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.

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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.

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 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.

No. No… Do not question my sanity!

From the two chapters of the book, I got to learn much more about Bella Swan, than watching the movie alone. In these two chapters, she takes us deeper into her personal world, and exposes all her insecurities, confusions and anxieties, as an adolescent girl. There are several internal conflicts that she must settle or at least mitigate. Her coming of age, and resulting the desire to put up an appearance of independence, decisiveness, individualistic and rebelliousness, is apparent in her decision to leave Phoenix and move to Forks. Despite her dislike towards the new place, she propels herself onto, the road to change, a break away from her comfort zone: staying with her mother, who tries to be her best friend, and being in the place that she likes. With anticipated challenges on the road ahead, she brings herself to refusing her mother’s desire to shield her, and instead, to face the consequences of her decision. Her departure from Phoenix, marks her entrance into the world of complications – learning to adjust to the new school, rebuilding her relationship with her father, and most significantly, falling in love with a vampire. She states, “When I landed in Port Angeles, it was raining. I didn’t see it as an omen – just unavoidable. I’d already said my goodbye to the sun.” (Twilight, First Night, p. 5) Indeed, she had said goodbye to the sun. The awaiting torrential is symbolic of her fate thereafter. A rainfall  that casts off the glories sun, also awakens the sense of a revival of a dead aspiration. With the sound of raindrops hitting the rooftop, a new song is in order, for Bella Swan. Her life thereafter takes her through wild twists and turns, yet, she is engulfed in excitement, all the way through. Her life revolves around her vampire lover, whose love for her, surpasses the most romantic love stories ever written. His love for her is proven unshakable, when he puts his life at risk to protect her from both mortal beings and the vampires. He states, “I feel very protective of you.” When their hearts meet, there is no boundaries between the two different worlds, that they belong to. In short, both the book and the movie, capture my interests. And, taking the love story at face value, I understand why it is highly popular among its fans. Who would not fancy the idea of being loved so truthfully, by the most handsome guy?

ImageBut, I also understand the roots of the criticisms that have been piled up against Twilight. Many critics have questioned the sanity of  it ardent fans. Thus, I think the trick to enjoying the story of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, is to never ponder beyond what is written on the pages or what it is shown on the screen. But well, as the students of Media Studies, we feel the urge to dissect our guinea pigs. We question the significances of what is represented, how it is represented on the screen, and what meanings could be drawn out of the representation. In Twilight, besides poking fun at the implausibility of love between a human being and a vampire, one could raise more serious concerns over how gender is scripted in the story. Bella Swan is portrayed as a quintessential female character, who is beautiful yet fragile and delicate. As many beautiful things in this world do, her delicate beauty calls for the need to be constantly protected. Hence the vegetarian vampires conspire in the mission of sending, the most handsome and romantic guy, Edward Cullen at her rescue… Just another fantasy. In short, let’s just take Twilight at face value.

Tibetans end hunger strike, UN assures probe

After thirty days without food, the UN – maybe out of fear for being responsible for three dead bodies in front of their building – heeds to the demand of the three Tibetan hunger strikers. A representative from Ban Ki-Moon’s office, Parfait Onanga, visits the site, to hand a written assurance to the hunger strikers. Out of the three Tibetans, the oldest member, Dorjee Gyalpo, 59, has been taken to the hospital by the New York police few days ago. All the three hunger strikers lost much weight, over twenty pounds, and they are so weak that they can hardly speak. They need support of two others to stand up on their feet. Their voices are so feeble that others have to get very close to them to hear them properly. There is tear of joy and hope, when the letter from the UN is handed to the hunger strikers. According to the letter, the UN reassures the Tibetans that it will “engage” with China on the human rights violation in Tibet, and that it has asked, “special rapporteurs to investigate what is going inside Tibet… “(NYT, March 23)

Hunger Strike Ends

Though I share the joy of the Tibetans for having received a sympathetic (late, but still important) response from the UN, I am doubtful that anything concrete and substantial will come out of it. According to the article in New York Times, firstly, the letter is said to have been “approved” by the UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, but it misses his signature. Secondly, the meanings of certain terms in the letter are left open-ended. What does it mean to “engage” with the Chinese government on the situation inside Tibet? Does it mean that the UN will put pressure – economic sanction – on the Chinese government to resolve Tibet Issue? Or does it mean that the UN will whisper few words across the table, to the Chinese delegates? Anyways, it seems quite meaningless to do anything, as long as China can raise its “veto” card, to any discussions on Tibet Issue in the UN.

Yet, I am grateful that the UN did not let the Tibetans die. We have so much on our plate right now, that it is extremely hard to bear the pain of losing more Tibetans – wave of self immolation, arbitrary arrests, undeclared martial law, firing at civilians and systemic oppression inside Tibet.

