I am really confused, disturbed and conflicted by much of what I have seen here. There are several reasons for this. In no particular order:
1. Our guide, like the one we had in Bhutan, is very difficult to understand when she tries to explain a long mythological point about Tibetan Buddhism. This is not entirely her fault, as these stories do not lend themselves easily to a 5 minute expose.
2. Along with the above, I wish I had better informed myself about Tibetan Buddhism before coming on this trip. It is mysterious to me and very far from my previous experience of Buddhism and the beautiful simplicity of the practice that has always appealed to me. The Tibetan (and Bhutanese, which came from Tibet) religion is filled with all sorts of things that seem antithetical to Buddhist principles as I have previously understood them. The multitude of gods and goddesses, demi-gods and demons, as well as the massive hierarchy in society are bewildering to me. I can find great cultural interest in the imagery of this form of Buddhism, but not much spiritual connection to it or its highly ritualized practice. (same old story with me, regardless of the religion in question.)
3. Coming to Tibet as a tourist is highly restricted. As in Bhutan, you need to sign up with a tour, and you won’t necessarily get to see the things you would like to. The trip to Potala Palace was somewhat of a disappointment, as they didn’t allow any pics inside and rushed us through in less than an hour. The building itself is amazing, but of course the ghost of the (current) Dalai Lama haunts the hell out of the place.
4. Speaking of the Dalai Lama, well, one CAN’T speak of him at all. Any time we try to ask any questions, we are told, “not allowed to talk about”. Any questions we try to ask about him (or more importantly how his followers relate to him) are rebuffed.
5. There is an unreal quality to a lot of the “worshipers” . Seeing the way certain monk-dressed people act, or the way others dramatically prostrate themselves whenever a tourist is around, once gets the feeling that this is all for our benefit and that the government pays people to pretend to be devout Tibetan Buddhists.
6. Most of the city of Lhasa is surprisingly new and clean. It has massive amounts of new buildings and finding the “old” city is somewhat difficult. It is also very touristy.
7. Trying to find info on Tibet from a cybercafe here, it was interesting to note that although I could pull up a Google result set, many of those links failed to work. The censorship here, although not unexpected, still turns my stomach.
8. The official Chinese version of events here is that they came in to “liberate” Tibet. Never mind the countless deaths, imprisonments, monastery destructions, dislocations, and prohibited speech. (I wonder how long until this blog is censored. Perhaps I will fly under the radar.)
9. There is a palpable sense of dislike of the Chinese here. More than one Tibetan we have talked to (although there are certain subjects they can’t discuss) have spoken ill of the Chinese in a general manner. They feel themselves to be very culturally distinct. In some ways it is sad to see this kind of nativism, but given the suppression of the past one can understand the aversion.
10. The only English language station on the TV of the hotel is CCTV 9. It is laughable English language propaganda, mostly “news”, that tells of the glorious perfection of China in the world. It is sort of like the Fox news of China, but without any alternatives.
FWIW, here are some of the photos: