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U.S. First Lady Eats in a Chinese State-owned Tibetan Restaurant
Phayul[Sunday, March 30, 2014 03:40]
By Rose Tang

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, center, her daughters Sasha, second left in front, Malia, front left, are greeted by Tibetan students as they arrive at a Tibetan restaurant for lunch in Chengdu in southwest China's Sichuan province Wednesday, March 26, 2014. ANDY WONG — AP Photo
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, center, her daughters Sasha, second left in front, Malia, front left, are greeted by Tibetan students as they arrive at a Tibetan restaurant for lunch in Chengdu in southwest China's Sichuan province Wednesday, March 26, 2014. ANDY WONG — AP Photo
The hotel where Michelle Obama ate her Tibetan meal is proud of its background. Its website (http://www.th-hotel.com) states: “The Chengdu Tibetan Sky Lake Hotel (成都西藏天湖宾馆) was established in 1956 as the No. 2 Guest House of the Representative Office of the People’s Government of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.” It goes on saying former President and Communist Party Secretary Hu Jintao visited the hotel in 1990 when he was the party secretary of Tibet.

Hu and four other senior Chinese Communist Party leaders last month were given Interpol arrest warrants by Spain’s National Court on charges of “genocide, torture and crimes against humanity”. Hu was the party secretary in Tibet in 1988-1992 and ordered some of the bloodiest crackdowns in Tibet’s history. Does the First Lady know that?

I spoke to a manager at the hotel on the phone and she confirmed the Obamas ate at the restaurant called Zangxiang Renjia 藏乡人家 (Tibetan Village Home) inside the hotel on March 26. “The restaurant has stopped service since they left because of too many tourists and media people. We’ll resume operation on Monday,” she said, adding the restaurant was built inside the hotel in 2013 and the chefs are Tibetan. She also confirmed the hotel belongs to the Tibetan government. Singapore news website zaobao.com.sg quotes the restaurant's executive chef named Chen Bo 陈波 (the name reads Chinese, not Tibetan) as saying they flew in the ingredients from Tibet the night before for this special meal.

Reuters reported that a senior U.S. government official who accompanied Obama said the First Lady simply wanted to meet Tibetans in Chengdu."Tibetans are an important minority group, and there is a sizeable Tibetan community in Sichuan," the official was quoted as saying.

Maybe Mrs. Obama’s minders were pressured by the Chinese government to get her to eat in that state guest house. It’s also in a very good location, on the northern part of Chengdu, miles away from the Tibetan community in the Wuhouci area in the southern end of the city where most of the some 60,000 Tibetans live and work. I wonder how many Tibetans she met at this restaurant and if she said anything else apart from “Nihao” and “Xiexie”. I hope she said “Tashi Delek”. Perhaps she doesn’t know that Tibetan people aren’t allowed to operate businesses in Chengdu, unless they team up with Chinese. A shop owner in the Wuhouci area told me he had to partner up with a Chinese to use his ID card to open his Thangka store.

Eating is a national religion in China. A culinary revolution is always a safe revolution. Remember the Freudian theory of "Oral Stage"? Under a dictatorship where people are jailed and even tortured to death for speaking up, better shut up and eat! Mrs. Obama has been behaving so demure and submissive during her China tour, even more Chinese than a Chinese like me. It’s reported in U.S. media that she wanted to express her concerns for Tibetan “minority people” through eating in a Tibet restaurant.

But so far her message hasn't gone through, either in Chinese state-owned media or social media. Most reports I've seen are obsessed with the menus and the bills of their meals, either in a Sichuan hot pot joint or the Tibetan restaurant. Here's my translation of Dongfang Daily. Believe me, none of the dishes she and entourage consumed seem traditional Tibetan, except for the use of yak and barley :

“Michelle’s Last Meal in China Cost Rmb 2400 (US$386)” Michelle was very satisfied with the Tibetan food she ate, according to Tian Hongmei, General Manager of the Chengdu Tianhu Hotel. She told the reporter Michelle also tried Sichuan food: Stir-fried cabbage, pork stew with potatoes, camphor tea duck, a steamed bun and corn. Eight members of Michelle, her family and entourage ate the meal. They spent Rmb 300 each, the bill totalled Rmb 2,400 (US$386). (Reporter Fan Shiyun)

See her special bilingual menu, “Nobel Feast Snowy Region” and the Chinese article here

The writer is a journalist based in New York. She covered China and Tibet for 12 years as a journalist for major Western media organizations such as CNN and taught journalism at Princeton University. She was named the "Best Local Journalist" by the The Society of Publishers in Asia.

The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.
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