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Globalization and Development Essays (Tibet Field Journal)

Globalization and Development

Tibet Field Journal


Though Tibet is no longer its own country, I chose to focus on it for a field journal entry because it has some unique features from the rest of China.  The fact that Tibet is somewhat isolated by mountains and politics has created an interesting atmosphere in which to observe global flows.  Some of the sharing of culture and products I recognized as dating back centuries.  Other flows seemed to be a much more modern development. 

From an early age, Tibet and Buddhism seemed one and the same to me.  When I thought about Buddhist monks, they were always from Tibet.  When I imagined Tibet, it was more a feeling of spirituality than any particular visual.  As I learned more about the world in middle school, I found it surprising that Buddhism actually originated in India.  Since the philosophy's migration to Tibet, the beliefs, art, and practices have morphed to reflect the different populations.  For example depictions of Buddha, the central figure in Buddhism, are different in India, China, and Tibet.   In a way, Tibet is an ancient importer and modern day exporter when it comes to Buddhism.

The spirit of Tibet, as it is seen in the western world, goes beyond the country's ties to Buddhism.  It is a difficult thing to articulate, lying more in connotation.  It is the feeling of peace, of beauty, or old world wisdom that one may get when talking about far away places.     A sense that they, the rural people, do things better and have the right priorities.  In a rapidly developing world, people are inclined to hold onto what they perceive as pockets of undisturbed culture.  In some ways, one of Tibet's main exports is its ability to captivate the imagination.

I found evidence of this fascination with Tibet's spirit long before I journeyed there myself.  The evidence is in the popularity of imported styles and handicrafts from Tibet.  I have seen Tibetan styles in all ranges of clothing stores from offbeat to high fashion.  My friend who loves this style of clothing cites a connection to spirituality and peace as her reason.  I had found it amazing how she saw so much sentiment in an embroidered shirt she bought from TJ Max.  Now, since learning about how inside meanings greatly effect people's perception of products, I understand.  Then there are the handicrafts imported from Tibet such as singing bowls, silver jewelry and prayer flags.  People who have no need for a quartz crystal may suddenly be glad to exchange five dollars for one if it is advertized as coming from Tibet.  I even had someone give me one such crystal in hope of healing me when I was sick.  It is the inside meaning of the crystal coming from a spiritual Tibet that made it worth so much more than a rock from the person's garden.  

Other than handicrafts, Tibet is not a large exporter of goods.  (This may change due to future mining developments).  There is little industry in Tibet with cars, toys, electronics and other items being produced elsewhere.  The exception to this is in the fabric industry.  Lhasa did have a very productive weaving factory and the products that were made there were largely exported to China, India, and other nearby countries.  

Imports in Tibet are another matter.  Developing infrastructure like airports, roads, and railways have opened up Tibet as a larger source of consumers.  They now import many kinds of vegetables, barley, wheat, beans, and rice to supplement what was previously a largely meat based diet.  Those goods are usually from the other side of the mountains in China or India. 

With the continued development of infrastructure that China brought along with its rule, movement of people is also increasing.  The direction is mostly in favor of immigration.  Many people are moving from China to Tibet to pursue economic or political opportunities.  This was a main point of contention that led to the massive 2008 protests in Tibet.  Tibetans saw this influx of Chinese immigrants as oppressive and a dilution of their culture.  The increase in tourism to Tibet was better received for its positive impact on local economies.  My tour guide said that Chinese, Americans, and Germans are especially likely to travel to Tibet. 

In my experience as part of that tourist group, I found myself looking at things from a different frame than I was used to.  In many other places I have visited on this voyage, thinking critically meant trying to discern if what I experienced was a show for tourists, or a true representation of culture (or a combination).  In Tibet, I found myself contemplating my experiences in terms of true representations versus government censorship.  I got so little of a feel for the people of Tibet.  My tour was focused on the temples and scenery.  In other words things that were obviously beautiful, things that I would go home and talk favorably about.    In the brief instances where we had a peek into people's lives, the experience was highly regulated and we were not allowed to ask questions.  For example, we were given a tour of an old woman's house but we were not allowed to talk to her or ask her questions.  Our guides told us that she has a better life now than she used to, but I have no way of knowing if that is true.  This lack of information made my efforts to look at global flows in Tibet more interesting and more challenging.  I hope that in the future, the heavy censorship will be lifted so I can know more about this beautiful country.  


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