Thursday, December 3, 2009

How We Were Haunted

How We Were Haunted (Part 1)

Bardo is the interworld: Every Tibetan child knows this. It’s the forty nine days between the death of one body and the birth of the next, when the soul is untethered -housed in the womb of the universe- ready to birth at any opportune moment as any sentient thing – a man, a fly, a horse. So essentially, you can see bardo as life’s backyard, or lobby, as this time-space continuum wherein a soul hangs out, has a few sangrias before putting its cigarette out and rejoining the party. And every so often, an unhappy soul dissatisfied with bardo, will wreak destruction. Being unhampered by a body, a soul is free from the laws of nature, from constraints on its movement, restraints on its power.

All of which is to say, I spent much of my childhood being terrified out of my mind. This is an exaggeration on some level, because my childhood was a relatively happy one. However, it is true that, every night when darkness fell, if I was alone, I grew afraid. We were all afraid. Not only of mundane things like sadu babas, child-snatchers and bridge-builders. We were afraid of old witch-women, churels with hollow backs, people with faces without features, we were afraid of shadows in the window and footsteps in the dark.

We were conditioned to this fear of course. By our elders who were themselves afraid of the dark and all it hid, by older kids who told us not to go to the toilets at night, and by stories endlessly passed around about pyre fires that would not go out, dead people who have returned to claim an object they left behind, men and women who have walked when they have no business to.

This childhood fear; it was unspecific, and it was as large and amorphous as the dark itself. Sometimes I wonder what the psychic cost of this bucket load of childhood fear is. Fear is friction, isn’t it? It wears the mind. And of course, it freezes the brain, shrinks it, reduces the contours of consciousness until all you are aware of is the weight of fear itself, an unbearable weight heavy and dull like a dead pond frog rested on the brain.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The (Tibetan) Art of Official Correspondence

Latse Library on Perry Street is currently hosting an exhibition titled “Postmarked Lhasa: An Exhibit of Tibetan Stamps and Correspondence.” I went to the launch of this exhibition on the Saturday before last, on November 7. The program that day included two speakers Geoffrey Flack, who spoke on the postal history of Tibet, and Shewo Lobsang Dhargyel, who spoke on official correspondence, who were both simply excellent.

On Geoffrey Flack, a stamps dealer and Vice President of the Nepal and Tibet Philatelic Study Guide, and an expert on Tibetan stamps and postal history, and his important presentation, more another time.

Shewo Lobsang Dhargyel, whose lecture was entitled “The Art of Official Correspondence”, gave a rare example of a talk by a shungshab that started off on point, stayed on point and ended on point. He started off in the traditional manner, thanking his host and insisting that he wasn’t an expert and he didn’t really know much about official correspondence at all but since Pema Bhum asked him to come and speak, he has come. Normally when a speaker starts off this way, I itch with impatience but that day, perhaps because Lobsang Dhargyel was such an impressive speaker, I appreciated that this very customary opening is one way of respecting the audience. (Of course, another way of respecting the audience, and one seemingly unfamiliar to most Tibetan officials, is to begin on time and end on time and stay on topic.)

After that brief intro, Shewo Lobsang Dhargyel then launched into the body of his lecture and it was fascinating. He talked about the protocol and etiquette of official letter writing of the Tibetan government (specifically the Ganden Phodrang government which had ruled Tibet from the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama in the sixteenth century till 1959 when the invading Chinese dissolved it). The protocol governing letter writing is mind-boggling.  There were exacting standards dictating details from the kind of script to the color of ink to the type of paper used, to the given amount of header and footer space on each page, to the way the letter is folded and string is tied around it.

According to Lobsang Dhargyel la, Tibetan official correspondence was divided into two main categories which were further divided into four subgroups each. The two man categories were Edicts and Reports, i.e. correspondence that was sent by the Government and correspondence that was sent to the Government. Edicts can include orders and proclamations while Reports can include appeals and proposals made to the various elements of government.

