“Freedom is Precious” By Woeser

2014 07 30 Freedom is Precious
This is the book that I contributed a preface to.

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written on November 4, 2013 for the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on November 24, 2013.

The blogpost is mainly made up of the preface that Woeser wrote for a book that was published in Hong Kong last year. Woeser has previously written some thoughts on Hong Kong after the first Hong Kong Tibet Documentary Film Festival was held there.
Woeser also mentions Shu Bobo, from Hong Kong and owner of Lhasa’s popular traveller’s haunt Spinn Cafe.

“Freedom is Precious”
By Woeser

A girl from Hong Kong, Wenwen, who I got to know on Facebook wrote me a message a few days ago asking me to write a short preface for her collection of travel writings that were about to be published.
In her message she wrote: “This book is largely about Tibet. I really love the place, I already went three times. I really appreciate your essays, they give us travellers many insights into Tibet and make us know it much better… I often hear people saying frightening things, like Tibetans are scary people, but all the Tibetans I have met have been friendly, smiling genuinely. The self-immolations gave Tibetans a false image of being radical and dangerous. But whenever I travelled to Tibet, before and after the March 14th incident, Tibetans and lamas treated me extremely well. As long as people let go of their prejudices and all the rumours and go to experience themselves, they will realise that all these ideas about Tibetans are only myths and completely unfounded…”
Since this girl who I have never met in person wrote me these words and also because her book also included many essays and photos about India and Nepal, I felt very moved and didn’t hesitate to write up the following piece:

India and Nepal… for me as a Tibetan, are like different far-away worlds.

I remember how, many years ago, I came across a thick book called “Nepal”, it was one of those tourist guides, that, if my vague memory is correct, was written by some hippies who had travelled through Nepal in the 1970s. The original was written in English but it had been elegantly translated into traditional Chinese and included many beautiful photos. I loved this book. I often flipped through it and imagined myself to one day be visiting Nepal, reading the book and walking around the places that it describes. I was totally immersed in the book, I subconsciously thought that very soon I would be able to travel freely; I wrote: “All my written words are about searching for words/all my travels are about searching for travels”

This kind of “freedom” is sometimes very real, it was about something as trivial as a passport that many people of this country can easily obtain, but for others who are labelled as “Tibetan” or as other “ethnic minorities” it is further away than the sky. Since this is reality, all we can do is make the best of a bad situation, and so getting as close to an exotic foreign land as possible is a beautiful dream. I remember at the beginning of 2012, thousands upon thousands of Tibetans, mainly elderly people, finally got hold of a passport and went to the sacred land, Bodhgaya, to attend the Buddhist teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This short moment of happiness comforted the heart that had been forced to make so many compromises. Yet, as they returned home, the never-ending nightmare of reality caught up with them. I met several elderly Tibetans who amid tears told me how they were searched, how their things were confiscated, how their fingerprints were taken, how they were photographed from all angles and how they were taken into completely enclosed “study groups” where they were thoroughly brainwashed, had to write self-criticisms and endured all kinds of humiliations. In the end, all their passports were collected. Now, even for those who have never been and never tried to embark on a journey to India, a passport is a lifetime away.

So when I read Wenwen’s book “Daydream Traveller” (what a nice title), I could feel the fascination of freedom. Wenwen’s freedom to travel is a freedom that I do not have, but through her perceptive descriptions I have been able to share her freedom and have come to cherish it even more, it is probably more important than anything else.

Two days ago, when I was in the café of my good friend Shu Bobo (yes, the Shu Bobo who opened “Spinn Cafe” in Lhasa; he is from Hong Kong, a Hong Konger who speaks Tibetan), I met two young people from Hong Kong who were travelling to Lhasa. One of them, the beautiful girl who was good at painting and looked a bit like Wenwen said, “if we don’t visit Lhasa now, if we don’t visit Tibet now, it will be too late. Seeing such a beautiful place slowly falling apart makes me very sad. But thinking about Hong Kong, isn’t today’s Tibet tomorrow’s Hong Kong?” As I observed this girl whose name I didn’t even know starting to have tears in her eyes I could no longer bear the emotions, I had to get up and walk out. Outside, I looked up, saw the blue sky and the white clouds, they will never cease to exist; I looked around me and saw the everyday activities that were going on and simultaneously disappearing; in front of me, I saw the massive shopping plaza from Wenzhou with the shocking name of “Shenli Times Square”, its gigantic shadow seemed to entirely swallow up the gradually disintegrating ruins around it. In the past, this was the site of the glorious Shide Monastery.

November 4, 2013, in Lhasa

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