Wednesday, November 02, 2005

diary: 14 Jun 2004


When I woke up at 7am Mr. Zhang was still drinking. Koreans, in my experience, can really drink, but after 12 hours of it, even Mr. Zhang was pretty drunk. Yesterday’s rain had stopped, which meant I could get going today. But first Mr. Zhang wanted a word with me; when I finally left at 10.30, he was in tears. For several reasons, I guess. He had told me about his younger days in Seoul, when he was a dj at the college radio station, introducing his fellow students to the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac; about his own singing career (over 60 original songs to his credit); about his time in the military and his rise to the rank of captain; about his employment with Nike corporation, first in Seoul 汉城 then in Shandong 山东; and finally about his “change of heart” at age 40, when he left his comfortable executive position to travel through 28 countries, settling at last in Lhasa 拉萨 where only a few months before he had opened an orphanage (after a couple of years of confidence-building with suspicious local officials). This made him happy. He had also told me about how his father, the handsome math professor, had treated his mother, unapologetically sleeping with other women (an affront to Mr. Zhang’s Christian faith). This made him sad. I’m sure there were other stories waiting to be told, and I would have heard them, were it not for the weather, but as it was, we hugged and said our goodbyes. Mr. Kim, who mines fossilized Himalayan rock salt for ion lamps (but that’s part of yesterday’s story), and had last night taken me to an all-Tibetan nightclub (also part of…), offered to take me to the bus station. But there was no east-bound bus out of Bayi 八一 today. So he offered to walk me over to where the long-distance taxis were, which took people anywhere as long as all the seats were filled. Along the way, he stopped in his bank, and while I waited outside a man in a suit asked about me. It didn’t matter what I said, the mere presence of a foreigner in this part of Tibet was illegal, and the suit, who turned out to be a cop, was going to haul me in. Unfortunately for Mr. Kim, he emerged from the bank before I was escorted away, and so both of us were taken to the local precinct. My fine for illegal entry into Linzhi 林芝 county was 500rmb ($61) and Mr. Kim’s fine for harboring an illegal was also 500rmb. I asked if I could leave the county by going east, but this option was refused me as Changdu 昌都 county east of here was also off limits to all foreigners. So I was to get on the first bus back to Lhasa and Mr. Kim was to cease and desist from harboring criminals in his home. I argued my case: I wasn’t a traveler, but rather a student; I got a travel permit from the gongan ju 公安局 (“public safety office” but really rather more like the Gestapo) in Ali 阿里 county (in the far west) and was told that the permit was valid all the way to Chengdu in Sichuan 四川; I asked for a permit in Lhasa and was told I didn’t need one; I’m really sorry, but I didn’t know, and it won’t happen again…but none of these worked, either with the two battle-axes handling us or with their boss, the suit who brought us here. I got a little petulant, simply refused to pay, and started wondering what the inside of a Tibetan jail looked like. (This, in hindsight, was probably not the best strategy to employ.) Mr. Kim’s case seemed a little more clear cut. The law, as it was explained to us, was that locals had 24 hours in which to register their foreign guests with the police and this is what Mr. Kim had failed to do. However, as Mr. Kim patiently pointed out many, many times, I had only arrived in Bayi at 7pm last night and it was now 11.30 in the morning, thus 24 hours had not yet passed and he had not broken the law. Their counter-argument, such as it was (possibly cribbed from the T. Cruise vehicle “Minority Report”), was that he was going to commit the crime, even if he hadn’t technically done so yet. We were there for well over an hour before Mr. Kim got the suit down to 300rmb apiece and paid for the both of us. The suit asked how I felt to have a local pay for my sins. I asked the suit how he felt stealing money from the poor.
Outside, I didn’t actually have 300 (or 600) rmb to pay Mr. Kim back, so I asked him to stop by the bank with me so I could cash a traveler’s cheque. He refused, saying he had a job and I didn’t, and that it wasn’t my fault, etc. I figured I could always mail him the money later, so I didn’t push the matter too much.
Mr. Kim was supposed to escort me to the bus station to take the first bus back to Lhasa. I already knew there was no eastbound bus today and now I couldn’t ask him to take me to the long-distance taxi stand, because if we were caught, then he’d really be in a fix with the police. I told him of my plan to ignore the police and continue on eastward, but he didn’t really want to hear too much about it and left me to my own devices at the station. It was now about noon, an eastbound bus leaving at 6pm had now appeared on the scene, and I wanted to be on it. I was afraid to wander around town for fear of being seen by the suit, so I sat in the bus station, behind a bulletin board, for six hours.
The driver and a couple of girls were playing cards on the inside engine cover when I asked if I could board at 5.30. At 7pm I asked when the bus was leaving, and one of the card-playing girls casually said that since I was the only passenger, the bus wouldn’t be leaving until 6pm the following day. I wondered aloud why that little bit of information couldn’t perhaps have been shared with me, oh I don’t know, maybe an hour beforehand? Hmm. I can’t call up Mr. Kim again. I can’t go to a hotel because they’ll certainly want me to register with the police. I really don’t want to spend the night behind this fucking bulletin board in the bus station. And I’m afraid if I start hitching, the suit (or maybe even one of the battleaxes) will see me (Bayi isn’t a very big town). So I got in a taxi and asked him to take me to the far edge of the next town, from where I could start to hitch. The next town was in fact Linzhi, the seat of Linzhi county. I hoped the suit didn’t live there; it wouldn’t have been a long commute for him. The sun was getting low as we drove southeast along the Niyang 尼羊 river; it’s a very nice drive, and Linzhi is a very pretty town. A stream flows down out of the Nianqingtanggula 念青唐古拉山 mountains to the north and cascades through the middle of town like something out of Walt Disney’s imagination. It literally gurgled, sparkling in the last hour of sun. I wished I could spend a day here, or at least a couple of hours wandering around town, but I also wanted to put a little more distance between me and a certain ticket back to Lhasa than a 15 minute taxi ride. So I stood by the side of the road at the far edge of town and waited for a ride. It was grassy on both sides of the stream here, and what looked like white-barked aspen trees grew up out of it, their leaves and branches connected to one another by quite a few strings of Tibetan prayer flags. Only a single family of three was there, about 50m away, enjoying one of the most idyllic scenes I have ever witnessed. Across the stream was an abandoned one-room house made of white stones (see picture); I figured I could sleep there tonight if I didn’t get a ride, and given the time, this seemed a distinct possibility. The road angled up steeply into the mountains just past where I stood.

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