6 November 2015
The town of Xiahe, in one of the four Tibetan regions of China, has been the most memorable part of my cross-cultural. Only accessible by winding, rarely paved roads, Xiahe (Shah huh) is set back in the ridged steep mountains covered with auburn leaves and evergreen trees. The culture alone was completely different from anything I had ever been engulfed in: monks wandering together in their deep red robes, chanting prayers under their breaths as their hands slid up and down their beaded necklaces; children running through the streets in animal fur, cheeks red from the brisk wind; the sidewalk covered with merchants selling wool, cashmere, and trinkets; not a single building over three stories. The ruralness of the region had me thinking about my home in the mountains, but the people and buildings looked like how I envisioned a foreign mountain town.
When visiting Xiahe, we travelled to a 2,000-year-old village set in the middle of the most beautiful grassland I had ever witnessed. After climbing the ancient city wall I could look out and see where civilization met untouched nature. I didn’t see anything that was westernized and, for the first time in China, I had seen something entirely self-sustainable set in a few acres. The farmers used their bare hands to plant and harvest their crops. The shepherds walked with their flocks of sheep up and down the grasslands and through the small village. The most profound thing I saw was smiling children playing with each other and a sense of community that was set far beyond the reaches of a big city.
After spending a day in the grasslands, feeling the spirit of the land and the people, the owner of our hotel, an ethnic Tibetan, gave us a personal testimony about the suppression he and his people had gone through culturally and individually. When reflecting on the conversation, I found a lot of questions coming to mind about the country I was spending three and a half months in. Why do people in the West not know about the difficulties these people endure? What could China possibly gain by suppressing a minority in a mountainous region when they are one of the most powerful countries in the world?
For me, the Tibetan plateau raised more questions than answers, but there is no denying the inherent beauty of the people who live there. Visiting Xiahe was an amazing experience.