Friday, August 3, 2007

Last Night in China (in Beijing)


Arrived in Beijing from Lhasa tonight. So to finish off some thoughts...

* I had mentioned the dichotomy of China; I got another image (of which I don't have a picture..). An old lady in ragged wool clothes hunched over a cane while spinning a Tibetan prayer wheel, whose face is so wrinkled and sunburned that it can tell a thousand tales, standing in front of a designer store with a featureless mannequin in a perfectly pressed designer polo shirt and pants.

* I purchased some trinkets for people, come and get'em! Really funny was we were negotiating over 10c to 1 USD most of the time. We had walked into a store and the guy offered 10 Yuan and we didn't argue. Walked into another store and the guy asking price was 8 Yuan for the exact same thing. The owner even said he price was cheaper then the guy up the street, sorta felt bad in getting ripped off of 25 cents...

* So my last email was about the politics of Tibet.... This one is about the tourism in Tibet. WAY OVER CROWDED. Which is sorta our fault because we took the route most traveled and it was filled with Chinese, Korean, European and American tourists. I think next time I'm get a backpack and wonder.

* The tourism hasn't been a boon to everyone. We've seen beggars everywhere. Even had one occasion where a child (no more then 5 years old) grab my mom's leg and refused to let go until he got paid; our driver had to shoo him off. So instead of giving away money, we gave away food that we couldn't finish. This included stale fries one day old. These were fries from a fast food restaurant that our guide had picked up from Lhasa for the road because he didn't know what the conditions of the restaurants were gonna be. These were the same fries that I refused to eat because they were stale 4 hours later (and most of you know I'm not a very picky eater...). These same fries were given to a bunch of kids 'guarding' a toilet on the side of the road. They tore into it like manna from heaven.

* Bathrooms, which brings me to a very disgusting subject. On average a Tibetan toilet is worse then the dirtiest (including Nelson Rocks) pit toilet you've ever seen. Our guide joked that you don't need a GPS to find the toilet, just use your nose. It got to the point that the women in our party would rather 'sing a mountain song' ('chang san ge', take a leak in the wild) then use a proper toilet. This was the case all along the highway, we'd see cars and buses stopped for breaks; jokingly we called this Tibet's other natural wonder.

* First couple of days in Lhasa was over cast and rainy. Before we left it cleared up and boy was it beautiful. The stars shown so bright you could almost grab them. A full moon in the early morning was easily visible. Awesome, awesome place.

* So the flight from Lhasa to Beijing was interesting. There was a bunch of French Buddhists sitting front of us. I had heard them speaking French so I asked one of them if they were French (in French 'Vous etes Francais?'). This turned into a three way translation brawl for me. One of them spoke a bit of Chinese and some English, one spoke some English and the rest just French. My parents obviously spoke English and Chinese. The Chinese people around us only spoke Chinese. So I had to translate between English to French (my Parents), French to Chinese (with odd words in English, because I didn't know the Chinese word, which then had to be re-translated into Chinese), Chinese to French.. a very interesting 3-way brawl is what I would call it. I think we managed to understand each other. I also ended up on some one's home video cause one of the Frenchmen took out his camcorder and taped the whole exchanged, must have been interesting to watch.

* My last musing is the blinds in our hotel room. There is a rather large window between the bathroom and rest of the room. There are blinds on the window and it's not on the bathroom side, it's on the hotel room side... not sure about the thinking behind it, but who ever thought of it had either a very sick mind or a interesting sense of humor.

That's it for now... (probably for a while unless something interesting happens tomorrow...) cya!


Thursday, August 2, 2007

Last Night in Lhasa

Hey All Y'All,

Been an awesome trip so far. They say that when you see the Potala Palace for the first time it's not something you forget easily and that is true for me. We had just arrived from Xining on the train and I caught sight of this majestic white and red building, all lit up floating above the city. Certainly a sight to remember.

Let see...

