Niema Ash's "Touching Tibet"
was one of the most beguiling
and thought provoking pieces of literature published last year. Her skills lie
in the way she personalizes her experiences and allows the reader to relate to
her story. Her journeying in Tibet will be particularly at home amongst fellow
travellers where there will be plenty of parallel experiences. Something I can
empathize with is being underdressed in a cold place, usually en route to a
hot destination. Sludging through thick Scandinavian snow in open-toed sandals
and thin trousers was no fun, but I had the last laugh when a sweaty Santa
decanted into Bangkok's 80% humidity! I have also demonstrated disco dancing
to the Chinese.
Also like Niema, I have wept
in Lhasa. I entered on one of the few organised tours allowed into Tibet after
the Chinese clamped down on border crossings and made Niema's style of
independent travel in Tibet a thing of the past. When she went, there had only
been a handful of tourists before her. When I went, there was even a Lonely
Planet Guide. Much of what I found was a result of the bastardization of the
Tibetan people, their home and their culture. There was little of Tibet left.
This is far removed from what Niema witnessed as the clinging vestiges of an
oppressed country. I recognised that Tibet had lost against overwhelming
might. And this is why I wept.
Niema's writing comes in
three quite different styles; narrator, storyteller and political activist. As
narrator, Niema's recollections resound wih the day-to-day trivia and props
familiar to the global traveller; guidebooks, guest-houses and market-place
bartering. But, beyond the mundane, her fascination with Tibetan Buddhism
breeds an undercurrent of the supernatural; part hippy new-age, part ancient
sorcery. These are islands in the flowing descriptive narrative which is also
punctuated by stilted and contrived dialogue. For their comparitive
secularism, more storytelling and politics would have been welcome. However,
she does admit that "Touching Tibet" is not a "sociological, political or
historical study of Tibet". There are plenty other sources for that, and Niema
is not that type.
No, Niema is like the
Tibetans - an aesthetic people. A people who recognise and cherish beauty. Her
description of the Potala is exactly right, "The Palace and hill have become
one in a fusion of nature, God and man". But this delivery does take skill to
maintain clarity, and elsewhere Niema does drift infrequently into states of
fuzziness. For example, a few pages later, and on the same subject,
"preserving a formidable distance between God and men", contradicts her
Niema's descriptions of the
open devotion at the Jokhang is unrecognisable to me. Only a short time after
Niema's Tibet, the country was even further incarcerated by Chinese rule,
making it quite impossible to express one's faith there. Sadder still is that
Tibet will never again be recognisable to Niema, but at least we have this
gift of her everlasting impression through her story.
Julian F. Derry
You can order
Niema Ash's "Touching Tibet" here.
Digital Altimeter, Barometer, Compass and Thermometer. Time/Date/Alarms.
Chronograph with 24 hour working range. Timer with stop, repeat and up
function. Rotating Bezel. Leveling bubble. Carabiner latch. E.L. 3 second
backlight. Water resistant. 4" x 2-1/4" x 3/4" 2 oz. Requires 1 CR2032
See more here.