Woeser outlines her and Chungdak Koren’s collaborations, such as working on the Tibetan translation of “Forbidden Memory” and ruminates on the larger exile condition. At the same time, the piece portrays a touching friendship between two Tibetan women.
“Remembering Exiled Tibetan Activist Chungdak Koren”
I was happy to see a recuperating Chungdak La (Chungdak Koren) on Skype. I was impressed by her tenacious perseverance but I was not without tears. Just like the Palestinians who became homeless, important scholar Edward Said wrote at the time, “Exile is one of the saddest fates”. The title of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s autobiography in Chinese is “Freedom in Exile”. This is two states, relating both to the real situation and also in the context of the metaphor.
It was around 2007 that we first started to be in touch online, I asked about Chungdak La’s hometown and the situation that forced her to leave her home, and I remember that she fled with her mother in 1959 and was never to go back. A few years ago, her Uncle in Tibet was seriously ill, she wanted to pay the expensive fares to travel from Nepal to Tibet in a group, but her travel was not approved and they would not let her cross the border to go to her ancestral home to see her relative one last time. Just like the story of too many of the bitterness of exiles in the world, returning home becomes like a dream.
Every time I would go back to Lhasa from Beijing, Chungdak La always urged me when I went to Jokhang Temple to pay respects on her behalf to Jowo Rinpoche. In actual fact it wasn’t just her who told me exactly to do this. When I gazed at the compassionate smiling Jowo Rinpoche, I could often hear words coming from quite a few compatriots in distant lands. I would silently recite each person’s name, detailing each of their experiences and hopes. For those exiles unable to return to their homeland, having someone pray to Jowo Rinpoche for them is an incomparable comfort.
Chungdak La is perhaps one of the most important Tibetan exiles in Norway and Europe. In 1989, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and she played an important role as the point person in Norway between the Nobel Committee and His Holiness. Chungdak La regarded this as the greatest honour in her life. I’ve seen a photo of that time, she was wearing Tibetan dress and was kneeling respectfully before His Holiness, at that time she was in her prime.
Chungdak la’s belief in and loyalty to His Holiness has supported her in her struggle for Tibet’s freedom that she carried out for most of her life. His Holiness personally appointed her as his representative based in Switzerland. Chungdak La long served as Chairperson of the Norwegian Tibet Committee and was also elected as a Member of Parliament to represent the Tibetan people of Europe. In 2009, a Taiwanese journalist met her in Oslo and full of admiration wrote: “The Norwegian Human Rights House has let her use an office space, from here she is responsible for the exchange of information among Tibetans all over the world, and thus she uses the office as her base before returning to Tibet… taking part in the huge undertaking of returning the Tibetans in exile to their home… she has a small frame, 150 or 160 cm tall, at nearly 60 years old she’s still running as fast as flying, when I’m leaving I’m thinking, this member of the ‘Dalai Clique’, really deserves the reputation she enjoys.” In 2010, Chungdak La was invited to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony when it was awarded to the Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo.
From my point of view, the reasons for Chungdak La and I share a deep fate are not just because seven years ago when I won the Norwegian Authors’ Union’s “Freedom of Expression” Award, Chungdak La had constantly rushed off her feet to make the award possible, and said, “We are very proud”; and they are not just because Chungdak la had contacted many people for them to sponsor the Tibetan edition of my book entitled “Forbidden Memory”, based on interviews and research in accordance with historical photos of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet. These contacts we had were not only for public events. One winter, I received a heavy package, inside of which was a traditional Norwegian sweater, it was warm and beautiful, a precious friendship.
My dear Chungdak La, you have already given too much and worked too hard, please have a good rest now, enjoy exile in peace with your husband Michael, and I will again pay homage to Jowo Rinpoche and pay respects on your behalf, and pray for your reunion.
March 23, 2014