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Tibet & China in the 80’s

As Written by Michael In 1985



riends often  ask  what  prompts  me  to  go  to  some  far-­‐flung  places  on  my  travels.       Obviously   reading   magazine   articles   and   promotional   emails   from   certain   travel   companies   have   a   bearing.   Condé   Nast   Traveller   magazine   has   an   excellent   feature   each   month   known   as   ‘Epic   Journey’.   I’ve   just   finished   reading   about   the   4,000km   railway   from   Beijing   to   Lhasa   climbing   so   high   that   passengers   are   provided   with   oxygen   –   from   coils   of   plastic   tubing   with   a   splayed   end   to   put   in   your   nostrils.   Last   month  I  was  also  teased  by  a  mailing  from  St  Regis  Hotels  talking  of    their  new  Lhasa   property  “surrounded  by  snowcapped  Himalayan  peaks  only  minutes  from  the  Potala   Palace  and  UNESCO  World  Heritage  Sites”.  M-­‐m-­‐m,  there’s  a  stirring!     At   the   same   time,   I   also   recall   reasons   why   I   may   regret   any   idea   of   returning   to   Tibet.   I  can  still  vividly  remember  the  dirt  everywhere  and  the  over-­‐powering  smell  of  yak   butter  in  glasses  for  thousands  of  candles.  Then  the  thought  of  having  to  get  by  with   minimal  facilities  in  a  very  basic  government  ‘guest  house’  room  doesn’t  exactly  excite   me.  All  I  had  was  a  tin  dish  to  wash  in,  and  this  didn’t  help  much  to  remove  the  dirt   that  had  stuck  to  the  Vaseline  in  thick  swathes  on  my  dry  lips.  More  frightening  is  the   recollection  of  looking  for  something  to  relieve  the  terrible  altitude  headache  when  I   tried  to  sleep.  In  a  vain  attempt  to  alleviate  the  pain,  I  pulled  a  folded,  cold  wet  towel   tight   over   my   forehead   while   pressing   the   back   of   my   neck   on   the   ribbed   outside   surface  of  an  empty  Coke  bottle,  rolling  it  back  and  forth,  but  to  no  avail.       “And  he’s  still  thinking  of  going  back?”  you  might  ask.     It’s   worth   resurrecting   a   story   I   wrote   around   that   time.   Not   only   does   it   reflect   on   my   experiences   in   Tibet,   but   also   on   conditions   in   China,   still   quite   primitive   only   twenty-­‐ five  years  ago.  I  write  about  the  parlous  state  of  aviation  at  the  time,  but  why  I  felt  no   fear,   I’ll   never   understand.   Parts   of   the   story   also   show   me   up   as   being   quite   inexperienced  and  naïve  in  some  matters,  and  perhaps  more  than  a  little  influenced  by   what  my  Chinese  ‘minders’  were  telling  me.       th Michael  Musgrave,  Sydney  20  April  2011    