The subdivision of Edicts looked like this: 1. Edicts from His Holiness 2. Edicts from the Regent 3. Edicts from the Prime Minister 4. Edicts from the Cabinet. Consequently, the subdivision of Reports follows the same categorization: Reports to His Holiness 2. Reports to the Regent 3. Reports to the Prime Minister 4. Reports to the Cabinet.

Basically everything that could be thought of was thought of and then standardized. And this standardization was extreme and precise, and of the sort that could only be carried out by a fully functioning government that reached into all sectors of literate society. Bear in mind that in sixteenth century England, spelling and punctuation were not yet standardized. So the Tibetan standardization of the form of official correspondence, built on the standardization of spelling, punctuation and syntax carried out in the 7th/8th century, was an admirable achievement.

The system of official correspondence is important as a piece of history and as corresponding detail supplementing other evidence of the existence of a fully functioning Tibetan government based in Lhasa distinct from the Chinese government in Peking. After all, detail honors reality by making reality more real.

In “How Fiction Works,” (a brilliant book of revelations) critic James Wood says, “…in life as in literature, we navigate via the stars of detail… We snag on it.” He explains this detail as detail “that draws abstraction toward itself and seems to kill that abstraction with a puff of palpability”, and “centers our attention with its concretion”. The protocol and etiquette governing Tibetan government correspondence carries out that same task – it “centers our attention with its concretion” and convinces us of the integrity, and historicity, and existence, of such a government. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lamp Map of Tibet from SFT's Art Auction

At SFT's Art Auction held sometime ago, in Chinatown of all places, there were several pieces of art that pulled at my heart. One that was very very cool and creative was Tenzin Mochoe's piece: a sculpture of a map of Tibet made up of little wax candles. Mochoe described the piece as a melding together of the political and the religious- the map of Tibet with the candles symbolizing butter lamps that we light in temples; and he stressed that with the lighting of the lamps, the act of creation, of making the map come alive with fire, simultaneously becomes an act of destruction- as the candles light, the wax melts and the map blurs.

I thought this was brilliant. A map of Tibet is always highly political, especially a map of Tibet as we conceive it, with borders around the three historical provinces of Tibet and the plateau itself as one political entity (just as it is one geological unit). Here, this map, the highly political and usually secular entity, becomes spiritual and sacred. And how does it become sacred? Not by sitting there as a piece of art, but because people -the audience- light the candles as an offering, which act, when you think about it, is really the performance of a wish fulfulling ritual. You make the wish, and you light the lamp to mark its making. With the lighting of the lamps made of candles, you are complicit in the creation and the destruction and the sanctification of this map of Tibet made of lamps.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thanking His Holiness

I had a chance at Garrison Institute in upstate New York to thank His Holiness. This was in front of a hundred Tibetan professionals who had gathered there for the three-day Tibetan Professionals' Conference. The Conference itself was crazy and inspiring and very very hectic for Tsewang la and me. But more on the conference later. For me, of course, the moment that stands out is when I got to thank His Holiness. I was to thank him for being there. But of course I had to thank His Holiness for so much more than that. Obviously we owe His Holiness everything- the strength of our identity, the unity of our people, our image, our platform, our place in the world. Displaced as we are, we are not invisible and that is because of His Holiness. Anyway this is my thank you note, or address, or whatever that I read in front of His Holiness and the audience of Tibetan professionals at Garrison Institute, Monday, October 5.

Tashi Delek, Your Holiness, and good afternoon to all. On behalf of the Office of Tibet, I would like to once again thank all the participants and speakers for being here and Garrison Institute for providing us with this wonderful space.

On behalf of all the Tibetans, and all the youth and professionals gathered here, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Your Holiness for meeting with us in spite of your most hectic schedule.

In the past fifty years, we were forced to cross the highest mountains to go into exile, and from that exile we crossed oceans to go into an even further exile. We live on other nations’ charity, on other people’s good will and conscience, but we have dignity and we have strength because when we lift our gaze up, we see you.

