I'm often recognized on the street by people who have seen photos or videos of me from one or another public speaking engagement or Disney -related documentary. But it's not really me they recognize. I'm fairly non-descript; six-foot white male, middle-aged, goatee, short hair. It's my ear. My ear is a celebrity. I'm like the guy walking next to the celebrity. Nobody would remember me if it wasn't for the natural history museum hanging from the side of my head.

My left ear has become quite distended through a quarter century and more of collecting tribal earrings and stuffing them through an increasingly big hole. This took time, but the time is ripe. I only get an earring when I'm in a country I've never been to before, and I used to wear them all at once. That got out of hand. Now, I only keep ten or so, hanging like bangles on a charm bracelet, jingling against my neck. People notice this and remember that they've seen it. It's like one of those mnemonic brain tricks they tell you to use, except it's really there. My motives for doing this had nothing to do with getting attention, I just thought it looked cool on tribal people so it might look cool on me. "Cool" might not be a word others would use. I notice I haven't exactly set a trend since 1987.

Each of the earrings has a story. Some are smaller stories than others.

A Tibetan Earring.

This kind of earring is called a "Sochi" in Tibetan. It's worn through the left ear as a badge of office. I don't think mine is an antique. It came from the town of Tagong, in the Garze district of Sichuan, on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau. Tagong is over twelve thousand feet above sea level, surrounded by huge hills which are literally covered in flickering prayerflags. It leaves you breathless twice over, once for the altitude and once for the beauty. The monastery in the town, the Lhagang, which more or less means "chapel," was originally founded in the 600's by King Songsten Gyampo, who pretty much kick-started Buddhism in Tibet. The current building is much more recent, having been rebuilt after being destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. Couldn't tell by me. It looked plenty venerable when I saw it.

We were in Tagong for one night, having rushed there from filming in the adjacent grasslands. Our driver insisted we be in town by sunset to avoid....I kid you not...bandits. So he said. I cannot corroborate this claim, as we were in town well before sunset with enough time to explore and get a drink at Sally's. My birthday was approaching, and my assistant and colleague, Jennifer, showed up with this one as a gift.  Gifts are always better than purchases, because they come to you unbidden, so it's the gift earring that I wear every day.

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