Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Tibet Kitsch

(From China journal Jan 2010)

The Tibet Hotel in Chengdu has a marbled entrance foyer full of light effects and high-back cushioned chairs, doormen in brown felt coats and in the teashop a line of Tibetan wall embroideries. Up on the roof of this 20-odd-storey block is a Tibet-themed temple-style roof. There is Yak on the menu.

In our room are two crossbreed bhudda/pixies and the bathroom accessories in their spotlit cabinet are held in a silk bag with Tibetan-inspired calligraphy as decoration. It's funny in the way that corporate hotel themes are funny, but a joke with bad breath. In the last four years since the China-Tibet railway opened China has re-colonised this colony with train cargoes of migrant workers, aiming to dilute Tibetan-ness so much that the country becomes at last a province. The relationship, we are told, is an uneasy one. Our original plan was to visit Tibet but the extra travel and visas and money and the subzero season precluded the idea. With Julia still coughing from Huang Jie Ping's traffic smoke and studio chill I'm glad that this is the version we ended up with, however ersatz.

The room is toasting warm, the bath (my first in two months) has unlimited hot water, the bed has fresh linen, the thing is sumptuous. We sit in armchairs drinking the Oolong tea that Yan Yan gave us as one of his parting gifts. The tea is fabulous and the warmth of the room lulls us.

Yan Yan also gave me an exquisite writing book and green tea. Dan Dan gave Julia a red shawl for her cough and me a book of stone print characters. Deng Chuan gave me a pottery tiger that looks like an extra from Yellow Submarine. Yao Bo gave me Li Bai in Chinese, in answer to my Pound version. Wang Jun gave us a book of his work and a huge farewell feast. The reason I give this list is to make a point. None of these people are rich; all are generous with what they have and their consideration.

For my part, I elicited help from Deng Chuan in last-minute present buying rush and she made her disapproval for my thoughtlessness clear - and was additionally unimpressed when I try to make things better by spending more money. Present-buying is about the acknowledgement of the other individual; an inappropriate gift is sloppy and hurtful. So we drink Yan Yan's tea and I think about the kindness of China and the invasion of Tibet.

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