Many of us here in this room are more fortunate and privileged than most of our countrymen. We believe that there is no further exile. From here on, every step must be a step home. Our parents’ generation suffered and sacrificed for the cause of our nation. I assure Your Holiness that we will continue to do the same, with courage and resilience, to realize the vision of a Tibet where Tibetans can live in peace and prosperity and freedom. Thank you.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Chinese Empire...State Building?!

60 years ago yesterday, Chairman Mao chased Chiang Kaishek off the Middle Kingdom, surveyed his fiefdom of Long March survivors, youthful yet-to-be-disillusioned Communists and a war-weary people, and proclaimed the People's Republic of China. After that, Mao and his Army proceeded to invade and occupy Tibet, East Turkestan, Inner Mongolia. That wasn't all. He also launched a drastic social and agricultural experiment called the Great Leap Forward which caused large-scale famine across China (and of course across Tibet and the other occupied territories) and killed tens of millions of people. Then of course he jump started the Cultural Revolution - not for ideological reasons as some people may like to think but because of petty power struggles with his comrades Liu Shaoqi and others in the Politburo. Now Mao is dead but his totalitarian regime lives marching on. 

Yesterday, in an astoundingly stupid move, the owners and managers of the Empire State Building in New York -W and H Properties- lit the building red and yellow in celebration of the 60 Year Anniversary of the founding of the PRC. What were they thinking? Not only is it immoral and shameful to honor a government and a state that jails, tortures and kills people for expressing dissent, but it's unbelievably bad public relations. 

Of course we came out to protest. And of course, in today's papers, every mention of the Empire State Building's cloaking itself in red bloody light emphasized the protests and the Tibetan reaction. 

So really- for us? Win-win. The Empire State Building selling its soul gave the Tibetans a platform to protest the anniversary of the Politburo's Republik of China. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Art of Activism

Last Saturday, September 19, I went to listen to “The Art of Activism”- talks by Lhadon and Tsundue and Q&A, in Astoria, NY. It was Tibetan time central. The talk was to start at 2pm. We got to Diki Daycare on Steinway St. about 15 minutes before 2. Thupten Nyima and Losel were setting up the tech- oh yes, there was to be livestreaming. Since, you know, SFT’s very technically advanced and all that, esp. for an activist organization headquartered above a Chinese Laundromat. At 2pm there were five people there. Maybe. This was worrying. What if people didn’t show? It was Saturday afternoon, after all. A significant population of the younger Tibetan crowd would be nursing hangovers picked up from the Irish Bar. But actually, people started filing in, and although only half the seats were filled when the talk started, eventually all seats were taken.

The actual talk and Q&A went from 2:30-4:30PM. It went off really really well. Tsundue and Lhadon are of course two of our most eloquent speakers. The audience was really engaged too. There was an online audience too, as Tendor kept reminding us. He was clearly delighted about the livestreaming, and the fact that there was an online audience. 

Lhadon talked about how we need to know ‘how to organize, how to be strategic, how to understand history’. She said, “So much of the art of resistance is studying, looking at other movements.” She also said that this is not new, what we are going through and we need to remember it: so many other people and nations in history have gone through colonialism, gone through oppression and torture and death, and finally gained freedom. “It’s acute pain, but it’s not new.”

Lhadon mentioned Estonia- their freedom struggle, how all sorts of different people came together, performed their own role etc- the freedom fighters, the ordinary brave people, the collaborators who weren’t really etc etc. I realize that I don’t know much about the whole of Eastern Europe. An entire swath of earth which recently came out from under Soviet occupation. Probably worth it to learn a bit about those countries and their struggles. Yep.

Tsundue talked about the “indignity of exile”, the indignity of being out of one’s country. The struggle gives him dignity, he said. I understand this- I mean, the indignity of exile. All Tibetans understand this- we face it in so many small ways as we live in and out of our communities, but nothing brings this home -like a slap in the face- than travel. Of course, being invested in anything worthwhile gives one dignity, but resistance and the struggle to return as counter to the indignity of exile is neatly appropriate, poetic even. 

