Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Planning, Design, and Implementation: Second/Final Phase of Online Opinion Poll on 2011 Kalon Tripa primary election

Even though there is still no official announcement from the Election Commission on final candidates for the Kalon Tripa primary election, it is clear that the race is now down to three potential candidates: Lobsang Sangay la, Tenzin Namgyal Tethong la, and Tashi Wangdi la. I therefore decided to launch my 2nd phase (or final phase?) of online opinion poll on 2011 Kalon Tripa primary election in the next few days.

However, considering the low participation in the first phase of the same poll, I planned to do this time little differently in order to reach maximum number of Tibetan electorates. Through this piece, I would like to welcome volunteers or organization who are interested in working with me on this project. The criteria for volunteering for individual as well as organization are as under:

For individual:
1. He or she should remain objective throughout the polling period.
2. He or she should not be a supporter of any Kalon Tripa (KT) candidates.
3. He or she should not be an active member of any of the KT campaigns.
4. He or she should be someone who has (and will) not endorse any of the KT candidates in public or private forums.
5. He or she should not be directly or indirectly working for a Tibetan organization.
6. Preferably, someone with little understanding of English language and computer skills.
7. I am not in a position to provide any financial incentives. However, I am willing to pay for any expenses related to the volunteering work such as fliers, gasoline, glues, papers, phone charges, etc.

For organization:
1. Same as above - for the organization, its endorsements, and its employee(s).
2. I am willing to work with the organization on anything concerning opinion poll before, during, and after the poll.
3. I expect professionalism from the organization and its members throughout the polling period and at least, till the election date of March 20, 2011.
4. The organization should be willing to pay for all related expenses such as fliers, gasoline, papers, phone charges, etc.

What I expect from an individual volunteer:
1. Affix fliers at all cyber cafes and public notice boards at their locality.
2. Spread the word out.
3. If the volunteer is interested, I am willing to provide my support for one-on-one interview with the less or uneducated Tibetan electorates. I will provide tutorials via skype or video call on how-to conduct interviews and fill the survey forms. However, he or she should submit the survey results via e-mail to me within the next two days after the polling deadline to ensure timely analysis of the survey results. This is not as complicated as it seems to be. If interested volunteer likes to feel the work, I am more than happy to discuss on anything without any obligations.

What I expect from the organization:
1. Same as above.
2. In addition, post the online survey link on their official Website if any.
3. The organization's endorsement for the survey.
4. Will not organize any talks or debates on any one or two KT candidates. It should be "no candidate" or "all three candidates".

Things to consider:
1. I may not need volunteers if an organization is willing to work with me and satisfies all criteria.
2. If there is more than one volunteer from a particular locality, I will select only one.
3. If I do not find a volunteer for a particular locality, I may request someone I know (or through you) to affix the fliers.
4. Please contact me by January 8, 2011.
5. I am also thinking of an EXIT POLL on the Election Day. So, I may need volunteering services on it too. Criteria the same but it will be one-on-one interview. More details on EXIT POLL will come once I receive and read the Demographic Survey of Tibetans in exile - 2009 from the Planning Commission, Dharamsala.

Finally, please feel free to nominate volunteers/organization. I would love to contact him or her. Moreover, I would appreciate if you have any suggestion on online opinion poll based on your expertise and experiences (including your last participation in the first phase of the online opinion poll on Kalon Tripa preliminary election).

Denzi Yishey
Doctoral Candidate
United States
E-mail: tenyeshi@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/tenyeshi


*Submitted to the Tibetan Political Review and Phayul on December 29, 2010 4.10 EST.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Race for the Kalon Tripa is Wide OPEN

As shared in my last opinion piece, Personal reflection on the Kalon Tripa primary election, the results of Kalon Tripa’s primary election was not a huge surprise. From the start, it was clear that the race to the Kalon Tripa is between and among two candidates, Lobsang Sangay la and Tenzin Namgyal Tethong la.

I feel sorry for the later candidates, who rarely had the chance to prove themselves as a prospective Kalon Tripa candidate, as they were neither nominated nor endorsed by any Tibetan organizations. The case of Kasur Tashi Wangdi is an exception here. At first, he was nominated by the National Democratic Party of Tibet (NDPT) but withdrew from the race. However, he later joined the race but was too late to make an impact on voters.

Let me congratulate Lobsang Sangay la for his impressive win in the primary election. However, the win was not as impressive as to feel comfortable and relax. Only 61% of voters (roughly 48,000) took part in the primary election while the total number of registered voters stands at 79,449. Moreover, the total number of registered voters will see an increase with the voter registration now open for erstwhile-unregistered voters. Therefore, Lobsang Sangay la’s vote of 22,489 is not significant enough by and of itself to win the final round of election in March 2011.

On a similar note, Lobsang Sangay la’s winning margin of 10,170 (22,489-12,319) votes is not significant by and of itself for Tenzin Namgyal Tethong la to feel the heat for the final race. From my novice prediction, the chances of withdrawing by few or all of the last four candidates from the final race are high. And I feel majority of these candidates’ supporters will turn to Tethong la for their final vote if viewed and analyzed from the general characteristics of these candidates.

