Sunday, March 30, 2008


Refugee

Two takes on the Tibet protests from two sides of the world.
Syracuse, New York, March 25, 4:15 pm
"Can you believe it?" asked the jewelry designer and gift store owner as I was browsing for something to bring back to C. We'd been talking about China, Tibet and India, the latter where the store owner travels frequently. "The university is going ahead with a group tour to China next week. And with all that trouble going on! It can't be safe."

"You mean Tibet?" I asked. "The Tibet protests?" She nodded.
"No, it's no problem in China unless you're wearing a Dalai Lama T-shirt or tattoo on your forehead," I said. "The average Chinese has no idea what's going on there. Or that anything is going on. Websites are blocked more than usual, even YouTube. The little news there that is running the same State-approved mangled English short story every day about 'March 14 Dalai Lama Clique violence of riotous beating, looting and arson in Lhasa' but I doubt if most Chinee even notice or care."

The store owner had Tibetan censorship problems of her own, though. She was also in a quandry over whether or not to hang some colorful orange and yellow Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags at the entrance to her store in a show of solidarity with the Tibetan 'splittists' as the Chinese media calls the protesters.
"My landlord," she said. "She's, she's ..."
"She's an agent of the Chinese secret police?" I asked.
"She's picky about what goes up here," she said. "She might want them to taken down."
"Christ," I said. "People are getting killed and their heads caved in this week over symbols like those flags. Go ahead, wave your Dalai Lama freak flags high. Landlord be damned!"

She laughed self-consciously. "Silly, I know," she said. But when I left the flags were flying, and while I doubt anyone in Tibet or China could feel the juju they were nice to see snapping against the cold, azure Syracuse sky.

Beijing, March 30, 10:30 pm
A freelancer journalist friend of mine, D., and I are in her apartment with an honest to gawd Tibetan "separatist" - a potential political refugee - I'll call P. D found him several days ago through a peaceful observance by Tibetan students at a university in Beijing. I have glommed along hoping to learn some more about the situation in Tibet and maybe get something worth publishing outside of China.

P looks as if he's straight out of central casting as a noble Tibetan independence leader - achingly handsome with long black hair tied in a pony tail, he's about 34 and looks something like an American Indian. He's also a bit nervous, twisting the beer bottle D has given him between answering our questions about Lhasa when the protests began. P was a tour guide with two German tourists in tow when the protests hit Lhasa - something he learned about when the temple he'd taken his tourists to was suddenly "closed." He'd returned the pair to their hotel then watched unbelieving he says as young, rioting unemployed Tibetan men began trashing and burning Chinese businesses with no initial opposition.

"I cannot believe there are no Chinese police or army that night," he says. "Only TV people. I think that the China government wants the trouble to show on TV later." And indeed the very footage has since been broadcast on TV and in news photos here.

P's not fan of the Chinese and says he has made a point of signing documents in Tibetan rather than Chinese as a low form of protest. He was unable to return to his apartment quickly and two days later when he did he found it and others near it had been forced open and tossed. He has Dalai Lama pictures and literature (banned in Tibet) in the apartment. Those were untouched though some other items - jewelry particularly - were missing. Neighbors told him Chinese police had been through.

He returned to the tourist hotel and his German clients who were itching to leave. He shows D and me a form they'd filled concerning his service giving him mostly 5's on a scale of 1 as worst to 5 as best, but added that they were "Most very disappointed not to see temples and to spend all time in hotel."

Take that, Tibet Tourism Association

P decided it was time for him to leave also. He's heard of, but not seen, cold blooded shootings by Chinese troops and police and was worried about his fate if he was traced to the Dalai Lama pictures in his apartment. "I have seen some people arrested," he says. "I see Dalai Lama in India before. I hear him. This is not his way. Too crazy now." Two bus rides, a van and a train have taken him roundabout and covertly to Beijing where he's now drifting from Tibetan restaurant to Tibetan restaurant on charity, solidarity and friendship.

He shows us a doctored Chinese passport with his real picture, a fake name and expired visa stamps from Vietnam and Czech Republic. P hopes to get a real visa for the Czech Republic using the bogus passport and then go to perhaps Poland, Belgium or maybe Ireland. After that? Who knows, he says. "I cannot go back Tibet now," he says. He finishes the beer, twists the bottle again before putting it down and fiddles with the 18 wooden prayer beads on his left wrist. D and I walk him through the narrow houtong district to a main street where he can hop a bus.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love your blog. I live in Shenzhen. Give me a ring next time you're in town, I'll take you out to a beer. Phone number's 1 312 nine five four 8991.

I'm not Chinese.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the phone call an hour ago. I must have sounded high :) In my defense, I was dead tired at the time and dodging throngs of Celestials on Hua Qiang Lu, while holding my cellphone and two bags in one hand and a number of other bags in my other hand (and occasionally teeth).

I do like to think rather highly of the distributivity of my attention, but in this particular occasion neither my conversational skills nor my human-wave dodging skills rose up to the (admittedly high) standards I profess, as proven by the fact that I feel the need to write this note and, uhm, wipe off a large number of imprints from my shoes.

Enjoy Beijing! :)

Matthew said...

Thanks for this. Amazing stories of people. With the way the media on both sides of the world are twisting the events, it's difficult to understand what's really going on.

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