Monday September 8, 2003


Category: You Live & Learn | 21 Comments | Posted 1:55

I've just finished reading The Hotel on the Roof of the World, by and about Alec Le Sueur, a guy who worked at Holiday Inn Lhasa for five years (1988-1993). Seriously amazing book! Had me laughing out loud (e.g. on the train to Paris, with my mum complaining I was embarrassing her), depressed and even crying, and has taught me a few things as well.

I've had a soft spot for Tibet for quite a few years. I read Heinrich Harrer's magical Seven Years in Tibet ('44-'51) a while back (never seen the film, thank God), as well as the very disillusioning follow-up Wiedersehen mit Tibet about his return to Tibet in 1982, which doesn't seem to be available in English.

So in the light of that, I thought I'd do a small entry about the Tibetan plight. Tibet is a very painful subject, and one which perfectly illustrates the inhumanity of the Chinese regime. OK, let me assume my readers don't know about Tibet and start from the beginning...

... well, from the beginning of the end. If you want to learn about Tibet's history dating back thousands of years, I recommend this site. For (many) more details, try this. If you wish to learn about the Dalai and Panchen Lama and their meaning, try this.

Tibet was a country of incredible religious, aesthetic and cultural wealth. The beauty of its monasteries and its landscapes had no equal. Then in 1950, the Red Guard invaded Tibet - here's a comprehensive account of the "Peaceful Liberation of Tibet", the disgusting euphemism used by the Chinese government. The invasion ended in the "17 point agreement" (read it here). The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 and has not been back to his country since. The Tibetan Government in Exile is set in Dharamsala, India.

During the Cultural Revolution, as China tried to suppress Tibetan culture and nationalism, many of the monasteries, temples and other cultural sites across the country were destroyed. Monasteries that had housed near 5000 monks were levelled and countless monks killed in the process (more here). It is still hard to conceive how much of the Tibetan heritage was lost forever as the Red Army raged in Tibet in those years. Thousands of years of culture destroyed in a frenzy of ignorance and fanaticism.

Things in Tibet today are not that much better The Tibetans were yanked into modernity in a matter of years. Many of them have adapted fairly well, but the way it was done insured they took as little of their own culture with them as possible. The Chinese have loosened some of their restrictions in the past decade or so, but Tibet remains an oppressed country. Riots, such as the one in 1987, are violently crushed, and there are still many political prisoners, locked away for many years simply for voicing their opinion too loudly (and yes I'm aware this is the case in many countries across the world. That doesn't make it any less outrageous).

The display of their flag is forbidden within their country, as is owning a picture of the Dalai Lama. Foreign journalists are still very restricted from visiting the country, and Tibet tour guides are prevented from talking about human rights or any injustice to tourists. Tibet is a wrongfully occupied/annexed country, and no pressure from the outside seems to persuade the stubborn Chinese government.

It is unlikely this is going to change in the near future, but we can still hope that China too will one day rid itself of its Communist party filth. Things in Tibet will never be the same and centuries of culture have been irretrievably lost. But what a joy, what a triumph it would be to see the 14th Dalai Lama back within his country.

Alec Le Sueur's book has a pic of a Tibetan girl clutching a tiny picture of the Dalai Lama on its inside cover. The Western World seems to have appropriated His Holiness, but the interest in his country is still shockingly low. He means so much more to the Tibetans than he does to us buying his books and flocking towards him in the current Buddhism vogue.

I feel guilty in front of those people, deprived of their spiritual leader, as the Western World rides high on yet another New Age wave. (incidentally, I have little respect for Western Buddhism fanatics. Most of them don't even know what Buddhism is about, apart from "being calm and gentle", going "Omm" and "respecting all life forms". No offence to Richard Gere fans or any other pseudo-buddhist celebs).


I saw the movie quite some time ago, Seven Years in Tibet with Brad Pitt. Wasn't too enthusiastic about it.

Posted by: Suha at September 8, 2003 04:54 AM

Ah well as I haven't seen it, I really can't comment on it (like, in relation with the book or anything).. but I can only recommend the book.

Posted by: Clarissa at September 8, 2003 04:57 AM

Just finished reading your whole entry, and I'm actually interested to read more about Tibet now!

LOL @ going "Omm"

Posted by: Suha at September 8, 2003 04:58 AM

Good child!
*hehe* @ Omm, s'true tho.

