Tuesday, 13 May 2008

free tibet

Yesterday I went to see the Japanese manga film "Vexille" as part of a movie meetup run by Gabriel who works for the Free Tibet campaign. Not got much to say about "Vexille" unless you are a hardcore Manga fan but Gabriel talked about what was going on at the offices of Free Tibet. Certain that they are being bugged by the Chinese government, they have called in MI5 to 'sweep' for bugs next week. Staff there are constantly harassed by mysterious phone calls, followed around, strange emails are sent, their accounts are being hacked. A virus was sent to them, especially designed, called 'Freetibet.exe' which they realised just in time to prevent it wiping clean all of their data. What does the British government and police say about of all this? I asked him. The 'Met' have been really supportive, he said, but of course the British government are doing exactly the same thing in China so they can't say much. 
A Free Tibet worker, Matt Whitticase, who hails from Hong Kong and recently attempted to visit family over there, was refused entry and deported by the Chinese government last week. 
In 1987 I spent almost 3 months in Tibet, having hitched by truck from Kathmandu. It was the most extraordinary country I have ever visited. Nothing to eat, only yak butter, yak fat, yak cheese, yak yoghurt, yak meat (but I'm a vegequarian), ramen noodles and tsampa ( a kind of ground barley favoured by nomads). You drink salty buttery tea which strangely you can get used to. Near Gyantse I had my worst ever hitch, one week in a village next to a dirty river, surrounded by feral dogs and unfriendly locals, truck drivers refusing to give us a lift to Mount Kailash. Eventually we gave up and returned to Gyantse, a wild west style town with a couple of eateries where the only way you can order is to go into the kitchen and point at ingredients. I did learn some Tibetan though, and managed mostly to economise by paying with 'peoples' money' (RMB) rather than the tourist money the Chinese government were trying to force us to use at the time. 
It was my first ever trip to a developing country and I came completely unprepared: no back pack just a plastic carrier bag and a handbag, no proper shoes, just flipflops, no Lonely Planet guide so just followed my nose, no tent. I hired a cheap and nasty sleeping bag and set off for Lake Nam Tso, one of the highest, largest lakes in the world. We stayed the night with nomadic peasants, sleeping next to their fire. However they moved on in the middle of the night and I was awoken in the morning by the nibbling of a massive yak head. It had snowed through the night and I was buried in a foot of snow. 
It was hard going to trek over mountain passes of 4,500m and I kept hallucinating, having arguments with my mother who was not there. Once over the highest pass, we dodged the wild dogs and slept in caves. I met an interesting couple, western but dressed entirely in Tibetan clothes, who turned out to be brother and sister. They were looking to buy a yak and walk to Kailash. Monks gave us strange things to eat that looked like red candles but were some kind of waxy sweet. We gave pictures of the Dalai Lama in return. (Gabriel tells me that nowadays anyone accepting a picture of His holiness would get 20 years in jail). 
It felt like another time, another planet. 

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