It feels like last year all over again.

February 28th, 2009 § 6

Shiho Fukada for the New York Times

Shiho Fukada for the New York Times

It feels like last year all over again.

News from Tibet says that there are protests here and there. All of us on the outside are scrambling to find out the details. We call Dharamsala, New York, London, Beijing, trying to work out what exactly happened. Once we piece together the story we take it to the world.

Again there are so few images. And so far, no moving images. No video. Nothing to show on TV. » Read the rest of this entry «

An interview with Jamyang Norbu – part 1

September 10th, 2007 § 11

I tried something new today. Inspired by my interview with Amber Mac on WebNation, I interviewed Jamyang Norbu via skype. It worked ok besides the occasional feedback (sorry!) and this is the first of three parts.

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Jamyang Norbu is an acclaimed Tibetan writer, thinker and activist. His novel, The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes, won the Crossword Book Award – India’s highest literary prize. He has lived many lives in the Tibetan exile community including a brief stint in the Tibetan resistance. He served as Director of the Tibetan Institute of the Performing Arts (TIPA) and a founding member of the Tibetan Youth Congress. Jamyang’s many articles and commentaries on Tibetan society and politics have informed, inspired and sometimes even enraged countless Tibetans. The boldness of his voice, the clarity of his opinions, and the elegance of his language has challenged a generation of Tibetans to open their minds, and encouraged more than a few to pick up the pen and be courageous in their writing.

Jamyang is also my cousin. I remember when I was around 16 years old and he came to Victoria, BC on a speaking tour with Lhasang Tsering – former member of the Tibetan resistance force in Mustang, Nepal; two-term President of the Tibetan Youth Congress; and another giant in the Tibetan freedom struggle. We stayed up late that evening listening to Jamyang and Lhasang talk passionately about the Tibetan political situation. At one point Jamyang was speaking in such an animated way that his plate of food ended up flying from his lap and onto the floor. Little did I know what an important role Jamyang would play in helping to inform and shape my political understanding and activism for Tibet.

We were speaking on the phone today about the timeliness and importance of letting people know about the Boycott campaign – http://www.boycottmadeinchina.org/ – when I asked him if he would do a short interview for BeijingWideOpen. I know many young Tibetans want to hear his thoughts and opinions more, and I think others who are new to the Tibet issue would benefit from hearing his views. Jamyang has an incredible ability to take a seemingly muddled topic or debate and make things clear and simple by always focusing on the fundamental human desire for dignity and justice. You can never be sure of what he might say next but one thing is always certain – when it comes to taking on detractors of the Tibetan fight for independence, his words can be like daggers.

When a Chinese government agent comes to SFT HQ

August 20th, 2007 § 25

A Chinese government agent came to our office today. We’ve had a couple of visits like this before. They usually work for a Chinese media outlet based in Beijing or are researchers/academics. They ask a lot of questions and don’t take any notes. They are mostly pretty friendly and have a lot of time to talk and “exchange views.” One guy even brought us gifts.

Today I just couldn’t do it. I felt so outraged at the whole situation. I didn’t even realize I was having such a strong reaction until he was gone. He said he wanted to speak to the Director and when he saw me he said, “Oh, I’ve seen you online.” I bet. I said I was busy – I was – and that I would get in touch with him later. I walked him straight out that door and watched until he left the building.

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Many people from our side argue it’s important to talk to these guys and share information. But today I just couldn’t stand the thought of engaging with this person who was just there to collect information about us that he will send back to Beijing. All talk about the importance of “sharing views” seems so bogus to me right now. These people are not genuine in their engagement. They don’t want to talk with us in order to gain a better understanding of our views or to resolve the situation in Tibet so that 6 million Tibetans can live in peace. They want to learn as much as they can about us so that they can figure out how best to fight us and ultimately destroy our movement.

The strength of my reaction today surprised me. I think it’s because of the experience I just had in Beijing. I know some will disagree with me. But the truth is that we don’t have to be so accommodating toward our oppressor! Why should we feel so obligated to give the Chinese government the information they think they need to destroy us and obstruct our freedom struggle? Maybe some will understand me when I say that it felt good to send that guy away empty handed.

The technology of our dissent

August 17th, 2007 § 6

I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of this blog and the banner on the Great Wall over the past few days. So much of the attention our actions in Beijing garnered was because of the technology we used to challenge the Chinese government. More than one story focused on the tools that helped us blast our message around the world. Such simple yet powerful tools have given a new generation of Tibetans unconventional weapons to fight for our people.

Check out this CityTV interview I did with Amber Mac via Skype Video Chat.

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The importance of video, and YouTube specifically, to our countdown protest cannot be overstated. For people around the world to see the banner on the Great Wall and what I was doing in Beijing almost as it happened, had a huge impact on the action. It created excitement amongst our supporters, helped us get a response from the IOC, grabbed the attention of the media and may have protected us from a harsher response by the Chinese government. And while we were doing our thing in Beijing, so many other Tibetans and supporters were using the same technology to create a buzz around the International Day of Action for Tibet on the 8th. In London, SFTers and young Tibetans made this awesome video for the launch of Team Tibet UK.

