What follows is the transcription of a diary of a few-days trip to Lhasa in May of 1985. I traveled with my son, Mait, then 21. Please do not take what follows for an attempt at literature or even decent travel writing. It's just a diary. But it might be interesting, and anything that can be done to increase awareness of the horrors that have been committed upon the Tibetan people is worth doing. Our, or at least my naivete surely comes through, and I beg your indulgence. I have not been able to return, but my son did. He spent the following summer traveling all over Tibet, and has a fabulous collection of photographs, which, if he had half a brain, he'd find a way to exhibit. All names are changed or distorted. The trip picks up in Shanghai, in the middle of a trip in May, of1985, and ends on our return to Beijing.


.....Mait had spent the day in Shanghai. I met him back in the Guesthouse room about 4:00. He had ridden the No. 55 bus in from the Siping Road, which is the newly renovated road we'd come out the first night. He had been to the Yuyuan Garden in lieu of Shuchow. There was surprisingly little resistance to his going this time, and I guess they have just become reconciled to the fact that we will do crazy things like take buses on our own and probably survive. At 5:50 we were picked up by X, Y, and Z along with the foreign office man, and we minibused into the Park Hotel for a banquet with the President. She seemed subdued to me and was perhaps just a little tired, but she certainly kept up her end of the conversation and was as genial a host as ever. She is just back from the United States and continues to exude an air of slightly malevolent competence. Dinner was very good; the best dishes being a soup with some unidentified squiggly orange thing in it, slightly hot, a dish of scallops in a warm broth, a sweet and sour fish with pine nuts, a clam and egg white dish, some good dried mushrooms, and several other less exciting things. I presented a copy of Volume 3 of "Reactive Intermediates" to a subdued reception, as well as a Wynton Marsalis tape, which I think puzzled the President. Back home fairly soon at about 9:00 for an early bed which was interrupted by a call from Julia Sensenbrenner who will deliver a bicycle in the morning. This news was relayed to X who was obviously a bit agitated over the idea - yet one more threat to the security of his charges.

May 8 was a travel day. We had a quick breakfast, worked on lectures and read for a bit. Mait went out for a bicycle ride using Julia 's Chinese bike. She came back at 11:30 and we talked for a bit and invited her to lunch at the guest house which was the worst meal we've had since we have been here, nothing of distinction and a few dishes which were definitely bad. Must be cook's day off, because the food here has been very good - perhaps not quite up to the great fangfish of yesteryear, but that was a high standard indeed. We were picked up after lunch by X, Y, and Z, and X accompanied us first to the seal store where we picked up a wedding present for Frank and Eve, and then we went out through the now intense Shanghai traffic to the airport. We made the plane by about 20 minutes, went through a number of police checks, and then finally into the crowded, intensely smoky waiting room after saying good-bye to X. The plane was a DC-9, which left 10 minutes or so late. The flight took three hours and was very smooth. We were two of the only three foreigners on it. It was cloudy most of the way and the ground was visible only as we came into Chengdu. Lots of rivers, obviously very fertile fields, and a generalized hazy pall lay over the whole landscape. One's first impression of Chengdu is that it resembles Xian, although, of course, it is not quite so deserty. We were met by a Mr. L and told that both Professor L and Professor Z were out of town. By chance, we also encountered W's father who we knew would be in Chengdu at roughly the same time we were. It turns out he had been on the same plane. I'd noticed him, although, of course, I didn't know who he was. He is a tall, rather distinguished Chinese gentleman who exudes a kind of stiff formality. To my surprise, he was dressed in Chinese fashion and not in the Western style which is so often adopted now. Indeed his coat was a little ratty, frayed at the edges and with a couple of buttons missing. We exchanged some compliments and he gave L his telephone number, so perhaps we will be able to get in touch with him.

We rode into Changdu by honkmobile at very high speed. These western drivers are lead foots and this one was no exception.Water buffaloes abound, rice fields, all sorts of other vegetables are everywhere. There is a general feeling of prosperity and greenness. This greenness disappears sharply though when one reaches the city. It is dry, dusty, and reminds one a bit of a cross between Xian and Beijing. We are not to be put at the university guest house, but rather at the Jinjiang Hotel, which at first thought was depressing but may not work out so badly. The hotel has had a recent remodeling and our room is the best I've had in China; a little refrigerator, a functioning TV, no cracks in the walls, and even the bathroom isn't too dingy. We were dropped off, had a nip of the old Cardhu in celebration of having no program for the evening, and went down to dinner in anticipation of an upgrading of the usual hotel food by the Sichuan atmosphere. However, we were disappointed. The food was perfectly good, indeed fairly tasty, but it was bland in the extreme. Local beer is unavailable and one is instead forced to buy rip-off Chingdao at 40 cents a bottle. Still, I dropped some chilies into my soup and otherwise livened things and it wasn't too bad. Back to bed rather late at about 10:00, to be picked up in the morning at 8:30.

