everything to be sanitized and unrecognizable. A rib-eye steak doesn’t look like a cow to us.
At one store we saw “Golden Worms” being sold. These were half insect and half plant. A weird looking thing, it looked like a dried up caterpillar with a stem coming out of its head. Apparently they were sought after aphrodisiacs and very expensive. We bought three of them and it cost us $25.00!! And this was after bartering. We bought them for Kelly as she is a TCM doctor. The shop owner had brought the golden worms to us from his safe and after weighing his bag of worms he told us they were worth $80,000 US dollars. Considering the average person here made $100 per month, this was a fortune!
After much discussion about this worm we discovered that it was in fact a caterpillar with a fungus or mold that had attached itself to the worm before it had the opportunity to make a cocoon to turn into a moth or butterfly. This fungus grew on the caterpillar and eventually took over turning the caterpillar into a plant or fungus. The Tibetan villagers went out to the forests to find this caterpillar before the fungus overtook it. The value of the worm was when it was half worm and half plant. They found them in the forest during one month each year and brought them into the city to sell them to the pharmacies and spice vendors that then sold them to the city folk wanting better sex! I guess Viagra hadn’t been marketed there yet.
Another store sold flour and it had a mill displaying how the flour was made. This was really interesting to see again. We had visited a flourmill last year which was built overtop of a stream, which turned the wheel. This shop only displayed how the flour was made and did not actually make it. Good marketing though.
The next site we visited was a two-story grocery store that was very nicely organized with food on the bottom floor and household items on the second. Terry Johnston would approve the layout of this store.
There were 600,000 people living in Lhasa and 2.6 million people living in the whole region of Tibet. Also 2.8 million people live outside of Tibet. Interesting that more Tibetans live outside of Tibet than inside. The Tibetan language sounded close to Sanskrit and their written words were much closer to the Indian language than the Chinese language.
For dinner we went to another hotel’s restaurant called “Holy Angel Coffee”. It was lovely with carved wood walls separating the eating areas making your dinners semi-private. Crystal chandeliers hung above us, this restaurant was very fancy for Tibet and appeared to be very popular with the locals.
During dinner our guide explained the polyandry marriages common in Tibetan villages. Polyandry was when women married more than one husband. Because the farmland and herding areas were very important for survival in Tibet it was common that one woman would marry the eldest boy in a family and would be a wife to him and all of his brothers. Many women had three husbands. The children from these relationships would all be deemed to be the children of the eldest brother and the other brothers would be their uncles. The reason was the land. The families could not afford to split up the land between their sons and their families. So the sons shared one wife and they were one large happy family sharing the land.