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<-Back to WTN Archives Dispatches _ Lhasa (Notes from a young Tibetan visiting Lhasa).
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World Tibet Network News

Wednesday, January 17, 1996

1. Dispatches _ Lhasa (Notes from a young Tibetan visiting Lhasa).

Time Out - London 10 Jan 1996
by Tenzing Sonam

It's 9pm and the streets of Lhasa are in total darkness. This has been a
regular occurrence since my arrival a week ago; the lights go out every
evening just as the sun sets and don't come back on again until the middle
of the night. Every now and again the gloom is shattered by a burst of neon
the karaoke bars seem to have no electricity problems.

Outside a building that looks like it's still under construction, a neon
sign proclaims in English: Highland Lake Palace Restaurant. One of Lhasa's
trendiest night spots, the dimly lit restaurant looks like a Bollywood
movie set. At one end is a stage swathed in red velvet; a Nepalese band is
playing the latest Hindi film songs. Everyone here is Tibetan, mostly
middle-aged and well dressed. Despite the din, some of them are jabbering
into their cellular phones; others display their beepers prominently .
These are the proud symbols of Lhasa noureau riche The band's singer
launches into a raucous Bombay disco number. Two men walk up to the dance
floor and unexpectedly start to waltz.

Our Tibetan companion looks around in contempt and whispers: 'These are all
businessmen. They have so much money they don't know what to do with it.
They don't give a shit for Tibet or the Tibetan people. if they real ly
wanted to, they could do so much, but all they're interested in is making
more money.'

I'm in my native for the first time and it's been a depressing homecoming.
The reality of Lhasa struck me even as our bus trundled into the outskirts
of this once legendary capital - it's no longer a Tibetan city. All I
could see was row after row of modern buildings covered with signs in
Chinese, and droves of soldiers loitering in the streets.

The majority of Tibetans still live in the old city, a warren of lanes and
alleys that radiate off the Jokhang, Tibet's most sacred shrine. Pool halls
and karaoke bars have proliferated here. In a tea shop on Beijing Shar Lam,
one of Lhasa's main thoroughfares, a young Tibetan opened up to me when he
discovered that we were compatriots: Almost every shop on this street is
owned by the Chinese. Even the tailors and the cobblers are from China. All
this has happened in less than ten years. Meanwhile, there are no jobs. All
we do is play pool, get drunk and hang out in the karaoke bars singing
Chinese pop songs.' Later, he said half-jokingly: 'Next time you come
here, we'll make sure they're all gone.'

That' going to take some doing. Around the ghetto of old Lhasa, an
exclusively Chinese city has risen. Encouraged by the Beijing Government,
thousands of ordinary settlers from mainland China are flocking here,
dramatically altering the ethnic make-up of this ancient city. There is a
mood of desperation among the Tibetan. Having survived past attempts by
the Chinese to obliterate their culture and heritage, this is the ultimate
blow: to be made ethnically redundant in their own land. This is China's
Final Solution to its intractable Tibet problem, and it's working.

Back at the Highland Lake Palace all this seems remote. The atmosphere is
now boisterous; money and alcohol are flowing liberally. Lhasa's Tibetan
elite, at least for the moment, seem content in their make-believe world.
Outside, the sidewalk is packed with motorcycles and Toyota Land Cruisers.
The old city is still in total darkness.

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Dispatches _ Lhasa (Notes from a young Tibetan visiting Lhasa).
  2. Slumming it for the chance of a better future
  3. Thubten Samdup -- Local Hero

Other articles this month - WTN Index - Mail the WTN-Editors

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