We got breakfast, Western style, thick slabs of toast-like material, a decent omelet, which we enlivened with some Sichuan chilies, and good tea. We had 20 minutes to kill so went downstairs and looked at the shops. Sometimes one finds rather good things. I recall last year in Xian in a dismal touristy shop filled with all sorts of plastic knickknacks and otherwise terrible materials, I found a beautiful cashmere sweater for $30. So one looks around. This time we were disappointed as we found no objects, but did have a rather large stroke of luck. We were inquiring at the China Travel Service office about hotels in Lhasa. The agent on duty, with the typical desultory Chinese attitude, shrugged and made a noncommittal statement and then turned around to do nothing. But some other person there said, "You should talk to him, he's just come back," pointing to a rather strange looking thin black man who had been inquiring about a tour to some Buddhist site in the neighborhood. I went up to him and introduced myself. His name is Jim (?) A from Buffalo, and he has a wispy little beard and close cropped graying hair. It's hard to describe him except to say he has a very strange look about him, angularly thin with extremely prominent cheekbones and a funny way of speaking. In any event, he certainly proved friendly and was most helpful and encouraging. He said that all you do in Lhasa is take the CAAC bus into the CAAC office and then a half hour walk from there is something called the Snowlands Guest House or, perhaps, Snowlands Hotel. He says it is spartan but easy to find and right in the center of things. He ventured the opinion that there would be no problem getting space and said that although he didn't want to spoil things for us that there were wonderful things in store. He has been to Shigatze, the second city of Tibet, and says that travel around is possible, although not officially legal, but as he said things are very loose there. So, much encouraged, we returned to our room for our rendezvous with an assistant of Mr. L's who was not named the night before. The night before we had sent off our passports, airplane tickets and internal passports with L who said he would check out the airplane confirmation for us. I am a little worried about this because it is nice to be there to press CAAC when they are recalcitrant, and I am not sure whether L will really push them. The last thing that can derail our Tibetan trip would be some mysterious refusal of CAAC to put us on an airplane. I don't think that is impossible. We were picked up by Mr. W, a smallish, thin man with very good English, and a nice demeanor about him. The guidebooks don't rate Chengdu highly as a tourist site, and we are to travel 70 km out of town to a division of a river into two streams. This doesn't sound like much, but apparently it was done 2,000 years ago by a man named Li Bing who is revered for bringing prosperity to the region. It is my guess that the drive out will be more interesting than the actual site. This proved to be the case. We set off in the same little yellow Polish honkmobile that we had been brought from the airport in, and almost immediately ran into trouble. We got through the city all right; the city is filled with shops, more perhaps even than Shanghai, and exudes an aura of vigorous prosperity that I have never seen anywhere else. So that's interesting and the countryside itself is even better. We traveled very slowly because the traffic was intense and the road very narrow, which was just fine by us because we could see much better and the tendency of these drivers to go as fast as possible and to swerve back and forth was greatly reduced. The countryside itself is amazingly good looking - all manner of vegetables are growing. I can only remember some: wheat, rice, leeks, occasionally even corn, cabbage, garlic shoots, and many varieties of things I can't identify. The farms themselves look in very good shape and everywhere one sees new building. In fact, some of the houses are being built on two stories, a sign of great prosperity in this place. Traffic grew worse and worse and we came to a halt, and we then sat for an hour and 10 minutes behind a truck which had had a flat tire. It was not pulled to the side of the road, although to be fair, it may be that it was so heavily loaded that it could not be without damaging the wheel. At any rate, there was no driver in evidence when we finally pulled up to it. We were able, therefore, to get out of the car and take lots of pictures and enjoy the scenery better. It was, in fact, a welcome event and not the problem that it might have been. Nor was Mr. W terribly put off. Other guides of ours would have been quite freaked out by this difficulty, and he took it in stride, not apologizing too many times to us. Perhaps it was clear that we were enjoying the scene. Further difficulties appeared. About 10 minutes later when the driver pulled to a halt, suddenly in the middle of nowhere, reached down to the floor of the car and pulled up a small brass part.

What's wrong with this thing?

The cable linking the accelerator with the engine has broken. It looked to me that it had already been broken and repaired. It was the repair that had let loose. At any event, we were going nowhere for a while and Mait and I got out and had a chance to explore the neighboring farm yards. We attracted quite a crowd immediately, all manner of people were offering advice while the driver stoically worked away at his repairs. We walked off the road into a bamboo-shaded farmhouse filled with geese and unknown large animals snorting and thrashing behind closed doors. One wouldn't like these rural farmhouses if one were put off by barnyard smells or generalized dirt and mess, but the fact is that they are probably not much different from countryside farms anywhere and there is clearly a sense of prosperity here that I haven't seen before. In addition to all the vegetables one sees, there are a great many pigs being transported back and forth, usually by bicycle or small cart attached to a bicycle, all alive and thrashing in what is probably a final trip for them. But there are cows in evidence as well and many meat shops. Meat, probably pork, hangs by hooks at the side of the road in small shops. The road is almost end to end small private enterprises ranging from cigarettes in a case to lemonade and a few bottles of beer to quite elaborate shops selling sweaters and dresses. One also sees cases of roasted duck and the ponds and canals themselves are filled with water and all sorts of aquatic bird life. It has an almost Dutch feeling to it as there is lots of water around. The farms sit back a bit surrounded by small fields. We finally flagged down a minibus after a number of attempts when it became clear that our Polemobile was going no further for a while, and the three of us left the driver behind and persevered to the great water diversion. It took another 30 or 40 minutes to get there, and we were dropped in the town where we made our way to the hotel where we were supposed to have lunch. It is a seedy looking place in the town of no great charm, but it certainly provided an excellent lunch. This time our hopes that we would get some real Sichuan food were rewarded as the food was not only voluminous, but very good. For the first time we got garlic shoots in a pork sauce which were fabulous, but there were many other good dishes as well. A traditional Sichuan bean curd, some deep fried pork mini-dumplings, some chicken, good noodles in broth, excellent broad beans and fine Five Star Brand beer. Our guide couldn't call back to Chengdu to order another car or rescue car for the driver because everything shuts down from about 11:00 to 2:00. So when we finished lunch at 1:30, we got to walk through the town before coming back to the hotel to make the phone call. We took the chance to look around and to browse through the numerous shops. We bought a half a kilo of chilies and some stone balls for people with arthritis. We then made the phone call and walked the mile or so up the hill to the overlook of Li Bing's fabulous efforts 2,000 years ago. It is definitely a zero star site. It is a river that comes down, hits a stone diversion and splits into two. It is a highly populated cement site that looks like it all happened about 3 years ago. We made our way down the hill slowly through temples or pavilions with some modern statues of Li Bing which were quite nice. The hillside itself is very green with various kinds of pine trees and there weren't too many people around. For the first time there was a lot of hawking and spitting which has largely been eliminated in China, but not here. Mait is demonstrating on the tape. After 10 minutes or 20 minutes or so, we reached the bottom and walked across on a cable suspension bridge. The other side was rather crowded and littered, but we walked down the side of the river, making our way towards another pavilion or two when we discovered, much to the chagrin of Mr. W, that we had to wade the river. But he did rather well here, too, not being terribly put off by it, and we took off our shoes and socks, rolled up our pants and made our way across along with the hundreds of locals. This led to yet another crossing and then to more statues; one, alleged to be the real one 2,000 years old, of Li Bing himself, was fished out of the river recently. By now it was 3:30 or so, and we were getting pretty tired so I was hoping that this attraction, which probably for them is of the kind, "Oh, what should we do with this visitor," would come to an end. And it did. We walked out the last temple to find ourselves back in the town and lo and behold, there only 50 yards away, was the yellow Polska and the driver who looks a lot like Humphrey Bogart. We hopped in and set off for home. The trip took an hour and a half through exactly the same countryside as we saw coming out, and Mait in his usual fashion fell asleep half way along. We were dropped off after a teeth clenching trip through town, enlivened by one very near accident, actually a minor bump of one particularly obtuse pedestrian. We walked in, very tired now, tried to find a local beer, but couldn't, settled for two Chingdaos, walked into our room to hear the phone ringing. This was a man whose name I didn't get who informed me that he was a representative of Professor Z, who was in Beijing, and would come to see us at 8:00. With this good news, I headed for the shower and an early dinner.

