Monday, August 01, 2011

Gettin' the Boot

So. Surely you've heard of (or perhaps even experienced) getting kicked out of a bar, or a party, or, if you've been really naughty, out of an entire country, but how about getting kicked out of a city? Well, not surprisingly, that's how they roll over here in China. We are in the charming Tibetan town of Xiahe, (sometimes referred to as Labrang, after the town's Tibetan monastery) out in the high Tibetan plateau- and we have really been enjoying the town's laid back atmosphere- until this morning, that is. We went for breakfast and then trucked down to the bus station to buy a bus ticket to our next town for tomorrow. We jostled and pushed the old people with pointy elbows, as you do here, because, why wait in line when you can push? Why does everyone think that their tickets are more important than everyone else's? We left the bus station with significantly less patience and slightly bruised ribs. Sigh. Why, China, why? We did manage to procure a couple overpriced bus tickets in the process though (but don't get me started on Mrs. Rip Off behind the ticket counter).

We stopped back in at our hotel to grab some water for our hike up into the foothills. 'So, the police came by,' the Tibtan hotel proprietor, Thering started with. Always a comforting way to be greeted. Immediately my heart started to beat a bit quicker. Scenarios ran through my head. Now what had we done? Had they overheard us talking about the ridiculous Tibet-China relations? Were we complaining about the nonsensical bureaucracy too loudly? Too often? Too truthfully? Not paid enough stupendous entry fees? Had they randomly decided to cancel our visa (that they had already short- changed us on?) Had I actually given that lady in the bus station a bloody nose? (haha- no, I was just dreaming that I could have... right?).

'The police came by and said I had to kick all foreigners out of the hotel- right now,' Thering informed us grimly. We stared at him blank faced. This was a new (especially ridiculous) one. We both blanked out and just stood there, blinking at poor Thering. He waited for a few moments. 'Do you understand?' He finally asked. 'Ummmm?' My blood pressure was rising. Especially after our near brawl just trying to get stupid bus tickets, I was not in the mood for this. I tried to take a deep breath, but I think it just made the steam visibly blow out of my ears. 'Of course, I refused,' Thering continued, 'But they aren't happy. I don't know what will happen now. Not even the local police officer knew why I had to kick you out.' I was about to burst, my (miniscule amount) of patience completely dissolved. 'Here's an idea! Why don't you call that police officer back down here and he can explain to me himself where, exactly he would like us to go right now, and how he would like us to get there!!' We had already paid for the night at the hotel AND as I might have mentioned, bought a bus ticket for the next morning. 'Oh and he can pay us back for the hotel room and tickets!' If the police wanted us to go somewhere then they better be ready to play taxi. Of course, I didn't say any of this. Because Jonathan said, 'Ok, well we will go for a walk, and hopefully you'll know more when we get back.' Sigh. Apparently my husband had other plans for the night, besides me sitting in some dirty Chinese jail cell.

I was seeing everything in red, and not the Communist Party of China shade either. We needed some fresh air and a bit of empty space away from the polluted, exhaust-fumed main street. We hiked up into the beautiful green foothills and found a perfectly peaceful spot to sit and decompress, breathe some relatively fresh air, and just enjoy where we were. By the time we got back to town, a few hours later, we felt ready to handle whatever shenanigans that we were unwillingly about to be part of. We turned a corner around a monastery and noticed three uniformed military officers. We stopped dead. Should we hide? Just stroll past nonchalantly? Pretend that we were Tibetan (haha)? We looked around. No cover except maybe if we crouched behind that goat eating plastic in the corner. Darn. Having never been in such a situation, we weren't sure what our appropriate action should be. Thankfully, before we did anything too embarrassing, the three officers hailed a cab and hopped in, apparently not concerned about us at all. Phew. The world doesn't revolve around us, we realize again. (As an aside, China has achieved an impressive degree of efficiency in handing out this helpful reminder to us). Then we noticed a few other foreigners mingling about. That was good news for us. We were still a bit bewildered though. What the heck was going on? This is nuts. Are we actually going to get kicked out of here?

