(Note: Whether or not you agree with statements about
Maple wrote this piece long before the July 5th Xinjiang riot; I just didn't get the time to translate it sooner. In the process of reading and translating it, I recognized a major difference between the Tibetans and the Uyghurs: the Tibetans have a history of serfdom while the Uyghurs don't. This factor might well be playing a role in their different attitudes. – Xujun)
Gongbo'gyamda, Tibet (photo by Maple Xu)
Phurbu is a 28-year-old Tibetan tour guide. He never took us shopping, nor did he crow about local products like other tour guides who give extravagantly colorful but unfaithful descriptions. When some tourists asked where to buy legendary Tibetan treasures such as Tianshan snow lotus, saffron crocus, or thousand-year Dzi bead, Phurbu would say frankly, "I won't take you to Bar-skor [
A member of our tourist group – a smart ass Shanghaier – once half teased, "Is that because you'll get kickbacks here?" Phurbu answered with a smile, "Yes. The Tourism Bureau has a rule, when tourists shop in official department stores, their tour guide is entitled for 2.5% kickback. That is to say, if you buy 1000 yuan worth of things, I can get 25 yuan, enough to drink a cup of sweet tea. Uncle and aunt, how much do you plan to spend?" The "uncle and aunt" were embarrassed, and mumbled that they just wanted to buy some high-altitude Judas's ear fungus. Phurbu laughed: "Then you won't spend 100 yuan. Looks like I only get to drink a bottle of spring water. But I guarantee that you won't be buying anything fake here."
That afternoon, a young couple asked: "We heard
These two incidents started my interest in knowing more about Phurbu. I asked him privately: "I was once an accountant in a travel agency, and know that kickbacks are the main income source for low-salary tour guides. This is also the characteristic of our country's tourism industry. If you really don't care about kickbacks, is your salary enough to live on?"
Phurbu looked at me with his clear, pure Tibetan eyes: "You are right, a tour guide's salary alone is not enough for my living. But I don't accept every tourist group. I only accept those groups that interest me, so I can have time to do my own things." He told me he had been preparing a business for three years.
It turned out he and a friend were going to start a unique "donkey-friend inn" aimed at services for backpack travelers, and he hoped to take them to places official travel agencies wouldn't touch, "the really beautiful, mysterious Tibetan places."
I said, "You are so smart, don't you think you'll have more opportunities and room to develop in the heartland instead of the relatively backward
So, when others were visiting a Tibetan style temple for the God of Fortune, Phurbu and I took the opportunity to sit down in a sweet-tea house and chat.
Phurbu had graduated from the tourism department of a university in
"Being here makes a big difference," he said with pride. His hint: the money he made in
A sudden voice interrupted us: "Could you take me to see your inn?" A thirty-ish man from our group appeared beside us, who knew when. He said he was from
The next day, on the bus to Nyingchi, at first Phurbu stood in the middle and talked excitedly about the scenery along the route. He even sang a couple of Tibetan folk songs, trying to lift everyone's spirit. Unfortunately most of the tourists were numb and dazed, short of oxygen. Seeing no reaction to his effort, Phurbu muttered, "Fine, get on the bus and sleep, get off the bus and pee, get to the site and take photos, get home having learned nothing."
He came to sit next to me and said, "What can we chat about today?"
"You seem to have a super surplus of energy," I teased.
"I just like to talk, to communicate with people. My entire motley knowledge has been collected from talking to all sorts of people."
"Then could I ask you a sensitive question: is it true that Tibetans all want to follow the Dalai Lama to strive for Tibetan independence?"
Actually, I'm most apolitical. But since our arrival at
Phurbu answered my question without any hesitation, and emphasized that most Tibetans would think the same as him.
He said more than 80% of Tibetans advocate the CCP. The reason was simple: it was the CCP that turned the serfs into free men. This sounded like a CPPCC (政协) member's official speech, but it was true, he said.
He said including his father's generation, all his family members were pure serfs.
Serf owners did all the atrocious things in the name of Buddha. Serfs used to believe they were born to suffer, and their owners were sent by Buddha to redeem their souls by tormenting their bodies. They believed the more suffering in the current life, the more happiness in the next life. Praying was the only thing they lived for.