mj crosses the great waterworks

Like so many anticipated difficult events here, this one turned out to be really interesting. First of all, dinner was great. We ordered off the menu instead of taking the set dinner, and somewhat surprisingly we got more to eat and much, much better food. They had traditional Sichuan bean curd and a pork and onions dish, both of which were reasonably hot and both of which were very, very good. The soup was less of a triumph, although it was decent enough. We continue to have trouble getting local beer. They want you to buy the canned Chingdao, presumably because it is more expensive. The local stuff is available for tour groups, but it is impossible to get it by asking. This time a waitress took mercy on us and gave us one of the leftover beers not consumed by some of the gray-haired ladies from Indianapolis. It was pretty good but not up to the Xingxing of the afternoon. At 8:00 on the dot, the phone rang and announced the arrival of the group from Sichuan University. It consisted of a Mr. C from the Analytical Department, a Ms. H, who is deputy chairman (although both of these people looked very Westernized, and were certainly friendly, neither spoke very much English). H had spent some time in Russia and C just didn't talk much. The third person was Mr. H, whose name has been spelled about four different ways for me, who had spent some time at Oregon State. They were deputizing for Z who was away in Beijing attending a conference. They gave me a letter from Z, which apologized for not being here. They seemed remarkably unaware of the plans carried out by the people at the Institute. I suppose this is just one more instance of the lack of cooperation between institutes and universities. H speaks in very funny set pieces as if he is working up a sentence and spewing it all out. This is all done in a kind of formalized loud voice, and the words are delivered in staccato fashion. He said obligatory nice things about me, offered all kinds of help, apologized many, many times for their inability to do more, and pointed out that as the visit was only two days long, not much could be done. I suppose that's right, but clearly a little cooperation could have resulted in half days at each place, leaving plenty of time to see the water works. After 20 minutes or so of this pleasant but meaningless chit chat, he got down to the real point and said that they wanted to forge "real bridges" and "close connections" between the Chemistry Departments at Princeton and Chengdu. Then he said what they really meant is they wanted a formalized agreement between the two universities, and wouldn't I, as the august David B.Jones Professor, (I wonder what they made of that) carry this out. I promised to do what I could and pointed out that university relations had to be done by high officials, not mere professors. They all nodded and I think understood. Then they suggested that they send graduate students to work on carbene chemistry "under your direction" and accept visitors from Princeton as lecturers for two weeks. Well, I will certainly try to carry through on this. I'd love to come back to eat the food for two weeks, and it is a great jumping-off spot for even greater places. He offered help at the end in getting to Lhasa if any of our plans fell through, and we will take him up on that. The only two impediments I now see are the whims of the airplane schedule and the fact that I see that our internal passport was misdated. I can't really be sure if it says valid through the 8th of May, which will kill us, or valid through the 18th of May, which is just fine. We find out tomorrow whether L's efforts with the CAAC office have paid off.

This is now Friday, the 10th of May. The day dawns foggy which is ominous for our hopes to fly off early tomorrow morning. CAAC cancels like a shot and I don't imagine the Lhasa flight is any exception. Our pick up is at 8:15 and we had a quick Western style breakfast. We are regretting it this time because the Chinese style breakfast looked pretty good. Mait has decided to forego a venture into town this morning in favor of working while I lecture, and, as it turned out, that was a good idea because we spent much of the afternoon in the town. I was picked up by Mr. W and we drove the 10 or 15 minutes to the Institute where, contrary to the usual drill, I was not given a half hour introduction to the place, but instead shown right into a largish lecture hall with about 75 people in it. I couldn't tell if any of the students were from the University, as the people the night before promised, but I could tell that none of the professors were there. I don't get the sense that there is a lot of love lost between the two places. They had an overhead projector which worked with reusable glass plates. As I would finish one, I would hand it down and one of the folks would scurry off to clean it. It turns out to be a reasonably good system, and far better than their blackboard. I gave two talks, one on carbenes and sigma bonds, and the other on silicon, and at least some of the people looked alert and interested throughout. There were a couple of questions after the first talk and none after the second, although people did come up to me afterwards. The ranking person there finished off the morning with a little appreciation during which he said how nice it was to hear about reactions so useful in organic synthesis. I think he does organic synthesis, but it is certainly the case that I don't. On the way out, I met the wife of D, the student of Peter Gaspar's, who was described earlier by one of his professors as being at the University of Washington in Seattle, when, in fact, he is at Washington University in St. Louis. She is a student at the University also, so at least some people had come to the Institute to hear the talk. The talks were decent, but I don't know what their impact was on the locals.

