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September 4, 2006

Harleys in Tibet — 'My other motorcycle is a yak'

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Jim Yardley's July 25, 2006 story about the rise of the motorcycle as the vehicle of choice for the nomads of Tibet (above and below) was a revelation.

It follows.

    Madoi Journal: China's Nomads Trade Up for an Easier Ride on the Range

    At the Doulong Store, the musty shelves are stocked with the necessities for Tibetan nomads. There are kettles for yak butter tea and bolts of colorful fabric for traditional Tibetan robes and clothing. A nomad affluent enough to use a light bulb in his tent can buy an electric generator.

    But an unexpected necessity here in the immense grasslands of the Tibetan plateau are the six motorcycles on display, including the ASIAHERO 150-7 bought by a nomad named Trashi Dorjay. He had traveled almost 200 miles to the store from his tent because he wanted a bike to herd his sheep and yaks.

    ''I used to ride a horse,'' he explained. ''A motorcycle is faster.''

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    At altitudes of 14,000 feet or higher, the mountainous grasslands here in Qinghai Province, in western China, have become motorcycle country. With a motorcycle now sometimes cheaper than a horse, ethnic Tibetan nomads scattered across the region are buying them out of necessity, but also as status symbols. The dingy truck-stop towns along the highway are swarming with Tibetans on motorcycles.

    ''You're only a real nomad if you ride a horse,'' said one nomad, Tsendo, as he sat in a hillside tent situated a two-hour drive from the nearest town. Then, glancing at a motorcycle parked inside the tent, he laughed and added, ''But this is our horse.''

    The trend began a few years ago and reflects the subtle changes under way in this isolated region of Qinghai, where most residents are ethnic Tibetans. Nomad families still live in tents and move their herds of yaks and sheep between winter and summer grazing pastures. Yak milk is still used to make tea, yogurt and butter, while yak hair is sometimes used to weave tents. Even yak dung is a commodity; it is flattened, dried in the sun and burned for heat.

    But some nomads, unable to subsist any longer on the land, are beginning to move into relocation centers built by local governments. Pilot projects with solar energy have brought electricity to at least one remote grazing area and with it the beginnings of contact with the wider world. Even nomads who live in the most isolated high country mountains make occasional trips into small cities like Madoi to buy supplies.

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    This deepening interaction has made the motorcycle an essential possession. ''We mostly use it for transportation to go to town,'' said one nomad, Tupten Jikmay, 29. He said that wealthier nomad families began buying motorcycles five years ago but that he and his two brothers had just managed to buy their first, a used model.

    ''It used to take two days on horseback to go to Madoi,'' he added. ''Now it is much faster.''

    Many nomads credit China's economic changes for the arrival of the motorcycle. Under the old system, nomads raised their yaks and sheep in a collective and were required to sell certain numbers of animals at a set price to government agencies. But by the late 1980's, nomads could sell their yaks and sheep at a higher market price. Madoi remains one of China's poorest areas, but over the years, some nomads were able to save enough money to buy motorcycles.

    More recently, the arrival of cheaper, Chinese-made models costing about $600 has made motorcycles more affordable. A used model can be bought for $50, and nearly every crossroads in the region seems to have a motorcycle repair or sales shop. Qu Jiang, the owner of the Doulong Store, said he sold about 20 or 30 a year, each equipped with a tape deck so riders can listen to Tibetan hymns or folk music.

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    ''The price of a horse and a motorcycle are about the same,'' Mr. Qu said. ''Younger buyers are looking at the power of the engine. They like horsepower. The shocks are important to them, too. If they are riding across the grasslands, the bike doesn't shake.''

    Not all modern conveniences have arrived so seamlessly. Qinghai has embraced solar power and has begun to install panels in remote locations to generate electricity. At one isolated village, a cluster of mud homes used by some nomads is now receiving solar-powered electricity. Officials also provided televisions as links to the outside world.

    But, as it turned out, only one person in the village can pick up any stations: the local ''living Buddha,'' the incarnation of a holy man. The satellite dish intended for the entire village was installed at his house and, so far, no one else has been able to connect their homes for service.

    ''I wish I could watch a little,'' said Sanggyay, 68, a grandmother with a wizened, sunburned face.

    ''Anyone could go over to his house,'' she said. ''But his house has a lot of mean dogs. I'm scared to go over there.''

    For most nomads, television remains an unimaginable luxury, while a motorcycle is a potentially life-altering possession. One man, Nga Gersu, said he bought a motorcycle last year for herding, a job that once required help from his two oldest daughters, ages 18 and 16. ''Before, two people had to go out with the herds, but now I can do it by myself,'' he said.