China in the 80’s and My First Visit to Tibet


was  43  years-­‐old  when  I  first  flew  to  Lhasa  in  1985.  At  the  time,  I  was   living   in   Hong   Kong   with   general   management   responsibilities   for   the   countries  in  South  Asia,  primarily  India  and  Pakistan.  In  addition  to  this,   I  was  asked  to  help  establish  the  first  American  Express  retail  Travel  office   in   China   through   a   Joint   Venture   with   a   Chinese   Travel   organization   utilising  my  Travel  business  expertise.       Here  is  the  story  I  wrote  back  then!     On   my   first   fact-­‐finding   mission   with   the   general   manager   of   the   Amex   China   business,   we   missed   our   flight   to   Beijing.   Neither   of   us   had   checked   the   time   on   our   tickets.   Fortunately   there  was  a  seat  on  a  later  plane  to  Tianjin,  an  old  707  of  CAAC.  The  stewardesses  with  blouses   hanging   out   over   their   tight   blue   skirts   didn’t   do   a   bad   job   serving   up   the   afternoon   tea   of   smoked   salmon   and   roast   duck   sandwiches.   I   can’t   recall   what   we   made   of   the   Sweet   Sour   Plum  Sauce  container  advertising  at  the  time,  or  if  we  dared  to  taste  it  after  reading  the  label,   “Promotes  the  secretion  of  saliva,  anti-­‐cough  and  anti-­‐pyretic”.     On  arrival  at  the  modern  terminal  at  Tianjin  all  passengers  are  invited  to  “proceed  upstairs  for   supper”,  where  we  enjoy  cold  beer  and  a  delightful  meal  from  blue  and  white  china  on  white   linen   tablecloths.   Very   impressive   and   all   in   an   hour   before   continuing   on   to   Beijing.   (Don’t   come  rushing  to  book  this  ‘CAAC  Supper  Service’,  because  on  most  of  the  other  flights  the  old   lunch  box  needs  a  tad  of  improvement.  They  can  throw  away  the  preserved  vegetables  to  start   with.  )     In   Beijing,   we   stay   in   the   magnificent   new   seven-­‐storey   atrium   of   the   Sheraton   Great   Wall   Hotel   and   come   down   to   the   lobby   for   a   night-­‐cap.   A   beautiful   young   Chinese   girl   in   a   long   red   gown   is   playing   “Ave   Maria”   and   other   popular   classics   on   a   grand   piano   with   flute   accompaniment,   to   an   appreciative   foreign   audience.   On   the   following   night   she   entertains   again,   this   time   with   a   cellist.   Who   would   guess   that   the   Cultural   Revolution   and   its   abhorrence  of  everything  Western  was  little  more  than  a  decade  ago?     Next   morning,   I’m   struck   at   first   by   the   squareness   and   size   of   the   post-­‐war   Russian   architecture   along   the   main   avenue   of   Beijing,   but   the   traditional   sights   including   The   Forbidden  City,  Tian  An  Men  Square,  The  Summer  Palace  and  The  Great  Wall  represent  what   I’ve  always  imagined  China  to  be.  (Why  I  didn’t  write  more  about  this  at  the  time,  I  don’t  know.)   3

Before getting   started   on   the   hard   work   of   finding   office   space   and   negotiating   terms   of   the   joint  venture  project,  I  suggest  to  our  hosts  that  I  do  some  ‘touring’  to  get  my  bearings  and  a   general   understanding   of   this   new   country.   All   my   Christmases   had   come   at   once   when   the   Chinese   partners   offer   to   show   me   how   they   operate   an   escorted   tour,   and   then   experience   first-­‐hand  how  they  can  manage  a  fully-­‐inclusive  ‘independent’  travel  arrangement.  “Why  not   Tibet?”  I  thought,  and  I  chose  to  go  to  Lhasa.       On   the   first   part   of   my   ‘familiarisation’,   I   had   an   enjoyable   five   days   and   shared   many   adventures   in   Shanghai   and   Guangzhou   (Canton)   with   a   group   of   Americans   on   an   escorted   tour.   Modern   airconditioned   coaches,   excellent   English-­‐speaking   guides,   and   hotels   getting   better  all  the  time.  I  saw  three  new  ones  in  Canton,  each  with  more  than  1000  beds  that  would   rival  the  luxury  and  service  of  Hong  Kong.  And  this  is  China!       A   less   memorable   adventure   was   when   we   were   circling   Guangzhou   airport   in   a   brand   new   DC9,   for   the   sixth   time,   and   I   saw   the   captain   and   cabin   crew   feverishily   pulling   carpet   up   along  the  aisle  searching  for  something.  I’m  seated  in  the  back  row  watching  the  stewardesses   huddling   around   the   back   door   reading   the   emergency   exit   instructions   in   Chinese.   Apparently,   the   landing   gear   hasn’t   locked   into   position   and   they’re  looking   for  a   viewing   hole   to  check   and   if   necessary   to   manually   lower   the   wheels   .  No   announcements   are   made,   but   we   finally   land   without   incident.   For   a   while   there,   I   was   thinking   that   the   old   prop-­‐jet   Russian   ‘Ilyushin’   that   still   has   an   aerial   strung   from   top   of   the   tail   to   the   cockpit   from   my   previous   flight,  would  have  done  me  very  nicely.     I’m   even   more   excited   for   the   next   portion   of   my   fact-­‐finding   mission,   travelling   alone   to   Chengdu,  an  overnight  stop  on  my  way  to  Lhasa.       Sitting  in  Guangzhou  Airport,  there  are  no  western  faces  in  the  departure  lounge  and  the  flight   details  are  displayed  in  Chinese  only.  My  ticket  doesn’t  have  one  word  of  English  on  it,  and  I   discover   at   Security   that   my   name   is   ‘American   Express’.   Thank   goodness   numbers   are   the   same   in   both   languages   and   I   can   look   out   for   both   flight   number   and   plane   number   on   the   notice  board.  The  scene  has  overtones  of  “Casablanca”.  The  airport  hasn’t  caught  up  yet  with   the  rest  of  Canton,  which  is  a  bustling,  fast  developing,  commercial  metropolis  in  a  wonderful   sub-­‐tropical   setting   on   the   Pearl   River.   Joint   Ventures   of   the   type   I   would   like   to   be   part   of,   abound.     I   am   on   my   way   to   Chengdu   in   the   Sichuan   province   in   Central   China.   Ashamedly   all   I   know   about   Sichuan   is   that   it   was   home   to   the   panda,   and   also     the   restaurant   of   the   same   name   around  the  corner  from  my  apartment  in  New  York.  (On  my  return  journey  I  made  a  quick  trip   to   the   zoo   to   see   them.   Like   Americans   visiting   Australia   to   see   the   koala   bear,   it   was   dis-­‐ appointing  that  I  couldn’t  get  photographed  with  the  furry  animals).       As   we   taxi   to   the   imposing   Russian   structure   that   is   the   Chengdu   airport   terminal,   the   clock   4

