© 2009 xiao Prayer wheels

Lhasa’s Daily

Getting into Tibet
My next problem… no one knows how to do it. But from the bits and pieces I’ve gathered for a whole day in Shangri-la, there is still hope. But before that, I went to visit 松赞林寺 (Ganden Sumtseling Monastery). It’s the second biggest monastery-palace after Potala temple.

Gen-X monks

Serious Business

Rich dad poor dad

Main temple building


Now to get in Tibet, no one would sell me a plane or bus ticket because I have a passport and after finally finding someone who knows a bit about this subject in a hotel, I understood that the travel permit can only be done from inside Tibet and then mailed out. The cost is high and the waiting period is long. Then, it is when I decided, fuck it, I’ll go it with a sketchier method. I still have a registration paper from when I was young and only a photocopy will suffice. Officially, it expired as soon as I got my Canadian citizenship but there was no way for them to know. So boom, I got my plane tickets. But I didn’t realize how well connected or informed the Chinese police is…

More shots of “downtown” Shangri-la:

Town SquareFountainNinja in training


I got in Lhasa, finally. Coming out of the airplane, the whole oxygen thing is first a lot better than I thought. There is no real hard impact and you just feel tired for the first 20 seconds and don’t feel it again. The landscape coming in from the plane is quite something. The land is much more barren than Yunnan and goes through a variety of terrains.

Shangri-la airportTibetan landscapeMarshes near Lhasa

Taking the bus into Lhasa, the city is surprised me. Because in itself, Lhasa is very much like any other big Chinese city. The roads are broad and clean, the vehicles on the road are similar and the people are busy and well dressed. Once on the streets, the Tibetans in the city give the same vibes (never mind, Tibetans aren’t as likely to babble with any outsiders and suck at getting things done) as the people in any other cities and the atmosphere is much more welcoming than Shangri-la. The city is well developed with buses, water and electricity everywhere. Businesses are everywhere and no one seem to be just wondering around aimlessly. There’s no religious fanatics or beggars. First thing I wanted to notice is the ethnicity distribution and proportion but as hard as I try, I can’t tell the differences. Some are clearly Han Chinese because their skin is much paler and some are clearly Muslims or Tibetans looking at their complexion and cloth/headdress but the far majority are just dark skinned people with black hair and black eyes. One clear evidence of class distinction that stands above other though is the presence of little taxi-tricycles and visibly, the riders are mostly Tibetans and the passengers are all Han Chinese.

After some contact, the Tibetans are very friendly people and no much different from people from the central plains. Their views on order and social structures are also digestible and in fact, quite equivalent with people from the other provinces. It’s hard to picture how they could bring themselves to the streets and through violence burn down other people’s homes etc. I am eager to find out but first, I’m taking a trip to 色拉寺 (Sera Monastery) for their philosophical debate session.

k… no debates, so then, dumb enough of me, I decided to climb the mountain behind it. The monks in the monastery seem to really take this material world as irrelevant. The buildings are essentially unmaintained with broken windows everywhere and there’s just shit everywhere around the monastery. The sounds of the buzzing flies are just deafening. Other than that, the monastery seem pretty empty and I’ve seen no more than 10 monks.

Sera monastery hillsideTypical window in monasteryPrayer wheels


The serious part

After coming back into the city, I walked around the local markets and surroundings and the damages from March are still very visible. There are burnt buildings everywhere but there seem to be something off. First, there seem to be no concentrated location for the destruction where the buildings are critically damaged. The damage is pretty widespread and the burnt buildings seem to be very evenly distributed in distance and equally damaged. There are never 2 adjacent buildings both burnt down or any building completely destroyed. Businesses have already returned to operation, sometime within the canvas where the building previously was but now with no walls or doors. There are very small amounts of repairs being done as well. But besides these relics of destruction, no sign of tension is detectable. It feels like everyone has forgotten the incident.

Damaged store in LhasaDamaged hotel

Number 1 questioned, a storekeeper, Tibetan. He sells crafts and cultural souvenirs essentially and sells them now in a little stall outdoors. He sells outside now because his store was burnt down and his inventory looted this March. He speaks of the event like a victim and says he doesn’t know where those group of aggressors suddenly emerge from and have never seen those people before. He also speaks of Tibet’s separation from China as a marginal thing. Then he carried on to pushing me to buy a prayer wheel from him.

The second person I questioned is in the food market. He is also a Tibetan and his store and his home was burnt down. He seems to be very eager to talk about it but before I can ask him more, the market’s public security guy, who looks Tibetan but I couldn’t be sure, told me to stop asking questions and stop taking pictures. At least he didn’t ask me to delete them.

Some distance North, another group of stores burnt. Here, there’s a gang standing in front of it and all stared at my camera while and then discussed something amongst them. It’s when I noticed that there’s a pretty professional video camera on the second floor of that same building pointing across the street towards a temple entrance that I decided it’s time for me to leave. The group followed me for a short distance before giving up. I have no idea who they were but I decided it was enough for today.

Thinking I’m safe back at the hotel, there’s more shit brewing there as well. The hotel registration? well it wasn’t just a guestbook. The whole hotel industry is completely connected with the police and they’re not taking any time. Apparently during the afternoon while I was gone, the police visited to ask how did I manage to get into Tibet without a Travel Permit. I better get out of here real fast.

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