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XI ZANG --The Tibet Autonomous
Region of China

Wandering through the main railway station in Guangzhou (Canton), China, I came upon a group of Tibetans. It was a rather cold January day and these men were dressed in their normal winter garb of furs and leather. Not being able to speak Tibetan, I asked one of them in Mandarin if they were from Tibet. He answered quickly in clear Mandarin, shi -- yes! Before I could open my mouth for another question, he ask where I was from. It was evident to anyone I was not a local boy and I stood out in this Cantonese town about a much as these fur-laden Tibetians.

I told him where I was from and he came closer and asked a question I had not expected: "Have you seen our Dalai Lama?" As I tried to tell him I had only seen him on television, he continued boldly to tell me, "We need him, we want him to come home." Such words could easily have landed the poor fellow in a lot of hot water. But he said it again and again as I looked around, hoping there were not Security Police in the area. This was all he wanted to talk about. His heart yearned for the only God he knew and he did not care who heard him. Our conversation never veered off his desire to see his Dalai Lama. He and his friends were a long way from home, apparently seeking well-paying jobs they heard were available in South China.

My desire to visit my train station pilgrim's home increased. But the times Tibet was open to foreigners never fit in with my schedule. The mystique of Tibet, known as Xi Zang in Mandarin Chinese, came to me as to most Westerners through reports by explorers, journalists and adventurers. Men from many lands have sought to travel and learn from this ancient land. The British wanted Tibet to be a buffer between their India Colony and China. The Russians wanted it to help them link up with their other Central Asian neighbors.

Books like "Out of this World" by Lowell Thomas, Jr.; "Seven Years in Tibet" by Heinrich Harrer; "When Iron Gates Yield" and "Tibetan Tales" by Geoffrey T. Bull, had long captivated me. A book of more depth like "Tibet, Its History, Religion and People" by Thubten Jigme Norbu and Colin Turnbull, continued to feed this desire to know more about the "Forbidden City of the Lamas." I nearly worn out a copy of The Lonely Planet travel survival guide by Michael Buckley and Robert Strauss, planning but never making it to the roof of the world.

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