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Intersections at Wasabi Point

I have been meaning to write about an unusual gathering of young Tibetans in NYC about two months ago. The gathering was called by the Global Tibetan Professional Network* at Wasabi Point, a nice little restaurant in Woodside, Queens. GTPN (which suffers from an unfortunate acronym –for a long time, I thought it was possibly a dharma center or perhaps an STD) is a new and growing network of Tibetan professionals in the US started by Drs. Tsering Amdo and Tenzin Jamyang.

There were about 30-40 young Tibetans there, professionals and budding professionals in all walks of life – geology, aerospace engineering, dentistry, advertising, nursing, doctoring, lawyering, film-making, activisting (activating?), you name it. We got together, and we speed-dated basically. Each of us was paired up with someone we hadn’t met previously –since the point of the whole gathering was to network, meet new people, form new connections- and told to make conversation. We talked about ourselves, our interests, why we were there and what we hoped to get out of this new network.

There was a nice poetic touch to the choice of restaurants. Just as we, the attendees, were a fusion of Tibetan and foreign environments, in greater and lesser proportions, so the restaurant too was a fusion of Tibetan and foreign cuisine. The whole thing was actually very well organized.

There was even an admirable (but doomed) short-lived attempt at simulcasting audio through the flat screen TV on the wall. However, as Shakespeare would say, knowing how to fiddle with a few touch screen buttons on your iphone does not a tech expert make. We have still a good ten years to go before we produce any real life tech geeks. Still, I did come away from Wasabi Point with the pre-dawning hope that we are farther along the path to developing the human resources necessary for a functional civil society than I had mournfully assumed.


Monday, May 11, 2009

A Special Meeting, for some very special people

I watched the DVD of the Special Meeting held in Dharamsala in November 2008. The DVD was of the sixth day, the last day of the meeting (I suppose the seventh was fittingly the day of rest).

Several things struck me:
A. The Resolutions of the Meeting are really very weird. One was that China must admit policy mistakes and another was that China is to be blamed for lack of progress on dialogue. Umm yes. A hundred and ten people got together for this?

B. Samdhong Rinpoche's speech was basically a state of the union address, which got me thinking, do we even have a state of the union address? His Holiness's March 10 speech is obviously the important speech of the year; is there even a Kalon Tripa equivalent? Sure the Kashag always issues a March 10 statement too but that always seemed like an underwhelming speech to me; I can't remember ever listening to a Kashag March 10 statement. Samdhong Rinpoche's speech was actually very good. He addressed a lot of the suggestions made throughout the Special Meeting in his usual way, that is, sarcastic and skewering if you are at the wrong end. (I mean he addressed some suggestions and criticism by saying, you are wrong, and also, don't know enough!) And he talked about what the government had been up to- no debt, yay! So, I am actually a huge fan. Samdhong Rinpoche is obviously one of the brightest intellects in the Tibetan world, and I really like the no-nonsense, no-frills straightforwardness, and also even his slightly-awkward smile. So overall I am awed and admiring of him, and of course also slightly scared to death.

Samdhong Rinpoche made a distinction between the Middle Way policy and the Dialogue process; he said the dialogue process had produced no results but this did not mean that the Middle Way policy had produced no result. It is an important distinction to make, but I wished that he had elaborated on whatever result had been produced by the policy.

C. I think His Holiness was disappointed with the Special Meeting. His Holiness said, at the very beginning of His speech, that He had nothing to say about the meeting. Later during the Q&A, when a reporter asked how policy was going to change because of the meeting, His Holiness answered, "The meeting...I have nothing to say." I did think this might be a strong statement, because the people didn't have much to say at the Meeting, after all.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

High Peaks Pure Earth reported a Beijing student's account of racism and discrimination against Tibetans in the Chinese capital. Qiaga Tashi Tsering and his girlfriend went to seven or eight different hotels only to be turned away from all of them because "Tibetans can't stay here."

They were turned away because they were Tibetan, because of their race. Are these isolated cases that happen because of personal prejudice (never mind that Tashi Tsering went to at least seven different hotels)? Or is this something more insidious and political and therefore much more hideous? The ugly truth is that the entire Chinese policy seems rooted in a belief that Tibetans are second-class citizens; that Tibetans are to be suspected and distrusted so long as they practice their religion, read and write their language, and hold on to their culture and identity.

