On Friday, October 21, 2011, we woke up and got ready for our departure from the hotel. I still had some oxygen left in the vial and decided to use it. I offered it to Tony, but he declined.
We went down to breakfast. I found out that a lot of people including Frank used oxygen during our stay in Tibet.
After breakfast, we took off for our one hour ride to the airport. We were back on the highway, the first in Tibet. There is now a train that goes to Lhasa from various cities in China. The station is six miles outside of Lhasa, and there’s a recently built road connecting the station to the city. It’s the world’s highest railway link and passes through some of the harshest yet beautiful landscapes. The highest it gets is to an altitude of 16,636 feet. It also has the highest rail tunnel in the world. Oxygen is pumped into all the carriages, and more is supplied for those who need it. We considered taking the train when we first thought about going to Tibet, but once we chose an escorted tour, it was no longer an option.
On our way, Danny filled us in with more about Tibet. Before 1959, it was necessary to go to a monastery for an education. The literacy rate was very low. Now there are public schools with nine years of free education resulting in a higher literacy rate. The biggest monastery in Tibet used to have 10,000 residents. Now it only has 4,000. Danny’s uncle went into a monastery when he was 7years old. He’s 82 now. There were a few nunneries for girls to be educated, but now there are even fewer. Girls receive an education through the public school system. Buddhism is not taught in public schools. Now one has to be over 18 to be a monk, and it’s easy to leave.
When Danny was 16, his father sent him to the Jokhang Temple where he had a very strict life. He worked very hard, like a slave. After 6 years, he decided he didn’t want to be a monk. He is now married and has children. He is also a teacher. As a guide, Danny was very affable and forthcoming.
During the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1976, many monks were put in jail. Danny’s teacher was one of them and was also tortured. The Cultural Revolution was an attempt to enforce socialism by removing all capitalist, traditional and cultural elements from Chinese society. Millions of people throughout China were persecuted and suffered abuses such as torture, rape, imprisonment, and seizure of property. Historical relics and artifacts were destroyed. Cultural and religious sites were vandalized. Mao officially declared the so called Revolution over in 1969, but it actually went on until his death in 1976. By 1978, most of the reforms instituted during that time were abandoned, and since that time the Cultural Revolution has been treated as a negative part of Chinese history. Our guides spoke of those times in a negative but matter of fact way.
Danny also addressed the prevalent wearing of masks in Lhasa. He attributed it to the incense and dust in the air.
Granted we only spent a few days in Tibet, but I did come away with some impressions. First I have to say that I do believe in their right to political self-determination. There is evidence that humans inhabited the Tibetan Plateau at least 21,000 years ago. It became a unified country beginning in 604 CE, and has a long cultural, political, and religious history. In the 16th century, the Dalai Lamas came into being as religious leaders. In the 17th century, the 5th Dalai Lama, or the Great Fifth became the political as well as the religious leader of Tibet. In 1951 following a military conflict, Tibet was incorporated into the People’s Republic of China, and the Tibetan government was abolished in 1959. The 14th Dalai Lama fled and established a rival government-in-exile. The Cultural Revolution negatively affected Tibet as it did all of China.
In 1980 General Secretary Hu Yaobang, a noted reformist went to Tibet and brought in a period of social, political and economic liberalization. In 1989, the monks in monasteries started protesting for independence, and the government halted the reforms and started an anti-separatist campaign. In recent years there have been attempts at reconciliation. But so far, it has not happened. Meanwhile the 14th Dalai Lama has become a world figure for peace. When he dies, will there be another one? And from where will he come?
On the positive side, the quality of life for the average Tibetan has improved in since the Chinese have taken over. Slavery and the Tibetan serfdom system of unpaid labor were abolished. Secular schools were established breaking the educational monopoly of the monasteries. Monks are allowed to leave the monasteries at will. Literacy rates have improved dramatically. A health care system has been instituted, and the life expectancy of Tibetans has gone from 35 to 65 years. Addressing the inhospitable topography and environment, there is an infrastructure now that makes life easier. Controls have eased, and the Tibetans can practice their religion openly. Tourism has become a profitable industry. A compromise would be to allow Tibet to remain autonomous and maintain their own language, culture, religion and traditions. The Dalai Lama would be a religious but not a political leader. However, with the large influx of Chinese immigrants to Tibet, the Tibetans are in the minority in some areas. The Tibetans fear that their way of life is being threatened. Even from my limited exposure, I can better understand the good and bad of what has happened in Tibet. But in any case, it happened, and I hope some kind of resolution can occur, and soon. There are some low level talks going on between China and the government-in-exile. Maybe since the Dalai Lama recently stepped down as political leader something will actually happen, hopefully something favorable to the Tibetans.
As interesting as our visit was, and even though Tibet’s scenery is dramatically beautiful and the Tibetans are friendly, I wasn’t unhappy to leave. I was especially looking forward to getting back to sea level.
When we arrived at the airport our group split up. Sixteen were to depart for Beijing, while 19 of us, including Tony and me, were going to fly to Chongqing where we were going to start our cruise along the Yangtze River. Frank stayed with us. We said our good-byes at the airport and went our separate ways. Even though I didn’t have anything against anybody in the group,(oh, maybe 1 or 2), it was an improvement just to be in a smaller group.
