11th Panchen Lama: Tibet’s Stolen Child

One of the most heartbreaking stories of Tibet is losing a little boy to China’s prison. It deeply saddens me to think how cruel the world can be – not even sparing a little boy.

On 04/25/1989, a little boy, named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was born in Lhari County, in western part of Tibet.

On 05/14/1995, when Gedhun Choekyi Nyima turned six, the Dalai Lama recognized him as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama, the second most important spiritual leader of Tibet. Just after three days, when the news about him being recognized as the next Panchen Lama reached the Chinese government, they abducted the little boy, his parents and his teacher. They were all taken to the Chinese custody, and ever since no one knows where they are or if they are still alive today. After his abduction, the Chinese government went onto selecting another little boy as the “real” reincarnation.

On April 25th this year, he turned 23. Every year people all around the world celebrate his birthday to remember him and demand the Chinese government to release him from prison, or at least let the world know where he is. But thus far, they have been playing deaf to all the demands. They often come up with responses, such as, “He is healthy and happy. It is just that he and his family wish to remain away from the public attention.” So many petitions have been signed and so many protests have been held for his freedom. But unfortunately, as it is China, no one really wishes to ruin their friendship with it. Yet it is extremely sad that amidst all these crazy political commotions and diplomatic moves, a little boy lost his freedom. Maybe his life too? No one knows.

In April last year, I made a short film about him, with a hope that by this year, he might be celebrating his birthday outside the prison. But unfortunately nothing has changed. Another year went by, and here we are still calling out for his freedom. Alas, wherever he is, I hope that he is living a happy life. But it seems so unlikely… My prayers and well wishes are always with you, Panchen Lama. May you regain freedom soon.


Experience of Blogging Thus Far

I am happy that I finally got my hands on creating a blog. I have been thinking of having a blog for quite a long time, but never really had one until now. I have always wanted to write and express my thoughts and experiences – especially the thoughts that I believe matter. Despite the uncertainty of whether in reality, if people care about my voice or not, I always felt that I had the responsibility to try for the least. Unlike my Tibetan brothers and sisters, many of who still live under fear, and restrain from expressing themselves fully, I am for the time being, out of danger zone. Therefore, I feel that I must take the given opportunity fully and wisely and speak my mind. As such, I have decided to write about my experiences and thoughts on a weekly basis, and connect them to my identity as a Tibetan.

So far, I have written several blog entries on Tibet. For some entries, I analyzed news articles, I guess, from a Tibetan perspective. Othertimes, I wrote posts based on my recent experiences or distant memories. In both the cases, it was just wonderful to get somethings off my chest. I was very happy to read interesting and thought provoking questions and comments on my posts, from my fellow classmates. I have been again assured that there are people who are interested in knowing more about what is happening on the Roof of the World.

Another accomplishment from writing blog posts frequently, is that it has helped me with my writing to a good extent. Whenever I write a blog post, I would read it again and again, to make sure that it makes sense. Besides the short “status updates” and “notes” on Facebook, my blog is the only place, where people other than my teachers, have access to my written work. Hence, I would be extra careful with my image as a writer.

In a nutshell, it has been a great experience to have a blog. I have shared several of my blog posts on other online sites, such as Facebook and also sent via emails. I am will keep my blog even after this class. I agree that it is a challenge to keep up with the blog entries, but it is a worth-trying experience.

Aesthetics of Wandering & Childhood Memories

In the context of one of the classes that I am currently taking, Japanese Poetry, I decided to go out for a walk around the campus. We are reading poems written by one of the most well known Japanese poets, Matsuô Bashô . He is known for having traveled far and wide in Japan, finding inspiration in his surroundings to compose poems. So following his guidelines for an attentive wandering, I went around the campus, with my camera. I decided to go towards the cemetery as I have seen it many times before, but never really spent time to observe its surroundings in details. I am happy that I took the time to go around the campus once before I leave this place! Sometimes, wonderful things happen unexpectedly. During my short walk away from everything: my friends, cellphone, Facebook (haha…), homework and the worldly world, I experienced simple beauties that existed so close by, but never truly felt its presence until now. I saw flowers of different colors and insects of different sizes, co-existing in harmony – right few minutes away from my daily life.

