Tuesday, November 25, 2008

NYT article


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Candlelight Vigil for Tibet - Union Square (Slide Show)

Chinese New Yorkers Struggle with Free Tibet Protests (with video)

Chinese Immigrants defended their homeland.

When Wan Chun, 48, an accountant in Chinatown, saw the Tibetan freedom march earlier this month, he told one of his Chinese clients that he felt the tension between Tibet and the Chinese government was one of those small issues that every nation faces.

But, since the news on the unrest in Tibet has been continuously covered on the front pages of daily newspapers after the worldwide protest on March 11, Chun realized that things were more serious than ever.”

“This year is very important to Chinese people since we are hosting the Olympic games this summer. Now those separatists are using this event to make trouble,” said Chun, who came to the U.S. in 1985 from China. “I get mad when I see the western media only criticizing and blaming the Chinese government.”

Since the pro-Tibet activists started the protest on March 11th, the day of the Tibetan uprising, voices demanding boycotts on the Beijing Olympics, has continuously spread.

While human rights organizations and international leaders are criticizing the Chinese government’s oppression in Tibet, alarmed by the violent and brutal crackdown on Tibetan protestors, Chinese immigrants like Chun, are frustrated.

“I don’t think many of the young Tibetans joining the Tibetan freedom protests understand the real situation in Tibet now,” said Eric Tang, 46, a Chinese owner of a vending cart near Canal street. “I have a friend who owns a business in Lhasa and he told me that Tibetan people are very supportive about the new developments in Tibet being conducted by the government.”

Like Tang, not many Chinese people are sympathetic to the Free Tibet movement, despite its active protests throughout the city.

“We have more than two thousands members in our chapter and more than two thirds of them are Tibetans. But I haven’t seen any Chinese people joining our group,” said Kai Johnson, regional coordinator of Students for a Free Tibet. “I wish we could see more Chinese people support our cause.”

Even though many Chinese people do not agree with the Tibetan protestors, some express disappointment about how their government is handling the situation.

“The Chinese government had to send police to Tibet to stabilize the situation, but I think they should have been more restrained in their attempts to make the Tibetan people surrender,” said Yang Qing, a Chinese student pursuing a Masters degree in Politics at Columbia University. She also added that her younger brother, also studying politics in China, could not access the Youtube website in order to see video clips about the uprising in Tibet.

There are also people who claim that the situation is not as polarized as it seems.

Chun Lin, a professor of East Asian Studies at New York University said that it is a complicated issue with many sides.

“We shouldn’t just see Tibet as good and the Chinese government as evil, or even the opposite way,” Lin said. “It is true that the Chinese government doesn’t have the cultural sensitivity to understand the Tibetan people, but those in the Free Tibet movement also tend to idealize Tibet without a clear picture of what it takes to build an independent society.”

Lin said that this conflict might be a positive chance to define problems between minority ethnic groups and the majority Chinese Han people, and then to rebuild the “failed policies towards minorities.”

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A project of the Department of Journalism at New York University

(Video) Video of Recent Protest

Free Tibet : March 10

By Sooyeon Kim

More than one thousand people protesting the Chinese occupation of Tibet marched from downtown Manhattan to U.N. headquarter on 42nd street. With loud chants they waved yellow Tibetan flags and signs reading "Free Tibet" and "Boycott Beijing Olympic", written in both English, Tibetan and Chinese.

The rally was organized to commemorate the anniversary of Tibet's 1959 National Uprising Day, when thousands of Tibetans rose up against the forces of the Chinese occupation to protest Chinese rule and to protect the Dali Lama from the Chinese Liberation Army. Almost five decades later protests are being held, not only in New York City, but worldwide, in India as well as London, calling for the end of human rights abuses by the Chinese government, which is scheduled to hold the Beijing Olympic Games in August.

