Tibet! (day 1)

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September 30th 2010
Published: October 8th 2010
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Lhasa airportLhasa airportLhasa airport

note the camo military post...it is obviously so well camouflaged that it is hard to see
(I kept a journal during my trip to Tibet this past week so I'll be updating blog entries from my journal as I have time.)

We had to be on the bus to the Chengdu airport at 5:30 AM, so yesterday I picked up some pastries for breakfast from Andersen's bakery, a western-ish bakery chain here. All the PLU group students got 200 RMB giftcards to the bakery from our service learning groups so between Audrey and I, we're pretty much set for breakfasts for the rest of the semester.

Our flight to Lhasa was fine--a slight delay but there was a super adorable Chinese toddler sitting next to me so it was fine. For most of the flight I slept and before I knew it the plane was landing in Tibet! The first thing I noticed after we got off the plane was the large number of tiny Chinese flags lining the entrance to the airport. I mean, I know Tibet (or the Tibet Autonomous Region officially) is a part of China, but the Chengdu airport doesn't have tiny Chinese flags everywhere.

Our guide and bus driver met us at the airport and gave us each a
prayer flags prayer flags prayer flags

at the Buddha rest stop
white scarf as a welcome to Tibet. We piled on the bus and started to head to Lhasa. The airport is about an hour drive outside of the city. On the way to Lhasa, we stopped at a little rest stop where a giant Buddha was carved into the mountainside. Many people going on pilgrimages had left prayer flags and scarves there.

Even from the hour long drive to Lhasa, I noticed how strikingly beautiful Tibet is. The air is clear (but thin!), the sky is blue, and the landscape is incredible. Maybe it isn't actually as amazing as it seemed, but after a month and a half in huge Chinese cities it was very refreshing. Some of the trees were even starting to turn yellow for fall! Tibet is also really comforting. We all just felt happy as soon as we got there.

When we arrived in Lhasa, we went to our hotel (Kyichu Hotel--I definitely recommend it to anyone heading to Lhasa), checked in, and had lunch in the hotel restaurant. It was a buffet of delicious Tibetan food--potato soup, yak meat, rice, chicken curry, and potato momos (my favorite).

After lunch we had some free time. Audrey and I went up to our room and took naps--the beds here are crazy comfy even by US standards. At 3:30 pm we all met in the lobby and our guide, Penba, took us to Jokhang Temple about 3 blocks from the hotel. We didn't go inside the temple (we'll do that tomorrow I think) but we walked around the outside. Lots of people go on pilgrimages to pray there. There are also tons of market stalls and shops, so we had a free afternoon to shop. Everything here is super cheap and a lot of it is actually high quality Tibetan silver, turquoise, coral and amber.

While wandering, we went down side streets and back alleys which was really cool. Everyone would say "Hello!" to us because we are white but it wasn't as annoying as it gets when people do the same in Chengdu. It was more like a "Hello! Welcome to Lhasa" rather than a "Hello! I know one word of English and you are white!"

We also tasted yak butter. We thought it was going to be cheese because it was in a huge hunk, so we all took a bite which was a little much, but it was good. Eventually we found our way back to the hotel in time for dinner. The group went to a Tibetan/indian restaurant. The Yak meat was cooked with peppers and onions and it tasted like a fajita! It kind of made me miss Mexican food. We also had tomato soup with naan and "pizza" that tasted sweet and had yak cheese on it.

I'm starting to understand the "Tibet issue" a lot more--I didn't realize how much actually being here would help me sort out my thoughts. (In our class we've had tons of readings, but it is so hard to find the facts among all the bias--on both sides.)

On the streets there are tons of Chinese flags and legally signs here have to have the Chinese characters larger than the Tibetan writing. I feel bad speaking Chinese to the people here so I've just been using English even though they all do learn to speak Chinese by law. It just feels wrong to speak Chinese here.

In the market around the temple there were tons of posts where Han (the ethnic majority in China) Chinese police and soldiers were stationed. The soldiers were in riot gear and many had guns--the first guns I've seen in China so far other than the guards at the US Consulate. Chinese police don't carry guns or other weapons.

The soldiers and cops just seem so unnecessary--all the Tibetans I've met so far have been incredibly nice and I think the intimidation tactics used by the PRC are not effective or needed. Yes, I know there have been violent riots in the past, but these started as peaceful demonstrations. I never felt endangered in any way other than the fact that there were soldiers with semi-automatic rifles 5 feet away from where I was buying souvenirs.

I keep forgetting that I'm still in China. That alone says a lot about the whole situation.

I still don't know what the best solution is, though. Hopefully as the trip goes on and after when we discuss everything in class I'll be able to make up my mind.

Just walking on the streets, as long as there aren't soldiers, you would have no idea that Tibet is so politically tumultuous. It is beautiful here--the buildings and the people and the landscape. Ethnically Tibetan people have really stunning facial features so everyone is just beautiful. The kids are also ridiculously adorable and very friendly. They all come up to us and say "hello!" and whatever other English phrases they know.


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