turns back  in  time.  And  then  back  a  few  more  years  as  we  drive  at  sundown  through  cultivated   fields   to   the   hotel.   Farmers   wend   their   way   home   -­‐   some   with   vegetables   or   implements   balanced  on  their  shoulders.  Others  have  pigs  on  the  back  of  their  bicycles  ready  for  market,   and  ducks  and  cows  amble  across  their  paths.  It’s  all  from  another  age.     After  eating  dinner  alone  in  the  monumentally  large  dining  hall  of  the  Jin  Jiang  Hotel,  I  take  a   stroll   to   catch   some   local   colour.   I’m   besieged   by   students   wanting   to   practice   their   English   and   I   really   confuse   them   when   they   learn   that   I’m   an   Australian   working   for   an   American   company   in   Hong   Kong.   This   ambition   by   the   youth   to   learn   and   speak   English   was   evident   everywhere,   particularly   in   Shanghai   where   the   tour   I   was   on   actually   included   a   scheduled   stop  for  forty  five  minutes  on  the  waterfront  for  tour  members  to  walk  and  meet  the  students.   Our  group  loved  the  experience  as  much  as  the  students.   Dress  in  China  is  fast  changing  to  the  Western  style,  so  the  first  leg  of  my  journey  into  Tibet  did   not   have   the   mystery   of   my   journey   into   the   Western   end   of   the   Himalayas   in   Pakistan   last   year   (1984).   On   that   flight   I   travelled   with   turbanned   mountain   men   who   were   transfixed   and   petrified   by   the   flying   experience,   curled   up   and   huddled   in   their   blankets   for   the   entire   journey.   The   only   thing   odd   about   my   fellow   passengers   on   this   flight   was   their   carry-­‐on   luggage.  Fresh  chives  and  eggplants,  not  to  mention  the  stereos  in  big  boxes.  I  was  flying  in  the   same  old  707  as  I  arrived  in  the  day  before  and  figured  the  crew  knew  this  flying  machine  well   enough  for  me  to  relax  and  get  ready  for  the  unknown.   The  snow-­‐covered  peaks  are  beautiful,  but  as  we  get  closer  to  Lhasa,  the  topography  changes   to   very   barren,   boulder   strewn   mountain   ranges,   alternating   with   what   appear   to   be   giant,   wind-­‐smoothed   sand   hills.   I   learn   later   that   these   were   sand   glaciers,   caused   by   wind   vacuums,   that   has   smoothed   the   surfaces   oveer   the   years.   Lhasa   is   in   a   valley   and   the   approach  is  through  mountains  each  side.  Very  similar  to  Skardu  and  Kathmandu,  only  much   higher  at  3,650  metres.  The  air  is  much  thinner  too  and  another  lesson  soon  to  be  learned  is   the   need   to   rest   and   acclimatise   oneself   or   risk   the   chance   of   headaches   and   shortness   of   breath.  I  disregarded  the  advice,  went  sightseeing,  and  suffered.     The  100km  rocky  road  from  the  airport  to  the  guest  house  rattles  my  bones  but  at  the  same   time   provides   a   great   introduction   to   the   mysteries   of   the   region.   My   guides,   Dong   from   Chengdu  and  Jiang  from  Lhasa,  are  full  of  history,  legends  and  sociology.  They  impart  much  on   the  long  drive  through  the  valley  and  along  the  willow-­‐strewn  river  banks.  I  see  very  primitive   housing   sprouting   long   poles   like   fishing   rods,   decorated   with   coloured   flags   the   size   of   handkerchiefs.   These   contain   scriptures   and   are   prayers   for   the   Gods.   I   don’t   ask   about   sanitation,  but  I  can  see  dollops  of  yak  dung  drying  on  the  mud  walls  to  be  used  for  fuel  later.  


