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[72] The Hotel on the Roof of the World – Alec LeSueur

Painfully funny, but without compromising the harsh reality and depth it conveys, The Hotel on the Roof of the World is a memoir of a sales manager’s five years at the Holiday Inn in Lhasa. It is a perfect testimony to the clash between the Chinese Communist bureaus and the Western capitalist management. As the first team of expatriates arrived with the goal to staighten up the nation-owned Lhasa Hotel, which was the Communist’s core effort to attract tourists, the pioneered staff, in utter consternation, found it in complete chaos and disarray. Alec sadly realized the effort to bring in visitors for a once-in-a-lifetime experience backfired and the ill-managed hotel became an abyss of government subsidy.

Not only do the foreign expats find the Chinese workers indifferent and deprived of any interest in their own thinking, for under the Communist, it’s no use thinking for yourself because your absolute obedience is demanded, they also have to battle with the Party A (their Chinese counterpart) who, in every step of the way, introduce unreasonable measures that throw them off guard. Behind these political tug-of-wars lay the root of the low morale of the expatriates: the loss of face. For the secret to do business (or getting anything done, really, in the 80s) , other than making the guanxi (connection), is keeping up the appearance that the team is together. It took the complaint of a VIP, which came as a severe embarrassment to the local Chinese government and consequently led to a severe loss of face on the Chinese’s behalf to loosen the bureau’s clutch of the expatriates.

While LeSueur is not meant to undermine the Chinese Communists nor does he wish to make a joke of the Chinese’s dilatory working conduct, it’s not difficult to discern from between the lines his fondness of the Tibetans, his respect to the Tibetan religion, and his disapproval of China’s handling of Tibet. No matter how the blaring propaganda make a concerted effort to show that Tibet has always been an integral part of China, it’s clear that there is a great divide between the people–different culture, different religion, different language, and a different race. No matter how hard the Han Chinese thrive to expunge any traces of Cultural Revolution in which the Red Guards razed over 6000 monasteries to the ground and killed the monks, the Tibetans have stood steadfast for they have a wonderful, invincible religion which has seen them through untold hardships and deprivations. The tin cans, the auspicious blue, white, red, green, and yellow colors of the fabric that make the prayer flags, the thangkas (scarves) that stand out against the rich blue of the Tibetan sky are what unite the spirits of the Tibetans.

3 Responses

  1. Hi, found your blog via Danielle’s blog. Just thought I drop a note.

    I’ve heard about “Hotel on the Roof of the World” – it was one of those books I wanted to read when I was preparing for my Tibet trip. Are you planning a trip to Tibet?

    By the way, have you read Patrick French’s “Tibet, Tibet”? It’s a more sobering read than Alec LeSueur’s book, but he has a few interesting things to say about our idealisation of Tibet.

    Or you might like to try Ma Jian’s “Red Dust” or his collection of short stories “Stick Out Your Tongue”.

  2. Dark Orpheus: I appreciate your thoughtful comment, especially when nobody has said anything about this post. 🙂

    So you have to tell me all about Tibet, one of the places in the world that I have dreamed to go. I’ve been researching and planning a trip there. A dilemma: should I join a tour or go on my own?

    When browsing through the Lonely Planet guide to Tibet, in the further reading section, the editor recommends Patrick French’s Tibet, Tibet, which I have promptly picked up last week. So I’m looking at April 2008 if everything works out ok.

  3. […] The Hotel on the Roof of the World by Alec LeSueur. I’ve always been interested in Tibet, which seems so mysterious and surreal to me. […]

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