We arrived in Chongqing in the early afternoon. I felt better almost immediately after landing. We had our lunch on the plane, and so we were ready to go. A bus was waiting to take us for a look see at Chongqing, pronounced Chongching. A “q” is pronounced as a “ch” in Chinese.
There are 32,000,000 people in Chongqing, a city I had never heard of before planning our trip. It is now large enough to be its own province. It is located on the Jialing River, one of the 700 tributaries of the Yangtze. It’s a very humid and cloudy area, hence its nickname “fog city.” The Yangtze is 4,000 miles long, the longest river in China. We’ll be cruising in its reservoir which is 400 miles long. Another nickname for the city is “furnace” because it gets very hot in the summer. The 3 gorges are called the “3 furnaces.”
The city has just developed in the last 15 years. It’s very hilly, and the streets are so steep that nobody rides bicycles. People are fit, and the city is famous for its beautiful and fit girls. Chongqing is the biggest metropolitan area in the world. It’s got the world’s biggest dam site down river, and its Chongqing Tower at 114 stories high is one of the tallest in the world. It seems that every other building in Asia is the tallest for a few moments anyway.
First we visited the General Stilwell Museum. After Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt sent General Stilwell to Chongqing as commander in chief of Allied Forces in the China-Burma theater. With General Stilwell’s help, the Chinese people won the war of Resistance against the Japanese invaders. The Chinese call WWII the anti-Japanese War and the Anti-Fascism War. General Stilwell’s former residence has been turned into a museum in honor of his contribution to the Chinese war effort. Chongqing was never occupied, but it was virtually destroyed. Almost 99% of its buildings had to be rebuilt. We visited the museum and saw its collection of photographs, newspaper articles, letters, and Stilwell’s personal belongings.
We then went across the road to another building. There we saw pictures of the Flying Tigers, an American Volunteer Group of aviators who fought in the War. We also saw a demonstration of Chinese painting on rice paper. We watched the artist paint, and his paintings were of course for sale. There was other art work displayed, some very large pieces. We weren’t sure why we were visiting this museum except as potential customers. And of course we took the bait. Almost everyone bought something. Even though we had previously bought some paintings, Tony and I bought a painting of pink peonies by the artist we watched. It now hangs in our dining room.
After this stop we went to downtown Chongqing. We didn’t have a local guide for today. So Frank gave us all the information on Chongqing. We drove along the waterfront for a while. Chongqing is a port city with many shipyards. Many cars are made in the city. There was a lot of pollution in the city, but pollution control programs have been implemented, and the air quality is improving. It has a nice new airport which we saw.
The city is subtropical with palm trees and banana trees. It rains a lot, and they get monsoons. Because of being a mountainous city, it was hard to put in a metro, but they have, and there are still more lines to be built. They also have a monorail.
Shanghai and Chongqing are the only cities in China that don’t pay property taxes. There are too many government people who own properties in those cities, and they don’t want to pay taxes.
When the dam was built, 1,300,000 people were resettled in the area. We passed many 10 – 12 story buildings where many of those people live with no elevators. This situation created careers as carriers for many men. They carry things on bamboo sticks placed over their shoulders going up and down the steps for residents of these buildings. They will be carrying our luggage onto the boat.
We reached the downtown area and got off the bus. Frank gave us some free time to roam around. We had a time and a place to meet. Tony and I walked onto a very large outdoor mall. It was an amazing sight to behold. It was a Friday night, and it seemed that everyone in Chongqing was there. I found an ATM machine and got some money. All the ATM machines I saw in China had plastic covers over the keys and buttons so that nobody could see what numbers are punched in.
We walked through the mall and saw many high end/upscale stores. All the name brands from all over the world were lit up in neon. And in the center of it all was a display of flowers commemorating 52 years of Communism. Ironic, schizophrenic, or what?
Before we had to meet, I had time to sit and watch the crowd. People of all ages were walking and sitting, and looking too. There were a few hawkers around but they weren’t too intrusive. Mostly everyone looked well dressed and peaceful. Just a very lively Friday night on the mall.
Afterwards we drove around and saw more of the city. There were many people outdoors. We saw men at tables playing mahjong. We then stopped at a restaurant in a nice hotel for dinner. We had the big round tables, only 2 this time, and lazy Susans in the middle. I thought it was our best dinner yet. It was Sichuan cooking, spicy but not too much, for my taste anyway.
After dinner we were finally on our way to the dock and our boat. It was dark, and the city was lit up. We had a lot of steps to walk down to get to the boat. There were people from the boat welcoming us along the way. There was even a band playing for us. We gathered together in the lobby, and were given keys to our cabins. We were to meet at 9pm in the bar for an orientation meeting. We went to our cabin which was small but adequate. Our luggage was brought to our cabins. We also had a balcony which was nice.
We went up to the bar for our meeting and drinks. After the meeting, we went up to the top deck to see the boat take off. The city was lit up and fantastic looking. We stayed a while, but the boat didn’t take off. We were tired and went to our cabin. It had been a very long day.
In the middle of the night, I woke up and looked out the window. We were sailing along on the Yangtze River, a dream come true.