The scenery  is  spectacular  and  the  mountains  on  either  side  change  continuously  -­‐  from  green   to   rocky,   to   patches   of   sand   glacier.   In   silhouette   against   the   sun   they   take   on   the   papier-­‐ mache   appearance   I’ve   always   loved   about   the   mountains   in   Arizona.   Colourful   Buddha   images  are  etched  into  the  rock  face.   6

During the  nearly  300  years  of  the  Qing  Dynasty  up  to  1949,  the  population  of  Tibet  reduced   from  2  million  to  1.2  million.  Forty  percent  of  the  men  were  lamas  (monks)  and  fifty  percent   of   the   women   were   nuns.   I’m   told,   “if   the   Chinese   hadn’t   intervened,   the   race   would   have   disappeared”.   The   Chinese   Central   Government   has   invested   three   billion   dollars   in   this   Autonomous   Region   in   an   attempt   to   bring   it   into   the   twentieth   century.   Education   is   still   difficult,  as  parents  prefer  their  children  to  become  lamas,  learn  the  holy  scriptures,  and  chant   their   lives   away   in   monasteries.   These   monasteries   are   self-­‐sufficient,   from   livestock   to   learning.  I  hear  no  reference  to  the  Dalai  Lama,  who  fled  into  exile  twenty  five  years  ago  after   invasion  by  the  Chinese.     The  fervour  of  the  people  is  seen  everywhere  and  again  I’m  informed  that  monks  travel  for  up   to   2½   years   from   distant   provinces   -­‐   prostrating   themselves   and   kissing   the   ground   all   the   way.  One-­‐third  of  them  happily  die  on  the  way.  In  Lhasa  I  see  pilgrims  with  faces  covered  in   dirt   making   their   way   along   the   street   kissing   the   ground   -­‐   invoking   the   blessings   of   Lord   Buddha.  I  suppose  this  is  no  worse  than  the  Orthodox  pilgrims  I’ve  seen  climbing  the  hill  on   hands  and  knees  up  to  the  Cathedral  on  the  Greek  Island  of  Tinos,  or  the  pilgrims  climbing  to   the  Shrine  of  Our  Lady  of  Guadelupe  in  Mexico,  but  …     Tibet  is  primitive  to  say  the  least.  The  lifestyle  is  steeped  in  centuries  of  tradition  with  strong   devotion  and  adherence  to  the  teachings  of  Buddha.  Dirt  permeates  all  I  see.  The  people  in  the   streets  are  dirty  -­‐  their  skin,  clothes,  hair,  shoes  .  .  .  the  lot.  But  it  doesn’t  seem  to  worry  them.       I’ve   already   been   told   “Dirtiness   is   akin   to   Holiness”.   On   a   visit   to   the   7th   Century   Jokhang   Temple,  home  of  the  bejewelled,  revered  statue  of  Sakyamuni,  and  the  first  principal  Buddhist   temple  in  Tibet,  I  meet  the  Head  Lama  who  shows  me  through  the  Inner  Sanctum.  He  hasn’t   seen  water  in  eons.  Lamas  smear  their  new  robes  in  yak  butter  and  rub  them  in  the  dirt.  This   is  plainly  evident.  The  smell  of  yak  butter  alone  is  enough  to  turn  my  stomach,  and  as  I  walk   through  the  various  chapels,  ducking  to  avoid  hitting  my  head  on  four-­‐foot  high  entranceways,   I  nearly  gag  on  the  stench.  There  are  urns  of  the  stuff  with  candles  floating  in  it  everywhere.  I   gracefully  decline  the  cup  of  butter  tea,  but  do  thank  him  and  shake  his  outstretched  hand  as  I   leave.   The   pilgrims   outside   are   prostrating   themselves   up   and   down,   up   and   down.   They   must   have  good  lung  capacity.     The  main  square  of  the  town  in  front  of  the  temple  is  a  beehive  of  activity  with  donkeys,  carts,   pilgrims   and   workers.   Stonecutters   are   everywhere,   using   hammers   and   chisels   to   hew   eighteen-­‐inch   square   paving   blocks   from   enormous   chunks   of   grey   granite.   There   is   a   lot   of   hotel  development  and  landscaping  in  the  central  area  in  readiness  for  an  expected  influx  of   tourists  with  their  much-­‐needed  dollars  and  yen.  


