The Chinafication of Tibet


A brief moment of levity between two monks

It seemed innocent enough—two monks talking and laughing with an Asian foreigner, asking questions in broken English about me and the U.S. However, the tone quickly changed as they exchanged some furtive glances and motioned for me to follow them. We found ourselves in a side street off the main road through Lhasa, sitting on some steps in front of what appeared to be an older abandoned residence constructed in the Tibetan style. Satisfied with my answers about the U.S. and that I wasn’t a Chinese spy, they proceeded to ask me about news of the Dalai Lama. Since I hadn’t been keeping up on his whereabouts, I told them he had written some books while in exile in India and then reached into my daypack and pulled out photos of him. Their smiles quickly changed as they looked around wondering if they might be watched, slipped the photos into their burgundy robes, and thanked me profusely. One of the monks reached into his man-purse and offered me a blessing wrapped in a prayer flag. Accepting with both hands, I bowed slightly out of respect. He saw the journal I was holding, pulled out a pen and motioned to see it. Handing it to him, he wrote a street address in both Chinese and English. I wrote my email address on another slip of paper and gave it to him. We never contacted each other again even though I considered it many times. I snapped a picture of the two of them, exchanged goodbyes, and went our separate directions. The entire interaction took less than 15 minutes, but the experience still stays with me nearly 16 years later. That was Tibet in 2000, decades after the Chinese occupation, but before the revolts in 2009. Some things such as the spying on the Tibetan people haven’t changed. Many other aspects have changed dramatically. Continue reading

Riding the Rails Through Asia

Our shared second class (hard sleeper) cabin with six bunks.

Our shared second class (hard sleeper) cabin with six bunks.

The bunk was about a meter wide, and true to its name it was a hard sleeper with very little padding. My head hurt from the high altitude of the Tibetan plateau and my back was aching from sleeping so much, but I was  also fighting a cold and there wasn’t much else to do for 48 hours. The scenery did little to help pass the time. Hills became mountains and the vegetation grew sparse and brown. The occasional town or scenic lake could distract us from our misery for a minute, but eventually seeing our own reflection staring back at us in the window quickly reminded us of where we were for the next day and a half: a cramped little bunk in a rolling tin can. There were six of these bunks in our little shared compartment. The uppermost bunk required gymnastics to reach and later dismount. The top and middle bunks didn’t have enough headroom for me to sit up without hunching over. Even Sheri couldn’t sit up straight. Never have I felt more like cattle packed into a livestock car. Continue reading

First World Problems in the Third World

I really don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, but after a couple of months on the road, I begin to notice things that are sometimes just a bit annoying. Sure, things are different in other countries, and I get that. But that certainly doesn’t mean it’s better (or worse), just different, and yet, it annoys me. Alright, maybe I am complaining, hence the title of my post.

Wash Cloths

I traveled through Asia about 15 years ago, and the last time I was in China was about 10 years ago. One thing still hasn’t changed in all that time. Hotels don’t believe in wash cloths. I know this because I have to bring my own. Now this would be fine if the soap they provided would actually lather, but it doesn’t. And it’s not a matter of the price level of the hotel, even the high-end resorts don’t provide wash cloths. Yes, it’s not a big deal, but I’m just wondering, why? Continue reading