Our Man in Tibet (and Nepal): Henry Rollins on the Sad Faces in the Land of the Lamas, his Favorite Kathmandu Hotel, and the Genius of Blue Note Jazz
[The one and only Henry Rollins will be contributing a weekly column and far-reaching reportage to the music section of the LA Weekly. Look for your weekly Henry Rollins fix right here on West Coast Sound every Friday and make sure to tune in to Henry's KCRW radio show every Saturday evening, or online, or as a podcast, or however else you decided to listen to the most eclectic DJ on LA's airwaves.
Maura Lanahan Our eminent columnist, Mr. Henry Rollins!
This installment includes Henry's trips to Tibet and Nepal, an appreciation of Blue Note records, and the awesomely annotated playlist for his KCRW BROADCAST #82 for tomorrow, Saturday 9-25-10. For more details please visit KCRW.com and HenryRollins.com]
A few days ago, I was in the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, getting power-walked by massive tombs of the Dalai Lama and incredible statues of Buddha. My tour guide was giving me the knowledge at a mile a minute as we were shoved along, sandwiched in between a European tour group and a Chinese one. All three guides were talking at once. I am sure I retained some of it.
You are only allowed an hour inside, so to see at least some of the place, you gotta jam. All this talk about Lamas present and past, at the rate of speed with which my wonderful guide was laying it on me, had me repeating one phrase, over and over. You know what it was? That's right, gunga-galunga, no, wait, gunga-lagunga. Look it up.
Most of the time I spent in Lhasa, I was on my own. I went to the aforementioned palace and the Jokhang Temple, the oldest one in Tibet, as well as one museum. Past that, I just hit the streets and walked all over the place. I walked and walked, trying to find neighborhoods, streets where people lived, but was unsuccessful. All I found was block after block of shops, some streets busier than others, but that was pretty much it.
I saw a lot of soldiers. The Chinese want to make it clear who is running the show in Lhasa. Every few minutes it seemed, there was an armed group of sullen, uniformed young men in two-by-two formation marching by. There were soldiers standing on elevated blocks, staring into crowds. I noticed plainclothes men standing in public places, keeping watch. I would walk away and come back later to see if they were still in place and they were.
I asked a Tibetan man about this and he said that they are Chinese undercover and they are everywhere. One of their fears is that someone will take down any Chinese flag and put a Tibetan one in its place. He also told me to look at the faces of Tibetan people. "They are all sad," he said. He told me that they are sad because of the Chinese presence. He also said that no matter what statistic you read about killings, arrests or detentions in Tibet, not to believe it, it's much more than reported.
It might have been the bluest sky I have ever seen. The air is thin, takes a little while to get used to.