Maybe the Chinese just enjoy having scale models
August 20, 2006 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Google mislays Tibet. Tech news site The Register uses Google Earth to do a virtual flyover of Tibet Tibet Autonomous Region. They see lots of neat stuff, including railways, bridges, and the (former) Northwest Nuclear Weapons Research & Design Academy. Among other things.
posted by Drunken_munky (23 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry, the writing isn't very good in the Register article, I'm afraid. But the pictures are fun.
posted by Drunken_munky at 1:00 PM on August 20, 2006

The last link really is amazing - I'm not really sure I believe this, or if it might be a joke by some Google employee. I mean - what's the point? The explanation they offer in the article isn't plausible. Any more on this?
posted by uncle harold at 1:06 PM on August 20, 2006

posted by riotgrrl69 at 1:17 PM on August 20, 2006

Man, this is, like, bullshit! Tibet is living under oppression and shit!
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:06 PM on August 20, 2006

Interesting post Drunken_munky. Enjoyed the pictures of the train construction. This piece of elevated track is good looking, very modern-looking for Tibet.

Having lived with and around Tibetans for 6 years, learned their language and studied Buddhism with a number of Tibetan teachers in India, I'm of the opinion that modernisation and cultural integration is extremely important for the Tibetan people in and out of Tibet. Their old feudal culture was, for many centuries, seriously unhealthy and deeply backward for most of the population. A Middle Ages lifestyle simply isn't viable today, outside of a country that had most of the male population in monasteries, had a dynastic theocracy as a government, didn't use the wheel and in which the word for female translates as "inferior birth".

Being a Tibetan nomad or Medieval village peasant is no longer a cultural option for most Tibetans these days. Much of what is left of Tibetan culture now is the residue of the Tibetan monastic tradition: art, dance, religious texts connected with Tibetan Buddhism.

The second generation Tibetan refugees now living in India really aren't interested in the olde time religion of the lamas. There is, naturally, popular cultural pride in their national culture and traditions but most of the, almost always, illiterate non-ordained older population, who stuck with living out the old ways, really don't intellectually comprehend Buddhist philosophy and say mantras or "their prayers" automatically, without understanding the Buddhist philosophy behind their daily routines.

Now, with this advent of tourism to Lhasa and other parts of Tibet it will be interesting to see what becomes of Tibetan culture, what remains and what is discarded.

I'm quite intrigued by the mysterious Aksai Chin Google images. I lived for four years near there, in Manali, just across the mountain range from Spiti, where I went trekking.

Since the Chinese stole that part of India in 1962, it wouldn't surprise me that something militarily fishy were going on in that neck of the woods.

Here is KenGrok's blog about his finding the images on Google.
posted by nickyskye at 2:09 PM on August 20, 2006 [2 favorites]

Previously (sort of) on Ask.
posted by grabbingsand at 2:47 PM on August 20, 2006

You just have amazing links homonculus! Thanks.

That one about TibTec is so interesting. YAYY Tibetans coming into the present century. Couldn't believe my eyes to see a protest against Google going on in front of the old Nowrojee store at the McLeod Ganj, Dharmsala, bus stop, which is a block away from the Dalai Lama's "palace" there. Colonial India and feudal Tibet meets 2006. Love time warp stuff like this too, a Tibetan guy putting up solar panels on a traditional Himlayan slate roof for the Tibetan Technology Center’s antenna installation.
posted by nickyskye at 3:09 PM on August 20, 2006

*meet 2006
posted by nickyskye at 4:07 PM on August 20, 2006

I think (but I'm not sure) that the "huangyangtan mystery" shown in the Register link was originally posted on Google Sightseeing, which is a fine blog.
posted by ducksauce at 4:09 PM on August 20, 2006

"The reincarnation of the Panchen Lama has been regulated since the Qing dynasty, that is, since the 17th century."
Der Spiegel interviews the Communist Party Chief of Tibet. [via Political Theory Daily Review]
posted by trinarian at 4:22 PM on August 20, 2006

So when the Chinese invade you they build world-class highways and railroads? Is there any way we can get them to invade New Orleans?
posted by localroger at 4:40 PM on August 20, 2006

But I ask you, other than the railways, the freeways, the connection to a world super power, the schools and the removal of feudal rule what have the Chinese ever done for us?
posted by sien at 5:07 PM on August 20, 2006

Good one!