At some point during the morning, Mr. L showed me the airplane tickets. He has successfully achieved confirmed flights from Chengdu to Lhasa, and then from Chengdu to Beijing on our return. Unfortunately, the flight he confirmed from Chengdu to Beijing is one we almost certainly cannot make even taking the earliest flight back from Lhasa. I don't know why he did this and Mr. W didn't either. He was puzzeled and queried me on it closely during the drive back to the hotel for lunch. He suggested we go first thing to the CAAC office downtown and try to undo the damage. As he points out, if you miss your plane, you can't just take the next one. The numbers on the ticket mean everything and at a minimum you will have to go to the CAAC office, and at a maximum, you'll wait for the next empty seat which might be several days. So it is a critical point and L gets many, many bozo points for not figuring it out. W suggested rather cryptically that it may have been that the plane we are booked on is more comfortable. The comfort will do us little good, however, if we can't get on it. W reiterated his willingness to park baggage for us and to meet the plane back from Lhasa, which is a great help indeed.

I met Mait and we ordered lunch again from the menu which was good. Certainly it was better than the fixed meal. Once more we cajoled our waitress into getting us a bottle of local beer, and this small triumph improved things a bit. We were picked up at 1:30 by L, who had spoken to W, and so we headed right for CAAC. Unfortunately, the CAAC office sleeps from 11:00 to 2:30 and then awakes to a Brueghel-like atmosphere in a dingy room filled with sweating cadres, pushing and milling about. L knows how to handle it though, he goes right to the head of the line and elbows in with dispatch and begins to negotiate. At first the young woman at the window told him he was in the wrong place, but after he persevered she told him there were no seats. So he came back and told us there were no airplanes. I argued at this because I knew there were airplanes, and then he explained that there were no seats on the airplanes. I argued at this also, probably unduly so, because this is just within the three day limit during which time local people may buy airplane tickets, so it could be that they are all filled up. I also knew though that if one just gave up we were in pretty big trouble whereas if we pushed, maybe L would find a way to do something for us. And that's how it transpired. With much backing and forthing to various windows and offices, jumping to heads of lines, putting his head and shoulders through windows, eventually we noticed that his movements became more rapid, his gaze more certain, and we guessed we were making progress. That we were and apparently two people were convinced to trade with us, so now we are booked on the 1:55 flight which isn't as good as the 5:00 flight, but will give us enough time to have a chance of making the flight. One can't book the return from Lhasa to Chengdu, of course, until you get to Lhasa where we will have to deal with the Brueghel-like atmosphere ourselves. We spent some time while CAAC was closed, and thereafter, walking through the shopping district of Chengdu. That's the doorbell ringing with Mr. W coming to pick us up by the way. If the great helmsman could see the shopping district of Chengdu, he'd be whirling in his glass-lined coffin because it looks like Hong Kong or Greenwich Village. Store, after store, after store filled with all manner of goods. We must have seen 10 or 20 stores with TV's and tape recorders, food stalls of all kinds. We bought some people's sunglasses and a few other trinkets, but it was a very interesting hour and a half.

We were directed to the Friendship Store, which was as dismal as ever, and we sat and talked for a bit over a glass of very hot water. We then got a tour of a park dedicated to Zhuge Liang, an official at about the time of Christ, who apparently was a great unifier. The park was nice enough, but nothing really to write home about. There was one attractive flower exhibition which reminds me that I should note that Sweet William is all over the place, and I wonder if it was originally imported from Asia to the West. Back we went at about 4:30 to repack for Lhasa, embark on a once more futile attempt to get local beer, and then have a massive dinner, three courses this time, before an early bed and rising at 5:00 in the morning. Very excited.

I was up at 5:00 and the doorbell you just heard was Mr. W arriving to collect us. We have left the bulk of our baggage here, to be recollected if we luckily reconnect on our trip back. Mr. W showed up, helped us carry the bags downstairs and the trip to the airport in our little yellow Polish car was uneventful. Several security checks at the airport. As we only have carry-on baggage, I can't get a baggage ticket to Lhasa. The more or less logical reason is that if I have a baggage claim ticket I will have the right to claim a piece of baggage. I suppose one can't argue with the logic, but I'd like to have the ticket. It might almost be worth checking apiece to get it, but we didn't, and here we are at this moment in the People's waiting room looking out at our Illushin 18, which is the Russian copy of the Electra. The Electra you may remember was the plane that had a speed limit put on it because it blew up in the air. Electras are slow and I suppose this will be another three hour trip. One can't see much Tibetan influence, although there are a couple of fur hats around now and one fellow out at the balcony looking at the airplane in a kind of robe. It is still all very Chinese, and I fear what 30 years of Chinese occupation will have done to Lhasa.

Well, the plane took off and the flight into Lhasa takes 2 1/2 hours on an Illushin 18. The clouds gave way just as we got out of the mountains, brown hills slowly merge into snowcaps. Giant peaks can be seen in the distance on all sides, and you come down again to brown hills and up again to the snow, occasionally a glacier. It is pretty difficult to give a feeling for the spectacular nature of this flight. And one comes down again and the brown hills give way to the desert, sand dunes, occasional towns, what look to be ruined monasteries. The plane snakes in and out of the valleys, sometimes distressingly close to the sides, finally comes around and lands at a long, modern airstrip in Lhasa.

