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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Dispatch from Lhasa

October 13, 2008

Tibet Day 1: Richly Ceremonial
By Becca Heaton
Daily Camera
October 8, 2008

Editor's note: After stopping in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, to present the
city with the gift of a cybercafe, Boulder Mayor Shaun McGrath, and
his wife, Becca Heaton, have moved on to another sister city, Lhasa,
Tibet. They've been joined there by City Councilwoman Suzy Ageton.
The Camera will be running dispatches from their trip over the next
several days. The city of Boulder is paying the travel expenses to
the sister cities for McGrath and Ageton. This dispatch describes the
delegation's arrival on Oct. 4.

Our delegation arrived in Lhasa today and was warmly greeted at the
airport by the deputy mayor (one of 11 deputy mayors) and numerous
officials. We participated in two wonderful traditions that bring good luck.

The first was to take a pinch -- three times -- of what we discovered
to be barley flour or "tsampa" and flick it over our right shoulder
three times. Next, we dipped our right ring finger in a metal bowl of
barley wine, or "chang," three times, each time flicking the water
over our right shoulder.

We were also greeted with white silk "khata" scarves being draped
around our necks. It was wonderful.

As we walked to our cars, a number of people in traditional dress
held a welcoming banner for us.

We then drove to the hotel (about an hour from the airport). It's
quite a stunning property, only 8-months old. It's called the
Brahmaputra Hotel, and it's the only 5-Star property in all of Tibet.
We are being treated like royalty.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted with singing and dancing "yaks"
(two people in a yak costume). We went through the same traditions of
the barley flour and wine, as well as received another khata. The
stairs to the hotel were lined on either side with clapping and
singing people. Inside the lobby, a group of about nine performers
sang traditional Tibetan folk songs. It was a blend of chanting and
singing, quite beautiful.

We relaxed all afternoon to adjust to the altitude and then sat down
to a light dinner.

The staff are so incredibly helpful, making sure we're all feeling
all right and not overdoing it. We've definitely been feeling the
12,000 feet, but so far everyone in the group is doing well, drinking
lots of water. We're Coloradoans, so we know all about that.

We finished our evening nibbling on fruit and drinking Tibetan sweet
tea. Now it's time for sleep. Tomorrow, we'll tour some sites around the city.

Day 2: Shaking Things Up
By Becca Heaton
October 10, 2008

The Camera will be running dispatches from their trip over the next
several days. The city of Boulder is paying the travel expenses to
the sister cities for McGrath and Ageton.

This dispatch describes the delegation's adventures on Oct. 5.

I'll jump right to the chase: We experienced the shocks from an
earthquake today and are on guard for further aftershocks. The quake
occurred this afternoon about 100 kilometers from Lhasa and
registered 6.6 on the Richter scale. Pretty crazy! This evening while
at dinner at our hotel, we experienced another aftershock and
everyone made their way outside. Not sure if we'll experience any
others tonight, but we know where the emergency stairs are, so we'll
have our coats ready.

Our day started at the Solar Power Utilization Research Institution
of the Tibet Autonomous Region, where we learned about all of the
cool solar programs being done throughout Tibet. One very interesting
angle was portable solar "cookers" that people in mountains and
herdsmen are using to heat water.

Basically, it's two solar panels with a little "stand" in the middle
to place a pot on. We were told there are more than 250,000 in use
around Tibet. Our delegation expressed interest in possibly working
on some joint programs with Boulder and Lhasa on solar.

Next, we visited a vegetable project in Duilongdeqing County, which
was very interesting. The project entailed individual greenhouses,
each run by a family. Each family grows one vegetable a season, for
example peppers, tomatoes, melons. The produce is sold at markets and
the families get the full payment. It's a very successful government
program that has allowed many rural people to make a decent income
(about $1,500!).

It's definitely a challenge to grow produce in Lhasa as well as
around Tibet because of the higher altitude, so these greenhouses
have been very successful.

After lunch, we visited the Lhasa City Hospital to view their
facility. They are definitely trying to modernize, but the hospital
still pales in comparison to our hospitals. During our meeting there,
the earthquake happened, so they were bringing all kinds of patients
out into the main courtyard. It was a bit freaky but all are well and
safe. Our next stop was the Kungshon Language School, which teaches
kids ages 2 to 6 Chinese, Tibetan and English. We were greeted by the
children draping khata scarves over our necks followed by a truly
adorable show of different performances. The kids were so cute in
their little costumes!

So now we all hope for a good night's sleep, although we're all
anticipating the possibility of another aftershock. Gulp!a

Tibet Day 3: Wetlands, markets and culture
By Becca Heaton
October 10, 2008

The Camera will be running dispatches from their trip over the next
several days. The city of Boulder is paying the travel expenses to
the sister cities for McGrath.

This dispatch describes the delegation's adventures on Oct. 6.

A fter yesterday's shaking and quaking -- literally -- we all had a
good night's sleep with no more aftershocks from the earthquake. We
heard varying reports of damage and injuries; the media report one
thing, while the government reports something else. There were
numerous deaths and much structural damage in remote areas, but we're
unsure as to the specific details.

On Thursday, we are scheduled to visit Dumshung County, where the
earthquake hit harder, but so far no word on whether that day trip
will be canceled or not. The government will keep us posted.

Our day began with a visit to the Lhalu Wetland Environment
Protection Project, where we met with the director and talked about
environmental protection and wildlife. We were all impressed by how
forward-thinking Lhasa is about the environment.

Dubbed the "Lung of Lhasa", the wetland is a major ecological
landscape, as well as a rare gene bank of high altitude wildlife and plants.

We also had a chance to visit Barkor Street, the marketplace
surrounding the Jokang Temple, where we put our bartering skills the
test. Barkor is alley upon alley and shop upon shop of Chinese and
Tibetan jewelry, antiques, artwork and more. It's pretty overwhelming
but a lot of fun, particularly for people watching and blending in
with tourists and locals.

Our final official visit was to Tibet University, where we toured the
new campus and library that opened two years ago. The library houses
Buddhist scriptures that go back 1,000 years. It was truly special and unique.

Our day concluded with a wonderful performance of Tibetan folk music
and dance. Afterwards, we discussed the possibility of a cultural
exchange with the director of Lhasa Music and Arts to bring the
performers to Boulder. The performance made us all appreciate the
rich history in Tibet and how the songs and dances have been
performed for generations.

How can we reciprocate in Boulder when a Lhasa delegation visits next
year hopefully? We're working on figuring that out!

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