Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Random Observations of Lhasa

Golden ice.
While the freezing temperatures ensure that every man and his Tibetan mastiff pissing against random brick walls less offensive than, say, in a stifling New Delhi summer, it certainly plays havoc with a freezing Donkey trying to negotiate the already treacherous cobbles of Lhasa’s sidewalks in the early morning darkness; the golden, icy slicks sending him sprawling unceremoniously onto the filthy stones every couple of metres, much to the delight of the similarly rugged-up, although considerably more nimble youngens making their way to school.

Did somebody say dark?
As if it wasn’t bad enough that Tibet operates on a Beijing time zone despite being at least two hours ahead (in real time) of the distant seat of power, the Party Regime has seen it fit to dictate that all of Lhasa’s street lights be switched-off at precisely 7.55am, which happens to be approximately one hour and thirty minutes before dawn.

Under cover of darkness.
The opportunistic urbanites of Lhasa use this veiled, pre-dawn window to their advantage, thumbing their noses at Central Government directives to make Lhasa “a model National city” through forced clean-up campaigns, by disposing of their nightly waste water directly over the footpath.  While such practices might be great for keeping the street dust at bay in summer, in winter the frozen slicks encrusted with toothpaste, noodles, slimy vegetables and worse (given what goes on behind the greasy curtain hanging in the back of most of these shops), in addition to posing a potential public health risk, again make negotiating perambulation rather difficult.

Speaking of sex…
Adorning the many shops in Lhasa which sell ladies’ “intimate apparel” are larger-than-life hoardings of Western lingerie models sporting skimpy designer bras and panties in a range of fashionable hues.  You don’t have to get up too close to notice (although one has been known to do so) that despite the advertising, inside these stores you won’t find anything smaller than ankle to neck, cover-all undergarments in a range of fashionable beige; an inventory more likely to appease a grim Victorian school ma’am than a sultry seductress with come hither eyes.

And while you’re licking your chops over that one…
…you may like to join the thousands of Buddhist pilgrims who flock to Lhasa from the remote countryside in their crazy, fluffy headdresses, braided locks and bejewelled faces each winter to worship and prostrate themselves before Tibetan Buddhism’s foremost holy temples, monasteries and shrines, and while they are here, to visit the roadside dental stalls which specialise in gold caps and whiter-than-white pearlies (ridiculously white, really … I guess a mouthful of Clorox will do that for ya).  I can assure you it is quite a shock to be wandering along with the crowd and a sideways glance towards an open doorway revealing a short man in a grubby, blood-spattered (formerly) white lab-coat, cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth, holding aloft an enormous horse-needle poised for insertion into an old woman’s gums while her family strain to clamp her arms to the chair.

Almost as shocking as what you’ll find in the adjacent store, separated from the “dentist” by nothing but fly-blown air; the meat locker, filled to the ceiling with half-frozen, butchered yak carcasses.  Don’t believe me?  Well have a shifty at this.

The Lhasa Meat Locker.  Pic: Hagas

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