Lhasa, Tibet

Last week’s Picture of the Week (POTW) showed off the natural beauty of the Tibetan plateau, the religious culture, and the jaw dropping architecture… admittedly though, this week’s picture is a more accurate view of what life is like in Lhasa.

When Holly and I arrived in China I had a mental image of what it would be like… military everywhere, unhappy people, and an overall sense of oppression.  We were both pleasantly surprised to find that this was not at all the case.  We did see military personnel on a fairly regular basis, but they were always in dress uniforms and very rarely had any visible weapons.  All our guides had colorful personalities (at least once they let their guard down a bit) that were friendly and very hospitable.  By all accounts this, on the surface anyway, felt like a flourishing place.

Tibet, however, was a different story.  As soon as we got in our car to head into Lhasa, our guide told us to be careful taking pictures in the streets as cameras have apparently been confiscated and memory cards erased for taking pictures of soldiers… we didn’t quite know what we were in for.  I don’t remember if I noticed them so much as we were driving, but as soon as you start walking down the streets you can’t help but see them.  Military… everywhere.  Not the friendly, dress uniformed military we had seen else where in China; but battle uniforms, helmets, riot shields, machine guns, shot guns, night sticks… you name it.  Every couple hundred feet on the sidewalks is a tent setup with at least four soldiers, all facing different directions.  Groups of soldiers routinely walked down the streets as more soldiers watched from the roof tops (note the red and white umbrella on the roof in the picture).  This was in-your-face and very intimidating… this was the China I had envisioned.  You will sometimes hear people in the US refer to some-place as being a “police state”; I would call Tibet a prison state.  It is very sad to see.

Interestingly enough, while we were in Beijing I quizzed our guide a bit about Tibet and the Tibetan people.  She admitted that she had never been there, but didn’t know what all the fuss was about.  She said something to the effect of; You know, you don’t hear people around the world asking that Texas be freed (funny, I know) or Hawaii to be freed.  I’m not sure why people care so much about Tibet being freed.  After having seen it in person though… I get what she didn’t.  You won’t find our military posted around in the States, making sure no one steps out of line.  You won’t find cities in the US were the people are literally prisoners in their own town.  The Dalai Lama has encouraged Americans to go to Tibet to see first-hand what China has done and I felt the need to document what I could, so I could tell the story when I got home.   I disregarded the warnings, swapped out memory cards so the one in my camera didn’t have any valuable pictures on it, and hung my camera around my neck like every other tourist… except my lens cap was off, and I was snapping pictures.

— Dan Thompson