    He had planned to allow his daughters to attend school for the first time, but rising fuel prices have curtailed his riding. ''I had hoped to send my two older girls to school to study this fall,'' he said. ''But because the price of gas is up, I need them. Now I want to sell the bike because I cannot afford the gas.''

    Horses are still a common sight in the grasslands but, increasingly, it is just as common to see a motorcycle parked outside a nomad's tent. Some riders decorate their motorcycles with photographs of the Dalai Lama or with ornate Tibetan rugs. Others wear felt cowboy hats or colorful robes as they speed down the region's lone two-lane highway, often with a wife or child sitting in the rear.

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    On a recent afternoon outside the small city of Huashixia, a cluster of motorcycles had stopped beside the road around a stalled jeep. The jeep belonged to the fourth incarnation of the Lama Drabu, 68, a yogilike living Buddha from a nearby Buddhist monastery. He had been traveling to collect some stones etched with Tibetan prayers when his jeep had blown a tire.

    A few years ago, it might have taken awhile for help to arrive. But within minutes, several motorcycles had shown up. ''Everyone knows his jeep,'' said one man, Senggey, 43. ''Everyone came to help him fix his tire.''

    One man offered the Lama Drabu a sip of barley wine. A young monk in a maroon and saffron robe grabbed the punctured tire, jumped on the back of another man's motorcycle and they rode off to a repair shop. Asked if he had ever ridden a motorcycle, Lama Drabu said he had not. But, he added, he was not disconnected from the motorcycle world.

    ''Some people bring me their new bikes to bless them,'' he said.

....................

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Slide show here.

September 4, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Maria Sharapova's Top 10 Cities

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1. New York

2. London

3. Rome

4. Tokyo

5. Los Angeles

6. Melbourne

7. Milan

8. Paris

9. Sochi

10. Prague

I learned these facts and many more on her new website (it went live on August 17 of this year), mariasharapova.com.

On it she creates a weekly "Top 10" list of her favorite this-or-thats, like the one above.

I learned about her website during last night's telecast of her U.S. Open 3rd round victory (6-3, 6-2 over Elena Likhovtseva, in just over an hour) when analyst Tracy Austin mentioned it.

As celebrity websites go it's excellent: not too much Flash, easy to navigate, and by far most importantly, it feels real, as if Ms. Sharapova herself, in her own voice, is describing the people, places and things it's about.

September 4, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: NIH Research Radio

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Now broadcasting 24/7 on your iPod.

The biweekly (bi means twice, semi means every two — don't feel dumb, there are many like you who can't remember which is which) reports, focusing on research funded by the National Institutes of Health, began in March of this year.

Each 20- to 30-minute program covers "what we think is newsworthy... to the general public," said Calvin Jackson, chief of the NIH's news media branch, in an August 22 Washington Post Health section item by Matt McMillen.

Tune in, turn on, don't drop dead.

September 4, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Things are seldom what they seem

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Today's Washington Post Style section contains a brief piece by Norman Allen, newly resident in the hills of West Virginia, on his unexpected encounter with a native that proved to be most instructive.

For me it was simply wondrous and an example of what I try to be.

Here's the article.

    No Paycheck, but It's Rewarding Work

    Newly resident among the hills of West Virginia, I was making my daily descent to the post office when the windshield wipers slowed, the radio turned itself off and the dashboard lights dimmed. I pulled into a Shell station and came to a slow but final stop. It was the beginning of a three-day weekend. There was no mechanic on duty and the guys at the adjacent hardware store couldn't muster anyone on the phone. I was stuck — until a lanky man with a long stride walked in.

    Rufus figured that I needed a new alternator. He jumped my battery, followed me home and called around to find a parts distributor who promised to deliver the following day — a Sunday. Walking back to his truck, Rufus said in his soft drawl, "I notice that you only got the one vehicle out here, so I'm figuring you're stuck. You need anything? I can take you to get some groceries." His generosity seemed remarkable, but more was to come.

    He was back in the morning. On the long drive to pick up the new part, I learned that he gets up every morning at 3:30, drives two hours to work and puts in a 10-hour day. In good weather he's home by 7:30 p.m.

    I told him that I made a point of waking for the sunrise. "Man, I'd love that," Rufus said. "I'd love to have the sun wake me up. Right now it's me waking him up. I give him a nudge every morning and tell him it's time to get going."

    Rufus has the kind of quiet integrity that only a young Henry Fonda could capture on the screen.

