Thoughts after a talk on Tibet

That talk made me think of many things actually. Even of things that have nothing to do with Tibet. But that’s what well-told stories do – they pull a string in us but the melody sounds different in each of us because of our own experiences and emotional state.

Anyway, the talk was the last live event we did at my workplace which I am about to change. I met the speaker in the beginning of the winter to discuss the talk and in May she invited me to visit her at her new home in a village not far from my town. Her name is Hana, she’s married to a Tibetan and they have two kids.

She’s a really interesting person. Paradoxically, she’s much more interesting than her husband or even her kids which I saw for the first time in their front yard – the older one appeared to have hurt himself somehow and his nose was bleeding but the issue wasn’t met with much anxiety (or rather with none at all) and the younger one, less than two years old, was climbing on the roof of the car, stepping on the open window.

I can’t really say I know her husband well to judge he isn’t as interesting as her. During my visit we spoke English, discussed the fact he studied Czech and he enjoyed the fact I came from a village too where some time ago cows and goats would walk by our street in herds twice a day – in the morning and in the evening – their bells ringing merrily. It looks like it’s still that way in Tibet. He said he was a Buddhist and was surprised to hear that, unlike most people, I understood meat is the main source of food for Tibetans. He added he ate meat himself but he chooses it carefully here in Czechia. The whole time there was something like a little bowl full of coals near the fire – all the guests could sprinkle some aromatic powder on them after first wishing something upon it. The powder was some kind of a ground tree bark – it smelled like pine but also like some exotic spice – really nice! He was also quite friendly and smiling – during the talk I found out that was a distinct characteristic of Tibetans, especially of the elder ones.

I can´t really call Hana friendly and smiling, at least not as much as he is, and yet I think she´s super interesting! She looks and acts like she knows what she wants and does it. She´s authentic and honest and has a kind heart which many may not see at first because of the deeper tone of her voice and her intonation that leaves one with the impression that she doesn´t really give a damn. I don´t know her that well but she looks like a woman with very healthy and well-expressed boundaries – a wonderful thing when combined with a kind heart and quite a rarity really. I personally find people like her very inspiring!

During the event at the centre where I work, she managed to tell us many things within an hour and a half. She was going from objective to subjective and back again really nicely without the slighest attempt at hiding her own attitude about all issues discussed. It was funny, informative, thought-provoking and, to me personally, a bit sad.

Tibet has always attracted me. I grew up with the notion that I was a Tibetan monk in my previous life. That´s according to my mother who says many years ago she read it in some book in Sofia. I can´t really explain what exactly about this country attracts me but it definitely isn´t a very strong attraction. It´s rather something that pokes me lightly everytime someone mentions Tibet or Nepal or Buddhism. I have no idea where this thing comes from. It might really come from a previous life. 😀

Anyway, it´s really funny because, objectively, there is no reason why I should like it there – a raw landscape without much green in it (I learned in the Eastern, or was it the Northern?, part of the country there are big areas covered in woods after all), food that doesn´t look tasty to me at all, thin air that I believe would only make me puff and complain. Hana added even more colour to this contradictory portrait: Chinese megalomania and urbanisation which have erased the uniqueness of the land, kitsch that has grown roots in the souls and the choices of the youth, a slow but certain loss of authenticity and tradition.

However, she certainly loves Tibet. I could tell even by the way she was criticising the things happening there. She has seen through her own eyes how life has changed there within just a few years and that seems to be hurting her.

I wondered: did I really want to go there? To go to Central Tibet as a tourist, with a tourist visa, allowed to only stay in certain hotels, to go to certain sights in a certain way and so on. Would I like that? Definitely not. From what I learned, the part that we know as Tibetan Autonomous Region is just a popular Chinese tourist destination that attracts people with its mistery, with its monks in crimson robes, with the raw Himalayas in the background. Hana said, though, that the few provinces east of Tibet which are considered to be purely Chinese but aren´t, represent Tibet in a much more authentic way. And you don´t even need a visa to go there!

However, even in those places I would be forced to stand the ugliness and the corruption of the culture before I could go to more remote spots where life has been comparatively unmarred. And the thing is, I don’t know how big my capacity to stand such things is. A few years ago I got extremely depressed by what was surrounding me in a typical Romanian town and it was not even anything extreme – just kitsch combined with unhealthy food and high temperatures. There was not even the typical Balkan pop folk music I detest. It probably was a one-time state but, as a whole, I notice I tend to consciously avoid the conglomeration of such factors. I prefer to be somewhere in nature where there are no barking toy dogs, no dohnut smell, no stands selling low quality stuff and, most importantly, where there is no special attitude towards you only because you are a tourist.

Tourist… Even as I write this word it sound dirty, almost like an offence. Like something I don´t want to be.

And this brings me to the most important thing I realised about myself during the talk: I actually don´t want to be a tourist. I don´t want to visit interesting countries like Tibet only to have a photo with some famous sight in the background, to check a point in some list, to buy a souvenir and gather likes on Instagram. I don´t want to walk the streets of some foreign city being just a walking wallet in the eyes of others…

It´s a strange realisation. Many times I have thought my dream was to travel the whole world. But now I realise it´s not. I don´t want to travel the whole world. I don´t want to visit all those amazing places we all know from photos – not if I have to share my experience with a thousand more people who have come at the same time. I am sure I would feel nothing.

Actually, that´s the reason why, for example, I haven´t entered the Louvre or got on top of the Eifel Tower although I have been to Paris twice. The reason is not I couldn´t afford it although that was also true. I just don´t see what I would get from standing in a huge line only to cram into some place with a hundred other people. I think the only thing I would experience in such a situation is a panic attack. Instead of that, I could roam the streets, look at the windows in the buldings and imagine the stories taking place behind them. Or even better, to let someone local tell me his story.

As I am writing this, I come up with new travel ideas: travels to unknown towns, to places never mentioned in tourist flyers, to spots you only discover when you arrive at them or that a trusted friend told you about. Places that provoke you with their boredom. I immediately saw in my head the cover of a book entitled “Top 200 most interesting destinations you have never heard of” but no, no – I would never write anything more about these places than a post in this blog that only a handful of people read (thank you! :)). Because the most touristy places in the world were ones too destinations no one had heard of.

I am beginning to think my craving for travels is actually only a craving for stories. Stories I can see, hear and recreate, make them a little bit mine and send them forward. And one doesn´t need to travel a lot to get to those stories. And even if he does, he doesn´t have to see all the “musts”. Yes, it´s the musts that makes us say: “Wow, I am really here!” (And quite often also “Wow, it looks much smaller in reality that it does in photos.”) and give us a certain feeling of achievement but they rarely give us stories. Or at least they don´t give us those kind of stories that move me personally.

Yes, yes… The Tibet talk made me think of others things too. But I think this was the most important one.

I have told myself many times, “I can´t believe I´ll die before seeing…” But today I believe it. I believe I will die and not see a million places. And there´s nothing bad about that. As long as my eyes are open wide and I can see what´s around me, I´ll be fine.

As far as Tibet is concerned… I can tell you many interesting things I learned today but you can look them up on the internet and I wouldn´t tell them as engagingly as Hana anyway. But I´ll leave you with a question: where do you think the panda – one of the symbols of China – comes from?

That´s right. It comes from there. 🙂

Photograph by: https://www.wanderlust.co.uk/

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