This is chapter 26 from my memoir 9 Months in Tibet. If you click on the thing above you can hear me reading it — it takes less that four minutes — or you can read the text below (or you can go back to what you were doing before). As always, I’d really appreciate a comment (below) even if you think it’s pure, unmitigated, self-obsessed bullshit.
As if in a dream I got off the bus in the outskirts and walked into Lhasa. I had started to get used to life in the wilderness and coming back to a big town felt alien. I felt real appreciation for what we normally take for granted: food, running water and a bed. My top priority was food: I hadn’t had a proper meal in a week and the thought made my mouth water.
Many months before I had heard about Jill Kluge, a girl from England who worked in Hong Kong and had just got a job at the new Holiday Inn in Lhasa – a big, white, American looking spread called Lhasa Hotel. I stood outside it, wondering if they would let me in considering that I hadn’t washed in a week, was covered in dust and had the hairdo and beard of a tramp. There were scores of Toyota Landcruisers and smart minibuses in front of the hotel and to my surprise nobody challenged me when I wandered in and stood in the lobby, gaping. The guests all looked smart and wealthy and some wore trekking gear as if they were heading into the mountains, but their boots and trousers looked brand new and unused. I asked about Jill Kluge who was, to my surprise, in the hotel. She was running the restaurant and seemed delighted to meet a fellow Brit. She bought me a Yak Burger with all the trimmings. As my taste buds were running wild with new sensations, we talked:
– You know where I found your name? I asked
– In Vienna. I was working on a restoration project in a historic building which had been emptied out. One day I explored the palace and found an empty office. There was a telephone in the room and to my surprise it had a dialling tone. I immediately thought who can I call? and I remembered Matthew.
– How do you know Matthew?
– I don’t. My brother Kim was at school with him at the Edinburgh Academy and he gave me his number in Hong Kong.
– You called him in Hong Kong?
– Yes, and he replied. We must have talked for half an hour. I told him I planned to hitchhike to Shanghai and he told me about you, your schooldays together in Edinburgh, your work in Hong Kong with Holiday Inn and this new job in Lhasa. I never thought I’d make it here so I didn’t think much more about it at the time. I wrote down your name in my diary, and here I am.
– You’re hitching to Shanghai? How long will you stay in Tibet?
– Not sure. My visa will run out soon. I was hoping to get a job here but…
– A job? Here? Not much chance of that I can tell you. You wouldn’t believe what a palaver it was for me to get this job. I applied for it in Hong Kong, got interviewed and accepted there, but then it was months and months before my application was approved by the bureaucracy in Beijing. The Chinese are very wary about hiring foreigners, each hire needs to be approved by a ministry in Beijing and they like to hire people abroad, not on the ground. And they’re very fussy about having the right academic qualifications.
– Hmm. You know what? That little story makes me all the more determined to get a job in Tibet.
– Well good luck to you. And you’re always welcome here. Fancy another Yak Burger?
– Yes please! I’ve never tasted anything like it before.
This is an extract from 9 Months in Tibet — the eBook — which will be published soon. If you’d like to reserve a copy just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (or post a short comment under this article). To see feedback to the paperback edition, click here.