Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center – Bloomington, IN

One of the last things I expected to see on the Trip Advisor site for Bloomington was a Tibetan-Mongolian Cultural Center. I have a slight bias towards Tibet because I had participated on a 15-day hiking and camping trip with some Tibetan ethnic minorities in China back in 2008. I wanted to work in Mongolia for the Peace Corps but that didn’t happen, so I can’t say much for Mongolia, but I was pretty stoked… and I finally found the time to visit. I guess the area had a sizeable Tibet-Mongolian population since there’s a Tibetan restaurant within walking distance of campus and I heard some Tibetan spoken at one of the coffee shops I visited.

It was about a 20-minute drive from IU campus and my phone’s GPS wasn’t saying the directions to me, so I was constantly glancing from the road to my lap to make sure I was headed in the right direction. Good thing the speed limit was 30 (or 35 mph) at the most since I was going through some residential areas or it would not have been a good idea. Along the way, I spotted Feast, an awesome little eatery that had good reviews and I made a quick stop for lunch before continuing on.


First thing’s first, the grounds of this place are pretty big. Second thing: I don’t know why but it seemed like I chose the hottest day to explore outside. The buildings were familiar to me and there were strings of Tibetan (Mongolian?) praying flags hung around.

It’s an actual Buddhist temple are there are monks that reside on the grounds. I’m not sure if they know much English, but I encountered two of them. They smiled at me and continued walking up to this main building. They were holding a large pot of rice so I’m guessing they were preparing for lunch. I imagine they should because they hold classes and meditation sessions that people can join.

I walked around the grounds, looking at the stupas, praying wheels, etc. There were a ton of bugs flying about and, to be quite honest, the grounds weren’t maintained too well. Even so, I enjoyed my walk. I finally got up to the main building where the two monks entered. Here, you have to take off your shoes and it looks like it’s also a visitor center as well. I could see the main worship room within with the Dalai Lama’s large portrait hanging up (he apparently visited). I found it interesting that they also included various religious articles from other religions of the world.

Apparently, these are Americanized Tibetan-Mongolian monks, because when I was in China, there were certain rooms females couldn’t go into. Something about being “unclean” due to one’s menstrual cycle… not to mention how I was wearing shorts at the time and shorts aren’t appropriate. However, here, I was briefly welcomed in when someone saw me peering through the window and told that I was welcome to look around before left to my own devices.

It was a nice walk (and a good sweat) to break my mundane routine of working and walking back and from the hotel. Also, I got to get sustenance off campus! I sadly couldn’t visit the gift shop because they were at lunch, but it did make me think of fond and amusing memories of when I stayed in those Tibetan villages, eating tsampa, drinking yak butter tea… and not showering for days on end.

But that’s a different story.

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Bloomington: What Exactly is There?

As predicted in my first post, Bloomington is a quintessential college town. Because I was there during the summer break, it was apparently a sleepy college town, as well.

Apparently, a lot of the places I frequented (way too many independent coffee shops, of which the town has in abundance) would have hard-to-find seats once school was in session. Although I was on a trip, I was still working, so I would wake up early and knock off a coffee place or other eatery on my list where I would set up my work station for the day. I soon became pretty comfortable with getting around on foot.

So comfortable, in fact, that I overdid it my second full day there and got blisters. Three of them. Needless to say, I wasn’t so enthusiastic to walk everywhere after that. See, I collect those Starbucks collectible cups so wherever I go, I try to find one to take back as a souvenir. I’m not much of a souvenir/shopping person, but I like those cups. Plus, they end up being my smoothie cup in the morning so it’s also practical, which is a must. I found a Starbucks on the west edge of campus but they didn’t have it so they said the ones on the eastern outskirts of campus may. It was only a rough 40 minute walk, plus the summer I was experiencing wasn’t as hot as Houston’s. I was confident I could do it!

