Reflections on China

Trip Start Sep 08, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Nepal  ,
Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The experience of Tibet has afforded us a far better understanding of China as a whole. I wrote earlier that we had been enjoying China whilst travelling in a deliberate state of ignorance. In Tibet you cannot be ignorant.
Whilst in Chengdu we had spent a long time going around to different agencies, different tour operators, different websites to find a tour we were happy with and could afford. The 7-day Tour Package was identical (or as near as made no odds) in every case. Exactly the same sites would be visited, the same roads travelled and check-points passed, the same places stayed at. But we had accepted this as our only opportunity to see the place and we willingly signed up. It was only once we had left Lhasa that the true crudeness of the Chinese exploitation of Tibet was exposed to us. They are extracting every conceivable ounce of value out of the land and the culture. They are taking the minerals, taking the coal and the metals and the precious stones and they are packaging the culture into tourist-friendly bite sizes. They have turned the country into a theme park. They have laid the car-park, constructed the rides and stand at the gate counting the punters in and relieving them of their wonger.
Of course this is only one, very idealistic, very naive way of looking at things. The other is that the Chinese have liberated Tibet from an oppressive and exploitative religion that ensured the poor remained poor so long as they remained devout. They are trying to drag this backward and ill-educated people into the modern world, giving them adequate housing, investing in phenomenal feats of infrastructure. (The train line to Lhasa is, as I have said before, an astonishing engineering feat and whilst Dolma insisted that the some of the roads were built by Tibetans the truth is that they may have been physically built by Tibetan hands but the engineering skills and financial capital were all Chinese). They are harnessing the wealth in the geological land and its energy-producing potential but also developing the trade routes down to Nepal and India. They are educating the populace - yes in Chinese language - but educating nonetheless and they are establishing and developing a profitable and reliable tourism industry. They are setting up social welfare programmes, liberating women, creating jobs, defending borders, providing health care and giving nomads houses (whether they like it or not). They cannot understand why these people so belligerently cling on to their archaic religious belief, why they refuse to accept this leg-up into the modern world and why they so unashamedly refuse to wash themselves. But most of all they cannot understand why the rest of the world does not see the situation in the same way as they do.
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