"This year, we have one more reason to come here other than just remembering the 49th anniversary of Tibet's Uprising Day," said Tsering Palden, President of the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress. "We are protesting China using the good name of the Olympics to cover up its abuses In Tibet."

Palden, who came to the U.S. in 1999, also mentioned that the increasing number of Tibetan people in New York City, as well as the growing Tibetan communities throughout New Jersey and Connecticut, has allowed more Tibetans to join the march every year.

"Since we moved here from the refugee camp in India in 2004, we have come to join the march every year," said Sonam Lama, holding her 6-month old daughter in her arms. "This is our baby's first time here. I really hope all our family can go back to Tibet again and that my daughter can meet her grandparents who live there now."

Along with many young Tibetans wearing traditional masks, old ladies wearing traditional bright-colored skirts, and organizers moving busily to check for obstacles like food vendors and crosswalks, there were also a few old Buddhist monks walking in the march, holding their hands in front of their chests.

"I prayed that the holiness of the Dalai Lama blesses these people," said Tenjin Daua, a Buddhist monk from a temple that houses only three monks in Howell, New Jersey.

The march, organized by groups of Tibetan exiles, is not directly associated with the Dalai Lama, who nonetheless is Tibet's spiritual leader and has led non-violent activism against the repression of the Chinese government, according to Palden.

Among these Tibetan people, there were also non-Tibetan supporters joining the march.

"I've been involved with the Tibetan community since 1991 and have known many Tibetans and learned what happened there. Once you know about it, you have to do something," said Sandra Boss, a board member of the Unites States Tibetan Committee, as she handed out flyers to people on the streets. "We will keep reminding people that Tibet is real and alive. And they have to help us. I say 'us' because after all these years, I feel like I'm Tibetan."

New Yorkers, facing the endless march guarded by police officers, paused on their ways to watch the scene.

“It's a very strong and powerful presentation." said Andrew Zack, " China needs to change if they really know the meaning of The Olympics. It's about harmony and fairness."

There were also tourists who were lucky enough to view the colorful rallies through the skyscrapers on 3rd avenue.

"I spent time in India and my son spent time in Nepal. We got to know about the problem in Tibet, and we absolutely support them," said Alice Baley, from Boston."I'm happy we managed to get here at the exact right moment to see this. The size of it is impressive."

In spite of this massive march, some news from the other rallies were heard via the subscribed text messages sent from one of the organizers saying that the Indian government has declared the march illegal and has even arrested people.

Asked if people would be discouraged by the news, Palden answered,

"Honestly, I don't even expect China or the U.N. to do something dramatic or respond to our march today. But we'll just keep knocking on the door until they listen. I don't know when it's gonna be, but they will, someday."

A Torture Victim Survives in New York (with audio)

A former Tibetan prisoner struggles, but is supported by a New York City program that help refugees.

Ngwang Tsamla, a former Tibetan prisoner, who suffered torture at the hands of the Chinese government, recently quit her job at the Food Emporium on East 59th Street, where she had worked at the sushi bar for the last eight months. She just couldn’t handle it anymore. She said felt dizzy with the crowds there and started to feel like she couldn’t breathe.

“It was my first job that I tried other than babysitting, but I guess my body is not ready for this,” said Tsamla, a rail-thin 35-year-old. “I go to the hospital in the Lower East Side every month to have counseling and medication. I will go back there again this month ‘cause I can’t sleep very well.“

Sponsored by the U.S. Asylum Program and under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an increased number of Tibetan refugees, exiled by the Chinese government, have settled in the United States. Many of them were tortured as political prisoners under the Chinese, and like Tsamla, struggle to live normal lives.

“Those [Tibetan torture victims] are mentally and physically very weak,” said Tsewang Phuntso, liaison officer at the Office of Tibet, an organization tasked with raising the profile of Tibetan refugees at the United Nations and preserving Tibetan culture among exiles in the U.S. and Canada. “But New York City seems to at least have easier access to help, like our office and the Survivors of Torture Program.”