Engulfed in sentimentalism and romanticism, upon seeing beauty in its tangible form, I was taken back to my childhood. As a little nomadic kid, I had plenty of opportunities to be in continuous unison with the nature. During the summers, “the time of the year”, I would play by the river side and indulge in my fantasy of being a princess. I would collect flowers that have grown tall and bountiful, by the river bed, and make the most delicate and colorful crown. Though the flowers I found here are not as big as those found in Tibet, they share many characteristics of beauty – natural, fresh, delicate, colorful, surreal and breathtakingly enchanting. In our nomadic family, it is usually my sisters who would be the ones to go out to the mountains and graze our animals. I would stay behind and help my mother run errands at our tent. Often, I would try to make my way to the mountains with my sisters. It was so much more adventurous and exploratory to being on the mountains than staying behind at the tent. On the mountains, I would found abundant flowers and fruits. While my sisters were busy tending to our animals, I would engage myself in collecting the mountain treasures. Looking back, I know that I was not much of an extra help for my sisters. Alas, those memories, when revived, bring me so close to my home – a home that I have missed for the last sixteen years. But may there be a time when I will be once again in unison with the flowers of my birth place… Yet for now, I will nurture their memories in the beauty of the flowers of this land.

Participatory Culture & Participation Gap

DIY: DO IT YOURSELF and then BROADCAST YOURSELF: YouTube seem to sum up pretty accurately the world we live in, in certain parts of the world – say for example, in the West. In most of the developed countries, many people can afford things beyond their basic necessities. For example, cellphones and going up the economic scale: ipad, iphones, smartphones, Macbooks, PCs, and almost every possible means of communication and interaction.

But as Henry Jenkins points out, there is a huge online participation gap between those who have the means and the knowledge to participate versus those do not.  For most of the articles that we read on online participatory culture, the writers have the Americans (or more accurately the upper class families) on their minds. But those who are trying hard to make ends meet, they are far from being represented in the web that we draw to depict the pattern of participatory culture. So it is really a bit of an exaggeration when we talk so much about how the millennial generation is going to take over the world with their iphones and ipads. If we were to talk about the millennials in the context of the larger world outside the West,  general perception of youths as walking everywhere with a smartphone in their hands, and frequently being on Facebook, has to change. For they are many who still do not what Facebook is.

Leaving Fear Behind: a documentary film that costs Wangchen his freedom

In March 2008, the year when the air was full of excitement in Beijing, as it was to host the Olympics, and showcase its strength as the rising superpower, Dhondup Wangchen, a simple layman, decides to put his life at risk. Taking a simple camcorder as his tool, he sets himself on a journey to expose an alternative story, to all the excitement about the Olympics. Despite knowing the danger of being imprison or shot dead, he starts interviewing Tibetans from every walks of life, about their opinions on China hosting the 2008 Olympics. With much sensitivity and concerns for the safety of his interviewees, he promises to blur their faces. But most of the Tibetans who spoke to him, wanted their faces be shown, as they felt a strong desire to express themselves and let the world and China know how they feel about the Olympics. Almost all of them express skepticism and disbelief that China would do anything concrete to improve the dire situation in Tibet. They are doubtful that China would lift its censorship, and let media report without restricts during the game. They also question the decision of the Olympics Committee for having let China host the game. If the essence of the game is that it represents freedom, then they say that freedom has set behind the mountains that surround Tibet. For instance, one of the interviewees states, “The Chinese have independence and freedom so it’s something that they can celebrate. Take me for example, I think the game is important, but I don’t like them.” She implies the undeniable differences in the Chinese government’s treatment of the Chinese and the Tibetans. Then another Tibetan, a monk, states, “As a Tibetan, I have neither the freedom nor the peace. Therefore I don’t want these Games.” Appropriately, Dhondup Wangchen titled his film, Leaving Fear Behind.

Unfortunately, Chinese government arrested Wangchen soon after the words about his film reached their sharp ears. On December 2008, he was sentenced to six years in prison. His wife and two young children, managed to escaped to India, after his arrest. Now they are leaving in exile, waiting for the day, when the family will be reunited. But their hope has been tested many times after his arrest. Even though thousands have taken it to the streets to call for his release, no improvement has made thus far in his case. Just recently, his wife, Lhamo Tso traveled around the U.S to seek help from the world to pressure China to release her husband. But it seems all too difficult to challenge the influence of China, in the world politics.

