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1 posts from May 2010


Lhasa - the city of gods

We just returned from Lhasa. It was an incredible trip for
everyone. Usually our program brings students to Tibetan Amdo areas, currently
southern Gansu and Qinghai Province. This past April, Yushu Tibetan Autonomous
Prefecture of Qinghai Province had an earthquake. It tragically killed
thousands of residents there. As the earthquake relief traffic blocked the few
highways in the province, we changed our mid-semester field trip to Lhasa and a
few other places in Tibet Autonomous Region. Going to Lhasa as foreign
nationals requires a special permit from China’s Tourism Bureau and the
Public Security Bureau of TAR. It was fortunate that our program knew a young
Tibetan couple, who just freshly graduated from college and began their
eco-tourism business. Through them, we were successfully granted permission to
travel to TAR. Of course, we had to enter TAR as tourists as we were given the
tourist permit.

Train ride from Beijing and Lhasa takes approximately 48
hours. After our train entered Qinghai Province, the landscape started changing
from crowded towns and cities to the vast grassland and high mountains. We were
ascending! The scarcity of people and the endless horizon of the earth on
Tibetan plateau were indeed mesmerizing to us. On the train passengers came
from different parts of China and other countries. We met writers from
California and mountain climbers from England and Australia. During the day
most of us had long, contemplative moments when looking out of the train window
or when writing journals in our cabins.

Nearly all historical and cultural sites in Tibet have a
religious overtone. Some of us asked if we could go somewhere not religious. It
is hardly possible. The Potala Palace is full of religious icons and the
interior motif of the palace is Buddhist in nature. The historical Kings since
the construction of the palace were all regarded as Buddhist saints. Markets at
Bhakhor Street are the commercial sites of Tibetan arts and crafts. Nearly all
items are representations of Tibetan religions, whether Buddhism or Bon.
Religion in Tibet is synonymous with culture. We visited quite a few large
monasteries, drove along Yarlong Zangpo River (Brahmaputra), and climbed to the
ancient stupa in Gyantse.

Our field assignment was to participate in and observe
Tibetan dance and other performing arts in the modern setting of Lhasa. This
assignment was the continuation of our video project titled “Dance with
Us” studying the changing forms of traditional performing arts in the
commercial environment of China. We spent time at Tibetan restaurants owned by
Tibetans, which cater to foreign tourists. The students filmed the performances
in the restaurants and also their peer-discussions and debates about why and
how traditional performing arts have been undergoing change in the midst of
China’s modernization. 
Nostalgia already started before we left Lhasa. This field
trip continues to make us contemplate on the meanings of tradition, modernity,
and globalization. In addition, the landscape of Tibet left a deep impression
on our mindscape.