The end of Tibet

We’re leaving Tibet this afternoon. Now the plague is cleared, we’re leaping on the overnight bus to Xining. From there, we will hopefully travel due west. To Xinjiang. (You might have heard of this place in the news recently…)

So I thought I’d pop in some odds and ends I’ve failed to include elsewhere in my posts, just to wrap up. One was the Tibetan disco in Ganzi – brilliant fun! Men with 70’s hair and women in christmas tree tat mouthed along to power balads from the plains, and when the audience approved they raced up to the stage and threw white silk scarves around their necks. Mostly it was two drunk fat Han chinese throwing the scarves, and also jumping up on stage to join in the fun with sweaty shirts and awkward dance moves.

Another was some attitudes of Han Chinese towards the area in which they live. Most of the Han who are not military or police seem to be working in restaurants, shops, and taxis. Why did they come? The money’s good. “I used to work in Guangdong, but the business is slowing. My friend told me to come here.” “I’ve got a relative moved here five years ago, she said the business was good, so I came with my son.” “You can make so much money in western Sichuan! Look at the fruit, its fantastic, in Chengdu it costs 4 yuan a jin (half a kilo), here I can charge 7, the money is great!” “I came two months ago, there’s not a lot of taxis so I get good custom.”

What do these new immigrants think of the place they’ve moved to? “It’s alright, but it’s dangerous.” “The land is quite nice, but I wouldn’t go out alone”. “It’s too cold in winter. The Tibetans don’t like us.” “You should’t go to the countryside, and you must say in at night. Then the streets are not safe.” Why is it not safe? “The Tibetans. They are dangerous. They don’t like us.” “Some of the Tibetans from the countryside have funny ideas. They cause trouble. Just like the trouble in Xinjiang. It’s no good.” One restaurant owner put us to eat in the special room. “This is only for visitors. We don’t let Tibetans eat in here. These are the nice cups and the nice chopsticks. The Tibetans can’t use them. They’re very good quality.”

That’s not to say all the comments we met were hostile, money-orientated, or feeling threatened. One guy quite liked Buddhist temples, a woman rather enjoyed the scenery. But in general the only Chinese people I met here with really positive attitudes to the land and its people were educated tourists and backpackers. Tibetans, on the other hand, did not express such forthright views on the new immigrants. Perhaps they talked more about the Tibetan language. “It is beautiful and important, but very difficult to read.” “I don’t speak Tibetan properly.” “I hate speaking Chinese, I only do when I have to.”

While I was sitting outside our hostel in the evening, a 10-year-old girl skateboarded back and forth in front, monologuing at me. “I will be eleven next month. I am Tibetan but I don’t speak Tibetan. I understand but I don’t speak. I am too embarassed because it is not good. My mum always speaks Chinese with me, she says it is the common language, we must learn it. At school my grades for written Tibetan are very good. I want to learn English but I can’t speak English. Tibetan is almost the same as English. That’s why all the foreigners speak Tibetan. We think it is strange when they come to us and say “tashe delek” and speak Tibetan. Some speak Tibetan but not Chinese. Yes Tibetan is just like English. It sounds very beautiful. I want to learn English. My teacher said…” she flipped off the edge of the pavement, picked up her skateboard, and wandered off into the darkness.

And now I’m leaving Tibet, for a part of China which to me is a patch of darkness, where I’ve never been before.


2 Responses to “The end of Tibet”

  1. dick Says:

    Looking forward to your patch of darkness, (how about a google map link?) It’s Sunday afternoon here in Sheffield. Will was camping with friends over night and has gone off to play his last pre university high level D&D game. Gill and I are reading in the Garden, very Sunday afternoon.

    Keep the travelogue up , it transports 🙂


  2. Kathryn Says:

    Hi Cousin Ellie,iv got a flag from tibet, i did tibetan block printing last year and i bought a flag. do you speak chinese? Kathryn

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