Tag Archives: oppression

Musings From Tibet I

I first posted July 16, 2007 on my Blogspot blog. I want to make clear that I do not know Angela McDonald. She posted this on a list I was on to do with things nomadic. I asked her permission to post elsewhere. With some of the discussion on my piece “There is No God” I mentioned maybe the Tibetans were the only people that were ruled by a benevolent religion. That got some discussion going that there have been discussions to the contrary.

Unfortunately, I worry some on how much of that might be Chinese propaganda. I then stated that Tibetans ruled by Tibetans (and not Chinese) would probably be less oppressive and who knows as the Dalai Lama has never had a chance to rule since he was a young man. And the guy has won a Nobel Peace Prize and really does have some good and insightful philosophies. But it’s conjecture.

I give you one Westerner’s view of Tibet while living there.  Angela McDonald has spent quite a lot of time living with people in Tibet and teaching English to the monks. She sent it July 7th. This is one of three parts. (I have corrected typos.)

Back in India, and happy to be home. Again here with my friends, people who speak English, and of course, my beloved cows. It was very difficult to leave Tibet, but at the same time, in some ways I was ready to leave. I loved it there very much, but I’ll admit that it was a very intense experience, and after 3months, I was feeling the need to go some place relaxing to recuperate a bit.

Before I left Tibet, Jinpa and I traveled around for about a week before finally arriving in Beijing where I flew to Delhi. It was a lot of fun, Jinpa is great. We went to a few different places in Tibet, then into China. Poor Jinpa, it was difficult for him to travel with  me in Tibet because as a monk, it’s not exactly socially acceptable for him to be wandering around alone with a woman (as the most common way for monks to stop being monks and become lay people is to have sex). Especially since he had taken off his monk robes to avoid extra attention from police (or other people for that matter). We did run into a friend of his from Labrang monastery one time. His friend looked at Jinpa, then looked at me, and then got a very concerned look on his face and whispered to Jinpa, “Are you still a monk?” Jinpa laughed and assured him that he was. I’m hoping that no rumors circulated in Labrang about that. Oh, the scandals I create…… 😉

I’m glad that I got to travel around Tibet at least a little. I think my favorite place was Rekong. It is known as the art capitol of Tibet (and I really love art as many of you know), and the monasteries were just incredible. The landscape was also wonderful as the mountains were filled with forests and rivers, so it looked a lot like Oregon and Dharamshala. Made me feel a bit homesick. Labrang is beautiful, but its basically all grasslands, there are very few trees.

We also went to Kumbum monastery which, though beautiful, was actually rather depressing. It was once one of the greatest monasteries in Tibet, but now it is only a Chinese tourist attraction. There is very little monastic activity there. The monks didn’t even really speak Tibetan, they mostly just spoke Chinese. I asked Jinpa what language they taught Buddhism in at that monastery and he looked at me strange and said “Tibetan of course!” But when I pointed out to him that the monks barely spoke Tibetan he leaned down to me and whispered “The monks at this monastery don’t really know much about Buddhism anymore.” Almost all of the monasteries in Tibet were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution (I saw ruins of them all over Tibet), but the Chinese are actually allowing them to be rebuilt now, mostly for tourist purposes. They are still trying to restrict monastic activity by putting limits on the number of monks admitted, imprisoning and intimidating many monks, not allowing certain teachings, etc. but they discovered that they could make money on the tourism from the monasteries so they are allowing them to be partially rebuilt. It’s very strange, and makes me really sad to see. Also, in many of the monasteries the tour guides are Chinese (not in Labrang monastery, the tour guides there are all monks, including Jinpa) who don’t really know much about Buddhism or the monasteries, but instead just make things up to tell the tourists. Jinpa listened to the tour guides as we went to different places and many times I heard him whispering under his breath “That’s not true.” I was amazed to see just how much the Tibetan culture was perverted and changed by Chinese influence. It was really difficult to see…..

It was hard to pry myself away from Tibet. Saying goodbye to Mother and Father in Labrang was really difficult, then having to say goodbye to Jinpa in Beijing was hard again. But I am confident that I will be back there again. Jinpa and I are plotting to get me back there next year to really study Tibetan language, and he and I have several projects we want to do together (teaching English, writing books, etc.) when I return. So many things to do…..

And now back to India! The first few days here were strange, there is always a little culture shock when I switch countries. I had to get used to things like running water, toilets, pants, answering to the name Angela, and eating good food again. It’s been nice, but I still find myself occasionally in the market looking around for a field to pee in. Then I remember where I am and instead I just go to a bathroom. Weird…..

I’m still basking in the small glories of life such as toilet paper (but I still find myself rationing it ands tucking napkins in my pockets at restaurants), showers, tampons, people who speak English, peanut butter, etc. But things like tsampa, yogurt, and milk are really disappointing now. You win some, you lose some. But it’s funny how much you appreciate small things like these after you go without them for so long.

I’ve had bad luck on weather. When I left India in April it had just fully turned into summer and was hot, sunny, and absolutely beautiful. Then I went to Tibet and it was snowing. It continued to snow off and on in Tibet until I left, and when I got back to India, the monsoon season had started. It’s still nice and warm here, but there is torrential rain every day (and lots of awesome thunderstorms) which means that everything is in a constant state of dampness. Everything in our house is completely moldy yet again,and the cement walls are literally deteriorating from it. There is not much point in doing laundry as it takes about 4 days for anything to dry, and at that point it is also moldy. If you make laundry a 24-hour job for a few days you can get it done quicker, but that means taking laundry in and out of the house (and hanging it on the line outside) every couple hours between the rains. We’re to busy for that, so I’m just getting used to everything smelling like mold.

