Whistle whilst you work, Tibetan-style.

Some time ago I mentioned my own visit to Tibet and some of the wonderful things I saw there.  Most of these things were not tourist sites or anything extraordinary, but were the wonderous moments of every day life.  Two of them happened to me at the Potala Palace, but that was inconsequential to the events themselves. I will share them with you as they came to mind when I was looking over some of my old pictures for good images to decorate my new (adult) room with.  Somehow, looking at serious photos makes you appreciate your delight in the simple (and perhaps not serious) sides of life more.

The first was my favorite pit toilet of all time which was basically in a cave.  Potala is built on a rather large hill, and evidently some of the caves below are still largely open to sunlight.  Hence, this particular trough of a toilet was open to the sun from below.  It was a little scary, but the crack was really too narrow to fall through.  Still, the image of urine arching downwards into multiple rays of sunshine has stayed with me.  Not to be vulgar, but as a woman I rarely get to watch my urine arch anywhere.

The second (of which I have recently rediscovered video records) was a song-and-dance group of the unintentional kind.  While we were walking around the Palace, I could hear music drifting outside – beautiful, top-of-the-lungs filling and joyous music.  It didn’t really sounds like monks chanting, and there were female voices included as well (I had yet to see any nuns at Potala).  So I thought it was some sort of special performance.  After all, the voices were singing in unison and on key – anyone who’s ever been to a Chinese church knows that carrying a tune is not a skill the majority of the population possesses.  However, when we eventually wound around to the ‘performers’, they were in reality the roof repair crew.  I’ll give you a little electronic sampling of thier stylings:

It’s only about 5 seconds long, because I was afraid to embarass them by taking a picture while they worked.  Below is a bit more, with a woman pouring the plaster.  Sorry about the sideways image.

I don’t know why they were beating the plaster into the existing roof, or why they felt the need to sing.  Still, it was a moment of joy and goodness in a potentially bland and sometimes opressive world.  Despite everything, we still grow.  We still sing.  We still dance, in step with a neighbor or two, under the sun.

Is that karma?

Sharon Stone is getting a bunch of flack for a comment she made regarding the earthquake in China recently.  She raised the question as to whether or not the earthquake might be punishment for the Chinese ‘not being nice’ to Tibet.  While it’s a little unclear exactly what she’s talking about (not being nice?  are we in preschool?), I still think there have been overreactions.  Ng See-Yuen of UME for example, is now talking of banning her movies from his theaters.  So let’s ban the legitimate work of countless actors and filmmakers for one person’s possibly disparaging remarks?  Especially when Stone’s comments were possibly meant to be forgiving?  You can decide for yourself – the interview clip is below.

While I myself take offense with the way Stone talks down to the interviewer, there’s a positive spin on the whole thing.  She’s trying to say ‘we should all learn from the Tibetans, and forgive, and unite to help each other when things get tough’.  She’s trying to say her initial reaction to the disaster was negative, but that she reconsidered and eventually felt sympathy for those in need.  She’s trying to continue to garner support for the cause of Tibet’s independence at a time with China’s disaster is pulling attention away from a cause she values.  We can all see and understand that, even while we wish she had done so in a more sympathetic fashion.

Finally friends, if such a disaster really were just punishment for civil rights abuses in Tibet, it wouldn’t have been centered in the western provinces.  It wouldn’t have been centered where a variety of minority groups without real political power would suffer.  It wouldn’t have destroyed a landscape that is beautiful and remote and arouses sympathy around the world.  Sichuan and the other provinces affected are not responsible for Tibet.  Just as I do not always agree with my own government, I continue to love and respect the Chinese people while not reserving the same respect for all the actions of their government.

CNN: the next terrorist.

The Summer Olympics of 2008 have brought up several questions that are dear to my heart.  They are questions of freedom of speech and the press, the questions of human rights, the questions of religion, government, and international relations.  Best illustrating these questions is the recent hackers’ attack and website slowdown of CNN and other international news sources reporting on the unrest in Tibet.

The first question that comes to me from the article referenced above is the angry of bloggers in China against the press of other countries.  What reports or articles in particular are viewed as unfair or biased, and for what reasons?  Are these accusations valid?

To answer these questions, I turned to the web.  This article tells a bit of the story – Jack Cafferty, a CNN commentator made some comments about China that were degrading and inaccurate.  Many Chinese people were angry at these comments and CNN as a consequence of these comments.  Nancy Pelosi was also criticized, though the article remained unclear on the details why.  I also accessed this page, translated by google, for more detail of the reasons behind the protests.  However, the translation was not accurate enough to give me much information.  I did watch the Youtube video posted on the page, which does show a bit of the riots in Tibet earlier this year.  It does little to show what actually happened, however.  It is not clear if protests began peacefully, if Han Chinese were a part of the early protests, if police acted as they should have.  The only things that can be truly determined are that things escalated, that people were killed or injured, that property was damaged on both sides, and that both Tibetans and Han Chinese are very righteously angry.

