Teaser 323: Another Economic Collapse and We’re Closing Banks, Too
Rinchen, Norbu and two other monks from the monastery stepped out of the temple and along the sometimes narrow path down to the small area where the minibus waited with two cars and carts and other belongings of the temple. In this place there was no concern with thievery. All were simply left by the monks as it arrived, including the two cars. Rinchen removed his sack from the minibus with his travel items and the other monks carried their sacks. Norbu carried nothing. He had nothing, except what little he carried between his ears, and he followed the monks to a small sedan, keys inside. Rinchen sat behind the wheel and I sat behind him next to one of the temple monks. All placed their sacks inside the sedan, barely big enough for four, Rinchen started the sedan and we drove away from the tiny monastery.
Our procession back to Sera was shorter, three days instead of four. Rinchen drove for fifteen, sixteen or more hours every day, reaching a Buddhist assemblage where we would sleep overnight and be on our way at daybreak. All roadblocks, stops or obstacles barely required minutes to pass. Rinchen simply opened the trunk immediately, which contained only the spare tire and jack, all the monks offered their sacks for inspection, and the casual observation of Norbu with Rinchen's explanation Norbu carried nothing because he owned nothing, and every official was satisfied. “Proceed.”
Once we reached Sera, Lobsang was immediately sent for and when he reached us in the large entryway, he hugged both Rinchen and Norbu enthusiastically. The two monks, while sent by Lama Tashi as additional cover for Norbu, had duties to perform at Sera and they immediately left the three of us. Lobsang produced yet another paper, announcing the transfer of Norbu, in the company of Rinchen, to the main monastery at Barang, to meet and be taught by a monk there who also was deaf and mute. It seemed very convenient to Norbu, but he merely smiled at Rinchen's gestures. Overnight rest at Sera and Rinchen and Norbu would arrive in Barang in two days.
They, however, were not going to leave Sera, and Lhasa so quickly. During the journey to Sichuan province and back, the entire world financial picture had changed a bit, as some of you may recall, and particularly the fledgling stock market the Chinese erected. It started innocently enough when the Chinese stock market plunged ten percent the first day. It had done so before, even worse. No cause for alarm. Stock markets everywhere sometimes drop ten percent or more. Nothing to be worried over, until the Chinese stock market closed the following day down twenty-five percent. In two days the stock market in the one country whose economy had still been growing steadily since the collapse of 2008 lost thirty-five percent value. Gone. Wiped. Now there was cause for alarm, especially in Beijing.
Since the second day occurred on a Friday, which is only superstitious I must remind you, there were meetings everywhere, but especially among the elite of the Chinese bureaucracy. To the great consternation of and against the advice of many so-called economics experts and various international financial advisers, the Chinese decided to keep their stock market closed the following Monday. We, the traveling monks from Sera, heard about this from news and discussion and conversations with monks at the assemblages we visited, but all of us, even Norbu, cared little about it. Monday, though, began with other Asian stock markets opening, only to drop precariously in hours, and the entire routine repeated with almost every stock market worldwide. Um, now there was cause for real alarm. When we drove back to Sera, what we all noticed, those of us traveling in the small sedan, was the absolute distraction and in some cases growing panic from the Chinese authorities and citizens we encountered. The distraction, even panic, followed us into Tibet. I asked Lobsang and Rinchen where I could use a phone discreetly. I had a call to make to someone whom I thought would provide me very relevant information concerning this now growing global calamity. When I told them exactly whom I intended to contact, both tried to dissuade me.
“If we travel into Lhasa,” Rinchen advised me, “trying to meet with this bank manager and you are discovered as Al-Barrak, it will all be over.”
“If this is the beginning of a major world-wide financial collapse, Rinchen, the Chinese are going to be the first to take steps, perhaps drastic steps, and the first financial area they're going to take those steps are with banks. I have to reach this woman. I think she will trust me enough to be honest with me. I need to know how bad people think this is getting because the reaction may have a drastic effect in trying to get out of Tibet. I can't rejoin Chodak blindly. Those powerful people in Beijing can clamp down on travel anywhere in China or Tibet. If they do it while we're on the road to Barang, we'll never make it, and they will eventually discover there is no monk named Norbu, not in your company.”
Lobsang, when hearing my explanation translated to him by Rinchen, merely smiled. He spoke with Rinchen, which caused Rinchen to, finally, smile. “Lobsang said, 'The miller is truly a great pretender. One moment he is little bowl, another, one called Hess, another, the miller, another, our brother Norbu. At any moment he can be any of them and be convincing, too.'”
Soon I was in a private room at the monastery, a land line phone in my hand against my ear and listening to the rings at the other end. Once the phone was answered it took a while to reach the delicate flower, for I had thought of her and when I did I considered her such, a delicate, charming, exquisite flower. When I asked for Nyima I merely advised the person on the other end I was a concerned tourist in Tibet, I had already used the services at this bank, and I only speak with Nyima, the manager. I was insistent and persistent.
When I heard her soft voice over the phone, I stated, “Merely days ago, you invited Al-Barrak to call you any time. I was hoping the invitation was still open, Nyima, and you would have lunch with me tomorrow.”
