-- Tibetan Side Of Town --
March 1987. Toronto, Canada.

Found on:

Big Circumstance (1988)

Bruce Cockburn Live (1990) & (2002) [live album]

Slice O Life (2009)

Rumours of Glory - box set Disc 5 (2014) [compilation album]

Through rutted winding streets of Kathmandu
Dodging crowded humans cows dogs rickshaws -
Storefronts constellated pools of bluewhite
Bright against darkening walls

The butterfly sparkle in my lasered eye still seems
To hold that last shot of red sun through haze over jumbled roofs
Everything moves like slow fluid in this atmosphere
Thick as dreams
With sewage, incense, dust and fever and the smoke of brick kilns and cremations -
Tom Kelly's bike rumbles down -
we're going drinking on the Tibetan side of town.

Beggar with withered legs sits sideways on skateboard, grinning
There's a joke going on somewhere but we'll never know
Those laughing kids with hungry eyes must be in on it too
With their clinging memories of a culture crushed
By Chinese greed

Pretty young mother by the temple gate
Covers her baby's face against diesel fumes
That look of concern - you can see it still -
Not yet masked by the hard lines of a woman's
Struggle to survive

Hard bargains going down
When you're living on the Tibetan side of town.

Big red Enfield Bullet lurches to a halt in the dust
Last blast of engine leaves a ringing in the ears
That fades into the rustle of bare feet and slapping sandals
And the baritone moan of long bronze trumpets
Muffled by monastery walls.

Prayer flags crack like whips in the breeze
Sending to the world - tonight the message blows east
Dark door opens to warm yellow room and there
Are these steaming jugs of hot millet beer
and I'm sucked into the scene like this liquor up
This bamboo straw

Sweet tungba sliding down -
drinking on the Tibetan side of town

Known comments by Bruce Cockburn about this song, by date:

  • 1990 - "An attempt to capture the flavour of Kathmandu. China has been bulldozing Tibet and its culture since the 50's. This has produced a lot of refugees, many of whom live in Nepal. One of the aspects of Tibetan tradition which was immediately accessible to me was the consumption of Tungba (spelled various ways by various Westerners). This is a kind of flat ale made from fermented millet, drunk hot. An acquired taste, but not that hard to acquire. The search for Tungba came to occupy a fair amount of what leisure time I had on that trip. Tom Kelly is an American photographer who at the time had lived in Kathmandu for 9 years, and who had the largest motorcycle I saw in Nepal. The guitar style here, as in 'Rocket Launcher', is modified Bill Broonzy - everything happening over a bass drone." - from "Rumours of Glory 1980-1990" (songbook), edited by Arthur McGregor, OFC Publications, Ottawa, 1990. Submitted by Rob Caldwell.

  • 1990 - 'Tibetan Side of Town' was the product of notes written while I [visited] Kathmandu on a couple of different occasions. It wasn't exactly as it's stated in the song where all those things were noticed on one trip through town. But, um, but I was taking notes as I went, and those notes produced that song. The same is true of the song Nicaragua, for that matter. - from "Interview and Segments" a CD released in 1990 by True North/Epic. Anonymous submission.

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