Tibet from the Sky
My third day in Tibet was by far the worst day of my life. The night before, I had felt fine and as soon as I started to drift off into a deep sleep I couldn’t breathe. It wasn’t sort of feeling you get with a blocked nose; it was more like somebody was standing on my chest. I tried breathing as if I were playing my clarinet, but that didn’t help. The hotel luckily had oxygen for sale (any way to make money, I suppose) and so I bought some. When I’d inhale the oxygen I’d feel better and then go back to sleep. The oxygen would only last for a few minutes and so I eventually went to bed at 5AM, just one hour before we had to be ready to go to our next location. I knew I wasn’t well and so I phoned reception asking for my leader’s room number. Reception refused to give it to me as I didn’t know the name of the other person in her room. So, I had to get dressed and head to the restaurant at the hotel for breakfast just so I could speak to my leader in person. She didn’t seem too pleased with reception for not allowing me to get in touch with her. The walk to the restaurant felt like I had just sprinted an entire marathon; I even sounded like I had just ran one, too. Even my heart was pounding at the rate of Olympian after a race. I could hardly talk due to the lack of oxygen and I all I wanted to do was be put on a plane to Shanghai to meet up with the ship.
I basically spent that day in my room watching the news, Japan’s MTV (complete with a Japanese Justin Bieber) and writing postcards (as well as getting free mango sorbet from the hotel). I watched a bit of CNN (it was one of the few channels in English) and found that they had labelled South Korea as North Korea, and so I changed the channel. I found the BBC and watched the news, which happened to be presented by an American (?). And so I then fell asleep until lunch time.
At lunch there was a buffet and it looked delicious, though my body didn’t seem to think so. I at least had some fruit, tea and chips to hold me over until dinner. I missed dinner because of my nap and so I went to the hotel’s restaurant and ordered some fruit and sorbet. They never charged me for all of this food, so I’d say it was a good meal! I was joined by several other students who had experienced the same misfortune as me. So, I spent my evening catching up on Top Gear, Hamish & Andy, the news and Skype. It was very relaxing, especially after my near-death experience. I’m rather certain that Death was sitting in the chair beside my bed laughing at me as he waited to take my soul. I really could’ve used Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility at that moment (you can get them on Amazon now, apparently). The entire night was absolutely terrifying, especially since I hadn’t a phone nor anyone to go to. I really thought I’d be blogging about a Tibetan hospital or from beyond the grave.
What is important is that I didn’t die and that I was able to type this entry.
I had heard many good things about the Potala Palace from a religion class I had taken a few years back and have always wanted to see it. Our guide informed us that it would be roughly 500 steps to the top, and therefore we could take our time as we were still adjusting to the altitude. Many grew nauseous, but I was fine. Visitors were not permitted to bring their own beverages or food into the Palace and so I had to fork over about 10 cents for a refreshing bottle of juice. Because it was so cheap (and delicious) I decided to buy some more.
Once my group had made it to the top we explored the different rooms of the former Dalai Lamas. One thing I remember most about the palace was the smell. It smelled like a giant incense shop that sold antiques. The scarf I was given by my guide as a welcoming gift to Tibet still smells like the Potala Palace.
Bank notes (my personal favourite was a faux ‘$44’ note with Obama on it) littered the floors of the galleries as offerings and the sound of Justin Bieber echoed throughout the palace. Yes, Justin Bieber. Even the remoteness of Tibet is not powerful enough to prevent the plague of Bieber-Fever. Hearing Justin Bieber sing about babies was just as bad as herpes. I’ve personally never had herpes, but I imagine it’s just as bad. Just imagine yourself looking at this beautiful Seventeeth-Century work of art and having Justin Bieber’s sick all over it. That’s what it was like. Hearing Justin Bieber throughout the Potala Palace was like showing up to Church and blaring ‘Hersey’ by Nine Inch Nails. Justin Bieber, if you are reading this, just be aware that you have not only ruined my visit to Tibet, but you have also done the same for everyone who was at the Potala Palace that day. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
Anyway, at the Potala Palace we were firmly told to basically not ask questions because if we did, it was likely we’d be sent to prison. One of the students in my group was taking notes of what the guide was saying and noticed a man following her. We had been warned that officials often dress in civilian clothing and to mindful of what we said. It turned out that the man following this student was involved somehow with the government and was watching what she was saying as she took notes. Later on a security guard began following her. I do wish I had taken in my notebook to take notes, but my instinct told me not to and I’m quite relieved that I didn’t as I probably would’ve said something would have landed me in a gaol cell with someone called ‘Bertha’. Because Tibet is 15,000 feet above sea level, we were given the rest of the day to rest, thus, the visit to the Potala Palace concluded my day.