Phuntso said a few organizations have also helped many to get Tibetan refugee certificates, working permits, and access to hospital services, like the Bellevue/N.Y.U. Program for Survivors of Torture, where refugees have easy access to medication and Tibetan interpreters.

Tsamla shares the same tragic history as many Tibetan refugees seeking a better life in New York City. It’s been 15 years since she took to the streets of her homeland to shout “Free Tibet” along with many Buddhist monks and nuns from her temple, the only educational institution at the time that taught classes in Tibetan, and not Mandarin. Not long after, Tsamla, then just 19, was arrested and thrown into prison, where police officers beat her relentlessly, poured water into her mouth, and subjected her to electric shock. Government officials then drew her blood to use in transfusions for wounded Chinese soldiers.

“Not only was my whole body bruised and broken by torture, but I started to have mental problems as well,” said Tsamla, who suffers from fainting spells after spending two years in prison."

AUDIO: Tsamla speaks of arrest and torture

After her release, Tsamla married a man who shared “the same beliefs in Tibet’s freedom” and had also spent six years in prison. They headed to India, where many exiled Tibetans found shelter, but Tsamla, under the advice of her local social worker, decided to come to the United States by herself in order to support her two daughters and her crippled husband, who remains unable to walk after being repeatedly kicked by the prison guards, who shattered his legs.

As soon as Tsamla arrived in California, she was faced not only with the difficulties of learning a foreign language, but also the shock of adapting to another culture and environment.

“It is too bright there,” said Tsamla, who said the sunlight gave her headaches after years spent in prison without any light. “I also needed to drive a car to get my medication, but sometimes, I suddenly couldn’t see anything or concentrate on driving. I became afraid to drive.”

After spending a year in California, she moved to New York, where she could get anywhere she needed by public transit, but even that isn’t always easy, she said.

“I still can’t be on a subway very long because I start to feel overwhelmed and everything gets all white, but it’s much safer than driving a car,” said Tsamla.

Still, she said she is lucky to have found a Tibetan roommate and to have many Tibetan friends, who not only share her hometown, but her history of torture. She also shares an apartment with four other Tibetan torture survivors for $900 a month.

“My place is so small,” said Tsamla, “But it is still bigger than the prison I stayed in and we all know how much more lucky we are now.”

But Tsamla longs for her family. Her two daughters have not gone to school in over three months, Tsamla said, because their father has become too sick to take care of them, she said.

“Every time I call them, they say, ‘We miss you, we need you here’,”Tsamla, said as she wiped her tears away with her hands. “All I can do is to get better and work hard ‘til they can come here.”

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A project of the Department of Journalism at New York University

Shangri-La Express Serves Tibetan Food Out Of A Pushcart

The only known Tibetan puschcart is parked outside the 74th Street train station in Jackson Heights.

Last year, the Chinese government completed a railroad from the mainland of China to Lhasa, Tibet, which China took over in 1951. They named the train “Shangri-La Express,” which refers to the myth of a legendary Tibetan paradise. The train has brought many wealthy urban Chinese tourists from Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, and even government-sponsored migration into Tibet. The exiled Dalai Lama described it as the ‘cultural genocide’ of the Tibetan people and the greatest threat to the hope of achieving genuine self- rule.

In 2007, another Shangri-La Express runs in Jackson Heights, Queens, far from the Himalayan Mountains. Namgal Ghongpa and his uncle, Weser Dorjee, Tibetan immigrants who live in Elmhurst, opened the Shangri-La Express, the only known pushcart serving Tibetan food, outside the 74th Street station in Jackson Heights. The duo wants Shangri-La Express to serve mouth-watering Himalayan Cuisine to neighbors.

“Tibetans really love the name, ‘Shangri-La’, “said Ghongpa, “That train is the fake one and this is the real Shangri-La Express, run by Tibetan people. China doesn’t even respect our religion. How do they get to use Shangri-La for themselves?”

