Just my two cents worth


August 2009

On the Dalai Lama’s Ladakh Visit

Ladakhis and others waiting to welcome the Dalai Lama to Leh
Ladakhis and others waiting to welcome the Dalai Lama to Leh

Last week I had to make a short trip to India (thus the absence in my blogging here for awhile) where I visited Leh in Ladakh. His Holiness the Dalai Lama was on a visit there. Ladakh borders Tibet and the people there have close spiritual, historical and cultural relationship with the Tibetan people.  His Holiness was visiting different parts of Ladakh, including remote areas, visiting monasteries and mosques, and giving religious teachings.

I was able to observe two days of teachings by him and it was reported that more than 35,000 people attended the same.  There was virtually a sea of humanity and it was heartening to see the devotion of the Ladakhi people towards His Holiness. I was told that many of these people are nomads who have come to Leh from the northern plains for the teachings. Quite many of them would have trekked overnight or sought recourse to whatever transportation opportunities available not to miss such a sacred opportunity to have a glimpse of the Dalai Lama. The Ladakhi language is based on Tibetan but the dialect is different and so the teachings of His Holiness was being translated into Ladakhi as well as English and Chinese (there were quite a few Chinese-speaking Buddhists there). The teaching site was an interesting social experience to see the attitude of non-Tibetans like Ladakhis towards the Dalai Lama.The above photo of the scene on the day the Dalai Lama arrived in Leh on August 9 is indicative of this attitude. I found the photo on the internet and seek the photographer’s indulgence in using it here.

One evening, I was in the main market in Leh and a colleague pointed out a few people who were standing outside an antique store. They had some rugs in their hand and the colleague mentioned that these are nomads who had come for the teachings and that they were using the opportunity to indulge in some trade.

If You Want to Help the People of Tibet, drink Beer!

Happy days are here again in the United States.  At last, a beer from Tibet will be available for consumption here.  Too bad the Lhasa Beer made its debut after President Obama had his beer session at the White House with the professor and the police officer from Harvard University. Otherwise, this could have been a good opportunity for the Tibet movement to press for making Lhasa Beer the beer of reconciliation.

Seriously, more than the appearance of the beer here, I am intrigued by the report that said, “Lhasa [i.e. the beer, not the capital of Tibet] will donate 10 percent of its annual profits to non-profit groups supporting education, health care, cultural preservation and other socially responsible initiatives in Tibet, according to Witz.”  George Witz is the president of the American company, Dzambuling Imports, which is doing the importing of  Lhasa Beer to this country.

I visited its website and did find half a dozen Europe and US based NGOs that are currently working in development projects in Tibet among whom one is getting that 10 per cent.

It seems “Lhasa Beer is brewed using only the finest natural ingredients, including Himalayan spring water, barley, Saaz hops and yeast. This export product is specially formulated with 30 percent of the malt content coming from the huskless native Tibetan barley. Using this Tibetan barley gives the beer a crisp clean taste without any harsh or astringent flavors that can come from the husk, and supports the Tibetan farmers.”

How many bottles of Lhasa Beer would be available here? According to a report in the Tibet Daily, the newspaper from Lhasa, the first batch of 11340 cases of Lhasa Beer were sent to the United States in the middle of May this year.  The report said that the second batch of 13860 were due to be sent in July. Thereafter, the schedule seems to be to send a batch every second month.

The beer’s website says this, “Through your purchase of Lhasa Beer you are contributing directly to the well being of people in Tibet.”  If that is so, my mantra to you is, if you want to help the Tibetan people, get drunk on Lhasa Beer.

Tibetan Performing Arts at 50


Today, I heard on the Voice of Tibet that the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala has turned 50.

This is one institution in exile that has served a unique purpose in bringing Tibetan performing arts tradition to the world at large, including the Tibetans in diaspora. In the process many have lauded its contribution in clearly projecting the “pure” Tibetan tradition (as opposed to what China is doing to the art).  I feel the time has come for TIPA, as it is more popularly known to the English-speaking community (Dhoegar to the Tibetans), to reassess its role in the new environment it is in.

Fifty years back, TIPA was set up for the basic functional utility of being a center for preserving some of the Tibetan music and dance traditions. It has very much served this purpose since then. But now the time has come for TIPA to go beyond mere preservation and to step up its efforts on composition.  Yes, TIPA artistes do compose and some of its products come out through bands like Akama. Also, the most popular tune during my school days would be “Zepay Rinzin Wangmo”, composed by then TIPA artiste and currently located in Canada, Thupten Samdup la.  But these are non-traditional output.

In recent years, TIPA has done much to promote the Tibetan opera tradition. I heard TIPA Director Wangchuk Phasur say that it has been supporting eight Tibetan opera troupes throughout the Indian subcontinent. Also,  TIPA has composed more than two operas (Milarepa and The Great Fifth Dalai Lama) in the post-1959 period (there are, I think two more that I have not seen) .  Such works need to be expanded.  Similarly, in the field of semi-classical music like Nangma, Toeshey or Garlu, I do not think there have been any new compositions and that needs to be paid attention to.

