Surmang and Sichuan 2013

imageby Mathilde Paturaux

How you discovered Surmang Foundation? 

I have been told so many times that finding internships in China is the easiest thing on Earth that I’ve stopped counting. The truth is: finding internships in China is the easiest thing on Earth if you are a native English speaker studying marketing. Unfortunately, I was French. And I wanted to work in the translation field. And, most of all, I did not want to spend three months in a huge international company in Shanghai. So I stopped looking at all the job advertisements online. I typed “NGOs in China” on Google. I found this website with an almost exhaustive list of NGOs. I spent hours looking at everything. And here it was…!

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What kind of preconceptions did you have before you went?  

Like all the French kids of my generation, I’ve grown up reading Tintin. Tibet was the place where Tintin went to save Chang, there were big snowy mountains, levitating monks, and a Yeti. It sounds a bit stupid, but I think the comic sums up pretty well the Western conception of Tibet. The place has held Western fascination for decades. The land of snow, the mythic Shangri-La, the wonderland on the roof of the world. I don’t think there is any other place on Earth that “hypnotize” us that much. As every westerner, Tibet was more a myth than a country to me. And I wanted to see what was hiding beyond that mask.

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How did your experience match up?

Well, I’m really disappointed I didn’t get to see the Yeti.

Joking aside, it was a real enrichment to realize that beyond the magic, there were people living.That, despite what we see on TV, not all Tibetans where monks setting themselves on fire. Some of them are, that’s true. But most of them are people as you and me, living, working, laughing, spending time with their families and friends.

I thought Tibet was magic, and I’m even more convinced of it now. But what’s magical is not levitation or this kind of things, it’s the way people keep laughing and loving life in spite of everything.

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What was your very first impression?

When I got out of the plane in Yushu on the 13th of May, the first thing I saw were the mountains. All around us, all around the airport, the huge snowy peaks. And I remember thinking something like “WOW! I’m in the Himalayas.” Sudden awareness…!

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What surprised you?

The way they could spend 10 minutes trying to catch a tiny insect without hurting it, just to put it back outside and save its life, amazed me.

The fact that rice pudding made with dried fruits, brown sugar and loads of yak butter tasted good was also extremely surprising…

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What is the one thing that stands out, that will remember? A scene, a weather pattern, a person, the way someone talked to you.

In June, I was sitting on the stairs outside the clinic, reading. The old lady that works in the clinic came to me, asked me if I wanted yogurt. I said yes. She brought two bowls and a bucket of ice-cold yogurt that we ate without sugar, with our fingers, sitting on the stairs in the strong sun of June, while she was talking to me in Tibetan.

I loved that moment. It was simple and peaceful.

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Is there a particular anecdote about your trip that you want to share with us? Do you have any suggestions for the future? 

I remember that day, in June, when I was feeling a bit blue. Phuntsok was in Yushu, Drogha was working, I was alone and tired of reading, I did not want to do anything, I wanted to go home. After a moment’s reflection, I decided to go out, even though I really didn’t want to, just because it was stupid to stay in my bed all day.

I went out, and while I was heading to the river, I realized that a religious ceremony was happening in the meadow in front of the monastic school. There where two beautiful big tents, and all the lamas in Surmang where gathered here, wearing their red hats, chanting and playing religious music. It was strange, beautiful, captivating! I was really glad I had decided to go out, otherwise I would have missed it.

In the evening I went to bed thinking, that, well, this had been a pretty good day after all!

A suggestion? Well, keep doing what you do, and keep doing it well.

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Would you come back?

YES.

I don’t have much choice anyway, Drogha and Banze told me “明年再来”. And it was not a question.

Surmang and Sichuan 2013

How you discovered Surmang Foundation? 

Through a good friend, Mr. Mark Chen, who with his wife YangJin Lamu had worked with Surmang Foundation for many years.

In the beginning it was a student-run project by my daughter, Amber Lee, that collects slightly used school uniform jackets and wish to donate to kids in need.  As we were looking for organizations in China that are willing to take those jackets and see them into good hands, Mark helped us make the connection.  It was a wonderful team-up experience.  In the process Lee suggested that making the donation is one thing, but if we could spare some time to go to Surmang and see things ourselves it would make more sense. 

What a wonderful suggestion it had turned out!

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What kind of preconceptions did you have before you went?  

We knew it was going to be different.  I have gone on several out-of-the-way trips in my days but my daughter, who is 15 and grew up in Taipei, could use some “exposures.”  Luckily she was happy to take on the challenge. 

