Last Seen in Lhasa

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 August, 2007, 12:00am

Last Seen in Lhasa

by Claire Scobie

Ebury, HK$132

Claire Scobie chucked in her job at the Telegraph Magazine in London to join a botanical expedition to find Lilium paradoxum, an elusive red lily that's native to southeast Tibet. It took a second expedition to find the flower, but it was on this trip that Scobie met a Buddhist nun. Identified only as Ani, which is Tibetan for nun, Scobie recounts how this wandering mystic, a yogini who spends her life in long meditation and fasting - often in freezing caves and at sites of sky burials - changed her life. Yes, there's a shelf for books about how Tibet is, whoa, such a life-changing experience, man, but Last Seen in Lhasa, encompassing seven trips over nine years, avoids even a hint of new ageism. It's a beautifully written, absorbing and rewarding account of what's happening in Tibet today as consumerism replaces Chinese militarism as a weapon of cultural subjugation. Alcoholism is rampant, prostitution an industry and crime a way of life. People like Ani are probably the last of their line - she has no novice yogini, and when she and her kind die, as is gradually happening in an increasingly dysfunctional society, that's it. The end. As Scobie writes, 'their whole sense of self esteem is going'.