As soon as I came back, I was practically mobbed by my friends who were anxiously awaiting news and pictures of their families. It’s been fun to show everyone pictures of Labrang, and especially of their families, as many of them have not seen pictures of their families for many many years. All of Shedhe’s cousins came up the day after I arrived and they were practically bouncing up and down when they saw me. It was very cute. I had so many things to bring here that when I left Labrang I left most of my clothes there and just packed my bags to the brim with all the things for people here. I must have been quite a sight getting into the airport, I probably looked like an overburdened animal (I’d say a loaded yak, but I don’t have a big wood ring through my septum and really I’m just not quite that big).

Yesterday was the 73rd birthday of  H.H. The Dalai Lama, and there was a big celebration at the temple. Shedhe got me to dress up in the fancy nomadic clothing that his mother sent with me from Tibet, so I again became a blonde haired, blue eyed Tibetan nomad walking through the streets of India. Always an odd sight. But it was fun to wear a chupa again, though I didn’t wear it for long as that thing is made of wool and it’s hot here! Today, the Dalai Lama started a 7-day teaching which is wonderful as always. I love being here for his teachings and getting to see him. Never experienced anything else like it, I feel very blessed to have this opportunity.
All in all things here are good. Getting settled back in, and having a good time relaxing. Of course, it didn’t take me long to pick up new students, and as soon as the teachings are finished I’ll start studying Tibetan language and Thangka painting again I hope. There are just to many things here to learn, I feel like a kid in a candy shop…..

Take care, Angela

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Sports, Politics, Tibet and the Olympic Torch

There has been a great deal of furor over the Olympic torch in recent weeks. Furor for and against the Olympics being hosted by China, by people protesting, by the Chinese, by the Tibetans. I’ve heard various people including athletes and a former torchbearer say that politics shouldn’t be mixed with sports, especially the Olympics.

One person has pointed out that by pitting nations (not individual athletes) against each other, it is in fact politics from that point of view. Some of these arguments say that positive reinforcement, by showing that the world will embrace them, support them (?), will bring the Chinese around to practicing better human rights.

Well, let’s travel back in time to the Olympics of 1936 in Berlin. Sure, Berlin was awarded the event in 1931 (a political move to bring them back into economic stability after the WWI defeat) before Hitler took power. A boycott was discussed and protests held in many countries. Russia never attended but didn’t until 1952 and more countries participated than in previous years. This was in part because of the spreading notoriety of the Olympics. In the end, individuals boycotted, including some Jewish athletes. Jesse Owens, a Afro-American, competed and won four golds, no doubt galling Hitler.

But did the support of the Olympics actually serve in any sort of positive reinforcement and change in Hitler’s attitude? No. He used it as propaganda, in other words, for politics, to spread his message and take note how meek the world was in making any sort of overt stand. He went on to bring about World War II, killing record numbers of Jews, Roma and homosexuals.

There have been some arguments that protests should have been made sooner, not now at the running of the torch. Yet people would not have as great a voice. Here the voice is saying (as it did with Bush’s invasion of Iraq of recent years) that it does not approve, no matter what various countries’ leaders say or do. The people do not approve. Sure some will support it, but it is not as peaceful as the Olympics in Turin was.

Many athletes indignantly argue that the Olympics is no place for politics, that they’ve trained hard to get to this point. Some countries are already barring their athlete from speaking out, some will not make that restriction. Will the 2008 Beijing Olympics be used for politics? It already is.

Let’s not forget the Tianamen Square protests of 1989 and the 200-3,000 killed, depending on whose reports you want to believe. What were those protesters armed with against tanks and machine guns? Let’s not forget China’s unwarranted invasion of a peaceful neighbor, Tibet in 1950. Of course, there is some dispute again as to whether China ever gave up its sovereignty over Tibet.  And even though the Dalai Lama has agreed to Chinese authority as long as he is given autonomy over cultural and spiritual rule, the Chinese still ferociously call him liar and leader of the protests.

Will China use the Olympics for politics? Absolutely. They want the world to think they’re being better to their people whether in Tibet or China. Whether they are; actions speak for themselves. I doubt that they will actually change their ways much to please the world. It is only the economic revolution that they hope to bring about in their country that might do that change but a trade embargo against China is a complex thing.

Still, the most disturbing aspect I see here is that of people, whether athletes or officials stating that their area remain pure and untampered by politics. Let’s break this down into a more simpler framework. If you were being oppressed, beaten, subjugated and not allowed to do the things you found central to your way of being, would you want help? Of course. If someone said, well I guess I see the bruises and cuts and the guy pointing the rifle at you but I’m going to a birthday party and that should not be touched by politics, how would you feel?

If your country was invaded, your friends and family being murdered or disappearing, would you feel so good about the world if the nations said, well yes, we don’t really agree with the abuses this country is perpetrating against you but we want to have a gala party there anyway, how would you feel?

It seems to me this is partially what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany. It wasn’t happening elsewhere so it continued until it got out of hand (not that one life taken is not getting out of hand). People are often happy to turn their backs on wrongs if they don’t affect them. A blind eye does not make one less complicit. If you disapprove of China’s rule of Tibet and the subsequent protests and abuses of the protesters but go and make a statement that’s fine. If you approve of China’s tactics and go, well that’s fine. If you disapprove and you go to the Olympics, then you are a hypocrite, no matter if you compete or not.

There isn’t a country in the world that would stand up to China militarily for that would lead us into WWIII. They’re just too mighty, and they know it. So how do you protest? You object to the Olympics in Beijing, you start a trade embargo (No small thing when everything from food to fabric to toys comes cheaply from China.) I know it’s not so black and white as some aspects I’ve stated here but people really need to put themselves in others’ shoes and say, if this was done to me, would I like how individuals and nations are acting?

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