There is no terminal. One just gets off and hoofs it immediately for the waiting CAAC buses which look like they come from the 17th century, but that is absolutely nothing. The road hasn't been finished out to the airport and one sets off cross country in these ancient buses. You can't believe the bus will survive the first 100 yards, and you are quite certain that if the bus does, you won't. It lurches back and forth, very close to the edge of deep ravines and there were plenty of times when I had to shut my eyes. We had a number of stops in the first couple of miles. We've now been going almost an hour and I guess we've made 2 miles, maybe 3. This is being dictated from a stop where some construction work has apparently progressed to the point where we can't pass. I think there is a small section up ahead that is being tarred, and we have to wait for it to be covered. Apparently this trip into Lhasa can take anywhere from 2 to 10 hours. I am beginning to wonder if we will even get out. Right now there are three of these buses, a number of jeeps, and a couple of trucks backed up right next to the river. The Chinese who have been sent out here are all standing around hawking and spitting and generally being obnoxious, and the tourists are having a gay old time of it. Mait is now hurling rocks into the river. The Tibetans are the ones doing the road work, of course, and they are smiley, dark people wearing bulky clothes. The sun is very, very bright, although dust is intense, and the wind which is blowing is very chilly. One could well imagine that it gets very cold here, even at this time. One can see in the distance desert brown hills and to the right some snowcapped mountains. I don't know how high they have to be to be snowcapped, but there are some here. Prayer flags are everywhere. Sometimes great clusters of them on sticks stuck in the river, otherwise on wires strung across ravines, very colorful and it's good to see them. There are sheep and goats in the hills, and I am not sure yet whether I have seen a yak or not. Lots of bulky, black beasts lurk off in the distance, but they could be buffalo of some kind. There are a few Tibetans up ahead of us selling very nice looking trout which were probably caught in this river, and every once in a while from the hill next to us, which goes up very sharply, a cascade of rock comes down and everyone scatters..... That was a tiny snatch of a Tibetan guide humming mantras by the side of the road. He was a extraordinarily darkly handsome, shiny-faced fellow with beautiful rosaries and charms which he reluctantly showed some of us. Then as he is standing there, he reaches into his waistband, past his money belt which he would not let anyone near, and pulled out a silver dish which he flashes with a big smile and puts away. We are another half hour further down the line now at another stop for roadwork. The bus trip can best be described as harrowing, not quite as dangerous a feeling now as it was before, but bone shaking and still at times quite intimidating. The Tibetans so far have been extremely friendly, smiley, not antagonistic towards us and the other tourists. I haven't seen any contact with the Chinese, however, in either direction which I guess isn't surprising. The Chinese are heavily armed here. One goes through checkpoints quite often, and there are soldiers with rifles at the ready. If you look into the jeeps in this caravan that we are in, one finds people armed and with other weapons visible. Apparently there is still occasional guerrilla action against the Chinese, and I have heard stories of Chinese being pulled out of cars at remote parts of the country and hung. At this top, there is a group of Tibetans hunkering by the side of the road eating their bread and some kind of awful-looking liver paste, and drinking Tibetan beer.

It is also becoming apparent that we are going to have very little time here. One must go out the night before to the airport in order to make the plane, and it is going to be very much of a cameo appearance. I am now determined that I'll go back to Chengdu next year, take up their offer of a two week lecture series and get a week or 10 days here. They are working on a big hotel in Lhasa and this road will be in decent enough shape soon enough so that the tourist business is going to be fantastic and one should make every effort to beat it. We are in a kind of basin here, surrounded by what look to be 1,000 ft. hills. Of course they are a 1,000 feet going up from 12,500. The river is off to our right as we head into Lhasa and occasionally over the tops when one can see for some distance over the tops of these lower, brown rock hills are snowcapped mountains. The road itself has trees planted by it and they look newly planted. There is one right here, a kind of bush-like affair with long, thin pale green leaves and a little further in are poplars. Two or three hundred yards away this lead to the base of the nearly vertical hills which are gray and brownish with yellow-green patches in them which is probably moss or something like that. We are traveling in a bus with a young couple who are returning from two years in the Peace Corps in the Solomon Islands. She is a lawyer and he is some kind of agricultural expert. We have been here about 20 minutes now and it looks like it will be another long one. It takes almost no time for the Chinese to turn these stopping places into garbage pits. All matter of litter and refuse is thrown out of the buses and, of course, there is the usual hawking and spitting all over the place.

Well, we have now arrived, after 4 1/2 hours, at a kind of gas station. Everyone has piled out of the bus while we pump some kind of fluid into this bus. The Potala has been visible now for about 20 minutes across the valley. The valley is strewn with makeshift villages, can't tell whether they are like the old ones or whether this was just a wild plain before the Chinese came, but the Potala sits there, high in the distance, its roofs shining gold and even under these circumstances, it's an impressive sight. The road is at this point little more than a track and in the back of this bus, it has been pretty rough. We are all a bit subdued, but it doesn't look like we have much more than another 1/2 hour or perhaps a bit longer.

This is being dictated 5 hours later and it is coming to you from a Tibetan cafe where Mait and I are sitting having a beer, and there are more sensations in the last five hours than it is possible to put down on tape or paper. Anything I say can only be a pale version of what this place is really like, and of course what it is like now is nothing like what it was before the Chinese came. We are very tired, extremely dirty, our throats are raw from the dust. The bus got into town about 45 minutes later and pulled, after several false stops, into the CAAC station. After a fair amount of backing and forthing we discovered that for our friends from Vermont and the Solomon Islands (met them on the bus in) , there was no sign of any baggage ,which comes on a separate bus. The first estimate was 4:00 and now, much later, the next estimate is 7:00. We are a bit smug at not having checked anything. We also found a nice fellow who spoke a little English and who directed us towards the Snowland Hotel. How can I describe the streets? First of all, they are filled with Tibetans and a more handsome and interesting looking people I cannot imagine. They are tall, very dark, but with a kind of shiny red aspect to their skin. After walking through China where people just bump into you and stare, to be smiled at continually is a great pleasure. People come to me and pull the hair on my arms - many Tibetans are nearly hairless - or tug my beard. It is all done in a very friendly way and with great good humor. They carry knives, wear their beloved fedora hats, have money belts, eight layers of thick clothing. Indescribable! Their hair is sometimes done in a kind of Rastafarian dreadlocks, other times interwoven with day-glow red cloth - maybe the pictures will do them justice, but I doubt it.

We walked to the Snowland which has a very pleasing exterior and is a little less great on the interior. It is alleged to be the best hotel in Lhasa and, of course, when in Lhasa I always stay at the Snowland. We were given a ticket for a dormitory-style room and a little key which locks a cabinet in which to put our baggage. Two very nice Tibetan women helped us set up and I think the thing will work reasonably well. There is a pump in the courtyard where one washes and a number of loathsome bathrooms - latrines really - scattered about. We are luckily quite far from any of them. We set out for CAAC because we still have to deal with reconfirmation and it turns out it was reopening at 4:00.

