With love

 Yushu, Qinghai, China 玉树

My visit to Greater Tibet was extended to twice as much as I had originally planned for, in anticipation of the Tibetan horse racing festival in Yushu. It’s hilarious (and a little disappointing, but mostly just hilarious) then that I went for five days and missed all of the horse racing, due to the lack of a written schedule and multiple venues. No regrets though! That Garzê detour would not have happened otherwise.

I was received in Yushu (trad. 玉樹, Tibetan: Jyekundo) and Xining by pastors and members of a loose affiliation of churches whose ministry my dad supports through Partners International. (For my previous entry on ministry in Xi’an, click here.) This group of unsanctioned, “underground” churches, based primarily in Qinghai province 青海, supports mostly ethnic minorities of China, although their reach has now widened to virtually all corners of China along with parts of Nepal and northern India. Given that most of Qinghai is considered the Amdo region of Greater Tibet, it’s no surprise that Tibetans are by far the largest group they support, although they also have outreach to Hui people and the majority Han. Their mission is simply to bring the church to areas it hasn’t been, pointedly picking empty-looking places on a map where no churches exist.

But this brings to question: given Tibet’s history of forced cultural change and repression at the hands of the Chinese government, having suffered irreparable harm, where does Christianity fit in? And given that Tibetans (Buddhist) and Hui (Muslim) are both ethnoreligious groups (like Jewish people, you could sort of say), how could you possible spread a different faith to them? Despite what you often see in the United States, Christianity considers itself counter-cultural. I’d say never more so than in this case.
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 Garzê, Sichuan, China  དཀར་མཛེས་

Tibet isn’t just the Chinese province of Tibet. Despite having parts annexed into other provinces, Tibetan culture is still well and alive in Sichuan and Qinghai, where Tibetan-majority autonomous areas exist — in some ways, you could say it’s even more Tibet than Tibet.

Garzê (Chinese: Ganzi 甘孜) is probably one of the more famous areas, with domestic and foreign tourists (often those who can’t enter Tibet) alike, but even then it’s hardly a hotspot, with its somewhat remote location in the far west of Sichuan 四川 province. Eschewing any further package tours from Lhasa, few to none of which stop in Garzê, I chose to head to Garzê the local way: wait six hours for a share taxi, then sit for 40 more hours (of Tibetan pop and rap, Bon Jovi, that Vengabus song from the 90s, Bollywood music, and Tibetan covers of western music) as it heads through beautiful but gruelling roads that don’t even exist on the map, crossing rivers, pushing the car up muddy slopes, sleeping in the car as drivers alternate and continue through the night. Everyone was so tired the second night that we gave up and stopped at a guesthouse for all of seven hours.

We were split into a two-car caravan, with Sonam driving the car I was in, along with his wife and two kids. Being stuck in a car together with people you don’t know for three days makes for either massive awkwardness or a quick friendship — and luckily, the latter happened. His young children were remarkably patient and well-behaved (or just sleepy) in a very bumpy and long car ride, and I got to know them a bit — Sonam’s from the Garzê area, his wife Wamu from Shigatse where they live, and they’re heading over to visit his family.
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