The second question is to the rights of the Chinese themselves.  Do they, as individual bloggers have the right to question the international press?  Should the Chinese government be reigning them in?  Do they have the right, or motivation, to question measures by the government in Tibet?  Do they have the access to judge?  Do foreign reporters have the experience to tell us the truth, to report honestly, if they do not know the history of the region?  Can they understand the anger of the people in Tibet or in China who feel so strongly about this issue?  Are they better, or worse, at interpreting the situation?  I am not sure of the answers to any of these questions, and I do not think they will be able to be answered for some time, if ever.  Perhaps with hindsight we will be able to clearly say who is right, or who is wrong.  Or maybe we will simply have to say that both sides have their faults, and hope that a peaceful agreement can be arranged.

I leave you with a final comment from another blogger on the danger of being caught in the middle, especially with such anger on both sides.  With such hatred, how can those sensible amongst us find our way?

Beauty, Difference, and Expression

The Chinese were early technological pioneers. Their civilization invented gunpowder and fireworks, paper and movable type, the crossbow and the cannon. The Han Chinese have been a part of one of the longest-running civilizations, stretching at least 5000 years into the past.  They have a tremendous history, and an understandable pride.  That’s a beautiful thing, and both of these – the country’s history and pride – will be showcased at the upcoming Olympic games.

But other groups living within China have an equal pride, and are not nearly as excited about the Olympics coming to China.  Recent news has showcased primarily Tibetan protests and resistance, but now ‘Xinjiang rebellions‘ are coming to light.  While I trust the morals of the Chinese government about as far as I can throw them, I have no doubt that the government in this case is doing what it feels is best.  They are probably lying through their teeth to the rest of the world, but it probably seems that rounding up Muslim Turks is protecting their interests.  After all, if the leader of the US can do it with WMDs, why can’t they with terrorist attacks planned for the Games?  It doesn’t matter if there’s any real evidence or not.  If they don’t have a scapegoat, Tibet, Hong Kong, and especially the long-disputed Taiwan could all try to break free of the central government.  I do not blame them for finding that scapegoat in the rural peoples of a remote desert and mostly deserted region who have little or no defense.  While places like Taiwan and Hong Kong have close ties to the outside commercial and political world to draw upon, and Tibet has the Dalai Lama and a rising number of voices throughout the world to protect their interests, what better than a terrorist plot (and a Muslim one, at that) to secure the power, legitimacy, and absolute rule of the current government?  What better way to further reduce freedoms to all protesters, to further silence all dissenting voices?

I have never been to Xinjiang, but I have met several of its people during my stay in China.  While the average Han Chinese will tell you that people from this region are liars, thieves, murderers, and generally not to be trusted, my experience of the people I have met has been far different.  I’ve met sweet young girls with rosy red cheeks too shy, at times, too look me directly in the eye.  I’ve met little shop vendors who put an extra dumpling in my bowl just because I’m obviously not from around here.  I’ve met people who are friendly, and all too willing to talk and share.  But perhaps I’ve only met the cream of the crop that they actually allow outside Xinjiang province.

I also visited the Muslim Quarter of Xian, which was beautiful and one of my favorite parts of the city.  While this one little corner is not doubt very tourist-oriented and probably only a little like Xinjiang itself, it still served as a window into the mix of Chinese and Muslim culture that exists to the Far East.  I loved it.  I loved the decoration of the area outside a working mosque that was a subtle blend of the bright colors and elaborate detail of traditional Chinese glazing and the non-representational designs of Islamic beliefs.  I loved the flat rounds of thick wheaty bread sold in these areas, denser than the more westerly forms of flatbread such as pita or roti and so refreshing after so many sickly-sweet Chinese breads.  I loved the tourists and marketplaces and pilgrims crowding every corner of the area, pushing through dense crowds slowly, the world frantic and sprawling and yet somehow patient within this liveliness.  I loved the noise of street vendors tucked in between faceless, hidden residences and quiet sacred spaces.

It makes me so angry, with all of this rich history, beauty, and diversity, to see the evil going on in the region currently.  If you are Han Chinese, and rightly proud of your culture and heritage, why would you not be equally proud of the Hui, Tatars, Kazahks, Uyghurs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Mongols, and Manchus as well as all the other minority groups that make your country great in its diversity?  Why would you not be attempting to greet them, know them, and understand them a little better, as they could make your life so much richer? If theses people are truly a part of your nation,  rather than a different country altogether, how can you not take pride in them and their beliefs?  As Confucianism originally stated, loyalty is owed to the government that is moral and just.  What of the government that does not treat its own citizens with sympathy, or even justice?

It makes me angry, because it portrays China to the world as an abuser of power.  It makes me angry, because it’s yet another oppression to a  people who have already had more than their share of it.  It makes me angry, that despite the facts given in the article on CNN, despite the clear indication that there is absolutely no proof of a terrorist plot, many will not give it any thought.  Many will just shake their heads at the spread of terrorism to remote regions of Asia, and not realize that the whole thing is most likely political propaganda.  And if not the literate masses of the world, who else will question the manipulation of stereotypes to deflect protests on Tibet and human rights violations by a morally bankrupt government?