Thursday, January 13, 2011

Would you visit Tibet now?

China wants increase tourism to Tibet to 15 millions tourist by 2015 bringing them one step closer to the their goal of turning Lhasa into Disneyland China. All the traditional Buddhist sites have been systematically been turned into caricatures of there real selves, with monks being relegated to a position like the actors in Colonial Williamsburg.

 The goal of the Chinese is to build a tourist Shangri-la that will result in the world ignoring the plight of the Tibetans. Their goal is illustrated in Ben Blanchard's article:
“Tibet will focus on building (itself as) an important world tourism destination,” the official Xinhua news agency said, citing Tibet’s government.
So as they try to build a vacation hub out of one of the world most unique and un-commercial cities,  I am forced to ask myself "Would I go to Tibet if given the opportunity?".  More and more it seems that the question become harder and harder to answer.  Free Tibet lists the following reason for and against travel to Lhasa:

Arguments for travelling to Tibet: 

  • The Dalai Lama  encourages foreigners to witness the oppression in Tibet and to inform others of their experiences on their return.
  • Tourism provides a window to the outside world for Tibetans. 
  • Tibetans find the presence of tourists in Tibet encouraging.
  • Consider going to Tibetan populated areas outside the TAR in Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces, where you can travel without a special permit and the need to hire an official guide.

Arguments against travelling to Tibet:
  • Tourism provides legitimacy to China's occupation.
  • Most of the money you spend will go into the pockets of Chinese enterprises. The tourist infrastructure in Tibet is largely controlled by Chinese businesses with headquarters outside Tibet.
  • It is hard to travel in Tibet without tacitly complying with the Chinese regime.
  • Tourists are only allowed to travel to the TAR in an officially organised group, on an officially approved itinerary and guided by an officially approved guide. 

So where do I stand?  I don't really know.  If I had the opportunity to visit the Jokhang Temple and prostrate with rest of the pilgrims at that great holy place, would I give it up in order keep from filling the Chinese coffers with American money at the expense of the Tibetans?  On the other hand,  surely I could do some good by targeting Tibetan only shops and restaurants and silently reassure them that they haven't been forgotten by the outside world.

Unfortunately I don't really have to reach a decision any time soon unless the money fairy drops a load of cash on my head,  but what would you do?