While we're doing Tibet, here's the very recent NPR 4-parter, Hacking the Himalayas about Wi-Fi exploits in Dharmshala. (Dupe? sorry?)

posted by Twang at 7:55 PM on August 20, 2006

nickyskye: Indeed, the photo here is fascinating on so many different levels that I don't know where to begin.

I'll begin with the background first. It has all the things I love about Indian rural scenes, tiled houses, dirt tracks, and our apparent penchant for filling up every available space with some sort of a writing, newspapers being advertised here in three languages, English, Hindi and Punjabi / Gurmukhi.

As a third-gen post-colonial Indian, I'm particularly struck by the fact that, (except for the fact that one hoarding isn't hand-painted), there is nothing binding the setting with contemporary times; the Tribune, as the photo shows, was established in 1888. Even the Hindi newspapers there, the Dainik Jagran, for example, were established well before Independence.

The protests, however, in front are complaining of a clearly 21st century grudge, and are using a (rather clever, I thought) cold-war pun; you really can't make sense of their banners unless you're aware of the erstwhile Soviet Union, and its penchant for torturing its citizens.

And yet, (and I say this with no real knowledge of the ex-pat Tibetan experience in India) you can't help but notice the subtle irony; they're protesting international censorship in front of what appears to be a thriving, uncensored newspaper business!
posted by the cydonian at 9:30 PM on August 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

the cydonian, that's exactly the photo I liked the best. I love it for just the reasons you articulated so well. Just looked up the Gurmukhi alphabet and I guess it must be the dark blue sign on the left.

Having lived in New Delhi in 1984 through Operation Bluestar, I wouldn't say there wasn't censorship in Indian newspapers. At that time I worked very briefly as a French/Punjabi translator for a journalist with Le Monde and it was scary. There was a fair amount of censorship under Indira Gandhi. I don't know how things are now in India.

That photo prompted me to Google what the hell those Tibetans were protesting and I see now, they were right to speak up. They chose to hold the protest at the bus stand where all the foreigners arrive, when they come to visit the Dalai Lama, so it's probably the best place to do something like that. It just seemed like an amazing combination of cultures and times in one image.

It looks like the Chinese government is out to delete Tibet from common knowledge, from the map even...that seems oppressive and malignant. And it would seem that Google is aiding and abetting this wrongdoing.
posted by nickyskye at 10:43 PM on August 20, 2006

...that seems oppressive and malignant.

Hmm, I'd say that's a pretty good description of China in general.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:08 AM on August 21, 2006


That's why I said I had no real knowledge of the ex-pat Tibetan experience. Were you subject to, say, government minders and stuff in 1984? Was it because you were representing an international paper, perhaps, or were Indian journalists also subject to the same kind of minders?

Just being curious here; unfortunately, and I say this more as a criticism of the academia and less in politico-ideological terms, there's very little analysis you get on contemporary Indian history.

(Personally though, I've always believed that the longer a certain medium exists in India, the freer it gets from governmental supervision. Wholly different debate, though.)
posted by the cydonian at 2:57 AM on August 21, 2006

there's very little analysis you get on contemporary Indian history

Good point.

Hi the cydonian, Yes, I was subject to "minders", as were many foreigners, especially ones who lived long term in India. Never heard it called that. Indians thought it suspicious because I spoke Tibetan. Indians and Tibetan weren't socialising well in those days. Neither liked each other especially. Too many cultural differences. Some based around the Tibetan love of eating beef and their traditional abhorrence of taking showers (Tibet was so cold and high up they took baths once a year and this doesn't work in India).

The Tibetans thought I worked for the Indian government because I spoke Hindi.

Just to clarify, I wasn't representing Le Monde, I was hired as an interpreter by the journalist from Le Monde to translate for him spoken interviews, from Punjabi into French.

A lot of political agitation happened that year in India, two years actually, in 1984 and 1985. It was a very chaotic time, a lot was going down in the Punjab and Delhi with the KGB, CIA, the CBI and the CID: the Russians had invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Afghani refugees were coming into India; cheap heroin (then called brown sugar) was being introduced into India by the Afghani refugees, who had made the heroin in Pakistan to undermine the Russian Army. The middle class Afghani refugees were not given work permits in India and resorted to drug dealing to survive. There was the Iran/Iraq war going on with Irani refugees coming into India too...then, on top of that mess, there was the whole Sikh/Hindu conflict that year, the "Punjab Crisis".

