telophase: (goku - reading)
Due to the next project that [ profile] rachelmanija and I have started Gay Tibetan Martial Artists, I've been mining the library I work in for books that will give some sort of insight into the daily lives and the landscapes of Tibet, Bhutan, and other Himalayan areas. Because of renovations to the ceiling, the quartos (oversized books) are currently wrapped in plastic, so I can't browse through the enormous photography books like I really need, but there's a decent amount of non-photo books available. Most of which are elderly.

I grabbed this With the Tibetans in Tent and Temple by Dr. Susie C. Rijnhart, thinking that it probably wouldn't be that useful. It hasn't been that useful so far, but I've found myself interested in it anyway. It was published in 1901 and is an account of the four years she and her husband, Petrus Rijnhart, spent as missionaries in Tibet from 1895-1899.

You can't quite be sure of the attitude that missionaries will have towards the locals and their lifestyle before reading any account, but was pleasantly surprised to realize that she was as open-minded to the Tibetan and Chinese cultures as I think a Victorian American woman could have been.* She adores Chinese food, although she can't bring herslef to like the Tibetan staple of tsamba, does her best to avoid insulting her Tibetan hosts with actions or words, and hides her revulsion at the different standards of cleanliness she encounters. :D

She and her husband offered medical services to the locals, as well as Bible classes and discussion with the lamas they run into. They were pleasantly surprised at the discussion they could get into with many of the lamas, especially Mina Fuyeh, one of the most important lamas in the country, who read the Gospels they gave him and engaged them in theological talk and debate. I think they hadn't realized the extent to which Tibetan Buddhism emphasized learning and discussion.

I'm only about 100 pages in and already they've weathered two Islamic rebellions - the area they were in was settled by a mix of Buddhist and Islamic Chinese and Tibetans, and relations were, to put it mildly, strained. Anyway, I shall keep reading.

* I would think that most successful missionaries would have to be quite sympathetic about local customs and religion, but I've heard accounts otherwise. Admittedly from anthropologists mostly, so there may be some bias there.

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