Dhondup Wangchen is one of many Tibetans, who are unjustly imprisoned for many years, for expressing their desire for freedom. Whether China will ever release these Tibetans from their clutch is a grave concern… May the world never see a day when justice is only an empty word for many.

Veronica Mars versus Emily Thorne: Similarities and Differences

In the two TV series, Revenge and Veronica Mars, there are several noir elements in common, as well as some noticeable differences between the two.

In both of the TV series, there is a protagonist, “with an individual set of moral values, situated in a corrupted society” and also, the actions of the protagonist are justified by: either a need to take revenge for an unjust treatment or the need to expose the truth to bring justice in society. Then there are the commonalities in the characterization of the female characters as intelligent/smart, tech-savvy and brave. And sorry Strauss and Howe, these female protagonists are pretty “hardboiled”, and they are nowhere near being, “obedient to the  law/authority”. If the law/authority is corrupted (which is the case in these millennial noirs), and does not justly serve the people, these youngsters are ready to topple it. With their intelligence, bravery and sound knowledge of the modern technologies, these young millennials are determined to put their lives at risks and be a “private eye”, to expose the harsh realities of the society. Relating these representations of the millennials to the real life, I could not help but to think of Invisible Children as an example. Despite the controversies surrounding how their resources are spent or how the fact is represented, the group so efficiently uses the potential of the modern technologies: social media and digital tools expose gruesome truth about Joseph Kony by sharing their footages/images to the world, within few days.

Yet another similarity between the two shows is that the stories linger on the uncertainty of the past. Does Veronica Mars’s father falsely accuse Dunkin’s father? Is Veronica Mars raped? Is Emily Thorne’s father, an innocent man or does he bury some secrets with him? Does Emily Thorne really know what kind of man her father is? These uncertainties intensify the suspense element in the millennial noir, and also they leave the reliability of the single-point-of-view narrative, questionable in the two TV series.

But unlike in Revenge, wherein the classical noir element of femme fatale is on the surface, in Veronica Mars it is subordinated. Though both the characters are beautiful and desirable, Emily Thorne comes much closer to representing a potential femme fatale than tomboyish Veronica Mars. Unlike Veronica Mars who most of the times dresses pretty simple and neat (as in not fleshy and fancy); Emily Thorne is more feminized and glamorized. It becomes clear that the show emphasizes on her beauty and sexuality, as she consciously uses them as a tool to get closer to the Greysons.


 Image Emily Thorn, the innocent beauty

Veronica Mars, the tomboy

Tibetan Filmmakers Rising to Prominence

Recently, Pema Tseden, a Tibetan filmmaker in Tibet, has been awarded “Development Prize” at Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum. It is a cash prize of $19,300, which will help fund his next film, Balloon. Besides the funding, it is the recognition that he receives outside Tibet, that makes me, a fellow Tibetan, proud of him. His previous film, The search, also won him much recognition and admiration, both among the Tibetans and the outsiders. The stories of his films revolve around the Tibetan traditions and popular mythical stories. For instance, The Search has its parts based on one of the eight most legendary Tibetan operas, Drime Kunden. The story of Drime Kunden, is said have been derived from the story of Shakyamuni, the life story of Buddha. Thus his films attempt at reviving and revitalizing the Tibetan culture and its roots.

Making his debut at Cannes Film Festival this year, is Tashi Tsering Gyalthang, a Tibetan filmmaker, based in Vietnam. His short film, Turtle Soup will be screened at the 65th Cannes Film Festival, among the top 20 films, in May. The story is simple yet fully captivating. It revolves around two little street kids, who for a time being, forget their task of selling sweets, and ensue a mission to save a turtle. While passing by a restaurant, they see a turtle in a tank. Upon getting close to the tank to play with the turtle, they see a note fixed on the tank, “Special Turtle Soup”. The restaurant workers chase them away. But they do not give up on their desire to save the turtle. Thus the story continues with how they save the turtle. Despite the simplicity of the story, the film won critical acclamations, for its soft camerawork, smooth editing and the humanistic portrayal of a pure kindness.

It is great to see more Tibetans breaking into new spheres, such as filmmaking. Besides its entertainment value, it is a great way  to consolidate Tibetan culture, arts and history – by reviving, revitalizing and restoring them on the celluloid.