The Potala Palace
I was excited when I was told that I was about to be assigned to travel to Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet Autonomous Region, to cover the aftermath of the March 14 riots there, in which dozens of people were killed and hundreds of shops and homes burned.
What happened in Lhasa was a humanitarian crisis rarely seen in modern China. TV shows depicted burning houses, a Tibetan man waving a long shimmering knife and people running for their lives, a nightmare haunting me with a mixed feeling of trepidation and excitement about the trip.
Shops on a street in Lhasa were burnt down by rioters in the March 14 riots
Many of the Lhasa rioters had definitely committed crimes and I was keen to see the situation there and speak to people by myself. Some Western media reports -- including those from CNN and the BBC -- seemed one-sided, accusing the Chinese Government of a "bloody crackdown" on a "peaceful protest."
I joined a group of media from around the world on a tour to Lhasa at this difficult period in the region's history.
During the three-day field trip I saw and heard much about the tragedy in Lhasa that made me feel lucky to live in the stability of Beijing. While I tried to remain objective as a journalist, it was difficult not to feel involved when I listened to people telling stories of how friends or relatives had lost their lives. Tang Qingyan, who owned a garment store in the center of Lhasa, was too sad to recall the day when five young female employees in his store were burned alive by the rioters.
"Some of the girls had their fists tightly clenched when their bodies were found," said the shop owner, tear in his eyes. He stopped there, silent and still in front of a line of cameras and recorders.
The violence apparently shocked everyone in the city. "Now we all have a shadow in our hearts, not just the Han people but also we Tibetans," said Lhapa, a local resident who works at a hospital.
Despite the unrest overshadowing ordinary people's life, hope remains. Interviewing witnesses, victims, children and officials I found a simple fact that Lhasa's different ethnic groups can co-exist peacefully together.
"I don't think such violence will happen again," Liu Hongjun, a Sichuan businessman who owns a small food store in Lhasa, told me. Liu reopened his store on March 20 after the riots. Though business is not as good as before, he said he believes it will return to normal sooner or later. "I've been in Lhasa for seven years and have known a lot of Tibetans. They are kind and they never hesitate to give money when they pass a beggar," Liu said, with a smile on his face. "We have to be more unified to prevent similar tragedies from happening again."