It is only through composition that we enrich the classical musical tradition. But then, as a commercial for a church in our part of the United States says, what I am doing is giving “Just a thought, not a sermon.”

My take on People’s Daily in Tibetan

The news out of Lhasa is that the Chinese Communist Party has started publishing a Tibetan edition of its mouthpiece People’s Daily from August 1.  Of course, to those who know the nature of this publication one can only expect the straight official line. Thus, the Tibetan people will now be getting an opportunity to read the same, in addition to hearing and seeing them on radio and TV.

However, I am intrigued on two points by the latest announcement.  First, this will be a Tibetan edition that will cover not just the Tibetan Autonomous Region but also all the Tibetan areas that are outside of it in present-day People’s Republic of China. Thus, this is a pan-Tibetan daily, so to say, in Tibetan.  Secondly, the statement announcing this publication has the following interesting quote, “We will try our best to provide accurate and timely news that relates to local people.”

Of course, technically such a commitment would be contrary to the very nature of the People’s Daily for its sole purpose seems to be to convey to the people what the Party wants. However, since such a promise has been made in writing the readers, whether in Tibet or outside, can only wait and see whether it is really delivered.

A xinhua photo about the Tibetan edition with four ladies
A xinhua photo about the Tibetan edition with four ladies

The Xinhua report that carried the above quote is accompanied by a photo of four beaming women in Tibetan dresses holding a copy of the Tibetan edition of the People’s Daily. Although the Xinhua caption said, “Tibetan people read People’s Daily…” except for one of them, the rest of the four ladies are looking away from the newspaper and seem engrossed with each other and being amused with something.  I hope they are not making fun of this latest venture that is “aimed to contribute to the economic development, social progress, ethnic harmony and stability in Tibet with its news coverage” for that would be gross anti-party activity.

Chinese Propaganda Machinery and the Dalai Lama

These are my thoughts for today as I monitor the media reports coming out from China as well as from the rest of the world on Tibet.

The Chinese authorities, or at least those who have a vested interest in leaving the Tibetan issue unresolved, seem to be desperate to paint an image of declining  international interest in His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Tibet. One can see this in constant churning of misinformation coming out of China trying to give a distorted picture. The fact that this version of the situation comes out only through the official Chinese media while the free press comes out with a different version is being missed by the Chinese officials.

More interestingly, such disinformation from Beijing are sometimes in the form of “news” and at others in the form of “article” in the name of some non-existing person called “Yedor.” While on “Yedor,” did the Chinese propaganda people not know that in Tibetan it means “casting away the mind”, which is indeed an apt definition of the content of the writings under this name?

The latest such propaganda items are devoted to the ongoing visit of H.H. the Dalai Lama to Germany and Switzerland. While representatives of the free media that have gathered in Switzerland have been reporting from the field about “Sellout crowds of 12,000 for two days of conferences offered by the Dalai Lama” (just do an internet search) or that “The Dalai Lama enjoys moral authority in much of the world (AP from Lausanne, Switzerland, August 5, 2009),” People’s Daily can only moan from faraway Beijing (dateline) that “Dalai Lama gets cold reception in Germany, Switzerland.”

Partial view of the crowd gathered to listen to the Dalai Lama, who is seen prostrating. Photo:
Partial view of the crowd gathered to listen to the Dalai Lama, who is seen prostrating. Photo:

Of course, if the Chinese media is hinting at the hesitation of the politicians to interact with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I am afraid the “cold reception” is one that is being forced upon these leaders than one that has been genuinely evolved. For example, in the case of Switzerland, the Chinese may be correct to assume (as the People’s Daily did) that “In the past, Switzerland boldly received the Dalai Lama as the country has little influence on international political strategies. The reason behind the refusal lies in Switzerland’s new awareness of China’s growing power in the global environment, which cannot be ignored. Switzerland must consider cooperating with China in order to advance its national interests and safeguard its economy and trade.” What better evidence do we need than this to say that it is only through brute political force that China is imposing its will on other governments.

On the other hand the 12,000 sell-out crowd in Lausanne and those many who attended the events in Germany have all spent quite a bit of their money to travel to the venue and to purchase entry tickets so that they can get an opportunity to hear from the Dalai Lama. A look at the website of the organizers of the events in Lausanne says that all the tickets for the two-day sessions were sold out. What would be the situation if a Chinese leader were to give a two-day talk in Lausanne and tickets were being sold? At best, there may be just some business type people who will buy the tickets, that too unwillingly.

So if these Chinese officials want to be petty and continue with this childish act of making others believe what they may be hoping for, it only goes to show how unprepared China is to be a genuine superpower.

I want to believe that it is only the wrong sort of leaders that are guiding the propaganda machinery in China and that there are more serious and understanding leaders in Beijing. If that is so, it is time for them to speak up before China loses any standing it has among the people of the world, who ultimately count. Otherwise, the outcome of any match between the Chinese propaganda machinery and the Dalai Lama before the international public opinion will be a foregone conclusion. The Dalai Lama will be the gold medal winner.

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