Han chauvinism is plain racism. I am reminded of an earlier era in American and Indian history when a black man could not sit in the front of a bus and an Indian could not travel first class on a train alongside Englishmen.

Because people in the west take it for granted that social and political liberalization must follow social liberalization -because we see only the skycrapers of Shanghai and the skyline of Beijing and not the prisons and detention centers of Lhasa and Shigatse- we often fail to realize that in China's occupied territories, the political and social situation is in fact worse and more oppressive now than before.

We suffer from, to use Samantha Power's words, a failure of imagination. We live in a society where a parent can go to jail for slapping a child, where a policeman reads you your Miranda rights before handcuffing you and hauling you off to jail. How to realistically imagine then a society -with skyscrapers and cellphones- where a student can be expelled from school and their future ruined for simply writing "Free Tibet" on a piece of paper and a person can spend years in jail for joining a peaceful demonstration and shouting slogans?

I am reminded very much of Verbal's quote in The Usual Suspects: "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." The Chinese government with its billion-strong market and reserves of American dollars, is well on its way to convincing the world that it is not a colonial power that is forcefully occupying Tibet, East Turkestan and Inner Mongolia.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

In Memoriam

Return to Snow

Snowflakes pull their punches landing
On my face much as cats do, with
Stockinged feet and kind concern.

I keep close watch on my dreams
Allowing only two to grow in free-flow.
When circumstances threaten I

Self-abort the first dream-
Safely keeping just the second-
The second dream of return.

Must I accept my sentence,
This slow sentience, this
Awful partial awakening?

Must I always say grace
Before drinking from
The cup of sorrow?

The Death of Tashi Sangpo

Last weekend I heard and then learned about the death of Tashi Sangpo, a monk from Ragya Monastery in Amdo who drowned himself in the Machu river after escaping from his police captors who were interrogating him about his role in hoisting up the Tibetan national flag on the rooftop of Ragya Monastery. I differentiate between hearing and learning because when I first heard about it, it was the standard tragic story that you hear coming out of Tibet every so often. Someone's given 14 years in jail or beaten and tortured to death and you think akha and azi and then you get over it and think about something else. I thought akha and azi and then I got over it and thought about something else.

But of course his story didn't go away. Later Tendor showed me his photo. He's a 28 year old monk and he looks like a nice young man, the kind of shy, easily-embarrassed monk you have seen everywhere. What happened was this: The Tibetan national flag had been hoisted atop the monastery and the police (the PSB of course) was there to piss and shit on all the Tibetans. Tashi Sangpo claimed that he put up the flag all by himself, no one else was involved, and then he ran from the police and jumped into the Machu. We call it suicide, but is that right? He was driven to this final desperate act -by his own courage and heroism in taking all the blame and by fear and terror of the Chinese government and its scumbag agents. Tashi Sangpo drowned himself, but his death is yet another Tibetan murder committed by the Chinese Communist Colonial Government.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Earth Ox: Another Year of the Iron Fist

Another Year of the Iron Fist. That's the title of a Leader on Tibet in the Economist.
The Subtitle: If this is success, maybe China should look for an alternative.

"As Tibetans around the world this week marked the advent of the new year of the Earth Ox, many did so in a spirit of mourning rather than jubilation. The festival fell just before a bloodstained anniversary season: 50 years since the Chinese suppression of an uprising that saw the Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader, flee into exile in India with some 100,000 followers; 20 years since protests that led to the imposition of martial law in the capital, Lhasa; one year since ugly and murderous anti-Chinese riots in Lhasa that brought a sharp and lasting security backlash. The fact that so many troops are still needed, merely to prevent commemorative protests, suggests that China's Tibet policy is in need of an overhaul."*

I am thankful to the Economist for covering this, and I basically have a media crush on the Economist anyway. But I have a question. This paragraph begins so well, so strongly and knowledgeably and sympathetically, but, but, but, why is the last line of this para so ridiculously wimpy?