To some, this technology is dangerous. It challenges the control the Chinese authorities have over people and the ideas they are exposed to. That’s why they try to block people from using it in China and Tibet. One of my heroes, the Tibetan writer Woser who lives in Beijing, has been targeted more than once. Last July, when she dared to post birthday wishes to His Holiness the Dalai Lama on her blog, the Chinese government shut her down. Far more dangerous than my words, Woser’s were in Chinese, and read religiously by young Tibetans in China and Tibet who can speak and read the language of the oppressor.

Already a number of young Tibetans in exile have set up blogs to express their feelings about China’s occupation of Tibet. Tenchoe from SFT India just set up From the Warriors and Tsewang Dorjee started one called Wake Up Beijing 2008.

When I was in China I used proxy servers to get around the Chinese censors and read about the protests in Lithang and the hunger strike in New Delhi. Just being able to see what other people were sacrificing for the cause of Tibetan freedom gave me courage to keep going. I was also able to read the comments being posted on this blog and feel the impact we were having in real time. Perhaps most encouraging were some of the messages from Tibetans inside Tibet. They said they found inspiration and strength in my actions, and in return I drew the same from theirs.

And that’s exactly why Beijing hates to see us use this technology – it lets us meet each other, share our ideas and convictions, and feel powerful in our solidarity.

Thoughts as I return home…

August 10th, 2007 § 49

I am on the plane and we’ve just started our descent. According to the captain we’ll be landing in 20 minutes.

I think there’s a guy following me on the plane. Or maybe I’m just totally paranoid now. But I’m pretty convinced…is this what happens after just one week in China as a dissenter?

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They pulled Kate and I over at Hong Kong immigration. Not Sam. Just us. They said that they had a message from the police to stop us so that they could interview us. After much paperwork and copying our passports and typing information into various computers, they let us go. According to the official, who said he wasn’t allowed to ask any questions, the police no longer wanted the interview. Yeah right. They have all the info they think they need now to keep us out. But they can’t. It’s not that easy.

I’ve been able to read the blog now properly. As it’s not blocked outside of the mainland of the People’s Republic of China. And it’s been amazing to see all of the support we’ve received from people around the world. Thank you to each and every one of you. And to all our critics and dissenters. Please, critique away. It’s not a problem. That’s the beauty of democracy and truly free and open societies – you can express your opinion and – even if you’re against us expressing ours – you won’t get locked up!

I know we did this and got off pretty easy. And while I appreciate that some people think I did something brave, I’m not sure I did. Bravery is standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. Bravery is getting on a stage in Tibet and calling for the return of the Dalai Lama. Bravery is going to Beijing to petition to get compensation for your confiscated farmland to the very same government that probably took it in the first place. All this, with no protection. No foreign passport, government, or official body that will defend you.

What I did, what we did, it was nothing in comparison. But I hope and I pray that somehow we have made a difference in the battle for human rights and freedom in Tibet and in China. The Olympics spotlight is on the Chinese leadership now and they want the world to believe they are open and free. But they are not. They demonstrated this by deporting me at the very moment that the one-year countdown to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games was taking place in Tiananmen square. Paul and I just wanted to attend. To see it for ourselves and to blog about it like one should be able to in any place that truly enjoys freedom.

Some people have said we got what we deserved. Others have suggested we got off to lightly and should act more responsibly next time. I think it is the regime in Beijing – unelected, unaccountable and tyrannical – that should act more responsibly. I think our government, governments around the world, corporations doing business in China and the IOC itself, should act more responsibly. They are the ones who have clear and direct influence over Beijing. They are the ones who could make a huge impact by doing just a little in the way of speaking up for and promoting human rights and democracy.

Until this happens, we will keep doing what we have to do – challenging China’s control over Tibet and working to make the occupation too costly to maintain. One thing is clear in all this Olympics mess, the Chinese government cares what the world thinks. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t spend so much time trying to get us all to like them with slogans like “One World One Dream.” Knowing this, we must push them to change. And if our direct actions are seen as stunts by a few, I trust the vast majority will see them for what they really are, nonviolent expressions of dissent and protest to bring positive social and political change to people living under brutal oppression.

For Tibetans, Uighurs, Southern Mongolians, Taiwanese, Falun Gong, Christians, Catholics, farmers, factory workers, lawyers, doctors, journalists and every other person who lives under fear of persecution by the Chinese Communist Party and their goons, I say, we will never give up.

We stand with you.

On behalf of our wonderful members and supporters around the world,

Lhadon Tethong
Executive Director
Students for a Free Tibet

Minorities Park Slideshow

August 4th, 2007 § 9

Yesterday I wrote about my experience visiting the racist theme park outside of Beijing. Today, I’ve posted a slideshow of photos taken during our visit.

