No, I don’t own a “Free Tibet” tee-shirt
I read an fantastic article, and would love to link to it here so that others can enjoy it, but I have searched and searched, and cannot find any links. To my absolute shock, it doesn’t even seem that there have been any other blog posts about it.
It was a fabulous read in every way: well-written, thoughtful, picturesque, compelling, interesting, well-balanced, tense in spots, lush in others. It’s also Really Long, which rather dismayed me on the outset (I guess I like my books long and my magazine articles short). But, after reading for a while, was very pleased that I had still a lot more of the author’s story to read.
It was published in the November 2007 issue of National Geographic Adventure, which should still be in stores. The story is entitled “Fast Track to Tibet,” and is written by Scott Anderson, photographed by Mark Leong. Googling Anderson’s name, it appears that he has long been both an explorer/writer and war correspondent. I’ll be keeping an eye out for further articles by him; I think it’s likely that I’d enjoy just about anything he writes.
I love travel. I love adventure. I love stories of remote, far-flung locations and the tribes that inhabit them. I also love the concept of mission work, and heartily give my blessings to the many people who have sacrificed their lives (sometimes literally) for the sake of sharing the Gospel with those remote peoples. However, I’m really saddened by the steady homogenization of the world, where one can now find American restaurants and clothing brands in the most unlikely places.
Not to suggest, at all, that missionaries are to blame for this, but until as recently as 25 years ago, many American missionaries were too little concerned for preserving the unique cultural heritage of the groups to whom they ministered, seeming to seek to Americanize them, as if that were analogous with Christian conversion. I am thrilled that my older boys’ hearts are stirred with the idea of mission work, and I’d be absolutely thrilled if they became penniless missionaries as adults. In conjunction with our homeschooling work (which, produced by Sonlight, has a decided bent towards missions), we’ve had many, many discussions about the idea of the delicate balance of introducing the Gospel (and helping people eliminate Godless — especially demonic) practices, yet preserving their arts and culture (which, sometimes, is tied to demonic practices). (By the way, a fantastic book which combines — I hate this word; it’s overused — cultural sensitivity, global social studies, and the Gospel is called Window on the World.)
Back to the magazine: I’ve seen National Geographic Adventure in doctors’ offices before, and recently took a free trial subscription, which I will pay (it’s only $15, after all) to continue. My interest in it, though, is likely different than most its readers. The magazine seems to target frequently-travelling childless American environmentalists who routinely drop $3-4K (or much more) per person on their off-the-beaten-path adventures, which they photograph with their $2K cameras, then come home and brag about how cool they are. That’s not me. Except the cool part. 😉
The article hit all the right spots for me. It’s about the newly-opened train route that runs from Beijing, China to Lhasa, Tibet, which the Chinese government constructed to the tune of US$4 billion. The author takes both a broad and intimate look at the people, ideas, and history involved with and along the train tracks, the majority Han Chinese, the minority Tuzu Chinese, Tibetan nationalists, city-dwellers, farmers, the young, the old, the tourists, the govenerment agencies, and his own personal ideas… In all of it, he attempts to be reasonable and balanced, and never veers into preachiness (which many of the articles in National Geographic Explorer, including the Machu Picchu cover story, devolve into). Into all of the story — which really, mostly, sounds like a travelogue-style story — he weaves accounts of his personal adventures and experiences, like getting accidentally taken in by a Chinese man and his wife after he got lost in the city of Pingyao, and the story of meeting the very unusual farming family of a secretly-nationalist Tibetan young man.
One of my favorite paragraphs/runon sentences/thoughts, reflecting on China’s economic boom:
In this, I was suddenly struck by the parallels between China’s experience and that of the United States. Obviously the two countries have taken very different paths — one laden with too much history, perhaps; the other with too little — but both have arrived at a remarkably similar juncture, a kind of collective cultural amnesia where the past is little more than a commodity, its relics preserved if they can be marketed in some way, or torn down and replaced if they can’t.
Another favorite part of the story was where Scott Anderson the foibles of trying to be a polite and gracious guest, while his hosts are plying him with stomach-turning “treats”:
Yak-butter tea is a hard taste to describe, really — an extremely oily, musky, salty consomme with hints of sour milk might come close, if that’s any help — and mindful of the first golden rule of its drinking, which holds that one should never make the mistake of letting it cool, I started out by taking great gulps in hope of just getting it over with. Unfortunately, this tactic was foiled by the young girl, yak-butter-tea termos in hand, who immediately refilled my cup each time.
Well. Anyways. The article is an absolute pleasure to read, and well worth the price of an issue.