Posted by: Clarissa at September 8, 2003 05:03 AM

I know! Actually, I find these Western buddhist wannabes rather ridiculous...

Posted by: Suha at September 8, 2003 05:09 AM

Glad someone agrees. Most people seem to be so in awe before people like that.

Posted by: Clarissa at September 8, 2003 05:17 AM


Posted by: Jar Jar at September 8, 2003 12:46 PM

I know a bit about Tibet, since one of my essays I'd written for my Sinolody studies years back. It was about torture in China, and therefore I also had to include Tibet, because many people in Tibet were tortured for their religious belief and stuff - still nowadays. They think Tibetians are lazy, worthless people and need to be taught to adapt, because they are the root of stagnation and not economic progress. China also still nowadays exploits Tibet through e.g. tourism. I think it was even Amnesty International that advised tourists to not take part in guided tours through Tibet, because the guides are mostly corrupt people that only show you what the Chinese government wants you to see there, while the suffering of Tibetians and their culture is totally blocked out.

Posted by: Michelle at September 8, 2003 01:07 PM

Yes that's true about Amnesty. Le Sueur did say however that the tourism 'embargo' is not necessarily good as the wrong people were suffering from it.

Jar, Omm is the "short form" (lol) of "Om Mani Padme Hum", the main Mantra in Tibetan Buddhism. (more here).

Posted by: Clarissa at September 8, 2003 01:26 PM

Well, I would say total boycot would just damage the wrong people, but as a tourist you're still free to make a trip on your own without a guide. Though still they don't allow you to enter all areas, but you might get closer to Tibetians at least and see more. Just the way it is in mainland China, you are not allowed to enter everything, too, but if you go on a trip yourself, you'll always get to see more than they probably wish you to.

Posted by: Michelle at September 8, 2003 02:02 PM

Is "Omm" something particular for Tibetan Buddhists?
I read somewhere that both Hindues and Buddhists use "AUM". Maybe just Hindues. Or do all of them have lots of different mantras?
Actually, I've no idea what I'm talking about. *confused* lol
Write about AUM and Omm next time please.

Posted by: Jar Jar at September 8, 2003 02:59 PM

"the main Mantra in Tibetan Buddhism"

You already answered my question. Maybe I should read replies before I ask next time.

Posted by: Jar Jar at September 8, 2003 03:01 PM

>>but as a tourist you're still free
>>to make a trip on your own without a guide

Are you? I don't know about now, but when Le Sueur was there, tourists were ONLY allowed around Tibet WITH a guide.

@ Jar. S'ok. Dunno about Aum btw. Maybe just a slightly different pronunciation? I only know Aum Shinrikyo

Posted by: Clarissa at September 8, 2003 04:08 PM

How old is that book?

Posted by: Michelle at September 8, 2003 06:01 PM

I've written my papers in 1998, and that's the time my research dates back to. And since 1993 a lot has happened in Asia. I did not get any info that says that you can't make a trip to Tibet without a guide.

Posted by: Michelle at September 8, 2003 06:04 PM

Waaah, there's so much to read now that I'm back Actually, I know bout the situation in Tibet but I haven't read anything about it yet. Neither have I seen the film... thought it might be too "American" Maybe you could hand the book over to me when finished citz

Posted by: Valkyrie at September 8, 2003 06:15 PM

Is finished, so you can have. Is very very good.
The book is from 1998.
And I said it may have changed. Dunno.

Posted by: Clarissa at September 8, 2003 06:25 PM

Thank you so much for the compliments on my layout and again for helping me with the comments. I am so extremely happy that it's working and that I got comments already

Posted by: Evelien at September 8, 2003 08:55 PM

Aawwwww you're welcome

Posted by: Clarissa at September 9, 2003 12:40 PM

heinrich harrer's "7 years in tibet" is such a wonderful book. awesome read.

Posted by: kaydee at September 9, 2003 04:26 PM

I saw that movie 7 yrs in Tibet too - but I got the impression it was a wonderful place. Ah, must be cos Dalai Lama was still there. It even made me get a Little Book of Buddhism cos I liked the idea of their beliefs so much - esp the way they never destroyed their surroundings and natural habitat. But I didn't realise their culture and ppl suffered so much until I read this!!!

(Or maybe I did hear it before and wasn't listening )

Posted by: Sinead at September 11, 2003 06:17 PM