A tip off about the revival of Tibet’s Khampa Guerrilla movement had journalist, Andrew McMillan, moved, within a matter of weeks, into rural China. His base was Yangshuo, a massive feeding hole for entrance to the real draw of jagged tooth-like Kast Mountains that surrounded the area. These magnificent grey glories towered over miles of lush green paddy fields, small farming villages and the snaking Li River. It was perfectly picturesque but Andrew was certain that slumbering in those shadows lay the underground movements he wished to reveal.
The ambitious young Scot’ had figured that uncovering something major would win him the investigative role he desired, without having to play tea maid and secretary to all those already doing it. A year’s placement as an English Language teacher would, he’d figured, give him time to pick apart any pieces for this puzzle – a scene he was sure would erupt in the build up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Andrew’s old Uni’ buddy, Bill, had forced his way into secret encrypted correspondence amongst the higher ranks of China’s Authorities. Word was that one of their previously detained, on-watch Tibetan dissidents – Tenzin Tsundue – had been garnering support to revive the the old rebel Tibetan movement. Tenzin had been imprisoned then deported back to Nepal some years ago for embarking along a similar route and now it seemed he’d left Nepal on another mission. His whereabouts had been hard to pin-point so far but surveillance was being set up around a German lady’s house in Yangshuo. They knew that she was a key driver in China for any political protesting that went on in support of Tibet, and her relationship with Tenzin was said to go back years. Strategy had been set back on watch though; they were waiting to see when their prized catch would surface. The World was watching and China was on high alert.
On the ground, Andrew had effortlessly accessed a more detailed understanding of the German lady. Her ‘under watch’ status had painted a sinister picture. Liane was like air, though, the way she floated around with her long grey hair and pastel linen outfits. Her words seemed to breathe out towards you too – in a way that made you listen.
Andrew had spent several long nights tucked into one of the low-lit red enclaves of Yangshuo’s popular Minnie Mao bar, feeding off the information Liane had enjoyed retelling. Mid 60s but well kept, she’d explained how an intense yet short-lived romance with Tenzin’s Uncle, Jun Jie, had brought her and Tenzin together. She was mid-20s at the time, him only 12, yet they’d taken to each other like brother and sister, until he’d become frustrated with the peaceful protest route. Liane said she had no idea where he was now, or what he was up to, but she knew the authorities were watching her and, like them, she feared that Tenzin might be plotting another attack. Still, she had nothing more to go on.
Tonight, like most evenings these days, Andrew was leant back against the cold hard pole of one of the heaters on Minnie Mao’s expansive terrace. It was happy hour and he was with some of the other teachers enjoying a few G&Ts after work. Shane, the jumped-up South African, was leading the discussion, as usual. Dao Ming, their twitchy little bird-like head listened, shuffled and smoked throughout. And Pretty, the spoilt Hong Kongee teacher-brat stood posing. Around them, students and travellers all squeezed under the little heaters. It was a cool, seemingly calm evening with the lake in front mirroring their movement above. Underneath, however, something more was bubbling.
The town’s hot topic this week had been focussed on tonight’s controversial premier of Dreaming Lhasa. A film that Minnie Mao’s bar owner, Lee Lai, had decided to show for their final Tibetan New Year celebrations. Alongside that, the arrival of several Free Tibet protestors had been developing quite a drama. Local business owners were concerned about the authority’s attention they would bring and the knock-on damage that could have on their companies… regardless of the cause. Divide had become apparent and people were waiting for an episode to erupt. It just wasn’t as expected.
Roaring onto the little road-side scene came three motorbikes, dragging all attention away from the current drama and bang onto them. Andrew and the others watched in silence as the men cruised in on their black Royal Enfields and pulled up by the lake outside Minnie Maos. Their long black hair was matted from the wind and their faces lined by the weather. What really set them apart, though, was their traditional heavy-wool, one-shoulder, Tibetan chupa coats.
Dismounting, they parked the bikes and strode in to the bar. Andrew followed these men and their stomping boots past the main saloon and through to the darkened red enclave of the back room. He then waited at the etched glass double doors, watching as Liane, Lee Lai and the others were brought to a standstill by the sight. The wall at the far end flickered black and white stills from Tibet. Transfixing them now, though, were three men from Tibet standing before them.
Liane spoke first. “Everybody,” she said looking around and stepping forward to take hold of the leading man’s hands. They were eye-to-eye smiling. “This,” she said. “Is Tenzin.”
Tenzin’s eyes remained on Liane. The protestors were moving in towards him. The other Tibetan men remained rooted by his side. Andrew still stood watching from the doorway.
“Liane-la,” Tenzin said. “I don’t have much time. Please, do you have somewhere private we can go? I need to speak with you.”