I walk   away   from   the   square   into   the   more   frenetic   free   market   in   the   side   streets   and   see   more  dirt.  And  the  devout  spinning  their  prayer  wheels  or  praying  their  beads  as  they  shuffle   along.  Most  of  them  look  to  be  a  100,  but  I  believe  the  life  expectancy  is  very  short.  I  don’t  have   the  patience  to  shop  the  stalls  as  the  dirt  aggravates  me.  The  dust  starts  to  blow  and  stick  to   the   vaseline   I   put   on   my   dry   lips.   Then   it’s   definitely   time   to   return   to   my   guest   house,   get   some  hot  water  in  a  dish,  and  wash.  Any  wonder  I  can’t  eat  dinner!     To  understand  my  situation  a  little  better  I  should  relate  a  couple  of  the  stories  I’d  heard  from   Gong  and  Jiang.  The  rivers  of  Tibet  abound  with  fish  but  as  the  Tibetans  regard  fish  as  holy,   they   don’t   eat   them.   On   asking   why,   it   was   explained   that   they   have   many   types   of   funerals   depending  on  one’s  status  or  caste.  One  is  a  water  funeral  where  the  dead  body  is  cut  into  five   pieces   and   thrown   into   the   river   for   the   fishes   to   eat.   (Would   you   eat   fish   under   the   circumstances?)   There’s   also   a   Celestial   funeral   for   lamas   where   the   body   goes   to   the   heavens   with   the   blackbirds   and   eagles.   So,   these   birds   are   revered.   The   poor   old   horse   trader,   regarded  as  a  cheat,  is  buried  face  down  in  a  grave  in  the  earth,  and  if  you’re  unlucky  enough   to   grow   up   to   be   a   blacksmith,   you’re   considered   to   be   a   devil,   and   buried   deep   in   the   mountain.     I’m  intrigued  with  this  “no  washing”  syndrome.  Legend  has  it  that  centuries  ago  the  Medicine   Buddha  fell  over  in  the  river  and  medicine  spilled  out  into  the  waters.  Henceforth  the  waters   were  holy.  Farmers  bathe  only  twice  a  year  at  festival  time  so  as  not  to  dirty  the  water.  During   this  time  they  pray  for  the  evils  of  Greed,  Passion  and  Stupidity  to  be  washed  away.  And,  on   that  latter  evil  I  say  no  more.     It’s  amazing  what  a  difference  a  bright  sunny  morning  makes!  My  sleepless  night  doing  battle   with  the  altitude  headache  is  soon  forgotten.  I  awake  to  a  beautiful  day,  and  to  the  company  of   two   student   guides,   Cindy   and   Lucien.   They   have   recently   arrived   from   the   2nd   Foreign   Language  Institute  in  Beijing,  and  while  touring  the  Potala  Palace  they  are  so  keen  to  impart   their  knowledge  that  I’m  not  permitted  to  pass  by  even  one  Buddha.     There  are  past  and  future  Buddhas;  Buddhas  in  ascendancy;  Buddhas  that  marry  and  Buddhas   that   don’t.   Some   were   very   smart   and   married   Indian,   Nepalese   or   Chinese   princesses   to   consolidate  their  positions.  They  all  have  disciples,  advisers  and  guardians,  and  all  of  these  are   depicted  in  the  temples  and  monasteries.  I  don’t  see  any  reclining  ones  here.  I  learn  that  the   images   change   in   Chinese,   Indian,   Thai   and   Tibetan   Buddhism.   There   is   a   Dalai   Lama   and   a   Panchen   Lama.   It   was   the   Fifth   Dalai   Lama   who   met   with   Emperor   Shunzhi   of   China   in   the   seventeenth  century  and  established  both  political  and  religious  leadership  status.  If  the  living   Dalai  Lama  ever  returns  from  India  to  China  to  take  up  residence,  he  will  still  be  regarded  as  a   political  and  religious  head,  but  he  would  have  to  live  in  Beijing,  and  not  Tibet.     The  13-­‐storey  Pokala  Palace  with  more  than  one  thousand  rooms  (not  that  I  saw  a  fraction  of   them)   is   outstanding,   and   a   highlight   of   the   trip.   It   is   the   largest   and   most   intact   ancient   building  now  preserved  in  Tibet  and  is  a  monastery  for  only  thirty-­‐five  monks  today.  It  has  a  


