In 2005, I went out of the country for the first time. I was a precocious 12-year-old, out to see the world. My parents are incredible people who believe that the best way to learn about a culture and a people are to experience them, and I totally agree. We traveled to the incredible country of China. Starting in Beijing, I discovered with wide eyes other parts of the world. Throughout the three week trip, I learned to sample new foods and new experiences. But the part of the trip that changed me the most, the part that has stayed constantly in my thoughts up till my current age of seventeen, was Tibet. I understood communism to a certain degree; you do actually learn these things in school. But I had no idea how it affected and shaped people’s very lives.
Most of Tibet was and is Buddhist. I knew very little about the religion at the time, and was ignorant to how it affected their lives. I myself am a Christian, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It has shaped me into who I am today, and the same applies to the Tibetans that are or were Buddhists. Upon first arrival, we met our Tibetan guide, Mr. Ting. Even to me, an unobservant 12-year-old, the friction between him and our Chinese guide was immediately apparent, though I knew them both to be men of a kind and patient nature. This is what communism has done to relationships. These men disliked each other for no other reason than the fact that they had different beliefs, and both believing they were in the right. The thing that bothered me the most about this was that it had no relevance to what they were discussing as our guides, yet they disliked each other in a way that was apparent even when they spoke foreign languages.
Once in Lhasa, Tibet, my breath was taken away by the ruggedly beautiful landscape around me. Nestled into a nearby mountain was Potala Palace, home of the Dali Lama. Its red roofs and white and brown walls fit the scene so perfectly that it was impossible to imagine it without it. In my many years since, I have traveled most of our planet, and no intricately gold-leafed or modern palace has held comparable beauty. While in Lhasa I visited many monasteries, and the serene setting with the red-robed monks and nuns never ceased to awe me.
When I came to the realization of the fact that the Chinese government, whose people I had come to love, threatened these peoples’ very identities, I experienced true sorrow. Although many years have passed, my love for the Tibetans I met and engaged with, even though only over three short days of my life, have never weakened. The effort these people put into becoming one with love, harmony, and nature, to live a fruitful life represented by their hard work and gathered wisdom, has touched me forever. When I contemplate losing the right to practice my own religion, I am overcome with immeasurable sorrow by the mere thought.
I admire these people for their will to continue on, despite the odds thrown at them. I will never forget the trip that inspired me to connect with the people of every walk of life I have encountered. From Zimbabwe to France, Canada to Switzerland, I always have carried in my heart the memory of this trip. I hope to acquire the traits of love and kindness those people showed to me, a little 12-year-old American girl.
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