On the second day of working on their chain reaction machine (and the last day of building workshops!) we switched session, so that instead of the morning, we had the whole afternoon. We could hardly contain our excitement for what was to come, as the room lay all set up and in-progress from the day before, tables waiting to be completed.
It seemed to us (Karen, Mike, and Luigi) that most of the monks had already settled into their ideas, and had a pretty good sense of what they intended to accomplish, and the associated metaphors that we had asked them to think about. Based on the previous days’ tendencies, we had anticipated that most of the metaphors would revolve around three main themes: Buddhism, Tibet, and animals. Surprisingly, this activity brought out a little more variation and zaniness, with sometimes slightly disturbing undertones. For example, one of the elements in a machine consisted of a Tibetan monk slapping a Chinese person (cringe!). Another one involved an autorickshaw (repurposed from an earlier light-reflection prototype) running over a monk, which would then, by falling over, complete a circuit.
Always very inventive, some highlights included:
A soccer match between Tibet and the US, complete with first and second prize cups, and clapping audience.
A brilliant pulley system, with hand-braided rope, that we had never seen before.
A couple of hand-made gears, which after many iterations, prototypes, and a variety of materials, finally worked flawlessly. Perfect pitch!
Tashi’s creation, as always, was unconventional and a little bit crazy. He went through several different ideas, beginning to build, only to abandon them halfway through when he either lost interest in them, or ran into problems that were maybe too complex for him to solve. At one point he had started to build a model of the twin towers, including a way to make the tops collapse when hit by an airplane suspended on a string! Somewhat to our relief, he abandoned that line of thought, but that meant that he started the second day’s with a blank table. Then in a fit of inspiration, he started stringing foam tubes together, eventually fashioning some sort of crazy oversized monk that would shake uncontrollably and make all kinds of scary and “horrible” sounds, including thunder, clanging bells, dogs chasing after cats, and loud and campy music. Through its shaking motions, the monk figure would cause pieces of aluminum foil to hit each other, completing circuits, and setting the next machine in motion.
A rare treat: the translators, who were by the way such an essential part of our experience in Sarnath, in and out of the workshops, got to collaborate on their own table. They made a brilliant “Tibet express” train, complete with conductive rails!
Finally, the time came to set the whole contraption off. In typical fashion, all the monks crowded around the tables, we started a countdown from five (in Tibetan, of course!), and Geshe Thupten Khunkhen set the first block off. Of course, a chain reaction machine never works smoothly! The snags are part of the fun, and the monks enthusiasm was as high as we’ve ever seen: there were shouts of encouragement, teasing of each other, and joyful yelling when things worked. In fact, the whole experience was so delightful, that we had to set it all up and run it one more time!
And to end things on a great note, we set up an outdoor screening of one of our favorites chain reaction videos ever: Pythagora’s Switch!
We were overjoyed and delighted that, in addition to the monks, a number of local children took time off their bicycle-riding and kite-flying to attend the projection. We couldn’t wish for a better end to 10 magical workshop days.