My Kind of Town

Don Chapman

Of barley and Buddhas

>> Kaneohe

In planning the lunch she would prepare for the second Lama Jey Tsong Khapa, Lily Ah Sun did some quick research on the Internet, learned that a key ingredient in just about everything was yak butter. Out of luck there.

She also learned that the Chinese, when they invaded and occupied Tibet, introduced wheat to the Himalayas. Problem was, not only doesn't it grow well at that altitude or in the rocky soil, wheat didn't agree with the tastes or stomachs of a people who for centuries grew up eating barley as their primary staple. Of course, it wasn't Tibetans the Communists were worried about, it was wheat for export to China, so Tibetans grew wheat.

Lily had stopped by Down to Earth and bought some organic whole-grain barley and a wild rice mixture.

"Barley? How nice," the young lama said, both pleased and impressed. Even an enlightened living Buddha can find comfort in the familiar aroma and taste of certain foods from his youth. Though he was born in Hawaii and was one-eighth Hawaiian on his mother's side, he'd only lived here until he announced just before his third birthday that he was the first incarnation of the great Lama Jey Tsong Khapa. He'd lived the past 16 years in the Himalayas of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Mustang, studying with Buddhist masters in the Tibetan tradition, eating foods of the region.

With the wild rice, cooked in saffron, Lily served Tibetan-style greens. Then there was corn soup with tomato, onion, ginger and paprika, swimming with plump grains of barley. Lily lifted the lid of the final dish and the lama exclaimed "Mo-mo's!" Little dumplings filled with chopped mushrooms, tofu, cabbage, cilantro, garlic and ginger. "Such a feast, thank you, Mrs. Ah Sun."

"Lily, please, your holiness," she reminded him.

"And you may call me Jey."

"Je Rinpoche, I have heard," she said, "is how Tibetans affectionately refer to the original Tsong Khapa. In English, Lama Jey."

The young lama smiled, nodded, again pleased and impressed with Lily's research, and how at once she was so humble and so confident.

"If I may be so bold, Lama Jey, when people in Hawaii meet you, anywhere you travel, I think they'll also feel great affection for you. As you may know, I'm not Buddhist, but meeting you today, it's ... Excuse me, I'm not often at a loss for words ... But thank you for sharing, um ..."

"It's called the Dharma."

"Not like 'Dharma and Greg,' I already asked," said the lama's older brother Joe Kharma.

Lily couldn't believe how different the lama and his brother were.

Speaking of odd couples. "If I may ask, Lama Jey, how did you and our host Mr. Khan come to be friends?"

"You have a few centuries for the answer?" Kamasami Khan replied.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Don Chapman is editor of MidWeek. His serialized novel runs daily in the Star-Bulletin. He can be e-mailed at


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