How did your experience match up?

It was that and 10 times more.  The landscape, the people, the trip itself were so rich we are still mesmerized.  The thing about this trip is that there was very little one can plan for it.  We all need to put our “plans” down and ready for all the surprises that came our way non-stop.  That was just great!

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What was your very first impression?

When we first arrived at the Little Surmang Clinic we were surprised by its contrast – it sits in a court yard where grass grew wild, but itself is neat and orderly.  It’s very simple design but houses most vital functions.  Our quarters upstairs even has electricity outlet powered by solar panels.  Yet there is also a yak fur tent to house several visitors from our group.  It was very welcoming.

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What surprised you?

Nothing, and everything.  We went ready for the unexpected and got a full dosage.  I guess the biggest surprise was the group we were with – the Surmang Foundation directors – a group of real good guys trying to do some good.  Very touching.

What is the one thing that stands out, that will remember? A scene, a weather pattern, a person, the way someone talked to you.

When we were at the  Shechen XieQing Orphanage, when the kids practiced all day long their traditional songs and dances, and came performing for us in the cold evening.  The only light came from a stand-by car’s head light, with the glacier-capped mountain range in the background.  That was the scene. 

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Is there a particular anecdote about your trip that you want to share with us? Do you have any suggestions for the future? 

To do something good we need to have someone willing to be there on-the-ground, all the time.  With Surmang Foundation I think the highest value it created is to have trained local medical professionals that would come back and serve. That brought all goodwill and intentions to the ground level and found root.  I appreciate this far-sightedness very much.

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Would you come back?

YES, and a big one.

Surmang and Sichuan 2013

How you discovered Surmang Foundation? 

Surmang Foundation has been part of my family for a long time. Throughout my life I have been exposed to the work that my dad does in Tibet with Surmang Foundation. My mom and I would help with organizing fundraisers, and I have met a lot of volunteers and doctors that have been to the Surmang clinic.

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What kind of preconceptions did you have before you went?  

From looking at photos that my dad captured on his past trips to eastern Tibet, I expected to see an environment of high snowy mountains, green hills and white clouds. I expected to see a lot of Tibetan people wearing traditional Tibetan dress.

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How did your experience match up?

I was blown away by the experience I had in Surmang. Never ending, lush green valleys and mountains surround the Surmang clinic. The Tibetans were welcoming and kind-hearted, offering us butter tea or Yak yogurt to eat. One thing that I did not expect before travelling to Tibet was the experience of immersing myself in Tibetan culture. Although there is a tendency for travelers to stray from adapting to a new environment, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I could experience and how inviting the Tibetan people were. 

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What was your very first impression?

My very first impression stepping off the plane in Yushu was “WOAH”. The breathtaking view made me feel like I was stepping into a photograph. The vastness of the land and overall environment made me feel like I was in a different country. 

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What surprised you?

I definitely did not expect for it to hail in Surmang in July. But culture-wise, it was culture shock for me when we passed through a small town, to see all the Tibetan women walking around with a large amber stone on their heads and their hair in many braids down their back. The way Tibetans dress and how they live was definitely something that I did not expect and was surprised by. 

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What is the one thing that stands out, that will remember? A scene, a weather pattern, a person, the way someone talked to you.

The one thing that I will remember the most is visiting the orphanage boarding school in Sichuan. The orphanage was started by Gangshar Rinpoche, and has 100 students. Although our visit was only a short few days, this was the part of the trip that was the most memorable to me because I had an opportunity to interact with the students. On the last night of our stay, we were lucky to watch all the students perform traditional Khampa dance for Gangshar Rinpoche’s father who was visiting. The sky was getting dark and out of nowhere a black cloud suddenly appeared in the sky behind us, resembling the shape of a hand….there were no other clouds in the sky! To me, this meant something special about our last night in Sichuan. At the end of their performance, we were invited to join in to dance with everyone and this was something that I truly enjoyed and will never forget. 

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Is there a particular anecdote about your trip that you want to share with us? Do you have any suggestions for the future? 

One situation in particular was while on the road from Yushu to Sichuan. We passed three Tibetan kids playing by the side of the road. My dad got out of the car to take a picture of them, and motioned for them to put their arms around each other’s shoulders. The kids were very cute and instead of putting their arms around each other, they held their arms up in the same motion my dad was making. It was very cute!

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Would you come back?

Yes, definitely! I hope to go back to Surmang and Sichuan in  the near future, possibly next summer.