The sweet and the sour
04.09.2012 - 05.17.2012 50 °F
Tibetans love their ‘butter tea’ and believe it helps with altitude sickness. The unfortunate problem with it is the flavor! It’s one of those acquired tastes / love it or hate it foods. His Holliness the XIV Dalai Lama even admits to not liking butter tea. To make butter tea you take hot tea and blend it with salted yak butter and wha-la, frothy salty butter tea! Thankfully, they seem to only drink it for breakfast and then turn to ‘sweat tea’ for the rest of the day, unless at altitude where they drink it ALL day long to help prevent altitude sickness. Tibetan sweet tea is sweetened milk tea and you order it by what looks like a 2 liter thermos. Since there aren’t any pubs to hang out at in Tibet, the tea houses are packed with people from morning ‘till night. Although there is food available, most of the time people will just have a huge thermos on the table and sip out of their little shot glass sized tea glasses. Although most tea houses are dark and cold inside, we found them quite comfortable, with their low rug lined benches and their local/family atmosphere.
We attempted to talk politics over tea, but quickly realized that it’s an unacceptable conversation to be having. One Tibetan told us that he was paranoid about undercover police and increasing arrests. It was a strange feeling for us to be spending big bucks on our trip, toting around taking photos when Tibetans are not even allowed to own a passport. Our guide had a deep sadness in his eye when he responded to our travel plans with a comment about how he has never, and will never be able to leave Tibet. We later watched a documentary called “Undercover in Tibet” in which we learned about a Tibetan named Tash Despa who went undercover into Tibet a few years ago to document what it’s really like in Tibet for Tibetans. When we watched this documentary we thought to ourselves; if we hadn’t visited Tibet ourselves we probably wouldn’t believe it… but spending the time to watch this documentary opened our eyes to why the Tibetans reacted to us the way they did. If you do watch it, we’d like to note that the military presence is very real, and that the makeshift police tents that you will see in the documentary have since been solidified into fortified houses in the middle of the streets and squares:
Although prayer flags are symbolic of Buddhism and thus a reminder of Tibet, the Chinese government has made it illegal to raise the Tibetan flag. In fact, it is a serious and punishable offence to be caught with a picture of the Dali Lama, or the Tibetan flag. Thankfully we made it out of China and can now safely wave whatever flag we want: