Though a holy Buhdist place, it is not really peaceful. The population is about half Tibetan, half Han Chinese, with a spatter of Hui. They do not always coexist peacefully. The three races all occupy separate sections of town and rarely mingle. The Tibetans often refuse to speak Chinese and few Han know Tibetan, even though they migrated to Tibet from the east. During the 2008 uprising, Xiahe was a major center for the riots. The area often closes to foreigners due to rising tensions, especially in march.
I arrived in Xiahe after dark and wandered my way through town to the Tibetan quarter. It was too dark to read any signs and the sidewalk was being repaved for the entire length of the street. Suddenly the businesses ended and I was at Labrang; I had gone too far. I turned around and entered the first open business i could find.
I walked in, it looked like a hotel, but I couldn't tell. The Tibetan man at the desk did not say hello like most English speakers when seeing a Westerner; he just stared. My Chinese is terrible, my Tibetan is even worse.
"Tashi dele." I said, exhausing my vocabulary, then made a sleeping gesture and pointed to the ground. He stared back. I did the gesture again and he stared back at me in annoyed silence. Finally, I did it a third time and he finally spoke.
"Well, don't you speak English?" he said with only a slight accent.
"Oh yeah, I'm from the US. Is this a hostel?"
"What else would it be?" He was either angry or excessively dry. I went for the former, dry sarchastic humor is often lost in China. "What was with your ridiculous gestures?"
"I don't speak Tibetan."
"Well, we always speak English here."
He showed me to my room, which was the cheapest I've seen yet in China, only 10 quai or $1.50 a night. There were 12 beds with a pilgrim in each.
"Is this room ok?"
"Yeah, looks fine."
He looked at me blankly.
"You look surprised."
"I am. You don't seem like somebody who'd like such a room." I really think I made a terrible impression on the guy.
"My name is Aaron," I reached out my hand. "What's yours?"
"I'll write it down. It's hard for westerners to say." He wrote his name on a scratch paper, "Tserang"
"Tserang?" I said.
"Exactly right!" He finally smiled. "I'm about to sit down for dinner, come join me."
"Sure, let me drop all this weight."
"I'll see you upstairs soon."
I dropped my bags on my bed and started organizing a few items, took out my towel to dry. Suddenly, a handsome Tibetan man was standing right next to me, looking right over my shoulder.
"Hello! How are you?" He asked me with a big smile.
"Good, how are you?" I replied.
He stared back blankly for a moment before saying again, "Hello! How are you?"
"Tashi dele! Hello, how are you?"
"Are you the Dalai Lama?" He asked with a smile.
"No, I am not the Dalai Lama. Do I look like the Dalai Lama?" I then covered my hair and mimicked glasses.
He stared back at me silent for a moment before saying, "Hello! How are you?"