I did… But I arrived looking (and feeling) like I ran a marathon. Long story short: I sweat easily and I had a backpack with all my work things and my 7-lb laptop. Either way, the highlights:

  • The campus itself is beautiful and very nature friendly. There’s a patch of woods right in the middle that there are trails that you can walk through. Other than that, there’s also an ‘arboretum’ on the north side.
  • They have awesome animals. And darn those chipmunks (which remind me of hamster-squirrel hybrids because this was my first time seeing them in person… no similarities with Alvin whatsoever) – I could never get a photo of them!
  • I love looking at the architecture. I just love old buildings.
  • The amount of independent coffee shops there was awesome. I LOVE INDEPENDENT COFFEE SHOPS.
  • Other than campus which is situated right next to downtown, home to some of the more popular eateries, there isn’t much else in the city.
  • There’s a small mall southeast of campus that I walked to after my Starbucks trek… and I continued past that once I walked through it (it’s rather small) to the Kroger.
  • Their Kroger rocks. They have a soil plot where you can pick your mushrooms. I love that mushroom plot and was intensely sad that I couldn’t buy any because I had no kitchen to call my own at the time.
  • There is a Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center about a 20 minute drive from campus! I may make a separate post on that.
  • Most of the ethnic items are on the north side of town near the main library. There’s also a boba stand, to my surprise. However, there’s a specific street to the west of campus where there are Korean, Chinese, Indian, and Tibetan restaurants all lined up together, which I found interesting.

Like I said: small town.

Even so, I found that I enjoyed my morning walks to wherever I was going. It was definitely an escape and I did a lot of walking… but because there wasn’t much to do in terms of entertainment when I wasn’t working, I would be thinking of the next eatery to try out. Basically, I didn’t quite lose any weight. It was nice to be able to explore one part of the US at a time.

And perhaps it’s a good thing there weren’t too many things to do or else I wouldn’t have gotten any work done, haha.

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Food in Indiana & Illinois – 2015

I’m a major foodie, but I don’t go out to eat a lot, mainly due to my dietary restrictions: vegetarian and I don’t eat onion, garlic, leeks, chives, or hing (asafoetida). Basically, everything in the genus Allium, which also includes leeks, shallots, scallions, etc. What makes it a lot easier is that my entire family follows the same diet so in order to satisfy my craving for foods of all kinds, I end up cooking. A lot.

Why? Purely because though America is getting on that vegetarian bandwagon with things like Meatless Mondays and an increasing amount of vegetarian-friendly restaurants in addition to the all-vegetarian/vegan eateries, those aforementioned spices that I don’t eat are often featured in the food. It also saves me the waiter/waitress the trouble of having such a “difficult” customer and me the trouble of trying to figure out what in the world I could eat. As a note, my brand of vegetarianism is more Asian-based; if you go to Taiwan, all vegetarian restaurants there actually make their food without those spices (I was in Gastronomic Heaven there). Traditionally, Buddhist vegetarianism doesn’t include those items. Of course, this differs by the country, but if you trace it back to the very beginning, that’s how it was. There are several folklore-like stories of why this is which leads back to how eating those items was akin to eating meat itself. Then more scientifically, some of them, like garlic, is touted for their antibacterial character… which is great when you have tons of germs that need to be killed when eating meat. What is it going to kill when you’re only consuming plant-based foods? In a sense, you’re just harming yourself… plus, people that eat it mainly do it for the flavor it imparts and not its ‘benefits’. That’s just a nice side effect.

Plus, I frankly avoid them now because they’re so pungent. Comparably speaking, it’s all right if other people eat it because it’s easy enough to avoid them, but it’s hard to get away from yourself when the smell is, well, coming from yourself. Interestingly enough, I have met some people who have an actual allergy towards onion and garlic, so if you’re wondering, that is an actual allergy. Personally, I’m not allergic though if it’s strong enough, my eyes actually water and my nose stuffs up to the point that I feel as if I somehow got severely congested (and blinded by the influx of tears) in the matter of 5 seconds, so I guess I am somewhat allergic in a sense. That only happened once to me and I never want it to happen again. Trust me, if you avoid them for just a week or two, you’ll start feeling the affects due to your increased sensitivity towards them.

So, on this trip up to the Midwest, I found myself battling the constant frustration of trying to find food other than sweets, salads, or sandwiches that I could have, since I no longer had access to my beloved kitchen. Plus, I hate buying food that I can make. It seriously bothers me. To make it more simple, I would either tell my waiter/waitress that I was allergic and if I found myself in an Indian restaurant, I would tell them I ate Jain vegetarian, which also avoids those spices, among other things.

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