Out came her enchanting and softest laugh. “Can you meet me here at one?”
“I would be delighted.”
While traveling to Sichuan province was risky enough, this excursion into Lhasa the next day would be the most daring. Chodak had taken all my belongings except my traveling robe, turban and loin wrap. I considered it too risky to appear in Lhasa and especially at the bank as a Buddhist monk, but I also knew appearing in Lhasa and before Nyima as Al-Barrak would allow me to be placed in Lhasa when I was supposed to be in or near Barang with Chodak. Don't ever think I didn't consider the consequences. Not only was my freedom at risk, so were several others. I was quite easily putting all of us at risk to meet a woman I barely knew, but I held a strong belief I could trust her completely. I wasn't going to see Nyima with any romantic hope. I was going to see Nyima with the full understanding I was putting my life on the line and before our lunch was concluded, Nyima would have this full understanding, too, yet she would readily assure me the reason for our meeting would never go beyond her.
With Rinchen driving me to Lhasa the following day, I walked into the bank straight toward her tiny office and the young man sitting at the desk before it. I simply advised him I had an appointment with Nyima, but through the window into her tiny office, Nyima saw me, recognized me, even with my beard absent, and opened her door to invite me inside, closing it behind me.
We made some small talk for the next couple minutes after we seated. Nyima was constantly smiling, provoking my constant smile. “I was hoping I would see you again before you left Tibet,” she proclaimed, and lowered her head to softly add, “I have thought about you often since we last met.”
When she lifted her head to look to me, I replied, “I have, many times, seen you, heard you, in my mind, those moments of contemplation, reflection.” I smiled big and wide for her as I boisterously announced, “When I do, I think of you as the most beautiful, delicate, enchanting flower beckoning to me in your charming human form, a mere deception. Human indeed. You are a flower of indescribable beauty and aura, but...” When I uttered it Nyima's eyes focused intensely on mine. “Let us have lunch together in a place where we can talk privately, Nyima, for I have some things to tell you in confidence and I can trust you, can't I?”
Nyima studied my face for a few moments. “Of course.”
During the few frank discussions I have had with those beloved to me, friends and family, when I speak of my exceedingly short time in Tibet, I have always spoken of the strength of the inner bonds which tugged at me from the many I met in Tibet, and the accompanying regret since I knew they would all be exceedingly short meetings, never to recur. The short time I spent in Nyima's company this day was beyond exquisite, for I was drawn to her, pulled to her, and her eyes, especially, revealed her intense attraction, her drawing to me. I knew should we both utter the words of promise, of commitment, our mutual devotion would be everlasting and never be considered a burden for either. The regret is I also knew this would be our last meeting and those words would never be uttered. Words of promise would never be started from either side because I had an agenda I could not ignore.
I gazed deeply into those trusting, warm, inviting eyes and told Nyima everything. She listened attentively and absolutely nothing I said changed her appearance from anything other than trusting, warm and inviting. Nyima was not captivated. She sensed completely I was there, this day, with her because I needed her help and she was more than willing to give it. She gave her help, not from duty or responsibility. Nyima spoke with me this day—providing me with information which she was absolutely prohibited from providing—because it was required. It's more or less how she put it to me in a letter she sent me years later, having recently watched a recorded show featuring me. Since so much of our last personal meeting was confidential I contacted her after I received and read her letter to ask what I could include in this confession. Here's what she insisted I include.
“Much has changed since we last exchanged thoughts, my dearest friend. What I recall, more than anything else when we met for lunch that day, was the boldest, most sincere innocence on one person's face I have ever witnessed. Should you tell me what I knew could put you in prison for years when we were barely familiar with each other is inexpressible. Your trust in me and my trust in you, though, were essential, exacting and correct. While the path of my life has been rewarding and I would never go back and change it, I often wish, I often dream, the path of my life would be the path I walk with you, too. I knew who you were then. I know who you are now. That path would have been one of joy and devotion, but our meeting was to accomplish what you had to accomplish with what small and insignificant help I could provide. I gave you my help without hesitation, knowing in all likelihood our paths would never cross again. So be it. I did it with all my love.”
This is, of course, exactly what Nyima did, since we concluded our lunch with my knowledge, given by Nyima herself, that all banks in China would be closed the following day. You didn't know it. You weren't privileged. Because I knew it, hearing it from Nyima's own lips, she arranged, once we returned to the bank, a money transfer from my Indian bank directly into my hands, all without any help or knowledge in the bank itself. I would need it for yaks or burros or horses or tents or whatever else because I was headed as fast as I could get there to Dabaxiang. I had to get out of Tibet. Sitting in her office while she conducted the transaction personally, once Nyima returned to her office handing me the money, I stood and grasped her hands tightly. I couldn't hug her. You can't do it in Tibet either, not with an unmarried woman with no known romantic attachment. Before I left her office I stated, “I would be humbled to be considered your husband.”
Nyima smiled widely. “If not in this one perhaps in the next.”
“Perhaps, in the next, we might both be of the same gender.”
“These are minor details.”
- Just Desserts, Segment Forty-One “Exit Tibet” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021
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