“Religion is extremely important to the Tibetans,” says Wikipedia, but what does that mean? The Tibetan Buddhism entry is no help. Last night at dinner, however, I did learn what it means, at least in part. Tibetans spend a vast amount of time on religious observances — what the observer (Bryan Ng, a Berkeley engineer) called a “religion tax.” One example was a well-observed month-long annual religious festival. Another was a sensationally slow method of travel: Take a step or two, bow down, lie down on the ground, get up, take another step, bow down, and so on. This method is used to cover long distances, such as 20 miles or more. The extremely devout do this along highways.
The Chinese government wants to reduce the influence of religion, he said. Goods imported into Tibet from China via the new railway should increase commerce, for example. The power of the Chinese government makes it likely they will succeed.