All this changed after liberation. No need to mention other things, just the quarterly distribution of food and clothing that had been happening for several decades were enough to please the Tibetans. "If these are the CCP's sugar-coated bullets," Phurbu joked, "then they shot us comfortably." He even expressed worry that the government's abundant supply would encourage laziness among some young Tibetans.
Phurbu then talked about how the PLA sent food and medical supplies to north Tibet's high mountains during the snow-sealed winter every year, and how people there worshiped the PLA as much as Buddha.
As such, Phurbu said, Tibetan people became deeply suspicious of the benefits of independence. People's chief concern was, with independence, would the new ruler treat them as good as the CCP? Or would the Dalai Lama bring back the serfdom system?
This was why, Phurbu said, during the 3/14 riot last year the participants were not common Tibetans but men sent by the Dalai with a few local noblemen, plus some bought-over thugs. He said if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes, he wouldn't have believed what they had done. Those men, all dressed in lama robes but displaying nothing humanistic or religious, slashed whoever they ran into – no mercy even for children – and burned whatever houses were in their path. That scene of hell brought Phurbu a sudden doubt about Tibetan Buddhism passed down generation after generation. If those men represented Tibetan Buddhists and the Dalai Lama, Phurbu questioned, is Buddhism a religion or a political tool?
Even long after the riot, the locals still shuddered at the thought of it, so the fully armed soldiers on the streets actually gave them a feeling of security, Phurbu said.
Phurbu also disapproved of the way the government handled the riots. He believed the government likely knew about the riots from the very beginning, but intentionally waited without any action until the killing and burning escalated to a large scale. Only then did it jump in to clean up the mess with military force, so as to not give international opinion a chance to blame
Phurbu had a friend he grew up together with. Because his father was an officer in the
Our last stop was the ancient-cypress park in Nyingchi. The park has over a hundred thousand-year-old cypresses.
The cypress park in Nyingchi (photo by Maple Xu)
Here and there in the tree shadows were a dozen or so elementary students, looking to be seven or eight. They were either kneeling at a stone bench writing homework, or reciting from textbooks in crude Mandarin. The tourists chatted with them and praised their diligence in studying. A while later, the Tibetan children asked in a sincere tone, "Uncles and aunts, do you have a pen? Would you like to give me a pen?"
The tourists were taken off guard. They searched their own pockets, but only two people had pens with them. The rest of us felt apologetic: the children just wanted pens to do their homework, it would be a shame not to satisfy their small request. So, one after another, people took out their money, one yuan, two yuan, five, ten. They told the children to go buy a pen and study well. The kids accepted the money, and politely thanked us with a bow.
In the entire time, Phurbu did not utter a word. He watched the whole thing with a stern face.
Tibetan students in the cypress park (photo by Maple Xu)
I saw another seven- or eight-year-old boy was riding a broken bike circling on an open spot. Seeing me approaching him, his sun-reddened face beamed. He shouted, "Be careful, my bike does not have brake!"
"How come you are not doing homework like the others?" I asked.
"I finished a long time ago," he replied proudly.
"What's your name?"
Both the big Phurbu and I laughed. Next, our tour guide asked the little Phurbu a surprising question: "You didn't beg for money, did you?"
The little Phurbu answered quietly, "No."
The big Phurbu sighed; for the first time I saw a helpless expression on his always cheerful face.
"You mean that was their trick to beg for money?" I asked.
He nodded, "Always."
I felt lost. The little Phurbu suddenly ran up to a hill. On top of the hill he began to sing a popular song,
"The Road to Heaven." The big Phurbu joined the singing, his thick voice and the boy's childish thin one in perfect harmony.
When they finished singing, the tour guide Phurbu shouted, "Good boy, Phurbu!"
People clapped. A tourist said, "Why did the boy run so far away to sing? Otherwise we could pay him a bit of money."
The big Phurbu again shouted, "Good boy, Phurbu!"
My eyes went moist for no reason. I remembered once when I asked Phurbu how he positions himself in the world, he replied: