tsampa soup, Tibetan Breakfast

Tsampa and the Dog (Xiahe, China)

I watched the market from the first floor of an empty restaurant. I watched traders unpack their wares on the roadside, laying brightly coloured objects in the dirt. I watched as the first customers shuffled in. I watched as the rhythms of commerce emerged: the familiar pattern in the spiralling of words from mouths and thrusting of hands in and out of the cold morning air.

I ate tsampa from an enamel bowl with a thick plastic spoon. It didn’t feel right to eat with such a thick plastic spoon. With each mouthful, this sense of wrongness grew. I felt babyfied. The yak butter in the tsampa tasted off. In my experience, yak butter and milk always tasted off. The tsampa was warm though and I was hungry and cold.

The woman who had brought me my food had gone again. The only company I had was a dog that sat on the table opposite me and stared. He didn’t want to eat my tsampa or be petted or scratched in a spot behind his left ear or back leg.  He didn’t want to chase a stick if we had happened to be in a place suitable for stick-throwing. He simply wanted to remind me that I didn’t belong, that the spoon would always feel too big in my mouth, that the restaurants I ate in would always be empty, that I would always eat the wrong meals at the wrong times and always, always I would think the yak butter tasted off.

.Dog in Labrang restaurant China


Read more about Xiahe click here or to read about the Labrang Monastery kora click here.

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Tom Spooner

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