Sunday, July 04, 2010

Tintin (and Sir Tessa) in Tibet (and a swish bar)

The one book on my required reading list for Tibet was, wait for it...

Being more of an Asterix girl myself, this is the only Tintin comic I own. It's well-thumbed and falling apart. I loved this comic so much that in Grade 4 I wrote and illustrated a 31 page EPIC which was plagiarism as only children can get away with.

This comic is why I have been determined to visit Tibet for the better part of my life. At 8 years old the mystery of a country inaccessible by both geography and choice was powerfully tantalising, and the need to explore that mysterious country for myself dug down into my subconscious and has stayed with me ever since.

On rereading it, I was surprised at how little of Tibet actually features. Tintin and Captain Haddock spend most of their time with Nepali sherpas and lost in the Himalayas; a landscape that shapes nations, but otherwise pays no attention to the those nations. The few encounters with Tibetan Yellow Hat Monks and the Yeti/Migou were apparently enough to win me over.

(I did not see any Migou in Tibet, and while I did see plenty of monks, none of them were levitating.)

monks debating at sera monastery

Having established this as the primary driving force behind my desire to see Tibet, I felt a little silly. This was erased upon flipping through the Lonely Planet Tibet and reading the brief bio of author Robert Kelly:

His interest in Tibet can probably be traced to early readings of Tintin in Tibet...

I feel further vindicated on discovering that Tintin was the first fictional character to receive the Dalai Lama's Light of Truth award.

On June 1, 2006, Tintin became the first fictional character to be awarded the Dalai Lama's Truth of Light award. “For many people around the world Tintin in Tibet was their first introduction to Tibet, the beauty of its landscape and its culture. And that is something that has passed down the generations,” said the International Campaign for Tibet's Simon van Melick. During the awarding ceremony copies of Tintin in Tibet in Esperanto (Tinĉjo en Tibeto) were distributed among the attendees and journalists.

Which is more than most of us can claim.

I found some Tintin in Tibet t-shirts in Kathmandu, but unfortunately they were all so bad I could not bring myself to buy one even for the novelty factor.

On our last night in Beijing a handful of us decided to hit up some bars, and were directed to Beihai Park, which wikipedia portrays as a lovely place to have a picnic. I'm sure it is during the day, but at night all the bars and lounges lining the shores of the lake open up and the place goes off.

Quite upmarket, some great places there. We stood out being severely under-dressed and, yanno, European, and were mobbed by people trying to guide us to bars and get a finder's fee.

Being as Tintin was floating around at the top of my thoughts, I nixed their efforts by squeeing in my pants at the sight of this:



Sadly, being as the company I was keeping at the time consisted of a German, an American, and an Englishman, only the Englishman had even heard of Tintin, and he did not share my enthusiasm. Despite that, being I was the only one of us who had picked a bar from the many on offer, we went in.

It wasn't an opium den. FYI.

I think opium dens would be cheaper.

The decor was quite chic, with incredibly high-backed chairs fashioned like lotus petals in red leather, and bar that was so well stocked the bottles took up two whole walls. Mildly disconcerting was the live music, consisting of a couple of African-Americans (they must have been a hit, they were the only black people I saw the whole time) singing an odd selection of covers, which ranged from "Everlasting Love" to "What a Wonderful World" and clashed with the general vibe of the place.

The cocktail menu made me squee all over again. Cocktails based on the characters? Hell yes.

most people focus on the blow job here

I figured Captain Haddock would be pure whiskey with more whiskey and a shot of whiskey, couldn't imagine what Snow[y] would be, and went with Lotus Blue. Definitely blue curacao and malibu, not sure about the rest. Tasty, and not too strong.

It's interesting the different reasons which drive people not only to travel, but where they travel to. When in Japan I was drawn to places that where the host of not only major historical events but entirely fictional events as well, and in South America I felt distanced for having only a thin bank of literary associations to draw upon.

Stories are the ruling force in my life. Everything I buy, read, do and choose may have at the time entirely circumstantial reasons, may look on the surface as though I'm going about my daily life, but in the end it is all because it feeds my mind, and everything that goes in makes the knowledge I can draw upon richer, and it will all out again in the stories I write. I cannot help but pay homage to the narratives that have sustained me, because I hope that one day someone will stand in a real place and be delighted to be at the scene of something I made up.

They may be "only stories", but they make me who I am, and who I am is what I do.


  1. I like your logic. I dragged a friend right through rural Wales once to check out the landmarks from a favourite children's series. It was worth it, too.

  2. Gillian: if it's rural Wales, I'm going to guess Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising? (it also mentions the town from whence my family immigrated 150 years ago.)

    *kicks google account for refusing to cookie her info and accept the password she knows damn well is right*

  3. Heh, heaven forbid I ever do get to Europe - Asterix settings will dominate the whole trip.

  4. No such thing as just a story and we all know it. And there's a certain kind of private pleasure that comes of standing somewhere you've read about and re-imagining what you read, seeing the people doing what they did. It's similar to the pleasure one gets in seeing a familiar place on TV or in a movie and being able to say 'ooh ooh ooh, I've been there!'

    Stories feed us. Being able to more firmly tie those stories to our reality only makes them more nourishing.

  5. Damn well said, woman.

    I was pondering this, though. I digest history via narrative, and so while an incident or person may have truly existed/happened, the emotional ties I have are via the story of that happening.

    There will be some histories I'm not interested in, as the stories created from it aren't to my immediate taste, so there will be places that don't pull me.