Tea parties, political prisoners, chocolate, and Obama to Beijing


It’s been a week of more ‘small’ things. But pennies are small, and they make dollars.

One of my students now has glasses. Maybe a small thing, but he hadn’t realized he had bad vision. After several weeks of classes, I became very aware that he was squinting in classes. I asked Tenzin to help translate, and asked about his eyes — he was seeing glare, and couldn’t see the board, sometimes he saw spots. I did some research, and sent him to the eye hospital in Kangra. They did several tests, and gave him medicine, and glasses. I want him to have a follow up before I leave again.

My friend Arvind who runs the Dharamsala Dog Rescue has checked in on the puppies, and their mommy. The puppies are getting deworming meds, and the mommy will be fixed soon too.

Several years ago, I read a book called Fire Under the Snow, it the story of Palden Gyatso, a monk who peacefully protested in Lhasa, and was arrested for it. He spent 33 years in prisons and labor camps. The work and torture he experienced are unimaginable: he lost all his teeth from electric cattle prods in his mouth, was forced to pull steel plows in fields in lieu of animals, and saw countless people worked, beaten and starved to death.

Palden managed to smuggle some of the torture devices out of Tibet, and into Dharamsala. If you’ve seen the movie ‘Cry of the Snow Lion’, at the concert at the end of the movie, Palden is showing these instruments on the stage he shared with the Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine.

He lives here in Dharamsala, and I’ve seen him many times. this week, I happened to see him when I was with my friend Kyipa, and she translated for me. Palden is lovely, his face lit up with smiles, and he invited us to is apartment the next day for tea.

I brought over teas, biscuits, and a hot water bottle (the nights are so cold here and there is no central heat.)

On the way to his house we had seen Palden on the path, talking with another elderly gentleman. As we walked into his house, he explained it was an old friend, who had been in prison with him for 12 years. Kyipa and I were both reminded how close the destruction of human rights really is.

Palden’s apartment was so tidy and inviting. He immediately began to show us about, a small meditation room, his kitchen — he had purchased it with the monies he made from his book, it included all the furniture and he showed us all of the three rooms.

Kyipa and I went into the kitchen to boil water, as Palden went to get Kyipa and I matching teacups and saucers. He went to the fridge, and got out milk, he gets it fresh from the Namgyal Monastery at the temple every day – fresh cow’s milk. He sorted through the fridge to find more cookies, that he said were delicious.

We proceeded to sit down to tea. The floors of the buildings here are cement, often covered with a thin roll of linoleum — Palden fussed over us and got small blankets for us to put under our feet.

He told us how he got his apartment, and showed us an invitation he had just received to attend a film fest in Austria that focuses on human rights. One wall had a neat row of badges from different events he had spoken in. There were several framed letters, including one from the US Congress thanking him for his untiring work for human rights. Palden was the first political prisoner to address the United Nations, on his cabinet was a small picture of him outside the UN in New York.

He told us about his days, he wakes up at four am, makes offerings, does his prayers, and prepares his food for the day, his favorites are thupa, Tibetan noodles.

I asked about his travels, because of his book, he travels a lot. He reached into a cupboard and pulled out an envelope. There were no less than 12 passports bundled together, and he showed us his visas. He laughed, and said he always carried them with him. If any passport agent ever questioned his Identity Card (the Yellow Book that is issues to Tibetan Refugees as their travel document), he would pull out the large envelope and they would quickly wave him through. As we talked, he was tying together rubber bands in a system that held them all together in order.

He told us it was a good day, that tea parties made for a very good day, and we poured each other tea. I asked only one question, I was so curious how he had perceived the Tibetan Freedom concert almost a decade ago. He said it was good. The young people that day, many did not know about Tibet, and that he was glad to be able to inform people. I had so many things I wanted to ask, but I was really just enjoying the moment. I felt like I was sitting in my grandfather’s house, with a man who had lived a simple life. It was almost overwhelming when I would glance at a reminder of his past in prison — how he survived, and how hard he works to speak out, and how peaceful he is.

He invited Kyipa and I back for another tea party, and I can not wait!

Back to the small things, one of my students I teach privately, he is lovely, He knows I’m busy, so we meet a few hours a week for conversation and reading. He’s been sick quite a bit lately, so I make it a point to have tea on when he comes over, or to get some small things like vitamins or honey, that may make him feel better. Palden discovered my weakness for chocolate, and incense. Every few days he reaches into his bag and produces some chocolates, the other day, he some some incense packets for me. I love these small things! It reminds me gifts aren’t measured by size or cost, but thought.

This week we had veterans day, to honor the men and women who have fought for our country and our democratic rights, and way of life. I find it interesting that this week, President Obama will head to China for foreign policy meetings. I can only hope that the US will not kowtow to China, and will sincerely address their need to respect the environment, and human rights. This statement came through to me today from International Campaign for Tibet. This is a crucial meeting,

“The International Campaign for Tibet calls on President Obama to use the opportunity of next week’s summit in China to focus on Tibet’s future and to dismiss attempts by Beijing to manipulate U.S. policy. On November 6, 2009, the South China Morning Post reported that the Chinese government is asking the Obama Administration to state that “Tibet is part of China’s territory and the US opposes Tibetan independence.”

“President Obama’s engagement with Chinese leaders should be consistent with established U.S. policy and his desire for forward movement in the Tibetan-Chinese dialogue,” said Mary Beth Markey, Vice President of International Advocacy at the International Campaign for Tibet.

It is the policy of the United States that “the Tibet Autonomous Region and Tibetan autonomous counties and prefectures are part of the People’s Republic of China.”

“The request from the Chinese government is not a matter of semantics but part of a concerted Chinese strategy to deflect international support for a resolution to the Tibet issue by seeking legitimacy for its claim to Tibet,” said Ms. Markey.  “President Obama should urge Chinese leaders to look to the future, as the Dalai Lama has done, and work purposefully toward a resolution that meets the aspirations of both the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.”

An Obama Administration statement that Tibet is a part of China’s territory could be interpreted as recognition of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet prior to the 17 Point Agreement between the Tibetan and PRC governments (1951).  A statement that the United States opposes Tibetan independence could be interpreted as foreclosing any question of the past or future independence of Tibet in principle.”

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