history of   over   thirteen   hundred   years.   It   sprawls   over   an   area   of   130,000   sq.   metres   and   crowns   a   hilltop   in   the   middle   of   Lhasa.   I   can   personally   attest   to   its   118   metres   height   because  I  climb  it,  up  and  down  stairs  with  inclines  of  65  degrees  and  slippery  treads.  Thank   God  for  Cindy’s  torch  (and  her  touch).  The  whole  interior  is  lit  only  by  wicks  in  yak  butter,  and   lots  of  stoops  and  steps  laying  in  wait  to  trip  unsuspecting  victims.     It  is  Pilgrims  Day,  and  hundreds  stream  through  with  their  jars  of  yak  butter,  spooning  it  into   the   vats   and   making   their   prayers.   “In   so   doing,   they   have   offered   themselves   to   the   God   in   order  to  express  their  pious  heart.”  says  Jiang.  Views  from  the  top,  down  over  Lhasa  City  and   the  river  valley  are  spectacular,  and  gold  leafed  dragons  heads  are  conveniently  positioned  to   allow  picture  postcard  photographs.     For   some   reason   lunches   have   been   better   than   dinners.   I’ve   come   away   from   Tibet   with   a   delectable  rival  for  spaghetti  primavera.  Freshly  made  egg  noodles  in  a  chicken  and  cardamon   broth  with  big  chunks  of  lightly  steamed  summer  tomatoes  and  lettuce  with  white  pepper  was   delicious.   (I   had   to   try   this   as   Dong   bought   me   a   noodle   machine   in   Chengdu   for   my   housekeeper,  Norma,  and  I  wanted  to  have  experienced  the  real  thing).       I   can’t   take   to   the   yak   and   potatoes,   but   eat   the   pork   and   chili,   and   the   sautéed   leek   shoots,   eggplant   and   water   chestnuts.   I   was   given   prior   warning   about   the   shortage   of   fresh   meat   and   veges,   and   the   frequent   use   of   canned   goods.   However,   one   night   I   see   yak   and   yuk   one   too   many  times  and  am  overjoyed  by  the  sight  of  canned  Camp  Pie  and  Herrings  in  Tomato  sauce   in   a   familiar   oval   tin.   There’s   no   fresh   bread   to   eat   with   them   though.   I   leave   the   other   nine   glutinous-­‐looking  dishes  untouched.          


Checking-­‐in at  Lhasa  Airport  for  the  return  flight  is  a  nightmare,  again  with  no  English   announcements  or  notice  boards  that  make  any  sense.  Finally  on  board  in  First  Class  I  squeeze   into  the  one  available  seat  amidst  piles  of  covered  cargo  strapped  into  the  other  seats.  

Back in   Chengdu,   home   of   the   famous   Sichuan   food,   I   had   the   very   best   banquet   ever   and   realise   how   much   my   taste   buds   have   adjusted   to   the   spicier   dishes.   Then   in   Canton,   I   became   an  easy  convert  to  lychees.  After  learning  how  to  peel  them,  I  ate  branches  of  them.  I’m  not  too   fond  of  hosted  Chinese  banquets.  So  often  the  menu  features  rare  specialties  selected  for  the   occasion   by   your   host.   Recently   I   had   to   smile   and     eat     cold,   marinated,   spiced,   de-­‐boned   ducks   tongue.   Sea   slugs   and   some   squishy   tripe-­‐like   substance   also   figure   low   on   my   list.   On   a   recent  menu  I  saw  sautéed  gizzards  and  promptly  ordered  cold  boiled  chicken  and  a  bottle  of   beer.  Of  course,  that’s  par  for  the  course  for  an  expat  in  China  these  days.     On   nine   CAAC   flights,   I   collected   nine   fans,   three   name   card   holders,   money   purses   and   red   tote  bags.  I  can’t  do  much  with  the  purses  with  CAAC  beaded  on  them,  but  simple  removal  of   the  plastic  bag  and  a  re-­‐wrap  job  on  the  other  articles  gives  me  a  treasure  trove  of  “carefully   selected”  presents  for  future  trips  home.       Looking  back  on  the  Tibet  episode,  I  must  admit  I  went   looking  for  the  exotic,  and  found  it.       Michael   Musgrave,     4  August   1985                                                                                                                                   10