    "I told my wife," he said, "if we get married there's not going to be a divorce. Too many couples break up these days and it's the kids that suffer. So I told her, if you have any thought about how we might split up someday, don't be saying 'I do.' "

    One night, when his wife was pregnant with their second child, Rufus heard two men arguing outside their apartment. The room shook as one of them slammed the other against the wall and threatened to fill the place with holes.

    "I had one of those assault rifles, you know?" Rufus said. "So I stepped outside and pointed it at those two men and told 'em no one was going to shoot holes in nothing. They left pretty quick."

    Rufus is missing some of his front teeth. An old scar makes a ragged line through his right eyebrow, and he's missing part of the first finger of his right hand. "I'm 31. Can you believe that?" he asked.

    Back at the house, Rufus put my car back together with the help of some gardening wire. As the battery recharged I asked how much I owed him.

    "Oh, I'm not worried about that," he said. "I figure if I get paid for work I do on a Sunday, next time I'm in trouble people'll pass me by instead of stopping to help."

    I saw a loophole and offered to pay him for his work the day before.

    He laughed. "You know that phrase, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'?"

    "I've heard it."

    "That's all I'm saying."

    Rufus brought home something that I already knew intellectually — that outward appearances aren't a reflection of inner virtues. But there's a larger lesson that seems contained in his very person, and can't be easily defined.

    "I really enjoyed this," he told me before driving away.

....................

I'm reminded of an interview with the actress Jennifer Connelly, in which the interviewer was subtly trying to picture her as a bit of a flake.

They were walking in Greenwich Village and, in response to a question, she stopped and pointed to a homeless person passed out amongst some garbage.

"How do you know he's not Jesus?" she asked.

Precisely.

September 4, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Something is happening here but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. joe?

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Evidently not.

I must have been out of the room — "away from my desk," there's a good one — when the new new thing in novel titles snuck in.

Last month's raves were for Marisha Pessl's new book (above); yesterday's New York Times Book Review featured Janna Levin's (below).

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Let me see if I can guess the next in this progression.

How about, "Mad Blogger Dreams of Calamity Flautist?"

Not bad, eh?

Watch for the movie, starring Beyoncé as Flautist.

September 4, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Self-Powered See-Through LED Flashlight

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From the website:

    Insta-Light

    Fun and functional flashlight

    Kids love seeing and learning how this battery-free flashlight works.

    Electricity is generated by squeezing a trigger (100 squeezes = 5 minutes of light) and built-in circuitry stores electricity.

    No batteries to buy (or discard in landfills) and no recharging.

    Two LED bulbs and concave lens provide bright, focused light.

    Kid-sturdy plastic case is water-resistant.

    5-1/4"L x 3-1/4"H

$15.95.

September 4, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Experts' Expert: How to tell if someone is lying

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"Shelagh McFadden interviewed J.J. Newberry, 'who trains cops the world over in deception detection,'" wrote Paul B. Brown in his "What's Offline" feature in yesterday's New York Times.

Newberry's pointers:

1) "Before entering into any serious conversation, make small talk so you get to know the other person's 'base line' facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice. 'When you get down to business, note departures from the base line — faster or slower speech, different gestures' and body language. Invariably, the changes mean the person is lying."

2) "Look for mismatches. If a salesman offers his 'best price while shaking his head no or shrugging, he is fibbing.'"

3) "And when all else fails, ask direct questions like, 'Are you licensed?' If you get a response like, 'We are in five countries,' you know something may be wrong."

Huh.

Let's turn it around, just for the heck of it: how should you proceed if you want to lie to someone and have them believe you?

Purely hypothetical, of course: I know you never lie, nor would you ever consider doing so.

But I digress.

No lie.

Anyway.

bookofjoe's tips on how to confabulate:

1) Avoid any small talk prior to getting down to business. This eliminates the possibility of determining your "base line."

2) Try to communicate via email or letter/memo rather than face-to-face: this eliminates the ability to detect mismatches, such as the laughter you can't stifle as you type your falsehoods.

3) Avoid direct questions. This is best done by referring to 2) above.

I am so bad, eh?

September 4, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Gnocchi Ridger

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From the website:

    Gnocchi Ridger

    Potato gnocchi are traditionally marked with ridges on one side, so a tasty sauce will cling to the surface.

    This simple but effective wooden tool creates ridges much more quickly and efficiently than the tines of a fork, since its large surface area simplifies rolling each gnocchi and yields perfectly consistent ridges.

    8-1/4" x 2-1/2" overall.

    Hand-wash.

$6.

Note: One (1) reader correctly identified it. A surprisingly large number of individuals submitted answers not suitable for publication on this family-friendly, G-rated, Disney-approved™ site that were, nonetheless, side-splittingly funny.

September 4, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

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