The Gift

The bit I always tell

Once when I was in the foothills of Tibet, I was attacked by a pack of dogs. I was on a mountaintop, surrounded by steep drops on all sides. The nearest village was hours away. I was alone, in one of the most beautiful places on earth. And they wanted to eat me. There was a big one in the middle, staring me down. A shaggy mess of scabies and black, tangled fur. He was barking like mad, bearing his teeth, doing everything to keep my attention. To either side the others were fanning out, silently surrounding me. I had no idea what to do, but to stay calm. I kept thinking about that old notion that dogs smell fear. I decided I couldn’t be scared, though I wanted to be. Then, I remembered a gift.

In the village where I taught English for months before, the town judge and his wife ran a martial arts school. Sometimes I refer to him as ´Judge Dredd´, because to be honest there´s just something terrifying about a judge who knows how to kill a man in a dozen exotic ways. Nonetheless, Mr and Mrs Dredd were two of the nicest people I met in China. They welcomed me not only into their dojo, but also into their home. They made me feel like family. As a parting gift, I was given a weighty set of nunchaku; later to be confiscated by Australian customs.

I had them with me on the mountain. I started with a figure eight, and some defensive motions. The dogs were not as impressed as some of my previous audiences. They kept fanning out, and closing in. Finally, I just bashed one on the nose. It dropped, and the others immediately changed. They were a little more wary, and certainly not as aggressive, but it was far from over.

On the road below, I could hear a motorbike. It was a Khampa, a warrior-caste Tibetan. I was saved, or so I thought. Khampa men ride bikes dropping with religious icons, beads and colourful textiles. They wear aviator sunglasses, cowboy hats, heavy metal tees and generally a chupa (a traditional Tibetan robe, think kimono, but with longer sleeves to wipe your nose on). With Iron Maiden artwork splayed across his chest, and a sword at his hip, I figured things were about to get better. ¨Hello!¨, he shouts, as he stops to wave sheepishly at me.
¨Fuck! Help! I’m going to die!¨
¨….hello!¨ (big dorky grin)
Then he´s gone.

My heart sunk.

I started to become tired. The dogs were closing in again. I edged closer to the steep mountainside. Guessing it was all over, I imagined what an awesome corpse I’d leave behind. Nunchaku in hand, dead dogs everywhere. Iron Maiden at my funeral.

Of course, it was not to be. As I got closer to the edge I saw a small goat path I hadn’t noticed earlier. Just wide enough for one person (or one dog) to back down the mountain. Suddenly, they lost their numerical advantage, and I was free.

I clambered down to the road, and ran. They didn’t follow.

The bit I don’t always tell

It changed me. Before that, travel was nothing but fun. That experience illustrated how easy it is to just disappear. When the Khampa left, I realised how alone I was. Dying is easy, and sometimes there is no one to look out for you.

Sometime down the road, when I realised I´d escaped, the fear overtook me. It beat me in waves, until finally I overcame it. It was like coming up for air. Suddenly the world seemed so much more beautiful. As I walked, I came across a nomad camp. There was a woman there, washing her long, charcoal hair. To me, she looked surreal. Everything looked surreal. My nunchaku dangled from my sash, covered in blood. She disappeared into a tent, and I just kept walking.Image

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