Friday, March 14, 2008

The Rooftop of the World

Quite shockingly, my work buddy and I have made it to Tibet. Given the fact that Lhasa is in the middle of an uprising, I figured our flights would be cancelled. Train service into Lhasa has stopped apparently. What we have seen so far is beautiful. We are surrounded by mountains.

We were going to be in Lhasa for three days but I plan to change that itinerary tomorrow. If we can see the Potala and Norbulingka tomorrow then I'm hoping to get out of Lhasa ASAP. I don't feel worried about my safety particularly. There are really two issues: 1. The other cool sites like the monasteries and the main temple the Jokhang are closed. The entire Tibetan quarter and its shops and hotels (where we were going to stay) and restaurants are closed. 2. We are going to be closely watched and kept in the Chinese district. We've done Chinese all week in Beijing with work and going out at night. It's been fun but I am ready to experience a new culture. The few Tibetans we've seen so far are monks and nuns dressed in red and yellow or women dressed in traditional Tibetan wool skirts and jackets. The architecture is very different and so is the food.

Unfortunately all of the interesting non-Chinese food is in the Barkhor, the Tibetan neighborhood closed because of riots. Besides Tibetan food, the offerings include Nepali, Indian, and Muslim Tibetan. I was looking forward to trying these.

Instead we ate Sichuan food. It was excellent. Early in the trip we started ordering several plates and sharing them. This is how the Chinese eat meals together. I like it because I get to try many things. Tonight I was too hungry so I ordered a dish of sliced mushrooms fried in garlic, chili pepper and what looked suspiciously like fat back. It was spicy with a smokey, woody taste. My colleague ordered beef that had been dredged in flour and fried w/ red peppers and other spices that I could not quite identify. The peppers were fried until they were completely crisp. The dish had a spicy lemon flavor that I think might have been lemongrass.

I'm glad to be on vacation finally. Work in Beijing went better than I had expected but it's so tiring to get up early in order to sit in traffic for an hour! I'm not a morning girl. Tomorrow breakfast is at 9AM!

While I am sad about not being able to see much of Lhasa including the great monasteries, I am always one to support the underdog. I am not a fan of authoritarian regimes that control information, send people to work camps without fair trials, and do not allow people the freedom to practice or not to practice religion as they choose.

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