This story  as  written  in  1985,  omits  some  of  my  even  earlier  experiences  in  China.  And,  in   light  of  the  spectacular  events  we  all  witnessed  during  the  recent  Beijing  Olympics  just  a   few  years  on,  such  advancement  in  a  relatively  short  period  of  time  is  almost  impossible   to  comprehend.    


hen I  went  to  Beijing  in  1984,  there  was  not  one  neon  light!  There  were  no  retail   stores.  And  I  was  there  on  a  mission  to  open  a  Retail  Travel  Office!  I  was  behind  the   eight   ball   before   I’d   even   started.   How   I   won   through   and   had   one   of   the   international  model  offices  opened,  complete  with  a  neon  sign  clearly  visible  from   the  road  in  less  than  a  year,  is  another  story!     The   extent   of   public   transportation   for   visitors   at   the   time   was   a   fleet   of   only   1,000   black   Toyota  Crown  sedans  with  white  anti  macasa  seat  covers.  Whistle-­‐blowing  police  in  the  centre   of  intersections  were  directing  swarms  of  local  residents  on  black  bicycles  only.       I   recall   that   the   people   had   an   air   of   resignation   about   them.   Were   they   all   wearing   grey?   Streets   and   streets   of   plain   hutongs   where   people   lived   cheek   to   jowl   were   definitely   a   depressing  grey  in  colour,  and  the  old  trucks  were  painted  seemingly  in  the  same  grey  paint,   with   a   large   set   of   numbers   denoting   a   particular   commune   painted   on   the   back.   It   was   a   colourless,  uninteresting  place.     I   would   stay   in   a   Canadian/Chinese   joint   venture   hotel   that   resembled   a   low-­‐rise   American   motel   from   the   Fifties,   minus   the   parking     lot.   Uncontrollable   heating   was   so   high   and   air   so   thin   that   I’d   be   gasping   for   breath   by   the   time   I   reached   my   room   down   the   end   of   a   long   corridor.   But   worse,   I   would   be   slow-­‐cooked,   dried   out   and   lips   chafed   by   morning   after   a   night   of   fitful   sleep.   There   was   nothing   I   could   do.   The   food   wasn’t   good   either,   but   my   deprivation   seemed   to   justify   ordering   unhealthy   American   grilled   ham   (processed)   and   cheese   (tasteless)   toasted   sandwiches   dipped   in   ketchup   squeezed   from   one   of   those   little   punnets   you   always   seem   to   spurt   over   yourself   trying   to   remove   the   foil   lid.   High-­‐rise   apartment  blocks  had  started  to  appear  along  the  widened  boulevards   (of  bicycles),  and  in  the   winter  I  can  still  see  (and  smell)  balconies  stacked  high  with  cabbages  to  last  the  occupants  all   winter.       Most  of  the  Chinese  I  was  working  with  had  experiences  in  foreign  postings  and  were  socially   adept  –  nice  guys  really.  They  spoke  excellent  English  and  most  of  the  time,  they  wore  open-­‐ necked   shirts.   However,   when   the   time   came   to   negotiate   finer   points   of   our   relationship   with   their  bosses,  these  same  people  who  had  befriended  me  would  appear  at  the  meeting  in  navy   (or   grey)   Mao   suits,   and   be   struck   dumb.   They   would   communicate   only   through   an   interpreter!     Writing   this   also   brings   back   fond   memories   of   a   good   friend,   our   legal   counsel  for  Asia/Pacific,  who  flew  to  Beijing   to   assist   me   on   a   couple   of   occasions.   We   lived  close  to  each  other  in  Hong  Kong,  and   I   flew   to   New   York   for   her   wedding.   Susan   Picariello   was   a   wonderful   Italian   American,   a   New   Yorker   and   District   Attorney   from   the   lower   East   side   of   Manhattan   before   her   move   into   the   corporate   world.   She   later   became   general   manager  of  the  South  East  Asian  businesses   based  in  Singapore.  Sadly,  returning  from  a   business   trip   to   Indonesia   with   a   last-­‐ minute  flight  change  to  get  home  earlier  to   her   new   son,   the   plane   crashed   and   Susan   lost  her  life.  God  rest  her! Susan Picariello


China and Tibet - 1985  
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