Religion in Millennial TV

Though it is again hard to generalize that the millennial generation is less religious than the previous ones, it is somewhat agreeable that youths today question their parents more often than before, when it comes to the topic of  religion. I have met many people from different countries, both in High School, Red Cross Nordic United World College and in College. Out of all the people I met, none described oneself as “religious”. One of my roommates from Sweden in High School, even described herself as neither religious nor agnostic. This  “neither” religious stance, I think is not unique to my Swedish friend. If we or someone cannot convince us with strong evidences, which usually tends to be empirical in nature, we either decide not to engage in the respective sphere or choose to remain ambiguous – or as “neither”.

In the Television series we watched, the questions that we find asking each other on a daily basis, are raised in one way or the other. Specifically, in Supernatural 4.1, there is the conflicting representation of an angel. For instance, when Dean confronts Castiel, who claims to be an angel, he rebuffs, “I thought angels were supposed to be guardians, fluffy wings, halos, you know… Michael Landon, not dicks.” As Line Nylon Petersen states,”basic dichotomies are destroyed”, with the portrayal of Castiel as a violent and unsympathetic angel – if he really is one. Petersen further elaborates, “The good does not exclude the bad, the innocent does not exclude the purposeful evil, nor the other way around”. This complex and hence conflicting representation or visualization of an angel, hinges on the writers’ desire to attract the younger viewers, the millennials, if you will. Like a young mind fights through the contradictory and often hypocritical “religious” practices and preachings in his/her real world, Dean confronts the hypocrisy of his angel – preaches of good intention, but acts in the opposite manner.

Though I would not describe this generation in extremes terms,”…  allergic to divinity and even to heaven” (Stephen Prothero), I would argue that the instinct or natural tendency to question the nature of heaven and divinity – or to look for alternative views – is definitely a defining characteristic of this century.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Visit Middlebury in October

Last night, around midnight, I happened to check my emails. I could not easily believe what I read in an email from the college president. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is coming to Middlebury College in October! This is a very happy news. Though I will be graduated then, the thought of having him coming to Middlebury College makes me so happy. Also, I have already made up my mind. No matter wherever I will be then, I will do my best to come back to Middlebury.

http://www.middlebury.edu/studentlife/services/chaplain/hhdl

I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.

Right from my childhood, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been my idol. Though I did not understand much about who he was and what he did, he had never failed to warm up my heart, every time I saw him. Back when I was in a Tibetan refugee school in India, we used to wait by the road sides and greet him whenever he passes by our school. He always had a very cheerful smile on his face and greeted his well-wishers with much sincerity – looked early through his car window and waved constantly at us.

As I grew older, I learned more about our country, its history, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s role in our society and why he came into exile – to India in 1959. Knowing more about him instilled in me, a much greater respect and admiration for him. His undying courage to live up to his moral principles, and to truly shoulder the responsibilities of a global citizen, garnered him profound respect and love, from all over the world. His words on the importance of upholding the universal moral values: love, nonviolence, understanding, compassion and kindness, are translated into numerous languages and quoted most frequently. He has traveled all over the world and his messages reached millions around the globe. He was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, for his decades-long commitment to nonviolence, in resolving the Tibetan People’s struggle for Independence. As the spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people for many decades, he has taught his people to be resilient during the times of immense difficulties, and to never give up on their hope to restore justice in Tibet.

On a more personal level, I had the luck to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama before. When I was in High School, I was elected as the “Girl Captain” of the school. During one of our School Anniversaries, His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited our school. On behalf of the students, I had the honor to offer a KHATAK (white silk scarf) to His Holiness. It is a Tibetan tradition to offer KHATAK to greet someone. His Holiness accepted my KHATAK with such kindness that I could not hold back my tears. He patted on my cheeks and said cheerfully, “Thank you. And always be strong and happy.” Those words still echo in my heart. When the days are hard, I think of him and his words, and I feel tremendous courage.

Becoming a refugee at the age of eleven and never seeing my family again, there are times when I am heavily consumed by sadness and lose the strength to be look further than my own problems. I would ask, “Why cannot I go home once in a while? Why cannot see my family once in a while? Why this and why that?” But afterwards, when I regain my sense of reasoning, I would remind myself that I am not alone. From His Holiness the Dalai Lama to millions of us, we all share the same fate – being separated from the loved ones and unsure about the day of return to a free Tibet. Despite all the struggles, his happiness is invincible. His true concern for others shines through him. His words sooth my heart as I know his compassion for others is genuine.

May you live a long life, His Holiness. I am so much looking forwarding to seeing you in October.