Sunday, March 25, 2007

"Time Measurement and My Childhood" by Dolma

It is said, and also acknowledged by most Tibetans, that Tibetans usually don’t have a strong sense of time or rather punctuality. Therefore, it is very common or normal for Tibetans to be late by half an hour or more for an appointment. This kind of bad habit among Tibetans bothers me constantly and often makes me think further upon it. Thinking about it, I realize that this concept is rooted in the way Tibetans have measured time in history. In the meantime, those happy days of my childhood come back to me.

Today in almost every Tibetan family, except in some very remote areas, there are clocks to measure time. However, in the past, Tibetans roughly told the time from lots of things from nature instead of such a kind of apparatus. Obviously, through these ways they can roughly tell the time. These primitive ways of measuring time made it impossible to tell the exact time in terms of minutes and seconds. In Tibet, the most commonly used way is the cock cooing in the morning, the rising and falling of some special stars such as the phosphor and Gama Besang and the position of the sun in the daytime.

Being born and brought up in the countryside, I was fortunate to experience and observe such kinds of special cultural phenomenon. As I remember, in the morning we depended upon the cock coo to measure the time. When the adults decided to go for morning-work together, they would fix the time at “the first cock coo”, “the second cock coo”, or “the third cock coo” but never came up with the exact time as few families had a clock.. At that time, I couldn’t help worrying that whether the cocks in every family could coo at the same time and asked my mother about it. “Sure, the cocks had the instinct to tell the exact time and would coo almost at the same time”, she responded.

Apart from the cock coo, in the morning we measured time by phosphor, Tor Rerng Gerchin in Tibetan, which appears in the east of the sky at dawn. I clearly remember that when I was in primary school every morning my mother would wake me up and ask me to go for checking if the Tor Rerng Gerchin had showed up in the east sky. I loved that part of job as this was a very good opportunity for me to gain mother’s favor towards me. I loved to hear mother telling others, “Chung La is a good child and is not idle at all . She will get up immediately as soon as I wake her up in the morning.” Then, if Tor Rerng Gerchin was there, I should wake up my elder sister, Tashi Bedan, who was always the first one in my family to get up. She would then do a series of housework such as fetch water from the river, clear the ashes from the homemade earthen hearth, boil water, brew tea and then make butter tea and so on. Sometimes I had to get up twice or even three times for the star hadn’t shown up in the sky. But I did my job without any complaint.

In the daytime, we told the time from the position of the sun in the sky. Merely a child, I went to gaze at our flocks and herds in the grassland with adults like my mother and grandfather. Sometimes I went willingly and sometimes I had to due to the lack of labor in the family. Grandfather, as the most acknowledgeable man in my eyes at that time, told me when we should leave for grazing, when we should make our dinner when we should give water to the cows and sheep or when we should collect them and go home by estimating the different positions of the sun during the day. Fortunately, due to the non-polluted atmosphere of Tibet, cloudy weather is rare in Tibet or even if it’s cloudy we can still see the sun.

Gama Pasang was another star to play the role of time measurement. This star often falls when other stars begin to sparkle in the sky one by one around the dusk time. My playmates and I would play games regardless of the approaching blackness. So usually the mothers would come to ask the children to go home, saying “we have to go home now, it’s been a long time since Gama Pasang fell...”

How time flies! And I am no longer the happy little girl who was gazing at the grassland with her grandfather who passed away two years ago. Nowadays, although there are many clocks of different designs in my family. I miss the old time measurement; I miss the Tor Rerng Gerchin and Gama Basang whose existence I almost forgot about after leaving my home village over a decade ago; I miss those days which were careless and close to nature; I miss those days with my grandfather in the vast grassland or farmer fields. How I wish I could go back to those happy times.

This article was written in English by a Tibetan student in Beijing in March 2007.
Read Full Post>>>