15.63 Ma Jian Stick Out Your Tongue: Stories

ISBN 13: 9780312426903

Stick Out Your Tongue: Stories

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9780312426903: Stick Out Your Tongue: Stories

When Stick Out Your Tongue was published in Chinese in 1997, a blanket ban was placed on Ma Jian's future work. With its publication in English, readers get a rare glimpse of Tibet through Chinese eyes. In this profound work of fiction, a Chinese writer whose marriage has fallen apart travels to Tibet. As he wanders through the countryside, he witnesses the sky burial of a Tibetan woman who died during childbirth, shares a tent with a nomad who is walking to a sacred mountain to seek forgiveness for sleeping with his daughter, and hears the story of a young female lama who died during a Buddhist initiation rite. In stories both enchanting and horrifying, beautiful and macabre, seductive and perverse, Stick Out Your Tongue offers a startlingly vivid portrait of Tibet.

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About the Author:

Ma Jian is the author of Red Dust and The Noodle Maker. He lives in London.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Excerpted from Stick Out Your Tongue by Ma Jian. Copyright 2006 by Ma Jian. Published in May 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
 
THE WOMAN AND THE BLUE SKY
 
Our bus ground to the top of the five-thousand-metre Kambala Pass. Behind us, a few army trucks were still struggling up the foothills. As the last clouds tore from the rocks and prayer stones on the summit and slipped down the gullies, Yamdrok Lake came into view. When the surface of the lake mirrored the blue sky and plunged the distant snow peaks head-first into the water, I was filled with a sudden longing to take someone in my arms. This was the mountain road to Central Tibet.
 
During the month that I'd stayed in Lhasa, I had visited many ancient monasteries and shrines, but it was to the Jokhang Temple that I'd returned most frequently. The Jokhang is Tibetan Buddhism's most venerated site. Pilgrims from every corner of Tibet circle its walls in a continual stream, spinning prayer wheels, praying for an end to their suffering in this life and a prosperous rebirth in the next. Crowds prostrate themselves before the entrance, resembling professional athletes as they hurl themselves to the ground, stand up with hands clasped in prayer, then throw themselves down again. These displays of religious fervour appeal to foreign travellers, but sky burials arouse an even greater interest. While I was staying in Lhasa, I trekked to the burial site several times, camera in hand. But I never managed to see a burial: it would either be finished by the time I'd arrived, or relatives of the deceased would spot me from afar and tell me to stay away. Sometimes they even threw stones at me. I always ended up traipsing back to Lhasa in a bad mood.
 
I had been told that when a Tibetan dies, the relatives keep the body at home for three days, then carry it to the burial site, making sure not to look behind them as they walk. When they reach the village gates or a crossroads, they smash an earthenware jar onto the ground to ensure that the dead person's soul will never return. At the funeral site, the burial master lights a fire of fragrant juniper branches. Wealthy families employ a lama to recite from the scriptures and relate to the guardians of the Buddha Realm the merits and achievements of the deceased. Depending on the level of these achievements, the deceased will either return to the world of men, or remain in the Buddha Realm for eternity. The burial master hacks all the flesh from the corpse and slices it into small pieces. He grinds the bones into a fine powder and adds some water to form a paste. (If the bones are young and soft, he will thicken it with ground barley.) He then feeds this paste, together with the flesh, to the surrounding hawks and vultures. If the deceased was a Buddhist, a holy swastika will be carved on the corpse's back. When everything has been eaten, the master presents the scalp to the relatives, and the burial is considered to be complete. After that, the only way the relatives can communicate with the deceased is to go to the temple and pray.
 
I was travelling to the remote countryside of Central Tibet. When the bus reached the foot of the mountain and hurtled along the shores of Yamdrok Lake, I began to feel dizzy. I opened the window. The lake was calm; there wasn't a speck of dust in the breeze. The bus, however, was crammed to the brim, and the stench of dank sheepskin that wafted from the back made it hard for me to breathe. When I could take it no longer, I told the driver to stop, and jumped out.

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