The Snowland Hotel

We walked up to the shops, stopping now and then to look at things, buying, after much negotiation, at an outrageous price a pair of the wonderful plain glass brass frogged glasses, walked into CAAC to find it luckily open and not terribly mobbed. After 20 minutes or so, I managed to find my way to a window and a very helpful Chinese (I think) attendant and I struggled through the reconfirmation process. But all seemed to go reasonably well. I was annoyed at one of the Chinese in line who continually pushed in front of me and finally made some show of inviting him to go ahead. He declined to go ahead, but continued to push ahead. I suppose it is a part of the sport of it all. So, in theory, we are all set. Our tickets are confirmed out, our "hotel" is set, and the only problem is that we don't have much time. The streets we have been wandering so far have a lot of Chinese on them, but on the way back to the Snowland, we decided to walk an extra 100 yards to take a look at a temple which sat at the end of the cross street (the Jokang!). The walk to the temple led through a set of barbed wire to a Tibetan bazaar (The Barkhor!). This runs all the way around the temple and in retrospect, it should be obvious that such things would be attached to temples and it is absolutely great. We did a long circuit, taking perhaps an hour and a quarter, or maybe even a bit longer, bought a few things, always with negotiation which resulted in our being outrageously ripped off, but paying very little. One can't really quarrel if one contributes to the economy in such a fashion. People continually stop you in the street to offer jewelry or to change money. The going rate or the first offer for changing foreign exchange certifications for RMB is 1.6 to 1. That means the real rate must be at least 2, so there must be an unbelievable black market in these things and when one buys in the bazaar, one should negotiate with the fact in mind that you are going to pay in currency which is worth 2 for 1 for them. A rather scurrilous looking fellow has just walked up to the table and is staring us down. Janet (MJ's secretary in Princeton, who was transcribing the tape), if you never hear from me again, it is because he took out his dagger, which I am sure he had, and slit my throat. We are also now deciding whether we are actually going to eat in this establishment. God help our gastrointestinal tracts if we do, but it is such an attractive idea that I guess it looks like we are going to take the step. In the bazaar one sees pilgrims, I guess, making their walk around the temple as is traditional, and prostrating themselves every few feet. They have stones in their hands or wooden blocks or mats to keep themselves from tearing their flesh, but it must be quite an endeavor. One also sees lots of monks in the burnt umber robes and the whole place is extremely Tibetan. Very few Chinese, although there are some.

In the Barkhor

........That's a bunch of monks singing in the streets of Lhasa in the early evening. I am not really sure where I left off. It was probably describing a walk through the bazaar. We emerged from the walk with a few purchased items and a growing affection for the Tibetans. On the way back to the hotel, if you can call it that, we stopped off at a restaurant where I began this tape, I think, and where we had a beer and a dinner of pork and garlic shoots and super good French fried potatoes. One orders here by walking into the kitchen and pointing, or by seeing what other people are having and indicating that. We walked back to the hotel, which is right next door, sat up on the roof for an hour or so, reading and listening to music and watching the sun set over the roof top. You can't quite see the Potala from where we were sitting, although it is clearly visible out the window of our room. Since all the airplanes are in and since all the tourists have had time to find accommodations, it looks as though we will be alone for the moment in dormitory 5. Dormitory 5 has six beds in it. The bed clothes are extremely ratty looking, but are not so bad as to make one fear for insects, at least I hope not. After sitting outside, we decided to take a short walk, which turned into a rather long walk, maybe an hour or an hour and a quarter, through many streets, roughly in a direction extending the edge of our trip through the bazaar earlier. It is hard to describe because it is a large loop that we made. There is a lot of street life at night. The Tibetans are super-friendly, as usual. We eventually passed into what appeared to be a Chinese section which was somewhat less interesting, and, I think almost miraculously, found our way back in the dark to the Snowland. One is accosted on these walks all the time. Sometimes it is just friendly, sometimes it looks as though they are trying to get something out of you. One fellow came up to us and said, "Dalai Lama, Dalai Lama," and showed us a relic and then held his hand out, and I think he was looking for donations (probably just a picture), but I suspect that the donations would have not wound up in the Dalai Lama's possession. Back to the hotel, indescribably dirty, unbelievably tired, and ready for sleep.

This is the morning of Sunday, May 12. Getting to sleep was easy. The bed is actually rather comfortable and seems to be bug-free, despite its appearance, but staying asleep was less simple. At 11:00 without the slightest warning, the door was unlocked and two policemen and three hotel people burst in and turned on the light. It was like a scene from a German Gestapo movie where they rush into the spy's room, screaming, "Ausweis, ausweis...you have a radio." This time it was travel documents and passport. I bolted awake, dug out the documents, and after suitable scrutiny, the People's Army departed, "forgetting" to turn out the light. One of the hotel people came back and did so, however. The rest of the night was less exciting, but also less enjoyable. Both of us had headaches of a kind that resisted aspirin. Mait finally took a codeine pill at about 3:00, and I followed at 6:00. It is probably a combination of the altitude and having too many beers the night before. Neither one of our stomachs is in great shape either, and I think we will take it easy on the food today. One also thinks a little bit about what yesterday was like now. It began before 5:00 in the morning, included one of the great torture scenes of the Western and Eastern worlds combined in the bus ride in from the airport, severe climate changes, culture shock, the inhalation of several pounds of dust, which this morning, for instance, has given me a case of the Tibetan brown lung, and maybe we haven't come out of it so badly. Now we are going to get up in a minute, use the leftover warm tea water to wash, and then it appears the drill is to air mail that water down a large funnel into an open ditch in the courtyard below. At any rate, we are going to try. If anguished screams come from below, it will seem that the funnel doesn't lead to the courtyard, but instead, perhaps, to the kitchen. Mait mentions that I forgot to say that the dogs bark all night long, and there was one particularly loud, energetic dog attack at about 3:00 which Mait says was caused by the moon appearing. There are millions of dogs in Tibet. I'd heard about that but thought they were all eaten up during the Cultural Revolution, but apparently not. They are peculiarly mangy and mean-looking, except for the puppies who were terrific. Mait says that is wrong. They are all fluffy puppies, but he is hallucinating from the thin air.

Two mj's on the roof of the Snowland, smug and about to have one too many beers.