* We've had some interesting incidents. One was a tourist spot, we were getting off to take pictures at 4950 meters at some important junction of some important Asian river (you see how important it was...) What has happened is the locals have put up signs and brought their Yaks to take pictures with the tourist there. So if you happen to accidentally take a picture of their Yak or their sign they make you pay this ridiculous amount before they let you go. Our guide has had fights up here before... So he warned us about the situation and we were very careful not to do anything 'improper'. Yet somehow my dad got pushed around when we were about to leave, we had done nothing (which what pissed them off, in that they didn't get any money from us.). Our guide and driver had to get out of the bus to stop that crowd that was forming...

* Another one was they were doing bridge constructions and we had to get through . It was a really weird spot that we had to get our bus through. We managed to get it through without incident (in my opinion), but the local workman claimed that we had clipped their concrete and broke a piece off with the bus. I had already noticed it was broken AND there was not a single scratch mark they could point at on the bus that can be claimed to have come from the alleged 'clipping'. In the end we had to pay 50 Yuan ($6 USD) to get by.

* So this tourist spot is right beside the road and a genius of a bureaucrat didn't build any parking spaces for this tourist trap. So what buses do is park on half the road and shoulder leaving 1.5 lanes for two way traffic. At one point we are getting ready to leave, two buses meet in the middle of the parking space and neither had space to move and traffic starts building up behind each bus, not allowing either to back up. The only way out is for the line of parked cars to start moving. After much honking the parked drivers in front of us realize something is up and slowly work their way back to their cars. At this point some genius of a driver decides to cut the line and move up until he's blocking the line of parked cars. Now we have a real Chinese stand-off, two-way 1 lane road and there is traffic on both sides facing the wrong way... After much shouting, honking and screaming, they manage to get the driver to back up a little (and only a little) until he can get off the road and onto the grass on the wrong side. Our bus had about .5 ft of clearance between him and the other side of cars...

* The first couple of days in Tibet were sort of a disappointment. I had expected nomads on grassy plains tending their sheep and yaks with picturesque snow capped mountains in the background. Instead I found fields of greenhouses and farm land with grassy mountains. However this disappointment was short lived. I've seen some really breath taking sights, better then I could've imagined. This is truly the 'Roof of the World', the 'Last Natural Wonder', the 'Undiscovered Country'.

* We saw a Sky Burial. It's Tibetan tradition to 'bury' their dead by allowing the eagles and vultures (but in reality dogs) devour their dead. The thinking behind this is your soul has either moved onto nirvana or your next reincarnation and you don't need your corporeal body anymore (similar to "Dust to Dust, Ashes to Ashes"), so why let it go to waste. So we saw a Sky Burial from afar, mostly we saw a bunch of people standing around and Eagles/Vultures descending and circling...

* Sadly you can't talk about Tibet without talking about politics and the Chinese presence/occupation. I'll let the experts debate whether historically Tibet belongs to China or not. The reality on the ground is they (we) are here. That could be a good or bad thing. China is no benevolent occupier/ruler, but I can't say it's all bad. Historically Tibet is a feudal society where instead of lords in castles you have monasteries who controlled the land and the peasants were no different from European serfs. Monasteries would even wage wars/raids against other monasteries because of theological differences. As much as we like to think the Dalai Lama as the ruler of Tibet, he is no more then a weak king who needs the support of the monasteries (or local lords) to rule. As much as I would like to believe that the current Dalai Lama could've changed this feudal system, I don't think that have been possible. (BTW, the Potala Palace, where the Dalai Lamas ruled from, is like a fortress on a hill, no different from any European castle I've seen...) The only enlightened dictatorship I know of in Asia is in Bhutan and how many people even know where that is? In that sense the Chinese did liberate Tibet. BTW, that is the politically correct term here, even our Tibetan guide uses it, the Chinese is 'Jie Fan', 'to liberate'. On the other hand, Chinese liberation bought along the Cultural Revolution, and Tibet was not spared the destruction of history. They say China lost more history in those short years of Maoist fanaticism then it did it's 4000 years of history. China also bought modernization and I would argue that would have been inevitable unless again if you were Bhutan. I would let history judge whether modernization is a good thing or not. I would also let history judge where the Chinese presence/occupation is a good thing or not.

Anyway, I have a few more anecdotes to pass along but it's really getting late. Be in Beijing tomorrow and will write more...


PS: No, I didn't proof read this note and I'm sure there are tons of typos and stuff...