[In November 97 Vance visited Tibet. A long, dusty trip with few creature pleasures. He did make the long trek to Everest Base Camp on the Tibet side. He has some incredible photos and unbelievable stories. Here are few words I got him to jot down for us. I hope some pictures will follow. -jbs]
Tibetans must be one of the most devout people in the world. Like visiting Mecca, they believe that at least once in their lives they must go to Lhasa. Tibetans come from all over the country and pilgrimage to Lhasa. Many are so dedicated that they prostrate themselves, get up, and prostrate again, body length by body length, all the way to Lhasa. The trips from their villages may take months. This is through the cold, dust, and wind of Tibet. Wouldn't it be nice to believe in something, anything that much?
My guide and I were talking about learning languages. I being someone impressed with anyone who can speak even a second language, am in awe of my guide. He reads and speaks Tibetan, English, Mandarin, and Hindi.
I told him how impressed I was with his skills. He replied that the Chinese never learn Tibetan. The Tibetans must all learn Mandarin - That to get along you need to speak the language of those in power. I was speechless. What can you say to that?
At Ganden Monastery outside of Lhasa, Tibet, there is a cave containing a rock face with a carving of a Buddha. My guide said that the story is that this carving was a natural phenomenon - it was not made by a man. He asked me if I believed. I replied, "Do you believe?" He said that if one believes all the other things about Buddhism, then you could believe this. I again asked him if he believed it, because "it isn't important that I believe." He paused and then said that he is still thinking about it.
Wandering around the streets of Lhasa is an overload of your senses - honking horns, smells of Yak butter, tastes of dirt and dust? and the aroma of an outdoor toilet.
You see although this is the largest city in Tibet, in many areas, there's no such thing as a toilet with plumbing. Toilets are simply ditches on the side of chosen buildings. So what does it take to be chosen?
Is it this thing that a place was always the toilet, or does the community decide? Just think if your building was chosen, talk about a hit on real estate values.
P.S. After further investigation, I found out that if your building is chosen as the toilet, you get paid for its use - all of $1USD per month.