Marieke ten Wolde's blog

Documentary photography, and other things interesting enough to bother you with

Posts Tagged ‘Freeing the Fish

Tibetan Sushi

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freeing the fish

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Last week when I delivered a couple of my books to a store in Amsterdam with all sorts of things Tibetan, there was a Tibetan man, tall impressive, long hair in a fashionable bun. He was chatting with the shopkeeper about preparing food, actually preparing the fish from the tank at the shop keepers home into sushi. First jokingly then more seriously as it turned out he was running a sushi restaurant and he noticed the title of my book ‘Freeing the Fish’.
‘Freeing the Fish’ refers to the first story in my book and the practise in Lhasa for Tibetans to buy live fish in market to set them free in the river to save lives and gain merit.

We had a laugh about this coincidence and joked about his business. But the conversation turned more serious when the man who was even addressed as Rinpoche (a reincarnated Lama), explained that he would donate a lot of the money he earned with the restaurant. He indicated how fat the pile of banknotes would be that he would hand to monasteries and charity for blind people in Nepal. I have no idea why he chose to run this particular restaurant, he might have very good and valid reasons, but still there was an apparent sense of guilt. Luckily it seems possible to counterbalance at least some of the bad karma from running a Sushi restaurant by donating to monasteries. The principle of setting off good deeds against bad apparently is very common, at least it sounded very familiar to me.

I have met  Tibetans that eat fish, not so many years ago some (relatively) well to do Tibetans quite enjoyed the fish restaurants in the Chinese parts of Lhasa. They only stopped going there after the Dalai Lama had made some statements about eating fish. Some even ventilated their displeasure with the fact they could not eat fish anymore.

Maybe this is when the whole ‘Freeing the Fish’ practise really took on the scale it has now. I found this very interesting video on youtube showing how Tibetan businessmen donate a lot of money for buying the fish and make it into a special day to release the fish. Trucks filled with water and fish drive to the river where the fish is released from boats flying the Chinese flag.

I wonder if running up to Saga Dawa (Buddhist celebrations, remembering the birth of the historical Buddha), which is considered an auspicious time for releasing fish, the fisherman work over time to be able to fulfill the demand. Like eggs at Easter or turkey at Christmas. If the Tibetans are really opposed to fishing, and freeing fish is not just a way to gather good karma during festive days, maybe it would be better to not buy fish.

After deliberating on the freeing the fish practice for a couple of days, I still only know one thing for sure; Freak coincidences do occur in real life.
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Tibetans releasing fish in the river, Lhasa

Freeing the Fish, the book

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The last months I have been very busy with finalising the book about the changing and modernising life in Tibet. Last week I received the result of all the hard work on design, lithography, paper choice etc. It looks really great. And it is so nice to finally be able to hold the book, smell it, go through the pages. I guess I am still in love the tangible paper-based book, although all the online and e-stuff are great as well.

‘Freeing the Fish, Progress and Impermanence in modern-day Tibet’ is a photo book which also contains 20 of my stories that provide you with background information about the life in Tibet. The stories sometimes have a personal touch, are a little more serious than my blogs and are all new!

You can have a preview at my website. The book turned out really well, so I am very pleased to now be able to sell this through my web-shop.

For everyone in the Netherlands: At FotoFestival Naarden I have a large photo series exhibited (the festival runs until 23 June). The photos in the book, especially the spreads are quite big (almost 60 cm wide) but at the festival the panoramic images are almost one and half meter and that is yet something different. It feels like you are submerged in the Tibetan world, for a moment at least…

So if you have the chance, come and see. I will be there on 1 June and 9 June and you can also buy the book at the festival.

For all of you who will not be able to come, below an impression of what it looks like.

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Freeing the Fish

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FtF blog

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The Tibetans in Lhasa do not eat or catch fish, but the Han Chinese population does. The Tibetans instead go to the market to buy the fish to set them free. The whole fishing economy however has gotten a bit out of hand with the Tibetans now by far being the best customers at the fish market and the Han Chinese vendors catering for them by keeping the fish alive in large basins and selling big bags with water and added oxygen so the fish can be kept alive during the transport back to the river. Where some kilometers down river… well, you get the picture.

I have visited Tibet many times, and the more often I went the more interested I became in the country, the people, the Buddhism and above all, all the changes taking place in Tibet. Tibet has in the last 10 years changed from a rather traditional nomadic, agricultural and monastic society into a modern society. How the new and the old interact, collide or in some instances just live in parallel worlds doesn’t cease to fascinate me.

In the book ‘Freeing the Fish, progress and impermanence in modern day Tibet’, I bring together my photography work in Tibet from the last 10 years and I show the changes I saw happening in that period: The rapidly expanding cities and the city life, the new growing monasteries, the life of the nomads and the farmers in a changing environment (climate, mines, dams and resettlements).

The book will have a hard cover, around 220 pages with 140 photo’s of which 50 spreads and some background stories.

‘Freeing the Fish’ is one of the stories included in the book and a nice metaphor of many of the other developments in Tibet as well.

From now on I will keep you updated on the book publishing process. You can already have a peek of the book on my website. If you would like to be added to my mailing list or if you like to pre-order the book please email me or leave a comment on this post.

Written by Marieke ten Wolde

January 11, 2013 at 09:00