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I hope these images will help communicate the source of the deep, disturbed feelings I was trying to share with you through my written words. Remember, this is all a fake recreation of a culture that China has been trying to destroy for the last fifty years.

Click the “read more” link to view the photos… » Read the rest of this entry «

Day 3 – Being Followed

August 4th, 2007 § 8

Strange calls, people following and watching us… is this how it feels to live under oppression?

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Outside the window, you can see our “tail” in two cars. They have been following us all day, without trying to hide the fact that they were watching us.

The Bird’s Nest

August 4th, 2007 § 3

There’s been so much hype and excitement about it. I just had to come see the The Olympic Stadium (nicknamed the Bird’s Nest) for myself. It’s enormous and obviously meant to inspire awe and reverence in Chinese and foreigners alike, regardless of the cost (which at this point is estimated at 3.8 billion Yuan – or $500 million US). Of course, the construction is still going on…

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The Chinese government’s obsession with audacious mega-projects is nothing new, with each serving different military and economic purposes. (Three Gorges Dam, Tibet Railway). There is a common, psychological theme running through all of these projects including the Bird’s Nest: all of them are meant to communicate China’s technological progress and prowess. However, these project’s architectural scale and engineering sophistication cannot gloss over the absence of the two most basic rights of China’s people: freedom and democracy.Will freedom and democracy ever come to China? Does economic progress automatically lead to an opening up of restrictive, repressive political systems, as so many academics and China apologists claim? In fact, as China’s economy gets more advanced, the tools of repression and fear also seem to become more sophisticated.

Here’s a short video I shot to give you a sense of the construction and space around the site:

[youtube LAGha-DTgzE]

As a Tibetan born and raised in exile, I have come to cherish the freedom I enjoy outside of my own homeland. Freedom is addictive, and once you taste it, you’re hooked; you only want more. There was a time when my grandparents lived in a free Tibet and led free lives. Mine is an unfortunate generation of Tibetans, either wandering in foreign lands or living under oppression in our homeland.

As I write this, there are 14 Tibetans sitting on the street in Delhi who are entering their 27th day of Hunger Strike. They hunger for freedom more than they hunger for food. They have vowed to die in the face of oppression rather than resort to violence. My thoughts and prayers are with them.

And even though the feeling of repression hangs over this place like smog, I also feel strongly that change is at hand, not only for Tibet but also for China. The charade has gone on long enough. As I turned back for one last photograph of the Bird Nest, it suddenly looked almost toy-like.

An old Chinese proverb quotes a scholar who said:

When man fights nature
Nature kills man.
The sky turns black
And empires crumble.

Well, the sky here is nearly black.

“And this is the country that claims to develop Tibet for the better?” I said to myself, as I imagined the vast, blue, blue, blue sky of my homeland Tibet.

Day 2 – Evening (Carrot Swan)

August 3rd, 2007 § 5

Paul and I completely forgot to eat today. It was nearly 9pm before we realized we’d only had one bowl of plain rice each! It’s not so easy to eat vegetarian in this town. We ordered spicy beans at lunch and we got spicy beans…with pork. We ordered eggplant tonight at dinner and we got eggplant…with pork (should’ve seen that coming). But in the end it was all redeemed by this lovely, artful carrot swan that graced our plate of mixed vegetables…and only mixed vegetables.

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In all seriousness though, the last two days have been so intense we’ve both been running on pure adrenaline. It’s such a strange thing to be here in this place that appears so free and normal on the surface and yet to be so freaked out and paranoid about these seemingly harmless things we’re doing like sightseeing, taking photos and expressing our opinions. We keep slipping up and saying “Tibet” or “Tibetan” in public. When one of us does this, we usually freeze and look around without moving or try to pretend it’s no big deal and keep gabbing on and on with neither of us really listening.

Tonight we thought it was all over when we returned to the train station to get our luggage and saw two policemen standing next to the counter.

“They weren’t here in the morning, right? Why else would they be here now? And look at all these shifty men in plain clothes smoking and staring at us. For sure this is it for us.” So we stopped, collected ourselves and then walked straight up to them together. “Wrong bag check,” said the woman behind the counter when we handed her our tags. She pointed down the platform to the right one.

Those cops weren’t there for us at all. Whew. We felt relieved for a minute but then I thought “they’ll probably be waiting for us when we get back to the hotel.” I hope not…

Day One – Good Night and Good Luck

August 3rd, 2007 § 10

Some reflections at the end of our first day here in Beijing. Lots of emotion and adrenaline mixed with a good dose of exhaustion and paranoia.

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Thank you for all the supportive comments and well-wishes. I wish I could respond to each you, but I have to be careful about how and when I access this blog.

More to come, so stay tuned and spread the word…

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