"China's Tibet policy is in need of an overhaul"?
Isn't that a little bit like saying the American economy needs a teeny tiny injection of cash?

*Economist, Feb28-March6, 09 (page15).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Where I finally read Paradise Lost

I have had the book forever and it's pretty famous and I was an English Lit major and so, I thought I should probably read it.

So I have read Book One so far and it's actually pretty cool. Ok so Book One is basically just a catalogue of demons, ok? And everyone in the world has already pointed out that perhaps when Milton went out to humanize Satan and to make him the adversary worthy of God, perhaps, just perhaps he went overfar and as a result Satan is now way Cooler Than God.

Part of it is that God hasn't entered the picture yet. Now Milton is probably working the scenes a little bit, laying the groundwork and making us anticipate and salivate, so when God draws up in his limo, his entrance will be all the more brilliant, but meanwhile Satan is working the room like no other and giving us his version of the events so that God comes off a bit Machiavellian and you actually start to feel a bit sorry for Satan.

You see, Satan charges God with instigating the rebellion:
"But He who reigns Monarch in Heav'n...His Regal State Put forth at full but still His strength concealed, Which tempted our attempt and wrought our fall." Book One, Ln 637-642.

Sort of begs the question:
Did God create Hell as a sort of boundary maintenance mechanism?
After all, what is Heaven without Hell?

Book One is thus Satan as underdog, as victimised victim, all proud and offended dignity in defeat, and at this point I am all for him and "his dark designs." Also he has some great lines: "The mind is its own place and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven." "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven!"

Milton's proposed reason for writing the epic is to "justify the ways of God to men." So the question is, did Satan run away from under his hands? But possibly I should read more before answering this.

After Book One, I now think of Satan and his rebels, the denizens of hell, as a sort of diaspora community. Hell is nothing more than exile from Heaven, an exile from which they cannot return. So how do you not feel bad for Satan? At least, for us from Dharamsala, return is still possible.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Little Golden Statues

The Oscars yesterday were...not very funny. In fact, flat almost.

When I found Hugh Jackman of the blisteringly hot Wolverine was the host, I did feel considerable trepidation. Hugh Jackman is seriously goodlooking and not British - how could he be funny? Perhaps Oscar was thinking of Grant or Laurie?

Here are my morning-after thoughts. Basically, Oscar, if you want to be a musical and still entertain, you have to be Made In Bollywood. And if you want to be goodlooking and funny, you can't just be a Hugh, you also have to be funny.

At least Slumdog and Kate Winslet won. Small mercies.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pet Salad and Rice Beer

Yesterday we bought two pots of wheatgrass (called "Lobue" in Tibetan and also known as "Pet Salad" because cats like to eat them, and not at all related to marijuana) from Bread and Circus and today my parents fermented some rice for Chang.

Because Losar, New Year, falls on February 25th.

Of course, we aren't really celebrating this year's New Year. In solidarity with the Tibetans in Tibet who have said that they aren't celebrating in protest against the Chinese crackdown.

But, you know what, in many ways, it feels like I have already lost Losar anyway. Part of it is just this: Try being a Red Sox fan in Kathmandu, try being a Sachin Tendulkar fan in Vermont. But part of it is something else.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Vigiling on Wednesdays

I went to the Vigil yesterday with my mother.
We meet in Harvard Square, in the Pit, for two hours, and hold up Tibetan flags and signs saying "Free Tibet", "Tibet Belongs to Tibetans", "Honk for Freedom", "Long Live His Holiness" etc. Then we pray, for all the Tibetans who were taken, tortured, executed because of the March protests. Yesterday there were about 25 people, older and younger Tibetans. It's generally the same crowd.

There was heavy snowfall yesterday. I mean, snow was falling like confetti, like all the angels in heaven were clearing out their sidewalks and we just happened to be underneath their shovels. Truth be told, we probably wouldn't have gone if the weather hadn't been fine when we started out. Because, you know, it's very easy to think 'what good will it do anybody for a bunch of us to gather in the pit and hold a couple of signs?' It's warm at home, and there's TV. I have missed these vigils any number of times, out of habit, laziness and cognitive dissonance.

