Old Tibetan carpet dealer visiting the U.S.
By Henrik Eger
Two days ago, a young Tibetan, I guess he was 25, asked whether he could come by my house to look at my Persian rugs and my antiques for sale. He also wanted to know whether he could bring along his grandfather who was visiting from Tibet. I was so excited that I went online and, using a website with Tibetan phrases, sent them an email in Tibetan, welcoming them: TASHI DELEG. Hello. TASHI DELEG.
NGAI MING HENRIK YIN. My name is Henrik. NGAI MING HENRIK YIN.
KAYRANG KUSU DEBO-YIMBAY? How are you? KAYRANG KUSU DEBO-YIMBAY?
I ended my email with “Long live Tibet” as I could not find any Tibetan translation of that phrase. China apparently had made sure that the internet would get cleared of such a radical statement.
When I talked to some of my Chinese friends some years ago and told them how sad I am that China has occupied Tibet and planted so many Chinese families there that they outnumbered the Tibetans and won every election. Instead of hearing some regret from these new arrivals from China in the U.S., they told me point blank, “Hawaii! Did you ever study the history of the occupation of Hawaii by whites from the United States? It’s the same story,” they said, “the big ones always win.”
An hour later, two days ago, the two Tibetans arrived. I was thrilled. Within two minutes, the grandfather spotted my Tibetan antiques and wanted to buy them. I told him they meant a great deal to me because I bought them from Tibetan refugees in (then) Bombay where I had fled after the revolution in Iran. He didn’t take NO for an answer and wanted to buy that silver shrine to the ancestors and another old Tibetan shrine.
In a way, I felt honored, but I knew I wasn’t going to sell those shrines. They then wanted to see my Bukhara rug from Iran with the woven signature of the Iranian weaver. The old man, with the help of his grandson, tried to lower the price. When I wasn’t going to come down by hundreds of dollars, just one hundred, he took a new cigarette lighter which I had dropped in an old silver box that I had for sale.
The old Tibetan claimed that he could prove that the Persian carpet was not made of wool but cotton. No matter my assurances that this rug was made of wool, he grabbed the lighter and the old signed Bukhara rug and, without blinking an eyelid, let alone asking permission, lit the fringe which burned right away.
I froze, dumbfounded.
“See,” he said to his grandson in Tibetan, “this is cotton.” And then he threw the burning rug on the floor, hitting the old Persian carpet on the floor. I almost lost it, but, instead of getting angry, I asked the grandson to help me blow out the glimmering fringe. It took more seconds than I liked, but we managed.
During that time, the grandfather took an old doll that I had for sale with her hair made of thick wool. Without saying a word, the old Tibetan grandfather lit the lighter again and said through his grandson, “I can now show you how wool burns.”
My enthusiasm for Tibet burned down as quickly as the fringes of the rug that the old ruffian had set on fire, simply to get a lower price. Just to get him out of the house with that damn lighter, I gave him the silver box and an old Indian urn with a lid that he also liked, all for 300 bucks.
Realizing what a fantastic bargain he had just managed to get through his fire trick, he pulled out three freshly minted one hundred dollar notes, then grabbed the signed antique rug and the other two items and rushed toward the door. Suddenly, my cotton Bukhara had miraculously turned into a woolen one and the old Tibetan and his grandson left happily, while I was wondering whether I had been tricked or whether I lucked out that my house was not set on fire.
I was so shocked that I forgot to say goodbye and wish them well in Tibetan. Instead of finding a charming phrase like, “Do come back at any time” on a Tibetan website for tourists, all I could think of was “Fire! Fire!”
I then rushed back into the living room, picking up the doll that the old Tibetan carpet dealer had tried to set on fire to prove his point. I do not hug dolls, but this time, I cuddled the little survivor with her frizzy, wild, woolen hair.
Dear Reader, if you would like to buy one of my antique Persian rugs, do me a favor: leave any matches and any lighters at home. I assure you that all my antique rugs are made of wool.
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