All newspapers were censored then, including the ancient Times of India. I know this because I witnessed events that were censored in the Indian papers with my own eyes, as did countless other people. Information about that time has come out slowly with bloggers or journalists gradually relating the traumatic events that occurred then.

A movie was released in 2005 about the Punjab Crisis and the impact, Amu, directed by Shonali Bose: Simultaneous actions were taken throughout Punjab, including the military occupation of various gurdwaras, extensive curfews and a total censorship of the press. Due to this censorship, casualties are difficult to estimate though numbers range from one thousand to eight thousand deaths in the Golden Temple complex alone. This operation was not an isolated event but continued to impact daily life for Punjabis afterwards through daily dawn-to-dusk curfews, censorship and dissolution of Punjabi state legislative authority. On October 31st, 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards.
posted by nickyskye at 9:51 AM on August 21, 2006

*translate spoken interviews for him, from Punjabi into French.

yikes, just thinking about interpreting and my English goes down the tubes.
posted by nickyskye at 12:09 PM on August 21, 2006

This post is a total derail from Tibet, but heck, that was real illuminating!

First, about censorship in Indian media; you see, we (meaning, opinionated people from my generation) somehow have this notion that we're now beyond outright censorship in the press at least; it's interesting to learn that this wasn't (isn't?) always the case.

(Most middle-class Indians would, of course, talk about how Indian babu-dom somehow distinguishes between 'normal' areas, and 'sensitive' / 'hyper-sensitive' areas, with the latter having a more restrictive set of laws; Punjab till '92 would have been 'hyper-sensitive', and hence more authoritarian.)

I've read accounts of Blue Star from three sides involved (the Congress, the Khalistanis, and, one from a reputable police officer of Sikh descent), but it's insightful to consider an international angle to the events that happened during those years.

You know, you're right, back then, Delhi had quite a few refugees from Afghanistan, and certainly from Iran; as I recall (this was '87), there was an Iranian family living very close to my grandparents' house in suburban Delhi. I was five years old then, but I still remember wondering why they lived in a (what was clearly unauthorized) converted garage, and why the kids' mom was always in a foul mood when she saw us kids playing in the lawn.

This was confusing for me for more reasons than one; you see, my dad was in the opposite boat:- back in those days, like so many other South Asian professionals, he was in Iran, chasing those petro-dollars.

Then there's this story of a Hindu Afghani lady, that a friend knew from his time in Delhi. The lady emigrated to Delhi during those chaotic years; speaking only fluent Pashtun and nothing else, she felt completely out of place in Delhi, and despite all the apparent persecution, longed for her native town, Kabul.

And you wonder:- despite everything, an identity is ultimately such a fluid and personal thing. After all, centuries ago, as a Wikipedia article quaintly puts it, the ancient Chinese monk, Xuan Zang had "considered himself to have reached India" on arriving somewhere near modern Kabul.
posted by the cydonian at 3:53 AM on August 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

hi again the cydonian. Since censorship/deletion/misinformation is the point of this post, I think it's fair to discuss censorship of other media too.

I had my suspicions Google would lose its integrity as it expanded and what they're doing re their China info is an expression of this.

Recently India temporarily shut its ISPs/blogs down after the Mumbai bombings. It's disturbing when people are silenced or information is tampered with for political or whatever reasons.

During Indira Gandhi's "Emergency" rule in the early-mid 1970's, there was a lot of censorship in India...all the way to her assasination. I left India at the end of 1985 and don't know how it's been since, except for the spectacular internet expansion and the whole South India web biz boom.

That's so interesting about your father being in Iran when Iranis were coming to India as refugees. Most of South Asia never felt so harshly dilineated in terms of countries to me. The borders used to be much more fluid. But that's not the case these days, is it?

Thank you for that nice gift of information about Xuanzang. I knew nothing about him before. As it turns out he and I travelled many of the same routes/to the same places in India/Pakistan/Afghanistan. Wish I'd travelled to the places he did in China. Thank you.
posted by nickyskye at 8:40 PM on August 22, 2006

*assassination, *Iranians, *delineated.
posted by nickyskye at 10:47 AM on September 16, 2006

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