Michiana Chronicles: Honoring The Exotic And The Protest

Jun 7, 2019

When you were a child, do you remember any place that you saw in your big ol’ geography book that captured your imagination? Other than those cowboys with the bolas, the section on Brazil held little interest for me, so I surreptitiously paged back to look again at the post and lintel standing stones in England, the pictures of olive trees in Greece and the lone little picture of Lhasa in Tibet. These were the places that I wanted to know more about and maybe even see. Especially Tibet: so little information, also so tiny, so far away, and consequently, so exotic.

Now this was after the Chinese overtaking of Tibet in 1950, but I don’t recall that being mentioned. There was nothing about the “Tibet Autonomous Region;” it was just Tibet, mostly mentioned because of the mountains. It is not my intention to make this a Chinese-bashing Chronicle, but what I view as that whole Chinese-suppression-of-Tibet issue does leave me more than a bit irritated. It may crop up again in these next few minutes.

For now though, moving along, the mystery of Tibet always remained in the back of my mind. As a supporter of the International Campaign for Tibet, I think about Tibet probably more than the ordinary person, and so was really excited in 2012 when the alumni group of that intrepid climber, Larry, organized a trip to the Himalayan Kingdoms and he suggested that we go. The plan was to begin in China, then go to Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan. As they say, “Didn’t have to ask me twice.” Very close to our departure, the Chinese decided to close Tibet, (They periodically do this, so that outsiders cannot see what they are doing in there.), so other than our airplane landing in Lhasa, we didn’t really get to visit Tibet. Again, more than a bit irritating.

Tibet from the Lhasa airport
Credit Jeanette Saddler-Taylor

An interesting aside, in the Tibetan airport they let you keep your bottle of water if you will drink from it in front of them. Seems like a very sensible approach that we might benefit from adopting in western countries, don’t you think?

So, skipping getting to see Tibet, we moved along to Nepal where there is a large Tibetan refugee population. There we were fortunate to meet and speak with Tibetans, both young and old, struggling to keep their culture alive. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the uprising in Tibet to attempt to regain control of their own country. After their failure in 1959 many, including his holiness, the Dalai Lama, fled in a diaspora, to other countries. There is a large settlement in northern India as well as in Nepal, but there also are an estimated 9,000 here in the United States: even here in Indiana: not a topography very like Tibet’s but we do get the cold. You may remember that before his death, the Dalai Llama’s brother lived in Bloomington, IN, and there remains a nice Tibetan restaurant there.

Tibetans painting traditional pictures
Credit Jeanette Saddler-Taylor

In the mode of political resistance, and on a rather grim note, the man who recently set himself afire outside of the White House brought Tibetans to mind. Self-immolation is a horrifying and long-term memory thing for me. Back in the Vietnam War days, the columnist, Ellyn Goodman’s son self-immolated in protest of that war. All of these years later, I think of that unknown-to-me young man and honor his memory. In the same vein, sometimes Tibetans commit self-immolation in protest of how the Chinese are attempting to erase the Tibetan culture. In recognition of this sacrifice, the newsletter from the International Campaign for Tibet names those people. And somehow, it is important to me as I read their names, to say them aloud. It seems as though the enormity of their sacrifice and commitment should be honored. It seems as though someplace as exotic as Tibet should be preserved. Do what you can.

Sorry that I couldn’t be funnier this time.