Back in our hotel's tea house we finally caught wind of the (rumored) scoop. The Panchen Lama was coming to town! I'm sure you all know who the Panchen Lama is, but the cursory explanation on Wikipedia is disturbing, yet still somewhat entertaining: "The Panchen Lama is the highest ranking Lama after the Dalai Lama in the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism of (the sect which controlled western Tibet from the 16th Century until the forceful imposition of Chinese rule in 1951). The present (11th) incarnation of the Panchen Lama is a matter of controversy: the People's Republic of China asserts it is Qoigyijabu (Gyancain Norbu), while the current Dalai Lam, Tenzin Gyatso, name Gedhun Choekya Nyima on May 14, 1995. The latter vanished from public eye shortly after being name, aged six. Chinese authorities stated that Gedhun had been taken into protective custody and is not safe, but there is no information regarding from what, or from whom, he must be protected, where he is being held, or under what conditions." (

As another aside, whether you have an interest in Tibetan Buddhism or not, we would really encourage you to read a small bit of background on the social and political tensions regarding at least this particular issue in Sino-Tibetan relations. Anyone who has written an academic essay since Wikipedia has been available online knows that the website is only a starting point into issues, but it is a helpful start, nonetheless. Here is the Wikipedia article on the Dalai Lama-appointed Panchen Lama and here is the article on the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama. If something in these short articles fires you up, find out more!

So, the Dalai Lama has chosen the next Panchen, but China has taken it upon themselves to pick a different one. 'Sorry Mr. Lama, you have chosen your people's leader incorrectly. We are the Chinese government, we know better.' And 'poof' the Panchen Lama chosen by the Dalai Lama himself disappears. Just as an 'entertaining' aside, the Panchen Lama is usually chosen by the Dalai Lama after an extensive, complicated, long process. The Chinese-chosen Panchen Lama's name was chosen out of a 'golden urn' (aka: hat) from a handful of pre-approved people. Jeez. Like someone from somewhere said 'why read fiction when reality is so entertaining.' I guess it will be easier to control Tibetans if you hand picked their leader. Crazy, right?

So anyways, apparently the (fake) Panchen Lama was coming to town and the police wanted all the foreigners out. Maybe they were going to roll him in with tanks? Maybe they didn't want any foreigners to see him? Maybe they figured the Tibetans would protest or stage some sort of opposition to their future, Chinese-chosen leader? Maybe China didn't want foreigners to see how the police deal with rowdy Tibetans? I have no idea. But whatever their reasoning - we were out of there. Gettin' the Boot. ASAP. Well, they were kind enough to let us stay that night, at least. Maybe because there was enough of us foreigners there to put up a significant fuss that they didn't want to deal with. But first thing the next morning, we all had to leave. It was all just so...China. Again this country has evoked in us intense, overwhelmingly, contradictory feelings. China is fantastic, frustrating, fascinating and infuriating, and it somehow manages to be all this and more, at the exact same time.

p.s Happy Birthday Lise!!
p.p.s. Happy 300 days of travel to us! Can you believe it?!

pps Have a safe flight home, Looch. We'll be thinking about you and all the fun being had at Lingermore this week!


Anonymous said...

Hi J & K. I have enjoyed the last half hour reading of your gastronomic delights and borderline deportation. HeHe! We just back from holiday, so there was much reading to catch up with. All good here, weather been lovely. I cycled 13km today,so peaceful along the country roads. Much easier than hiking up hills like you. J. S. & Jade in great form. The canaries are sweetly singing and the males squabbling, they think its spring. No breeding until around Sept/Oct. Crazy weather, all the spring flowers are well up, and some in bloom. Until next time, we send our love and many blessings your way. Love M. M. Josh Sharon Jade

Anonymous said...

Hi J and K,
You waste no time getting those interesting Blog out to us " sit at home" folk. Armcbair travelling can be fun when you keep us entertained as well as you do. I am glad it was you and not me being confronted with those inhospitable soldiers in Tibet. You came out of it well and I look forward to your next episode as you move on. I am sure it will be more pleasant than the last, for I notice that you always look on the bright side.
Best wishes.

Sonia said...

Hey! You made the news! WSJ just had an article about foreigners getting kicked out of towns ahead of the Panchen Lama visit....

However, hotels in Xiahe county in Gansu province near the monastery confirmed they were instructed this week not to accept foreign visitors. Parts of Gansu are heavily populated with Tibetans and were part of a traditional Tibetan region before modern China was formed.

“We received notices from the county public security bureau and tourism bureau saying that we should not receive foreign guests in our hotel,” a receptionist at the Labrang Minhang Hotel told The Associated Press. She would not give her name, as is common among Chinese.

Foreigners who were staying in Xiahe before the ban were asked to leave, according to an official from the Xiahe County Tourism Bureau, who would give only her surname, Li.