As part of his integration with all the strangers that Grønkjær meets on
his travels, he sought a Tibetan monastery where the local lama personally
tonsured the Dane and dressed him as a monk.
Grønkjær performed his magic show among the prayer flags and incense in
the beautiful Himalayas as well as at a cremation by the holy river.
AND NOW TO THE FAIRYTALE...
I love adventure and the unpredictable in my journeys. With
my magic suitcase as a steady partner, I have seen and heard people laugh out
loud regardless if they where tribes living in the jungle, descendants of the
old Incas, cowboys in Texas, indians in South America or people living in the
largest cities of the world – for instance New York. Now the time was up for
the monks and the convents in The Himalayas.
The chaos of Kathmandu
28 Hours after leaving my home in Denmark, I suddenly found
myself in the center of crazy, chaotic Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.
Nepal ranks 8 at the list of the poorest countries, and it
is remarkably different than home: Buses drive with passengers clinging to the
roof, small scooter-taxis, rickshaws, colorful hindu-parades and Buddhist
monks, monkeys crawling the trees, piles of trash everywhere, trucks that have
seen better days, people shouting and drivers honking the horn nonstop.
I actually counted one taxi drivers honks to 34 times a
minute at a random drive. And in between this madness the holy cows stroll the
roads, which kind of puts a perspective on the danish problems with dog-shit on
the sidewalks! But if I was a holy cow, that no one could touch, why should I
bother, if I was shitting on the street, even if it was just in front of a
In this adventure I had a desire to meet people, that had
given their lives to religion. Monks in the convents of Nepal and Tibet are
greatly different than the people and the audience, that I met in previous
expeditions. Just to get in to the convents was a possible challenge, and
furthermore I had to see if it was possible to give a show in there, to which I
had my doubts. You don't just walk in to a convent, ask to see the holy
chambers and then start pulling a rabbit up the black hat.
For starters you would definitely get the boot, and
furthermore it is important to meet thelocals with the respect they deserve.
Shaved as a monk
Not far from Mount Everest with a great view of the snowy
peaks of Himalaya the dream came true. At a local temple with colorful flags
blowing in the wind, monkeys playing in the trees, incent sticks smoking and
the monks studying the holy writing, I was for a short period a student under
the wings of the local Lama.
He heard of my mission, and quickly he became interested in
my magic suitcase, which bears photos of my audience from all over the world.
From chiefs to drag queens
When he saw my photos from some of the most impassable
places of the planet, he offered to help me stage a performance for the boys
and men of his convent. He lead me to a small plateau, where the youngest of
the monks was studying the holy writings. I had entered the heart of the
I always make an effort to integrate with the locals and
everywhere I go, I perform in the outfits of the locals. When visiting the
cannibals of Irian jaya, I wore their small penis-hiding tube. In New York I
performed as a dragqueen.
And faster than a monk can spell nirvana the Lama had found
a knife and shaving equiptment, andafter a short while I was bald as a baby and dressed in an orange monk
And that's how the prayers for Buddha shortly was replaced
with laughter and screams of joy, when the holy men saw their first magician
performance. Nirvana was forgotten while they focused on danish fairy dust,
when a monk got a sword through his throat, pieces of paper turned into bills,
things floated in the air, and balloon animals was made in all the colors of
their prayer flags.
When you give a piece of yourself to others, people will
open both their hearts and homes for you. And I was subsequently invited into
the private chamber of the Lama. It was 4 x 4 meters and contained a mattress
on the floor, a small cooking set and posters on the walls of Buddha......and
one of the band Boyzone and a footballposter!
Show at a cremation
One of the more macabre experiences I had, was when I
performed at a cremation. Outside the walls of the temples there are daily
cremations alongside the holy river. This day relatives mourned, others
sacrificed gifts or clothed themselves in the traditional kirtle, while the
rest of the citizens followed the cremation curiously. In different places
orchestras played for the dead, and holy men stayed close in the hope, that the
tourists might give a penny or two.
When I walked by some of the holy men, I couldn't resist
making a bill appear as a trick. They were clearly astonished and wanted to see
more. I opened the magic suitcase ajar and a few crafty tricks were shown. It
didn't take long before the stairs, where I performed, where packed with people
– and the holy men sat of course on first row.
Actually it was a grotesque experience to act in front of a
screaming crowd, while the air filled with smoke from the bodies burning by the
river, completely exposed. In Denmark the most macabre magic experience have
been to stage a show at a circumcision, but this topped the charges.
From the chaotic Kathmandu the journey continued in Tibet,
which we crossed in a land-cruiser. Months before I had cleared the necessary
permissions and all expenses where paid, so we got quite a chock, when we were
denied access to the country.
Few hours before crossing the Chinese border, where
no-mans-land separate Nepal and China (Tibet lies within the borders of China),
we were told, we couldn't enter. We didn't understand why, since we months
before had examined every detail and had figured out, that it shouldn't be a problem
traveling to Tibet. I had read and researched a lot about the country, and I
had really been looking forward to this, so I got both frustrated and sad.
Normally I would have pulled out tufts of hair, but this was impossible since I
was still bald as an egg. I still wanted a reasonable explanation, though,but the authorities wouldn't give us
one. We were just told, that we could try again the following day. This lead to
rejection after rejection the next days. We tried both morning, noon and night,
but nothing helped. But other tourists passed the borders easily within
minutes. If they could have given us a reasonable explanation, we would have
understood this, but we only met an arrogant attitude from the embassy, where
they firmly let us know, that we weren't welcome, and that they by the way
didn't give a damn about our papers or the fact, that we had paid well to cross
It didn't help, that we had contact with both the
government and several important officials. We finally had to realize, that in
this case the capital of Tibet, Lhasa fulfilled it's name as the forbidden
city, which vexed this magician quite a lot.
From poverty to abundance
Now I just wished to get moving with help from our travel
agent, but no matter where I wished to go, the planes were either fully booked
or the visa was to difficult to get with such short notice. Suddenly the phone
rang. It was our agent telling us to be ready within ten minutes to go to the
airport. I was of course quite curious about where we were going. It could be
anywhere: China, India, Burma .....or maybe back to Denmark. At this moment I
didn't know anything, but shortly after, we sat in a plane heading towards
Bangkok, where the contrast to the poverty in Nepal were put in perspective.
Our travel agent wished to make amends after the
unfortunate incident with Tibet, which meant that we were showered with luxury
upon arriving in Thailand. We went from one of the poorest countries in the
world, where everybody tries to squeeze some money out of you and where the
locals live and eat quite miserable, to a hotel, that could house royalty.
Everywhere waiters tiptoed to open doors, put the napkin in your lap or fill
your glass every time, you had taken a sip.
In the Himalayas we lived in in small, rickety cottages,
where there would be a bonfire in a barrel in the center of the room, while
sleeping on stone hard beds below windows, that didn't fit the sills in the
wall. The toilets were holes in the ground, sometimes swarming with mites. Now
I was sleeping in a canopy bed large enough to contain a small village with
orchids spread on the sheets, and with 3-4 waiters at hand. It was fun to
experience such luxury, but the contrast to the poverty only hours away was
The giraffe women
There was an advantage in ending up in Thailand instead of
Tibet. Then I could make another dream of mine come true:
I have a burning desire to meet different populations. On
my top 5 I have always had the so-called giraffe women, who have had rings
placed around their necks since their childhood, which has given them an absurd
posture. Now I had the chance to visit them an perform in their village, so
within five days I found myself in a small motorized trunk-like boat, that
brought me and my magic suitcase down the river to the border between Thailand
and Burma, where civil war tears the country apart.
After a beautiful trip down the river with lush,
jungle-like plantation on both sides, we saw small, crooked wooden houses
appear on the riverbank. Even before we put a foot on land my eyes caught the
first long-necked woman strolling. On shore the first women were ready to greet
us, and every one we met, where nice and forthcoming, but the experience had a
darker side to it as well.
These women dress this way because it is a tradition, but
partly this helps the village to survive as well. They make money on their
deformities, and for some it might give the expression, that the tourists walk
around a zoo, staring at animals. Actually I had been looking forward to
studying their necks and decorations, but when confronted with the women, I got
embarrassed on their behalf, and in the beginning I only looked into their eyes
instead of looking at their rings.
But on the other hand I usually experience, that different
tribes think, that I am a fun and exiting stranger, because I let them look at
me, when I open my magic suitcase an perform a bit.
Hence here at the riverbanks, where both children and
adults soon gathered around, laughing of, what they thought was a crazy
magician, who made strange things happen. Money suddenly appeared, a girl got a
hole drilled in her stomach, one got a sword through his throat, and a guy in a
jacket suddenly ended up in a bikini. Those, who hadn't seen the show from the
beginning, ran through the village, when the loud laughter caught their ears,
telling them, that something unusual was going on.
This was an
amazing place to visit, because of the villagers colorful clothes,
body-decorations, their joyful ways of being and their big smiles. Even though
they are really poor, they brought me gifts and thanked for the experience
after the show. I refused, but they insisted, saying, that I hadgiven them joy from the bottom of my
heart, and their gifts was meant as a way to express their gratitude. They
said, they had never seen anything like that, and that they would always
remember my visit. As I sailed back towards civilization, I happily and humble
thought of the expression, that“strangers are just friends, you have not yet met”.