Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Potala

Next up was the Potala. Again I went to see it with Jasmine. Seeing the Potala involved a lot of hassle- you had to go a day ahead of time to pick up your ticket, which specified the time you could visit. A ticket cost a staggering 100 kuai, or $12. For those who don't know, the Potala is the premier sight of Lhasa, and one of the most famous buildings in Asia. It used to be the palace of the Dalai Lamas and is now basically a huge museum. The cost and limits on tickets are because of its popularity.
Jasmine and I took a bicycle rickshaw to get there. On the way there the driver cut off a woman who was also riding a bicycle.
"Basterd! Remember that you are in our Lhasa!" the woman yelled out at him.
"Are you Han?" Jasmine asked the driver. He said yes. Like most Chinese people in Tibet, he was from Sichuan.
"Does that happen a lot?"
"That's not right," Jasmine said. "She should remember that we're all hanzu tianxia."
I knew that "Hanzu tianxia" meant "Hans under heaven," but wasn't sure what the implication was. I asked Jasmine what it meant.
"It means that we're all Chinese, and shouldn't discriminate against other people just because we're from different ethnicities."

For me the Potala itself was beautiful and interesting, as a museum, but also somewhat boring compared to the Jokhang or other monasteries I've visited. The most interesting thing was the tomb chortens that contained the remains of the various Dalai Lamas. Chortens are all over Tibet. They are almost always made of stone, with a square base and a kindof spherical top, and are whitewashed. They usually hold the remains of some important lama. But since the Dalai Lamas were no ordinary lamas they got gold and jewel encrusted chortens.
To me, the best part of the visit was talking to the attendant monks. They were all dressed as custodians, which I found made them a little easier to talk to. One of them wore a Yankees hat, which he said had been given to him as a gift. He did not know what the Yankees were. Another one told me how much he wanted to go to the US.
"My teacher studied in India," he said. "We all want to go there too. China isn't a free country, but India and America are. We all want to go to free countries."

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