Monday, March 10, 2008

a personal high point of my life with an ending you won't want to miss

I met up with some of my fellow march staff members, including the president of the Tibetan Youth Congress who left his family in the States to come here and serve his country. We meandered our way down the hill on the long switchbacks of the hill country to the Tibetan settlements where the monks planned to stay the night. I was told to get lost during the meeting since I have yet to brush up on my Tibetan. I tried to take a nap in a field but a pack of friendly yet persistent dogs with wet noses found the beef jerky in my pocket. I laid down out of sight next to a truck and the driver came over in a few minutes to move it ten feet. I gave up on sleep only to discover a large number of interesting Westerners to chat up.

I met an Italian MP who leads Hands Off Cain, a movement to eradicate the death penalty. I personally am fine with the death penalty and could pull the trigger, with no qualms, for any child molester if positively knew of their guilt. However, I do not trust any legal system to be able to make such important decisions. Far too many cases recently have been overturned with new DNA evidence. Some of them have been too late.

He came with two other Italian men who will run for seats on the nonviolent radical ticket. One surprisingly young guy, Matteo Mecacci, represents Italy at the UN and lives in the Lower East Side. His friend, Marco Perduca, covers issue concerning Cyprus on his blog, Perdukistan, among other things. I also met people from all over the world supporting the march through various NGOs (non-governmental organizations). I'll introduce them as the march goes on.

The monks started to wander back from their building. An intense looking man I noticed earlier came up to strike up a conversation. After awhile, he asked my name and I looked at his name tag. Tenzin Tsundue. Bam. It's because of this guy that I'm here in the first place. He pulled an amazing stunt a few years ago when he climbed to the 14th floor of the Oberoi Towers in Mumbai and unfurled a gigantic Tibetan flag while the Chinese Premier, Zhu Rongji, addressed a conference inside. My first impression was correct: he's an intense man.

I slept upstairs with the monks in an unfinished building. The guys around me didn't speak any english but we managed quite well to convey our friendliness to each other. They even gave me two of their extra blankets to keep because I figured I could do without. I just planned to sleep in all of my clothes I brought on cold nights. I mistakenly thought I had to carry my bag each day but it turns out they have a truck to carry bags and supplies. Too bad. I've never packed so light: three pairs of socks, two pairs of underwear (who keeps stealing them? seriously, fess up, I'll figure it out eventually and then you'll get it), my dad's old flannel shirt, my only pair of pants, athletic shorts perfect for my morning constitutional, a scarf, three books, a notepad, various electronic chargers, two packs of beef jerky, a pillow case that functions as a towel and dirty clothes hamper simultaneously, one chess board and a coil of rope which I will be delighted when I find a use for it.

I slept well for two reasons:
1. I only slept a few hours total during my previous two days of travel
2. Buddhist monks apparently do not snore. Perhaps there's an inverse ratio between Enlightenment and sawing gourds.

We woke at four to eat a hearty breakfast and climb into two trucks with our Tibetan flags. As we pulled out of the compound into the strengthening dawn, the flags began to snap sharply in the wind and the sight of these men so excited to venture forth towards possible death or imprisonment moved me profoundly. I began singing "Marching Towards Zion" softly. It felt just right.

We unloaded to walk through the silent town and took a path through the forest of evergreens and deciduous trees among mandalas carved into the stones and monks sitting by the path to recite their prayers quietly, never noticing our presence. Prayer wheels lined the entrance to the temple. In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the prayers written on the outside have the same effect whether spoken or spun off the wheel. We went behind the temple underneath an immense number of multi-colored prayer flags to watch the end of the dawn and talk quietly amongst ourselves. I practiced my interview skills with a nice kid from Bhutan whose been a monk for only a few years. The arduous intellectual life of a monk fascinated me and I'll write more later.

The monks gathered to sing a morning prayer and throw flour into the air for good luck. Here's my best picture of the day and a video of their prayer:



The monks filed out of the temple and up the road to the town while I ran around looking for good photos. As we approached the march kickoff, crowds lined the roads, cheering wildly. I joined the line on monks as the only foreigner. It turns out a few other foreigners will march the whole way and only monks were supposed to be in the line. Nobody told me and the people kept shouting thank you at me. The monks sat tranquilly in front of a podium while crowds filled the square behind them. As politicians, movement leaders and the Italian politicians gave speeches, I handed out pamphlets outlining the goals of the march. I found dozens of foreigners in the crowd from across the globe wearing signs of support for the movement.

We also saw another leg of the torch relay for the Tibetan Olympics, a protest Olympics for young Tibetans being held in May at the Tibetan capitol in exile: Dharamsala, India. Intense looking young men.

After a final prayer, the monks filed out solemnly in their red robes and I jumped into the middle of the line carrying my messenger bag with a Tibetan flag sticking out of it. As we moved out from the cheering crowds, older Tibetans stood quietly by the side of the road with tears in their eyes. I cannot imagine the pain of being forced from your home and never allowed to return.

The monks and I quietly walked down the road single file followed by a howling mob following the torch. Reporters rushed by us to stop and take pictures and video before running to their next vantage point. I could look up the mountain side and watch a roaring crowd fill the last two switchbacks of the road. We walked from the tourist town of Mcleod Gang to where we stopped for a rally in a square packed with people.

The air crackled with energy as I climbed around the podium to take pictures of the patriotic crowd. Leaders shouted phrases and the people roared their responses. The monks slowly filed through the crowd to continue their journey as everybody shook their hand and wish them good luck. You could see the heart of the people go with them.



We stayed at a university/monastery the first night with a basketball court for a Tibetan/Westerner basketball game. In spite of the small stature of the Tibetan team and the presence of girls (the kiss of death in sports), we saw quite a competitive game.

Unfortunately, then the first hint of trouble arose. A police squad arrived with orders that the march could not continue outside the borders of the district two days march from here. After hours of arguing, nothing changed and we went to bed apprehensive for the future. I naively thought the march might be over until Tenzin Tsundue marched into the office and loudly said, "It's just begun. The march goes on." He's now being quoted in almost every newspaper article: "Now comes the fun part." Quite a guy.

Since I'm writing this several tumultuous days later, my initial worries seem ever sillier. However, the leadership warned us of possible arrest, deportation and imprisonment in the days to follow. My chances of legal troubles appeared slim but I think it’s important to elucidate why the Tibetan people deserve this sacrifice. So hop on the train to Imagination Land, wooh wooh.

Imagine China invades America with no provocation and flimsy claims of a former colonial status that I’ll delve into at another time. They sweep across the land, brushing aside all resistance, until they reach Lancaster, PA. The People’s Liberation Army halts to demand immediate negotiations. President Obama has no choice but to send a team to Beijing. Under duress and without authorization, the negotiation team signs a document that establishes China’s historic claims to America and our submission to their rule. The army completes its control of the country. Our invaders initially try to win the will of the people with a Communism propaganda campaign and paying well for all army supplies.

Scattered resistance with outmoded weapons (OK, this part is just not American, we probably have a better arsenal in our homes that in our barracks) quickly folds as the occupiers respond with overwhelming force. Thousands dead and ten thousand wounded, some states virtually empty of men. Think about that one again. Almost no men left in a state. I simply cannot imagine a world like this and I will never know how lucky I am to have seen anything like it yet.

Within a year, the army’s payments for food cease and government stores empty. The troops begin seizing houses and food. They come to my friend, John Hess, to take all of the hogs on his farm and seize his house. All of his siblings and their families move into the one house remaining between them. As this repeats itself across the country, famine spreads through the population and the troops. Finding food becomes paramount but the search becomes harder as the troops begin seizing vehicles. Churches get destroyed for building materials.

Popular discontent rises as life over the years as life becomes intolerable. Americans again take up arms against the People’s Liberation Army and freedom fighters take control of parts of the South and creep closer to DC. The tipping point comes when the Party invites our beloved President Obama to a show at the Ford Theater but order him to leave his bodyguard.

As word spreads through the people, thirty thousand people throng the White House, refusing to let the President leave. They beat the bloody hell out of any official who they suspect of collaboration. After camping on the Mall for a week enjoying the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum (well, that’s where I’d be at least), the people hold a conference and officially repudiate the false treaty of subjugation to declare their independence. The President regretfully flees to Canada disguised as a soldier and the revolutionary mob in Washington blockades the city to prevent reinforcements. The People’s Liberation Army attacks the crowd with machine guns, killing 86,000 people to rival the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in our history (Real Times Express: and this in a country with a much smaller population). They fire mortar shells at Congress and the White House before proudly delaring the end of the rebellion led by the remaining members of the American aristocracy. They simply cannot admit to a popular revolt boiling over after nine years of suffering.

A wave of repression sweeps the country and soon defeats any armed resistance. The last vestiges of the armed resistance soon retreat to secret bases along the Canadian border. Eighty thousand escape on foot across the border, hunted by the army, along an extremely perilous seven day route across the towering Apalachians.

With the country safely in hand again, the Communists collectivize the land resulting in intermittent famines and chronic food shortages with 342,000 dead. They begin a Cultural Revolution to rid the country of influences against the Revolution. Young Red Guards dismantle the remaining churches for building material or convert them into barracks and government buildings. Of the six thousand churches in America, eight survive. The priests and priestesses of America suffer a similar fate. In two years, their population drops 85%.

Initially, the Communists work closely with the American aristocracy but once they outlive their usefulness, the Cultural Revolution singles them out for public class-struggle sessions. Party members parade the former elite through the town with dunce hats while “victims of the aristocracy” beat and torture them. The survivors go to prison.

They even subject Vice President Bill Richardson (fingers crossed) to struggle sessions. He initially works with the Chinese but soon grows disillusioned. In the na├»ve belief that the Chinese really want to reform, he wrote a long secret memo detailing problems in the Party’s administration of the United States. He goes through two public struggle sessions before simply disappearing for twelve years. No more Vice President. 100,000 die in the public struggle-sessions with another 173,000 dying in prison.

“Create the new by smashing the old.” The Cultural Revolution focuses on the destruction of American culture (although some may argue its already committed suicide with reality TV). Everyone must wear drab green uniforms and keep their hair short. Three hundred years of American culture gets erased as the Red Guard destroys paintings, books, murals and architecture. The language of America slowly becomes Chinese. English names get “sinizied” and higher education can only be Chinese. Young Americans, taken from their parents, get shipped deep into China for school. When they return, most only speak Chinese. During the Cultural Revolution, half a million to a million people die.

In the final chapter of America’s history, China encourages Chinese emigration to America with hefty subsidies. To make it easier, they even build a bridge across the Atlantic (in engineering and costs terms, the train to Lhasa, Tibet might rival a trans-pacific brigde). The new arrivals get preferential hiring while highly trained Americans wait tables. They plan to simply flood America with these foreign occupiers to overwhelm and destroy the native culture.

I hope this might someone identify more the plight of the Tibetan people and make it clear why these people deserve any help we can give them. I hope they would do the same for us when the above scenario occurs.

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