Wandering Spirits 

Wandering Spirits

Washington Post, Sunday, December 5, 1999; Page X07

The Tibetans, by Art Perry (Viking Studio, $35). "I had a terrible headache," the Canadian photographer-author says of his visit with Tibetan nomads. "On the Chang Tang Plateau it is common for the Himalayan height to push Western visitors to dangerous states of pulmonary and cerebral edema. . . . My brain was about to burst, and I could see myself as a future figure of nomadic folklore -- the Westerner whose head exploded." The nomads worried to see him lying motionless, but a sudden snowstorm on the desert shifted their priorities. They ran from their tents with tea urns, pots and old oil drums abandoned by the Chinese army, and filled them to overflowing with soft, loose snow. Later, a ginger, garlic and melted snow broth with flakes of dried yak meat, and the prayers of a shaman, eased his aching head.

In Lhasa, the author shares vivid, passionate descriptions of the imprint of an invasive Chinese culture: the destruction of historic architecture, the proliferation of non-Tibetan stalls hawking "ugly Asian rip-offs of American products," "joyless and cruel" merchants selling half-dead catfish and half-feathered chickens, and garish Chinese brothels.

He describes the Khampas of eastern Tibet who, in the face of public executions by Chinese troops, train themselves in commando warfare, no longer believing like most Tibetans that compassion alone can win over evil.

His photos of Lhasa are striking. The words and pictures tell of a time and place apart from global culture, compelling in beauty. Perry asks that the hardships of the Tibetan people not be trivialized, that the picturesque not overshadow the difficulties. The sheer humanity in Perry's photos evokes that respect. --M.M.

WTN-L World Tibet Network News