Sunday, January 28, 2007

Nangma- the Tibetan "disco"

I spent most of the next few days hanging out with Kirk, Alex, John and Rachel, and occasionally with some other travelers we ran into. After meeting so many people who had done so many hardcore treks and trips both around the world and in Tibet I started feeling that sneaking into Tibet wasn’t so special. It did at least give me something to talk about, among all the people who had hiked throughout Nepal and the Rockies, biked into Tibet or did koras of Kailash.

Two nights after going to the Chinese club, on a Saturday, we went to the Tibetan “disco,” called nangma. I liked it so much I went back three more times. It wasn’t traditional Tibetan culture, but it was something that you could find nowhere outside Tibet and was good, innocent fun. It was really more like a variety show than a disco. It took place in a big theater with swastika lights shining on the ceiling and a big picture of the Potala hanging on the back of the stage. The audience sat at small tables and drank Lhasa beer, which was one of the worst beers I’ve ever had. If everyone at your table was male the waitresses would pour the beer for you and sometimes even offer you the glass. The performances were a mix of traditional Tibetan and South Asian dances; Chinese, Tibetan and occasionally English pop songs and modern Western-style dances. When one of the singers was particularly good people from the audience would go up on stage and put on khata on their neck.
Occasionally there was some audience participation. Sometimes there would be only music- often an electronic version of “Edelweiss”- and many people would go up on stage to waltz. However, men rarely danced with women, and half of the few couples who were not the same gender appeared to be father and daughter. The highlight of nangma was when almost the entire audience got onstage for Tibetan line dances while a singer would sing Tibetan folk songs. Half the people on stage would sternly focus as they tried to get the moves right, while the other half would throw themselves into it and add a lot of embellishments.
Alex had taken John to the nangma hall before, and one of their favorite performers did Michael Jackson dances. He really wanted to see a Michael Jackson performance, and after hearing him and Alex praise him so much I got curious myself. So we decided to go backstage and find him. When we did John went fanboy- “Oh my god, you are the best, I never expected to find that in Tibet!”- and we all begged him to do a performance. His manager promised us that he would come on in a few minutes, and sure enough after a little while the Tibetan Michael Jackson came onstage and the crowd went wild. Well, I think it was mostly the five of us going wild, but we made up for any lack of enthusiasm there might have been among the Tibetans. Once he got going the audience was raising the roof as they had for no other performance that night.

We finished up the night in what appeared to be the only restaurant open late in the night in Lhasa. Kirk went back to our hotel before me, and when I got there I had to spend twenty minutes kicking the front door and slamming it with my fists and screaming before the man on watch opened it. I was freezing and pissed, but it was worth staying out for the nangma.

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