Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Tibetan driver

When I came down from the monastery I found the driver talking with the guesthouse owner. He apparently didn't know that I didn't go to Duobugou, and asked me how it was. When I told him I didn't make it he offered to take me the next day, but for 50 kuai more. I asked him why it would cost more.
"Because I'd take you in my van. That way you won't get a cold from riding on the back of a motorcycle."
He had a good point- I was freezing when I rode a motorcycle from the police compound back to Meisho earlier in the day. But I did feel like I was getting a little ripped off. He wanted 100 kuai just to take me to a village that was a twenty minute drive away, in a van that could sit six passengers- it didn't seem right. In the end, though, I went for it anyway. I had come so far to get to Dzongsar, but I wasn't quite sure it was worth it yet. Everyone seemed to think this Duobugou place was great. Including a horse and guide, which the guesthouse owner told me he'd arrange for 100 kuai- which I knew was a fair price- I would pay 200 kuai. $25 to see a place everyone compared to China's most famous national park didn't seem like such a bad deal, so why not?
We agreed to leave at 8 the next morning, and I asked the guesthouse owner to wake me up. He never came in the morning, but luckily I managed to wake up on my own anyway. However, the driver did show up- he honked his car's horn right outside my window at 7:30, right when I got out of bed. He then came up to my room.
"Are you ready yet? Hurry up."
I was a little annoyed by this gruff and unexpected early arrival. How could he expect me to be ready half an hour before the time we had agrred upon, with no warning whatsoever?
"No I'm not ready," I answered. "I still have to eat breakfast. Anyway, we agreed to meet at 8."
I went down to the town's restaurant only to find that they had just opened and hadn't even started steaming the pork buns. I sat down and made my order. Just after I ordered my breakfast the driver walked in.
"What did he order?" he asked the cook. After the cook told him, he nodded and said: "Make it quick."
Turning to me, he said, "I have to drive up to the monastery before 8 to meet the head manager there. Hurry up."
"That's none of my business," I answered, still grumpy and tired. Having been kept awake by the howling dogs for a second night in a row didn't help my mood. "We agreed to meet at 8. Why should I care what you have to do?"
I tried eating a little faster anyway.

At the monastery we picked up the manager, who I can only assume was either the head lama or some sort of government official, or both- judging by his traditional Tibetan dress I assumed he was a lama. The driver made me give up the front seat in the van for him. The driver said something to him as he got in, and motioned back to me- I assumed he was explaining why he was late. On the way down the road, farther down the valley and away from the main road, we also picked up a few school children. Eventually we reached the village where the manager was going, and while he went out to do his business we waited for him. The driver and I sat in silence for several minutes, and then he turned back to me.
"You know, I can't refuse the manager if he makes a request. He has power here. We have to listen to him. That's the way it is here: all the common people have to listen to those in charge."
I nodded. I felt a little bad for being so grumpy earlier on, though I still felt expecting me to be ready ahead of time wasn't very reasonable. The driver kept talking, but suddenly changed the topic.
"Has the US killed Saddam yet?"
I was a little taken aback. "Huh? Oh... uh, no... I think we're leaving it up to the Iraqis now." (This was before Saddam's death sentence was handed down.)
"Hmm." He turned away and looked out the windshield. I couldn't tell whether or not he thought the US killing Saddam would be a good thing or a bad thing, and I usually don't like pursuing such topics with Chinese people. It might be safer with Tibetans, given what people told me in Qinghai, but I didn't want to risk it.
After a few minutes he turned back to me again.
"The people here are very poor," he told me. "And the government doesn't help us. The government is corrupt and it oppresses us. The US should do something."
This was different from what I had heard before in Qinghai. There, the message was clear: we are a country under occupation. Even in Ganzi the situation seemed a bit different. The Czech girl there told me that when she told Tibetans that she was from the Czech Republic, which none of them had ever heard of, she would explain that it had been ruled by Russia during the cold war. People would say "oh, like the way we're ruled by China." This guy, however, still said things like "our China" (我们中国). It sounded like he was talking from a "Chinese" perspective. If he actually did feel this way, he would be the only person I have ever met who felt they were Chinese and wanted the US to interfere in China's internal affairs- which I personally feel is the sort of thing I personally think the US should try to avoid. I pointed out to him that their problems were an internal issue, and was none of the US's business.
"It's a moral issue," he replied. "The common people are suffering so it should be everyone's business."
"What about complaining to higher levels of government (上访)?" I asked. "Why don't you go to Chengdu or Beijing?"
"Who can afford to go to those places? Even if we had the money, the county government in Derge and the prefectural government in Ganzi would stop us. The provincial government in Chengdu probably wouldn't do anything anyway. They are all corrupt."
"How so?"
"The police always oppress us. If they want to beat a Tibetan, then they can, and there's nothing we can do about it. They can take all the taxes they want. Also, the government won't help this area develop. They don't care about us. If they cared, they'd build more roads so we could do business with other places. Part of the problem, though, is that Tibetans are culturally backward."
Hearing anyone say anyone they are "culturally backward" seemed wrong to me. Just because one group of people is poor or lacks power hardly means that there is something wrong with their culture.
"Tibetans don't seem culturally backward to me," I told him.
"We are," he said. "No one is educated. All these young Tibetans just spend their time hanging around doing nothing. Anyway there is no reason to go to school. They charge the parents and then, once the teachers have their money, they don't do anything."
"Why not?"
"They get their jobs because they have connections. Officials give the jobs to their relatives and friends, even if they are bad teachers."
"Why don't people move somewhere where they can get better jobs then? Why not go to Shanghai or Guangdong?"
"Like I said, we don't have any money."
The manager came back to the car and the conversation ended abruptly. He said something to the driver and went back to the village. "We can go now," the driver said, and we headed off again.
I asked the driver if he had kids. He said he had three, one of whom, a daughter, had married. His eldest son was a monk.
"You see, we Tibetans are different from Hans. The Hans only care about making money. We're different- to us, being a monk is the best thing. Then comes having a job, then being a farmer. Every family here sends their eldest son to be a monk." (Hans are the ethnic group of over 90% of all Chinese- Han and Chinese are basically synonymous. Tibetans make up less than half a percent of China's population).
"Did your son want to be a monk?"
"Of course he did. Only monks have prestige and an education."
At this point we arrived at the village where I was going to meet my guide. I got out of the van and agreed to meet my driver at six that evening.

No comments: