At dusk I stand on a tall mountain
And see the railroad that has been built to my homeland
Huge dragon after huge dragon cross the mountains
Bringing peace and health to the snowy plateau
It is a miraculous heavenly road
Bringing the warmth of the human world to the frontier
From now on, the mountains are no longer high, and the road is no longer endless
The sons and daughters of every race joyously assemble under the same roof
The preceding is an excerpt from the song Heavenly Road (天路), a song sung in Chinese set to Tibetan style music about the Beijing-Lhasa railway. It is likely the current most popular propaganda song in China (by far surpassing Dao Lang’s “Salaam Chairman Mao”), and also the single song I hate most in the world. I hate it so because unfortunately I used to be pretty into it, owing to the frequency with which I heard it, until the one day I bothered to pay attention to the lyrics, which I’ve pasted in totality at the bottom of this post for the curious. Aside from the fact that it’s hilariously ridiculous to think that prop-pop is actually an acceptable art form in China, the song’s popularity highlights the attitudes most Chinese have toward Tibetans: that they are griping benefactors of the goodness of the Han. I’ll go into this topic in depth in the post that continues this one.
Aside the hundreds of times I’ve heard the first lines of this song as a ring tone on this trip, I was graced to hear a group of vacationing cyclists from Liaoning wearing matching red long spandex uniforms singing it boisterously within eyesight of the miraculous railroad on the northern bank of Lake Qinghai. Beside the fact that these were some real chumps (like most of the vacationers making a circuit of the lake), their shameless rendition reminded me that we were on our way out of traditional Tibet and headed back into the hard world of Northern China. (more…)
Now, after over ten months of munching away the dry bottom layers, we have finally arrived at the icing on the cake of our adventure: Qinghai. This, the fourth largest territorial unit in the empire and birthplace of the current Dalai Lama, embodies nearly every reason we undertook this colossal ride: pristine natural beauty, life highly unadulterated by the worst parts of modernity, and for once, healthy resistance to mainstream ideology. The green, spacious province was also the intended target for my China ride in 2007. Thankfully, however, a grocery store clerk and hobby cyclist outside of Chengdu managed to convince me that my friend and I were unfit and underprepared for biking of that order.
Truly in 2007 I was in no way ready for this territory on my folding Dahon without camping supplies, warm clothes, or bike tools (I didn’t even carry any chain oil!), and so I probably owe my life to that grocery store clerk I found riding outside of Chengdu. This time around, however, we’ve built the entire trip — endurance, equipment, etc. — around our eventual arrival here in the northeastern corner of the Tibetan plateau, the challenges of which we have met in stride. This, of course, flies in the face of nearly every Han we told of our eventual arrival here. The vast majority was convinced we’d meet with something between certain doom and probable vexation in the territory of the rowdy, lawless Tibetans. In the end, they were right about the trouble, but completely off base on where it would come from. (more…)