Their main dishes are Momo, which Ghongpa once successfully attracted people to at the festival, and Shabaly, a beef patty encased in fried flaky dough. Customers can get eight momos with a salad and hot sauce or three large pieces of Shabalay for four dollars and ninety-nine cents. Shangri-la also serves Gyuma, a Tibetan sort of hot dog, and Hymalayan chicken curry, an Indian-Tibetan dish.

“There are a lot of Tibetan people living here, and they know what is good and bad,” said Gongpa, setting timers for the steaming frozen momos that he brought from the kitchen he uses. “So you have to be a momo artist. Otherwise, Tibetan people won’t want it again.”
After two months of people trying their foods, Shangri-la Express seems to have passed their first test. Ghongpa said that on a good night they serve about one thousand momos.

A Tibetan customer who did not want to give his name said, “You can’t find these kinds of momo with that money. You usually pay more than $10 for eight pieces of momo when you go to restaurants.”

Coincidently they opened their food cart the same day the Dali Lama visited New York, on his way to Washington D.C. to receive a congressional medal. At that time, Ghongpa and Dorjee closed their new business for a week and went to Washington D.C. to celebrate.

When his family moved to Seattle, where Ghongpa went to high school, he started to experiment with his love for Tibetan food.
Ghongpa, who had honed his cooking skills in Tibetan boarding school, participated in a local festival, where more than 200,000 people showed up. He bought a stand in the festival for 4000 dollars for four days and sold Tibetan food, especially momos, a steamed Tibetan dumpling stuffed with seasoned beef.

“There were a lot of people who tried it and they loved it,” said Ghongpa.

He moved to New York and started to work at a ”well-paying job” as a computer technician at the New York Power Authority in 2003. But, at the same time, he was still interested in food.

“I was always looking for the possibility to serve Tibetan food,” said Ghongpa “I didn’t have much money at that time. I looked around and thought that a pushcart would be perfect for me.”

After researching for about a year, Ghongpa estimated that he needed at least 50,000 dollars to open up a pushcart business, to buy a cart and trailer and to pay for the garage and kitchen. After a year of researching and planning, they finally saved enough money to start their business.
Ghongpa and Dorjee made a decision to open their business in Jackson Heights, where more than five thousands Tibetans live.

The business is known mainly to Tibetans, but also to Nepalese, Burmese and other food-lovers living in Jackson Heights. Ghongpa also mentioned that they have customers come even from Brooklyn to try their momos.

“I usually stop by here before I go to work,” said Zulf Tahir, a Tibetan immigrant waiting for his momos. “The momos here are really juicy. That’s what I like the most. I tried other Tibetan restaurants, but their momos were too dry.”

Now two months after opening the Shangri-la Express, Ghongpa and Dorjee have been working every day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. As a father of a 5-month- old boy, Ghongpa wishes he could spend more time with his family. But he is still taking steps to promote his business further. Utilizing his skill as a former web technician, he is currently working on the website for the Shangri-la Express.

“I have been working on our website since we began planning for our business,” said Ghongpa with smile, “It’s not just for giving information about our foods. I also want to do internet orders. Maybe I can open up an e-commerce.”

Outside of their pushcart, Ghongpa and Dorjee have displayed American and Tibetan flags.

“I feel very grateful to this country and for this opportunity,” said Ghongpa, “If I was back home in Tibet, I wouldn’t have the freedom to start my own business.”

After the sun sets, people continue to visit their cart and wait for their food. Ghongpa believes that the pictures of the smiling Dalai Lama being greeted by George Bush, attached inside his cart, help him to remember a very important teaching.

“The Dalai Lama said that the purpose of life is helping people and to earn Karma for our next life,” he said, rubbing the shelves. “My business has everything to do with my religion; all I do here is part of my life. As an owner of a pushcart business, I try to give good, clean food. If only I could serve all this food for free.”

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A project of the Department of Journalism at New York University