Lhasa – A tale of two cities

11 01 2011

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…..

If there is one thing you can say about the SS is that they sure were snappy dressers. The peaky hats, the gleaming skull and cross bones, the natty red on black. They may have been void in the humanity/morality department but they really were up there in the sartorial stakes. And the Chinese guard is pushing hard in the glamour direction too… though without the same effortless command as the third Reich.

The airless road from Nepal to Lhasa and beyond is dotted with po-faced little green toy soldiers boxed in little Perspex boxes, standing on little red plinths, hemmed round at ankle height with a little red braided silk rope. Their little white gloved hands pointing sharp little fingers down to the occupied / liberated territory of Tibet. Once in Lhasa the little boxed guards are reserved for the gates of bureaucratic centres, those that walk the streets (of the Tibetan area only) are heavily armed in riot gear and supported by rooftop snipers. These are the Lhasa city markers; the streets of city number one, the one that the steel toe-capped boots of the military mark all day and all night, and the streets of city number two where they don’t. City number two is the modern Han occupied Lhasa with a ubiquitous euro-asian feel – bright clean streets, (Chinese) modern shops, bars, fast-food joints, a major Chinese-tourist tourist boom … this is what China has brought to Lhasa; itself. This is its Chinese liberation facelift, a progressive rewriting and re-landscaping of Tibetan history and identity. A trip to the Tibet museum offered a naked example of how true it is that history is written by the victor.

The museum offers a thin collection of artefacts and relics that desperately wheeze a spluttering justification of the Tibetan ‘liberation’ by China. It is littered with wonderful gems such as the proclamation of the love shown to Tibet through the ‘tender care of the Chinese Communist party’ and exclamations of ‘correct leadership of the Tibetan Autonomous Region’ and the apparent proof that is afforded by a few bits of jade that ‘Tibet is an indispensable part of Chinese territory in the history’. All of this seeming to jar quite unaccountably with the extremely heavy military presence, the monastic clamp downs, the travel restrictions, the banning of the Tibetan flag etc etc that we witnessed.

Back in the bus a hilarious couple of hours later and Liz ventured an un-askable of our Tibetan guide … ‘So, Dawa, what do YOU think of the museum’. He paused for a brief few seconds before venturing a pointed but diplomatic… ‘I think it’s good that you have seen it’.

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