Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Feeling of Occupation

Leaving Gyanste a couple mornings ago, a caravan of at least a dozen large military trucks loaded with soldiers passed.  Our guide thought they might be headed to the border with India at Darjeeling.  About an hour later, our car was stopped by soldiers. Several ran further along the road while one remained beside us with his finger on his rifle trigger. Another group of soldiers was further ahead of us.
 
Our guide tried to ask what was happening and he was told not to ask and not to watch. After about ten minutes and some shouting back and forth among groups, the soldiers started heading back to their vehicles. We were told they would signal when we could move.  After 15 - 20 large trucks passed us heading the other way, we were able to move again.
 
I could sense the responsibility our guide felt for us, his feeling of helplessness in this, his own country. Street corners are controlled by Chinese military as are open air markets and the surrounding roof tops. The old part of cities which are largely Tibetan have survailance cameras. There is no doubt that the Tibetans are treated as second class citizens. Educations is all in Chinese with Tibetan taught as a foreign language. The number of monks at any of the restored monasteries is controlled by the Chinese and is just a handfull of the number who previously became monks. Restoration of monasteries destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, as in mainland China, comes from donations from individuals, not the government though 90% of the entry fee to visit monasteries goes to the Chinese government, thus becoming cash cows for them. It is difficult for Tibetans to get passports and thus travel freely.
 
The Tibetans way of life is strongly identified with their form of Buddhism and in spite of attemps through the Cultural Revolution, it remains the central focus of life for many Tibetans. We witness thier devotion everywhere we go.
 
The Chinese have contributed much that has modernized Tibet: an improved road system, better water, improved farming methods, hydro power, promotion of tourism. Most of this has come from the top down with no consultation with the Tibetans, which has resulted in changes to a landscape that they have cared for and regarded as sacred for centuries. Undoubtedly, most of these changes will not be reversed.  The best we can hope for is that the Tibetans will eventually receive an equal voice and receive the full rights of citizenship.
 
This experience gave us a token feeling of what it must be like for populations in countries that the US has occupied in the name of democracy and liberation.

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