2008-04-20 20:31:01 China Daily
Two boys play in a park near the Potala Palace in Lhasa April 20. Fear stemming from last month's riots lingers on five weeks later. [China Daily]
Ma Alish, an ethnic Hui native from Linxia, Gansu Province, stands in his Lhasa butcher shop. He said the rampage last month cost him more than 700,000 yuan, including a truck. [China Daily]
LHASA: Five weeks after the March 14 riot in the Tibet autonomous region, visual reminders of the rampage linger like the fears in the hearts and minds of Lhasa residents.
Nightmares of the unrest have produced a collective longing for peace and a return to normality.
Most of the stores which survived the March 14 riot unscathed, and some that suffered only minor damage, have reopened and peace as order prevail on the streets again.
Walking around the Potala Palace, any newly arrived visitors to the eastern part of the city are intoxicated by the blend of elegance and peacefulness synonymous with Lhasa.
Freshly greened crowns of aged willows, pink and yellow blossoms at the foot of the formidable palace, water birds frolicking in and above the Dragon King Pond behind it and the endless flow of people chanting Buddhist sutras with prayer wheels in hand, assure an otherwise perfect visit to the center of Tibetan Buddhism.
But with some suspects wanted by authorities still at large, local residents admit they're still cautious about going out come sundown.
"Nothing has really happened," said Drolma a sales clerk at a small jeweler's store a block from the Jokhang monastery.
"Still we feel a little unsure," she said, after selling two Tibetan-style silver rings to a traveler.
"It was scary on March 14. At first I thought there was a normal quarrel or fight near the square when I heard the noise. But a frightened Hui friend working in another store rushed in, saying there was a rioting mob smashing around.
"So we closed the doors and fled."
"Business has been slack ever since. We could take in thousands (of yuan) a day before - now it's hundreds at best. I sold nothing three days in a row."
"I really do not understand why those people do not want to live a peaceful and comfortable life," she said.
Stores lining the Bakhor and nearby streets around the Jokhang depend heavily on tourist trade and the riot has deprived them of their most important source of revenue. Some were damaged or even destroyed that day.
A little more than a block east of the Potala Palace, near the west end of Beijing Donglu, an Only store, owned by the Denmark-based Bestseller group, remained a charred black hole until Friday when workers finally installed new doors.
Just meters to its east is the Yishion garment store where five young women were burned to death when rioters set fire to the building.
At the site of the previous Niumo Shijia garment store, a little north of Beijing Donglu, on the Duosen'ge Lu, stall owners are holding closing down sales under a makeshift plastic-film roof.
A woman surnamed Liu from Heilongjiang province, who refused to give her full name, said she had only been in Lhasa for nine days when rioters unleashed their fury.
She and her partners had just transported 120,000-yuan worth of garments from Guangzhou but were lucky enough to escape the burning and looting.
"There were eight people trying to pry open the door downstairs - it was horrible," she recalled.
She said she was anxious to sell out everything and leave.
More fire-damaged buildings are visible further eastward down Beijing Donglu.
Near the Bank of China branch that was smashed and burnt a newly opened supermarket was cleaned out during the riot.
The same happened to a butcher's shop owned by Ma Alish, an ethnic Hui native of Linxia, Gansu province,
"I never had trouble with anyone, and got along quite well with neighbors, Tibetan or not," said the owner of the outlet between Beijing Donglu and Linkuo Donglu.
"But they just did it, smashing and looting everything, and burning my truck.
"Can you imagine how crazy they were?" he said, pointing out a bunch of broken hooks and locks against the wall on an iron bar.
The rampage cost him more than 700,000 yuan, he claimed.
But he has no plan to leave. "I've been here for 12 years," he said. He has reopened the stall despite performing few repairs.
Though they are not sure exactly how much longer it will take for everything to return to normal, many are confident it won't be long.
Staff of the Sizhongwei, a 15-table eatery run by several Sichuan natives at the west end of Beijing Donglu, expressed their guarded optimism.
"Every day at meal time, there were people waiting for seats," said He Jianyun, the 43-year old owner from Chengdu. "But we closed for five days and a half since noon on March 14 - there was a total mess then."
They are only half a block from the Only store.
Daily turnover has dropped more than a third, cook Liu Bo, who was invited to Lhasa in 1999 by a fellow-townsman, said. But he is confident in both the city's and the restaurant's appeal to tourists.
"We will not have to worry about customers as soon as travelers swarm back," he said. "Though we have no idea when that will be. I only hope we will not miss the summer months." Most tourists visit Tibet between July and October.
The local government promised on Friday that the Tibet autonomous region would "soon" reopen to tourists.
With most of those injured in the riot discharged from hospitals, municipal authorities are trying hard to heal the city's wounds.
A lot of repair work is going on along the devastated Beijing Donglu.
Several stores around the Sichuan restaurant remained open well after 9:30 pm on Saturday as growing numbers of pedestrians passed by.