High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written in October 2014 for the Mandarin service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on December 15, 2014.
Woeser’s post is about the preface that she wrote for a publication by the Hong Kong traveller and social activist Lam Fai. His Facebook Page that Woeser refers to is called Go Around the World With Me: https://www.facebook.com/goaroundtheworldwithme
“You Must Change Your Life!”
A Preface for Lam Fai’s Book
Two years ago, in early winter, I met the vigorous and energetic Lam Fai in Lhasa. He is a social activist from Hong Kong and, as I found out, had been travelling around the world for two years. After our encounter, I began to pay attention to his specially set up Facebook page “Go Around the World With Me”; through his writings and photos, I followed and took part in his experiences of the world. Two months ago,Lam Fai told me that the Taiwan Times Publishing House would publish his collection of “responsible world travel columns” under the title of “The People on the Move” (the latest edition was published under the name of “Travelling Between Hope and Suffering”), for which he asked me to write a preface. Furthermore, he asked Liang Wendao, Zhang Cuirong and other writers to contribute a preface or book review.
At the time I was closely following the events in Hong Kong and after finishing to read his manuscript, I wrote the following article, “You Must Change Your Life!”:
Of all the places that Lam Fai mentions in his travel writings, I have only been to Xinjiang and Tibet, my home; and I am not likely to be able to visit any of these far away places; they are not only physically far away, they are also a life-time away.
The reasons are simple – unlike Lam Fai, I will not be able obtain a passport that allows me to explore the world.
Perhaps, some people think that this is because I am one of the “dissidents” (that Lam Fai describes in his book), but this is not necessarily the case. A couple of days ago I heard a Tibetan businessman saying sarcastically: “Last year, my ‘Chinese dream’ was a passport; this year, my ‘Chinese dream’ is a border pass…” What he means is that according to Tibetan traditions, this year is the year of the horse, the year when Tibetans embark on a pilgrimage to Mount Kailash to worship the sacred mountain. For pious Buddhist pilgrims, this is a required duty. And yet, in order to be able to go to the sacred mountain one needs a “border pass” which the local authorities will not issue to Tibetans, they only open the back door to let in Chinese tourists.
This is why for Tibetans, the so-called “Chinese dream” is merely an unrealistic fantasy.
Lam Fai came to realise on his travels to various places that “there is too much suffering in this world”. Luckily, however, he also “encountered hope”. Lam Fai stuck to the principles of “responsible travel”, made every effort to contribute to the building of civil society, and hoped that people could improve their lives, or that even the whole world would change; the stories in his book are not simply travel notes, apart from taking us into different worlds with different customs, they have an even deeper meaning. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of travellers, there is one young fellow with his backpack and camera who sees too much injustice, whose thoughts are dominated by existent problems, so he reflects: “Travelling is entertainment, but it should not only be this; and entertainment should not overshadow other, more important issues. I believe that travelling is essentially beautiful, it brings about understanding, reflection, values and even peace; the problem is: how can one magnify these beautiful things and reduce waste, selfishness and destruction?”
Being in and from Tibet, I am particularly sensitive to Lam Fai’s experiences of and his deep sympathy towards Tibetans in and outside Tibet. I believe that they come from a profound feeling of having gone through something similar himself. And by this I am not simply referring to slogans such as “Today’s Tibet is Tomorrow’s Hong Kong” or “Today’s Hong Kong is Yesterday’s Tibet”. I remember one particular night two years ago, Lhasa was getting cold, Lam Fai had just left Xinjiang and was recounting his experiences, hopes and feelings; it was an outpouring of emotions, cherishing and valuing the freedom that Hong Kong enjoys.
In fact, when I was reading these stories, it was a very crucial situation. What I want to say is that, as Lam Fai followed his travel plans to Argentina, the widely-known “Umbrella Movement” erupted in Hong Kong. Lam Fai wrote on Facebook: “Foreign media call this the ‘Umbrella Revolution’, but it cannot be called revolution, but “Umbrella Movement” is not a bad name. The ‘weapon’ in our hands is just an ordinary shelter against wind and weather; Hong Kongers only ask for stability, and even though we cannot see the blue sky, we don’t want to be attacked by torrential rainstorms. The ‘Umbrella Movement’ stands for a gentle yet firm movement, we will not submit ourselves to the howling wind and torrential rain!”
Lam Fai interrupted his travels and returned to Hong Kong, facing the situation of life and death; he changed from someone “far away” to someone “on the ground”, putting into practice the “great efforts” that he mentions so many times in his own writings.
Whether to be “on the ground” or not is quite crucial, just as the former Soviet poet Anna Akhmatova wrote: “I was with my people in those hours / There where, unhappily, my people were.” In my writings about the protests that erupted in the whole of Tibet, I wrote: “When I returned to Lhasa, I was stabbed through the heart to find that at this very crucial moment, I had not been on the ground. I was an ‘outsider’; I could only rely on the stories and memories of those who had been on the ground. Even though, these people are all people that I trust, these people reveal the things that have been concealed and twisted, but I still feel deeply regretful and even ashamed.”
Now, there are still various “acts of disobedience” going on in Hong Kong whose meanings are profound; even though I am in Lhasa, a place subject to strict “stability” work, I follow these events closely. There are also many similar voices from within China that seek justice. As a result, in Beijing, the so-called brain and heart of the empire, over 50 people have already been arrested. I was also threatened not speak out by the Lhasa Security Bureau (the national Ministry of Public Security, one of China’s many secret police); I was even asked in a mocking way: “Have you ever been to Hong Kong? What do the happenings in Hong Kong have to do with you?” I really wanted to respond: “Of course I want to go to Hong Kong, but I have no access to the necessary papers that are controlled by the regime, I am not even able to move a single step.”
At last, the events in Hong Kong are essentially concerning every single one of us; they convey a message captured in a verse by Rainer Maria Rilke whom Lam Fai quotes: “You must change your life”. In the same way, all of Lam Fai’s experiences from around the world are also concerning every single one of us.
Lhasa, October 2014