love morrison 

Whistler’s Janet Love Morrison is travelling in Asia this winter. She sent this Christmas letter, via Pique, to her friends. The loudspeaker cracked. The ever familiar sound of a bugle blasted through the blown out speaker. I was in Lhasa, waking up to the daily audible Chinese propaganda. A "gentle" reminder of who is in charge in Tibet. Reluctantly I rolled over and covered my head with my pillow. For centuries the capital of Tibet’s unique civilization had remained isolated behind the impregnable Himalayan Mountains. Sealed off from the world, Lhasa was once the heart and soul of Tibet, set in an atmosphere of inestimable spiritual wealth. In 1959, the Chinese Military "liberated" Tibet. This resulted in the flight of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, and 80,000 refugees to Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, and India. The Chinese assaulted the Tibetan traditional way of life. Ruthlessly, over 6,000 monasteries were destroyed. Public executions and mass starvation resulted in over 1.2 million deaths: cultural genocide. Their only fault was to hold simple beliefs that differed from those of their new Chinese masters. Lhasa, at 3,400 m, is situated in the Kyi Chu River Valley, surrounded by barren mountains averaging 4,800 m. The Chinese influence in modern Lhasa has resulted in Karaoke bars, hair "saloons," outdoor pool tables, and uninspiring cement block buildings. However, old Lhasa (population 200,000) still has a soul. Tibet’s spiritually absorbed people make pilgrimages to the city where they devote their time to muttering mantras, lighting candles, and praying at their holy sanctums. The Jokhang Temple, built in the 7th century, is the spiritual heart of the city. Pungent yak butter candles, fragrant juniper incense, colourful prayer flags, and spinning brass prayer wheels made me feel like I was strolling through a living museum. Dominating the city’s skyline is the majestic Pootala. This 1,000-roomed palace served as the winter living quarters for the Dalai Lamas until 1959. construction began in 1645 by the 5th Dalai Lama, and 12 years later it was completed. Slowly I worked my way through the Pootala’s ornately-painted hallways and icon-filled tombs. I felt an intruder as pilgrims visually expressed open devotion to their faith. From the rooftop a dazzling panorama of Tibet’s harsh brown terrain was in contrast to the blue cobalt sky. I thought of how the unforgiving landscape also contrasted with the tolerant Tibetan personality. Eight km. east of Lhasa is the Dreprung Monastery. Tibetan monasteries were like self-contained worlds with the abbot at the helm. Beneath him religious heads supervised daily prayers, and managed the estate’s economics. Founded in 1416 Dreprung was the worlds’ largest monastery, home to 10,000 monks — until 1959. Today there are only 400. Throughout Tibet there is a strong visual presence of the People’s Liberation Army. There are also hundreds of "spies" keeping a close eye on the interaction between tourists and locals. At Dreprung Monastery, our spy — Maxwell Smart — followed us around, mocking photo shoots with his empty camera. When we split up, Max’s blood pressure rose accordingly. Later as I sat on the roof top patio of our hotel a breeze fluttered the pages of my notebook. I glanced up at the remaining tatters of a prayer flag and I thought of the silent strength of Buddhism, and I wondered what the future holds for Tibet. The sun slipped behind the mountains and the temperature quickly dropped. As I gathered my pages the first star appeared creating, for now, a silent and holy night. Merry Christmas to all my dear friends.

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