Born in Oxford, raised in California, a resident of Japan, Pico Iyer has captured his itinerant life with books and essays that document his journeys to Nepal, Cuba, and most recently, Tibet. His new book is The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.
Jon Wiener: There are six million Tibetans. But you write in your new book that Tibet today is slipping ever closer to extinction. Those are chilling words.
Pico Iyer: I wish they were overstated words, but theyre not. The Tibet autonomous region is more and more a Chinese province. Lhasa is now 65 percent Han Chinese, so Tibetans are a minority in their own country. The Chinese are practicing what the Dalai Lama has called demographic aggressiontrying to wipe out Tibetan culture through force of numbers. Two years ago they set up that high speed train, which allows 6,000 more Han Chinese to come to Tibet every day. I first saw Lhasa in 1985 just when it opened up to the world. It was still a classic Tibetan settlementtwo story traditional whitewashed buildings, and the Potala Palace, the great residence of the Dalai Lama. If you go there now, sadly, its like an eastern Las Vegashuge shopping malls, blue-glassed department stores, high rise buildings. From most parts of Lhasa you cant even see the Potala Palace.