By PAULA OLIVER
Perched on a chair in his hotel suite, the Dalai Lama leaned forward to explain what it would take for him to return to Tibet.
"If the Chinese Government is seriously thinking about the real situation, and of new ways forward with Tibetan problems, then my time has come," he said, his eyes lighting up.
"I can help. Because I am quite popular among Tibetans."
The effervescent 66-year-old, clad in traditional robes, then broke into high-pitched laughter as he realised he had somewhat understated his popularity.
The spiritual leader of Tibet fled his home country at the age of 23 after the Chinese Army invaded. He has since lived in exile in India.
Yesterday, he was able to comfortably traverse a range of hot topics during a half-hour interview with the Herald.
He exuded calm, and his characteristic smile and giggle made regular appearances.
His surroundings, a suite in one of Wellington's top hotels, included a special posy of his favourite flower, the delphinium.
He used to grow them in Tibet, he explained. But they don't grow so well in India.
"In Tibet, grow very good. In soil, they get bigger and bigger. And now in Dharamsala [the Tibetan refugee community in India] hopeless," he said. "Roots always rotten. So hopeless."
Asked what he misses about his home country, he mentions the flower and the climate. "In India, too hot. Sometimes I miss my cool climate," he said, smiling.
The Dalai Lama spoke forcefully only once - when asked about hostilities between India and neighbouring Pakistan.
Stressing that many of the world's conflicts could be avoided if people had acted earlier, he said more prayer was needed.
"The New York event [the September 11 atrocities], and Bosnia, these problems certainly have not developed within a few days. Some go back through generations.
"If nobody gives it sufficient attention early, then these feelings of hatred grow year by year. When the opportunity comes, they explode," he said, waving his arms.
He was concerned about the situation between India and Pakistan. "There are 100,000 Tibetans living in India. India is our second home."
The Dalai Lama yesterday met Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton and Foreign Minister Phil Goff at the Beehive.
He later sat in Parliament's public gallery and watched question time.
Asked if he was upset that the Australian Government refused to meet him, the Dalai Lama said he did not have a particular point to discuss with the leaders.
"If I have some point to discuss, and then the meeting not take place, then certainly I will be disappointed."
For now he is just happy to be visiting New Zealand.
"Very beautiful, very clean," he said - with another grin.
By PAULA OLIVER