Even when I do go, sometimes that seems to be habit too. And sometimes because other people whose dedication I admire go. Sometimes to get out of the house. Sometimes out of guilt, and only very occasionally, from a small inspired burst of activism.

There's no sort of "Eureka" reason for why we hold these vigils. I guess, mostly, we hold the vigils because we can.

I think I'll write something about what it means to be Tibetan, what it means to be from this country we have never seen and yet always to think of going to Tibet in terms of going back to Tibet, to have terms like "occupation" and "colonialism" mean now and not history. Perhaps I can call it "What We Talk About When We Talk About Tibet".

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

If you are a Schizo

Ok it already sucks because you have a mental disorder. But you know what else, turns out you can't go to China either because they won't let you in the door!

Here's the additional information on Chinese visas, from the website of the Chinese embassy, in the section entitled Additional Information:

"Any person suffering from a mental disorder, leprosy, AIDS, venereal diseases, contagious tuberculosis or other such infectious diseases shall not be permitted to enter China."*

Yeah, how very medieval totalitarian state (as opposed to modern totalitarian state)! Come on, China, be yourself.

Also I am wondering, and just wondering for wonder's sake, you understand: is the term "person suffering from a mental disorder" strictly defined to mean only the full blown psychotic or loosely defined to include the occasional mild melancholic?


Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Tibetan Woman as a Nun

I resolve to update more regularly. So it isn't Losar yet, won't be until February 25, but it'll be good practice.

Today finished editing "Status of Tibetan Nuns in Exile" for the Tibetan Women's Association. Tenky asked me to do this since, she said, "u enjoy working with nuns and reading about nuns" - which makes me sound like I have a weird nun fetish. This because I told her that while I was at my cousin's wedding reception at Soaltee Hotel (in Kathmandu!) I spent some time chatting with the novice nuns from the local nunnery. A very young nun, 14 perhaps, newly out of Tibet, went red, covered her face with her hands and would not talk to me because I have short hair and she was convinced I was a boy. Later, another nun asked me which nunnery I was from. Perhaps I need to rethink this boy's haircut and learn the lesson that Samson taught.

So anyway, nuns. I am interested in nuns and have always gotten along well with most because Dolmaling Nunnery/School of Dialectics was my home for three years and a half years, and so see past the red robes and the monastic mystique. Basically I edited TWA's report on nuns because I wanted to read it.

Although the report and the data compiled presents no new finding or bright idea, it was very interesting reading and I think it's going to be a good and helpful thing, a great thing, to have these actual statistics. So there are 1651 nuns in exile, and about 342 nuns form the survey's raw pool. So a pretty good percentage. There's a positive correlation between the number of nuns who are political prisoners in Drapchi and the number of escapee nuns in exile the following year, while it may be predictable it's still exciting to see the graph. Another exciting -and really, entirely dramatic- point is that 80% of the nuns said they would study for the Geshe Degree if they could. Yeah, 80%. Yeah, the Geshe Degree, the PhD. of Tibetan Buddhism. Well, perhaps the nuns ticked that box because they knew that right now, they can't even if they wanted to, since they are not allowed.

You see, only people who are fully ordained can sit for the Geshe Exam. And the reason that brilliant nuns can't sit for this exam is because -wait for it, it's good: nuns aren't fully ordained, they can't become Bikshunis because the Bikshuni lineage died out a long time ago. Seriously people, is that your excuse? Surely there are loopholes. True, I conceive of bizarre scenarios in which a nun would get a sex change, become a monk and then become a Geshe. But no, seriously, there must be other ways the Bikshuni lineage can be revived.

After all these women already get shafted as Tibetans nationals (by the Chinese government) and as Tibetan women (by Tibetan men). They do not need to be shafted -by the monks- as Tibetan nuns!

We have established that a mother's son with the necessary wisdom may win the Ganden Throne, but what about a mother's daughter?