We walked uptown, stopped at the Friendship Store hoping to buy one of the great brown fedoras, but, much to my sorrow, Tibetan heads are too small, although they certainly don't look that way. The Friendship Store here is awful, contains very little and looks to be more rundown than the regular stores. We made our way slowly towards the Potala, circling it from the right. As you come to the base, there are vivid inscriptions, multi-colored inscriptions on the walls with pictures of Buddha and inscriptions in Tibetan. There seemed to be no way up and we began to work our way around the palace at the back, hoping to find some kind of entrance. We encountered a monk coming the other way who pointed to us and then made it clear with thumbs up, little finger down gestures that to circle the palace clockwise was good, but counterclockwise was bad. Apparently the Chinese make a point of going the wrong way and the Tibetans, of course, the right way. So we turned around and walked with him for a while, took his picture which pleased him greatly but it was apparent that he thought he could get the picture right out of the camera. I suppose he'd seen a Polaroid somewhere. We came around to our starting point and then he signaled that the entrance was further around to the right. There is a small shed at the base here and almost on a whim I stuck my head in the door past the piece of hanging cloth to find that it was a tiny temple complete with a monk droning away, several butter lamps, the first we've seen, and many pictures of the present and former Dalai Lamas. It was about 10 feet long, but we were really glad we went through it. We continued around but coming around the front of the Potala one has to make a rather large diversion around the small city which sits at its base. In doing this, we met the couple we rode in with yesterday on the way to see if their luggage had yet arrived. We were joined by what I can only describe as an aging hippie we'd seen in the Snowlands. He has graying hair tied in a pony tail, 50,000 beads around his neck, and all sorts of other charms and paraphernalia. He looked like he probably knew so we asked him what the story was in getting into the Potala. He said that it was open only Wednesdays and Saturdays, but there were rumors that it was also open in the mornings. He said the entrance was indeed in the direction we were going so we set off to find it in the hope that we could squeeze our way in. After walking past it once, we did find our way in through some alleys and back streets by the expedient of asking children by giving an inquiring look and pointing up. They usually directed us immediately. We did come to the base of it, walked quickly past the guard who was saying something or other, probably in Chinese, which we conveniently ignored and went up the steps. The steps are long, steep and very, very difficult at this altitude. My legs were wobbly and breath short by the time we came to the obvious stopping point, even though I made a deliberate point of going very slowly. I think Mait felt very similarly and neither one of us was in particularly great shape stomach or head-wise. All we came to was a closed, locked door and a man who shouted at us to go back. So after taking a few pictures and exploring in a desultory fashion back and forth, we went down to a branch point in the stairs and took the other branch. This was much more fruitful as it led, after another taxing climb, to two small temples facing each other. The iconography is impossible to describe without pictures, but it's colorful and wild in the extreme. The best demons have skulls in their hair and bowls in their hands made of other skulls and often containing blood. We sat in the first temple and ate an orange and a bit of chocolate and then made our way across to the second one. The first one had led only to a locked door, but the second led through several open doors further upwards into a courtyard. There we were turned back but with the advice that it would be open again in the morning, so we will go back and try our luck one more time. We were very tired by now and made a slow walk back to the Snowlands, arriving about 12:30 full of fatigue.

The early afternoon we spent walking again to the bazaar dickering for things and often ridiculously missing buying objects that we should buy because of trivial amounts of money. We did get a number of things though and then as Mait was feeling sick, found our way back to the hotel, buying on the way a can of mandarin oranges. They seem to have effected a cure. We are gambling all that the Potala will be open tomorrow. We'll cool it for the rest of the day, conserve energy, get well and go up there early in the morning.

This is Monday, May 13. At 3:30 in the morning I had a fever and a sore throat, popped two of Mait's penicillins after doing a laborious calculation that there was actually enough left so that both of us could go on penicillin rations until we got home. Also ate a bunch of aspirin, staggered around a bit and slept fitfully for the rest of the night. By 7:00 it was clear I was feeling better and either was exaggerating badly, which I don't think, or the penicillin did the trick. I am going to take it for a couple of days at the suggested ration and then take it down to half rations and see what happens. I think Mait should take it also, just as a preventative. During the night there was a rainstorm, along with lightening, and the surrounding hills are somewhere between dusted and covered with snow. The snow line comes down just about to the roof of the Potala but there is no snow on it and it sits there this morning shining in the sunlight backed by a brown and white hill. I hope the promises that it would be open today turn out to be true. We walked up along our usual route, mailed our postcards, bought three cans of oranges, then made our way up as the day before to the base of the Potala. We are walking very slowly, mainly because I was feeling fairly fragile. The climb is severe at this altitude and I took it very easy indeed. It was open, one pays a little bit to get in from the upper courtyard that we just reached the day before.

In that upper courtyard of the Potala

At that point, it becomes almost impossible to say more. I know we didn't see all the rooms but we saw a lot. One spirals up around one of two central courtyards. Off of the main track, as it were, are other rooms and small temples. One winds up on the roof of the Potala, the altars and decorations are wondrously rich, which does them no justice at all. I am going to have to let the pictures (what few we were allowed to take) do the describing. There are some Chinese visitors and a fair number of Tibetans. The Tibetans take it very seriously. At nearly every side road or altar, we were spoken to by one of the monks: "Where are you from?" We discovered much to our horror that many of them wished us to give them a picture of the Dalai Lama which would have been very easy to do had we known. There are moments of difficulty in knowing the way and in understanding what people were telling us to do. The altars contain butter lamps and it looks like it might be butter, although it's hard to tell from wax and then either a Buddha or a Lama, Dalai Lama, would be the person to whom the shrine was dedicated. We passed the tombs of the 10th and 12th Dalai Lamas, another shrine where one rang a bell to attract the attentions of the gods. We were anointed with holy water. The aged monk who was doing the anointing was going to let us pass by, but we took some of the water. One then drinks a little bit of it and slapped the rest on one's head. It's just stupendously rich. We saw only two other Westerners in the Potala, although there were a number of others coming in when as we went out. They seem to be on some sort of guided tour by the Chinese. Because we were leaving, Mait took some pictures of a particularly handsome woman and her family. She also expected the picture to be available immediately and after we explained that it could not be by rolling up the film and showing her the canister we arranged to mail it to her. It will be very interesting to see if it ever works, although I don't suppose we will ever know. Back down again after a couple of hours very tired. We limped back to the hotel where I have just awoken at 1:00 from 45 minutes of sleep.

