As martial-law troops stood guard Wednesday evening on the streets of Lhasa, a mini-confrontation between Western tourists and Chinese authorities unfolded at the Yak Hotel, a favorite establishment of young travelers on tight budgets.
About 60 young people, roughly half of all the foreigners in the Tibetan capital, were engaged in a bitter argument with police and tourist officials. All foreign tourists had been ordered to leave Lhasa by today, in the wake of pro-independence rioting by Tibetans opposed to Chinese control.
But the youths at the Yak Hotel said they would not pay exorbitant prices for their own expulsions. There are three ways to leave Lhasa: by vehicle to the airport and then a flight to Chengdu in neighboring Sichuan province, by bus to the Nepal border or by bus to the city of Golmud in neighboring Qinghai province.
A policeman was insisting that all must leave today, the tourists recounted, but a tourist official who was brought in to make travel arrangements was trying to overcharge them on all three routes.
“We’re still negotiating,” a British woman said in a late-evening telephone interview with a reporter in Beijing. “They want us out, but they’re trying to rip us off at the same time.”
An American student from a Chinese university said that he displayed his student card and insisted on receiving the standard discount available to holders of such cards.
“He (the official) said it’s not valid here in Tibet,” the American said. “He looked at the card and said, ‘This says Beijing People’s University. That’s China. This is Tibet, not China.’ It’s kind of an ironic comment, given what this is all about.”