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Traveling through Kham, in what’s called the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), I had the considerable pleasure of staying in Lhagong. Chinese people will tell you it’s named Tagong, but re-naming is just one strategy of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Approaching this “stupa” on the edge of town during a clear moment in an otherwise rainy day, I couldn’t decide which idea held more magic for me: that this was a giant fortification full of monks and nuns who, not fearing death, were more than a match for any earthly army or floodtide of settlers, or an immense palace full of exquisitely beautiful people of belief, happily lashing their souls to some great transcendent hum.
These days, urban China is made of people, cars, and ubiquitous green scaffolding and yellow-orange cranes flying the red Communist Party flag over construction sites. Everywhere you look, edifices of glass, concrete and stone predominate. By day, construction; through the night, construction. It stops for nothing, not even torrential downpours so heavy that the cab of the crane can’t be seen from the ground.
In western Sichuan, the rains have fallen particularly hard this year, causing floods and mudslides that have killed several dozen people and blocked key roads.
One of those key roads is the one that takes you from Chengdu, where I’ve spent most of my time in China, to Lhasa, the epicenter of Tibet, which is just now laboring under its 59th year of Chinese occupation. It’s rugged country, and the Tibetans are rugged people, accustomed to harsh conditions and high elevations.