[Photo from the New York Times recent reports on protest in Tibet and Nepal.]
Over the past many days I have been intently reading all the news I can find on the recent protests in Tibet. At the moment I have a two-week itinerary, scheduled to begin in just over six weeks, that is to take me from LA to Beijing to Lhasa, and from there on to other monasteries and villages around Tibet. I have been planning this trip for almost two years, a trip I am supposed to take with eight other women, including two of my best friends. Right now the Chinese government is banning all foreign visitors, and considering the fact that the tensions between Tibet and China - which have been simmering for decades - are not likely to subside anytime soon, it looks like this trip will very likely be cancelled.
I am experiencing a lot of conflicting emotions around these protests and my trip, realizing that the choices I make as a traveler need to be carefully considered. When I first began planning this trip, I started educating myself about Tibet, its history and its people, and one of the first things I did was watch Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion. In college, I remember Free Tibet slogans here and there, and I am sure, in my efforts to be a politically aware world citizen, I joined in the chorus, not really understanding what "Free Tibet" meant. Once I gained a better understanding of the oppression and violence the Tibetan people have suffered under Chinese rule, I considered myself fortunate that I was going to be able to see a culture that has a very good chance of ultimately being wiped out.
I have also been walking around believing now was a good time to go in terms of safety, thinking China would want to be on its best behavior for the Olympics. Since these protests began, I am amazed it didn't occur to me before that this is precisely why now is the best time for Tibetans to draw attention to their situation. It has been reported over and over again that China is treading as carefully as it can right now for fear of Olympic boycotts.
Every time I read an article about Tibet - which is now multiple times a day - a wave of deep sadness washes over me, thinking of how much pain is being felt by everyone in that part of the world. The thought of hoping things settle down simply so I can go be a tourist is a notion that is deeply unsettling; my desire to see this part of the world is so tiny and pale to the desires felt by Tibetans to do things like wave their own flag and express their beliefs. The Tibetans are protesting, expressing their anger and risking their lives because they are trying to save their culture, their identity, their people. Who am I to show up and expect everyone to make nice so I can hike through the Himalayas? Not only this, but could my presence as a foreign tourist somehow validate Chinese policy towards Tibet? Would I simply be feeding the system that is trying to destroy the beauty I am there to experience?
In my efforts to live a life committed to integrity, I have to consider these questions. How do the choices I make as a traveler contribute to the state of the world? While my choices as an individual will probably not save or destroy the world, I am not willing to avoid taking responsibility for my actions simply because I'm "just one person". It will matter.
"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness." -Dalai Lama