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Tibet takes center stage at festival
The New Mexican[Sunday, August 08, 2010 20:17]
Tom Sharpe

A Santa Fe crowd munched momos, unfurled prayer flags and enjoyed music from the "roof of the world" at Saturday's Tibetan Festival.

Tashi Juchung from Santa Fe demonstrates Tibetan writing on a practice board at the Tibetan Festival at the Tibetan Cultural Center on Saturday. (Photo: Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican)
Tashi Juchung from Santa Fe demonstrates Tibetan writing on a practice board at the Tibetan Festival at the Tibetan Cultural Center on Saturday. (Photo: Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican)
Inside the Tibetan Center at 915 Hickox St., three women tried their hand at writing words in the Tibetan language with a bamboo stick on a black board covered with ashes.

Their teacher, Tashi Juchung, said that jang shing — literally meaning practice on a wooden board — became popular in Tibet when paper was rare in the Asian country.

He said the Tibetan language uses five genders — "masculine gender, neutral gender, feminine gender, the extremely feminine gender and the barren feminine gender."

Juchung said these different genders are pronounced by increasing the aspiration and lowering the pitch as one moves toward the feminine genders.

Like many of Santa Fe's 125 Tibetan expatriates, Juchung, 56, was born in Tibet but grew up in India, then came to the United States in a wave of Tibetan immigration during the last year of President George H.W. Bush's administration.

The Tibetan Center, just off St. Francis Drive, was remodeled from a former residence seven years ago. The annual festival is held there in early August, not because it commemorates a date in Tibetan history, but "because it's summer, days are longer and the students are all out of school," Juchung said.

Outside, young women dressed in colorful clothes danced and sang while men played drums and strummed stringed instruments.

A large red-and-yellow Tibetan national flag hung over one side of a building, near smaller prayer flags of various sizes and images of the Dalai Lama.

The kitchen turned out a steady stream of momos — meat-stuffed dumplings served with spicy red chile sauces.

A half-dozen booths sold "Free Tibet" stickers, garments, textiles, jewelry and other trinkets.

Dorjee Gyaltsen, 54, demonstrated his "Wheel of Life" paintings that depict Tibetan visions of the afterlife, divided like a pie chart into different sections of heaven and hell.

The "hungry ghost" section showed people with tiny necks and fire coming out of their mouths. "In this life, they have a lot of money but they don't want to spend it," Gyaltsen explained. "So they go to here. They see some fruits they want to eat, but they can't because their neck is too tight. ... In the past life, they didn't use the opportunity."

A large tree straddled the sections for gods and demigods. "This has a story, too," he said. "The tree's root is in the demigod's kingdom, but fruit is in heaven. ... The woman went to get water and she found the nice fruit and she ran back to the king and said, 'Oh, hey, we found a delicious fruit,' and so now they are fighting."

Like Juchung, Gyaltsen was born in Tibet, grew up in India and came to America in 1992. He said he managed to get his papers to emigrate to the United States by winning a lottery held by the Tibetan government in exile in India. "I was so surprised they picked my name," he said. "Everybody wants to come to America."

Gyaltsen introduced his student, Julie Kandyba of Ilfeld in San Miguel County, who said she is a graphic designer by profession but has been doing her own art for years.

"I was working on my own, just doing landscapes, and then I painted a Shiva (a Hindu deity) one day," she said. "Then I painted a Green Tara (a Tibetan Buddhist deity) and then somebody said, 'You should meet Dorjee.' "

Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or tsharpe@sfnewmexican.com.
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