The first night I fell with a high fever, vomiting through trembling teeth. My head was caved in from the high altitude I could feel death looming in and out of my veins. The next morning, I stayed in bed while the others wandered the town. I was extremely glad to have a comfortable bed with the hostel manager looking after me. He was lighthearted and I didn’t have the energy to say much. His Chinese name translated to “without a head”. His WeChat id had the tagline “always stay naive.”
It was Spring and the three of us had taken a 13hour bus ride to Seda for a taste of Tibetan culture. Seda, also known as Sertar, is a Tibetan county west of Sichuan in China. At nearly 4,000 meters elevation, Seda Monastery is the world’s largest Tibetan Buddhist school and houses up to 40,000 monks and nuns in dorms stacked across in a valley. The tiny lit windows spread a colorful mosaic that blends into the starry night sky.
The next morning, I was about 60% and decided to roam with the others. At dawn, we hiked up the mountain for a view of the valley where the monastery laid. Morning prayer was in order and clouds of incense smoke covered the valley. Fingertips freezing, the sun slowly peeked over the mountains and shadows began to stretch. We goofed around a bit then sat quietly with the sunrise. There was a cold stream in my belly.
We then made our way toward the monastery. I was woozy and grumpy while the other two chatted with the locals. Everyone was dressed in different variations of a brown and red cloak with a softness in their face. I spotted a cozy corner by the temple’s entrance and dropped for an overdue nap deep into my beanie and jacket. The cold air, fever, trembling body. I hated everything and somehow content. I had given up the will to change anything and had no regrets.
Next day we took a shuttle to the sky burial where vultures feast on the dead. It’s customary funeral for Tibetans, a morbid fascination for tourists. Six bodies had been laid and prepared in a pit for dozens of vultures to digest. Slowly birds swarmed in and tore away at the limbs. The thick smell of carcass waved around the funeral site while the birds frenzied in the pit; some flying overhead with wings blanketing the sun. Some were playing tug-o-war with the skin that wouldn’t tear. Near the end, a man with a butchers’ outfit walks to each skull with a knife and strikes a pounding blow at the base, cracks an opening and tosses them to the birds. They beaked into the brain as the jaw bone loosely opened and closed. I couldn’t help but see myself as an anonymous skull in that pit.
Same sun new day, head fevered and knees were trembling after a lengthy walk around town. We spotted a café and claimed a dim empty room with couches all around. We each took a full sofa and crashed from sheer exhaustion. Alina was cold and quiet. The window behind her was open with cool breeze coming in. Just as I got up to close it for her, Ree dashes for the window and slides it shut. She then falls dead on the couch. I drop my head and quietly start crying. I was drained and didn’t need a reason survey my tears but I felt relief. Maybe it was the emptiness inside and the kindness near. It’s like letting it stream down your face and grabbing at no wave because the ocean moves through us.