Two mj's on the roof of the potala

We dragged ourselves out of bed, very tired, went for one more walk to the bazaar which was very productive. Mait found two great awnings, white with a blue center and trim. We also bought a couple of bells and a few other things. Back to the hotel, 20 minutes of scrambling to pack and then the 25 walk to the CAAC bus "terminal." We sat around the terminal for 20 or 30 minutes until the squadron of dilapidated busses showed up. We got in line, hopped on a nice looking blue one, and off we went only 10 minutes or so late. The trip out was pretty much of a repeat of the trip in. Two or three road delays and two minor breakdowns which found our driver on his back on a piece of cardboard taking the engine apart. All in all, it only took 4 hours and 20 minutes. Then we pulled into the Greater Lhasa Airport Hotel. After a lengthy line leading to a check-in at which we were handed six pieces of paper, we found our room which appears to be a kind of converted jail, at least all the windows have iron bars on them and look pretty much escape-proof. We were in a small dormitory room with another couple from San Francisco. We shared round the last of the Cardhu and ate peanuts, chocolate, preserved vegetables and a kind of cross between an English muffin and a chapati that we'd bought in the market. Bedtime came at about 11:00, a monumentally late hour at this point. The room is really dirty but not unbelievably so.

Up at 6:00 to a clear sky, not too great a head, and a non-breakfast morning. We got dressed, brushed our teeth as well as we could, wandered down to the air terminal, went through two long, horrible lines at a dank, closed-in, smoky room with 200 people in it, all hawking, spitting and smoking cigarettes. I really hated it. The oxygen supply must have been down another 20% and I had a bad headache coming out of it. We went through a lengthy security procedure. They don't really know what to make of our ticket as it was booked in New York, and that always provides problems. They made a long search of my backpack. We are currently in a much less dingy waiting room, sitting around at about 8:20, hoping that the plane will show up. The weather is clear, and we are on the early flight so the prospects are decent , at least for making the connection to Beijing.

Today is Tuesday, May 14. I forgot to mention that this morning while dressing, giving myself the incredible luxury of wearing clean blue jeans - "not worn yet in China" blue jeans - I found a piece of paper in the pocket which was one of the many notes left by Hilary and Susan. This one depicted a snake, a computer drawn snake, with an arrow pointing to it and the word yummy on it. It did marvels for my spirits and, in fact, we did see a snake in the market in Chengdu, although we've never gotten one to eat yet, that we know of.

The plane left 25 minutes early which is possible in a society which controls the way this one does. All the passengers are there, they are herded into the plane, there are no extra unwanted seats, no one can conceivably show up late on a whim wanting to go to Chengdu, and so the plane just goes. This time it is a Boeing 707 which make the trip in 2 1/4 hours, or a bit more, an easy flight except for my stuffed head which leads to lots of ear pain and a fair amount of deafness on arrival. We had made sure not to check any luggage so as to make transit quickly in Chengdu. This was useless as we have arrived much earlier than the people that will be picking us up. So right now we are sitting on the front steps of the Chengdu Airport, hoping to see the yellow Polanev show up with our luggage. Everything has gone so well so far. It would be fairly ironic to see the folks in Chengdu get the day wrong or have a breakdown on the way to the airport. We'll see. Perhaps it is a good time to try to sum up this trip to Lhasa. It can only be regarded as a kind of reconnaissance. One needs much more time that we allowed, although, of course, there was nothing we could have done about it this time. We had no idea that the travel from the airport to town would be as arduous as it is. It can take anything from 2 1/2 to 12 hours, depending on luck. We'd also underestimated the effect of altitude, or at least I had. We were very tired a lot of the time and it wasn't possible to do the kind of forced marches you can do in normal places. One gradually acclimatizes and I felt much better towards the end than in the beginning, but the much more sensible approach would be to allow a day or two for gentle walking around before the serious sightseeing takes place. So what we got out of it mostly was the feel of the place, the views of the people are unforgettable as is the friendliness of the Tibetans. I forgot to record that I was greeted on my last day by one person in Tibetan fashion by sticking the tongue out and curling the end. I replied as best I could, not being trained in such things, to many laughs.


It is certainly not an easy place to go and dirt, dust, and poverty are overwhelming after a while. People are not dying in the streets by any means, nor are there many beggars, but the level is generally low and after a while, it is hard to take. We are, of course, prisoners of our own culture and attach more importance than necessary to a bath or other comforts. The plain fact is though I would find it difficult to live the way the Tibetans - or even the Chinese - live. In places like this one is always leaning a bit on the fact you can get out and there comes a time when that seems like a very good idea indeed. We weren't by any means finished seeing things in Lhasa. We hardly scratched the surface, in fact, but I was tired and not that unhappy to go. It would be so much easier if one could get that bath.


Mr. W and L's father then showed up. We repacked our bags, make light conversation, found our way through security to the waiting room. We had a pleasant, if uninspired lunch, and flew off to Beijing. Beijing Airport looks a lot like any other big city's airport now, as in fact do the approaches to Beijing along the road. We were met by H and Z - Z looking very sprightly with curled hair and a Western jacket on. The drive in is long and not very interesting except that much of the construction of past years is gone and replaced with new roads lined with trees. This is certainly an improvement. The Youyi, or Friendship Hotel, is unchanged though. It is a massive Russian edifice filled with tour groups and not at all a very interesting place. It does, however, have very nice hot water and no one can call it uncomfortable. The plan for the next three days seems good. Mait will see most of the interesting sights and we have some time at Xiangshan on the 17th. There is a problem with the tickets though and we only have to hope that our "requested" tickets will yield us a seat on the plane. If not, it is hard to know what we'll do. Long luxurious baths and hair washes. Later we went to bed.