Thoughts on the Trip

Latitude 41°41'24.00"N, Longitude 73°53'54.88"W

Back on East Coast US time and not too jet-lagged.
My blog was cut off while I was in Tibet, China. I used a Wikipedia link to the Dalai Lama; that’s when the trouble began. I couldn’t get to some of my Flickr photos that referred to the Potala Palace. Same thing happened with YouTube. My video of the Jokhang Temple was viewed over 400 times and I never linked it out. I hit the sensitive word filter and couldn’t get around it until I reached the Narita airport and a six-hour layover.
If you’ve read this blog, you know it’s totally benign. I have been on a pleasurable vacation, enjoying the scenery and stories about places I’ve never been. I may never get back to these fine places again. I thought I’d try my hand at a digital diary and share some of the locations I’ve seen. I know that there are plenty of people out there who would love to go and experience Tibet and other parts of China, as I have been lucky enough to do. I also know that the web is a resource for providing that information to anyone who cares to google. There aren’t many of us who got to get into Tibet on a tourist Visa after the March ’08 events.

I do not have an opinion about the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism or Tibet. A two week visit to China does not an expert make. I was in Tibet for all of five days. I am not a scholar on the subjects. I can tell you what I saw. In Lhasa I saw a lot of new housing, clean streets, very few extremely poor people, and a lot of hustle and bustle as buses and taxis whirled by. I saw a wonderful vocational school for blind children. I met children who were learning English in rural Tibet. It looked like progress. As a westerner, that newness resonated with me. However, I’ve heard, too, and what seems rather clear is that all that newness comes with a cost. New businesses and housing are paid for by someone, an apparent outsider. One new friend I made on this trip said that if someone gave you 2 million dollars to improve your house, but then told you how to live, what to say, how to decorate, that new money wouldn’t feel so great.
I heard another story about monks. A man told me that his brother wanted to be a monk but the brother’s application wasn’t approved by the central government. A sure way of reducing the number of monks is to curtail the stream of young men who enter the monastery. In the past, a family would give one son to the monastery in part to guarantee a safe, protected life for that child. The number of Tibetan monks has steadily declined in recent years.

While we were in Lhasa there was a strong military presence. They would drive around in riot gear in the backs of trucks. Was it just a month away from the Olympics? Yes. Was it just a few months after the March uprising? Yes. However, again, it’s not a site a westerner is used to seeing.

I read the English-language China Daily while in China, and saw that the door remains open for talks with the Dalai Lama and Beijing. Beijing would like the Dalai Lama to come back as the Tibetan spiritual leader, nothing more.

I think there are people that live in China who are on top of the story who have mixed feelings about Tibet. Some see progress and enormous success or potential for success while others see the usurpation of Tibetan culture. Ten different people, ten different opinions.

It’s a complicated story. Read what you can. Talk to others who might have an informed opinion and, if you can, go to Tibet and see for yourself.

I know one thing. I am forever grateful for having the privilege of visiting Lhasa and Shigatse. The Tibetan landscape, sky and people are all so beautiful. I felt welcome there and would gladly go again.

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