Considering the total expected registered voters of more than 80,000 for the final election day in March 2011, the race for the Kalon Tripa is wide OPEN between these two candidates. Any of the two candidates has the potential to win the final round of election. However, both the candidates need to work harder to pull-in their supporters to the final polling booth. They should be more critical of each other’s views, opinions, standpoints, and policies in addition to the general agendas. I finally hope the upcoming debates, discussions, talks, and campaigns will be more promising, focused, and meaningful.

Discussion and Democracy



Despite the enormous pending assignments, last night, I eagerly tuned to Tibetonline.tv waiting for the discussion and decision on the agenda - the amendment of a clause in the Tibetan charter i.e., the Katri's third term. Even though, I am against this amendment, I was excited to watch the discussion that will generate through this agenda in the house of our parliament. However, I must say, I am disappointed at how it came down to a simple conclusion, not meaning that the bill didn't go through but that the bill went down without a meaningful discussion.

With on and off of Tibetonline.tv LIVE streaming, watching the session was a painful and frustrating experience. I still don't understand why Tibetonline.tv has a problem with LIVE streaming and not Phayul.com. I think this is a question people working in the Tibetonline.tv must explore so that interested viewers from around the world can watch such important political discussion LIVE with less or no disruption.

Irrespective of disruptions, I was able to watch the appeal of Katri (or Kashag) to the Chairman (or Chairwomen) requesting to proceed with the agenda with no discussion in the house. One reason, if I heard correctly, advocated by the Katri was that the discussion on the floor of parliament will create unnecessary talks, writings, and discussions within the larger Tibetan community. To be frank, I didn't expect this kind of reasoning from Kashag. I felt it is against the democratic ideals that Kashag advocates as one of its three principle.



I am a person who believes strongly in the strength and power of discussion because it helps to generate new ideas, new thoughts, new perspectives, new approaches, and most importantly, political awareness among the masses. When I say political awareness, I intend to say that people who has less or no interest in politics will hear a lot (willingly or unwillingly) about recent happenings in the Tibetan politics (such as the agenda in discussion) through their community affiliations, through his or her friend circles, or through the intellectual communities via talks, writings, and workshops. As Paulo Friere said discussion and dialogue is an education that will help critical consciousness and critical thinking. Without discussion, there will not be an education. And without education, there will not be critical consciousness/thinking. And without critical consciousness/thinking, there will not be a good democracy. Therefore, discussion and democracy goes hand in hand.

Coming back to Katri's appeal, it completely disregards the importance of a healthy discussion that members of the parliament owes to the Tibetan public. "No discussion" on the agenda not only deprived members of the parliament rights to share their insights on the agenda but also, blocked further expansion of the discussion in the Tibetan public. That being said, I think "no discussion" failed to live up to the principles of democracy that Kashag strongly advocates. Lets not deprive our Tibetan people to hear what they should hear, to read what they need to, and to listen what they are suppose to.

LET'S DISCUSS...


Note: This is an interpretation I made out from Katri's speech. If I heard it wrong, feel free to jump in to correct me with a line. Thanks.


Also read:
and



Personal Reflections on Katri's Primary Election

After a great deal of hype, publicity, and discussion, the final curtain on the Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister) primary election came down, leaving many of us with the question “what next?” But many of us fail to look back and analyze what worked well and what did not. In other words, we tend to miss the final evaluation stage of our learning process. This piece is an attempt to share my personal reflections, with the hope of generating discussion among the Tibetan people through an exchange of ideas, thoughts, perceptions, and experiences.

I tried to gather indicators, both promising and disturbing, to help my analysis of the Kalon Tripa primary election. I summarised these indicators under the following four sub-heads: Democracy, Campaign, Election Commission, and What next?

Democracy
Without a doubt, this election helped to further Tibetans’ nascent democracy, which unlike others in the world, was not earned but bestowed upon us by our great leader. This is the first time in the history of Tibet where Tibetans, young and old, rich and poor, monk and nun, businessmen and peasant, employee and student, men and women, immigrant and non-immigrant, individual and organization, took such a great interest and responsibility in the entire election process.

Based on what I heard so far, if correct, voter turnouts were quite impressive. This is truly an encouraging sign of democracy on the move. It also provides a clear indication of how the Tibetan electorate is now seeing the value of the individual vote to help their candidate achieve the top position of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Tibetans must applaud each other on how far and quick we have reached this threshold of democracy, where others have taken several decades to do the same.

However, the Kalon Tripa election is not a panacea for all social and political problems. Many voters appeared to weigh the post of Kalon Tripa on the same scale as US President. Voters must be clear that the Kalon Tripa is just an executive head of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). Although the Kalon Tripa post can propose a new policy or change in an existing one, it does not hold the power to change policy on its own. Proposals from the Kalon Tripa for any change in socioeconomic and political policies require a majority support from the House of Parliament. In simple words: Chitues (members of Parliament) shape policies, and not the Kalon Tripa nor the Kashag.

Moreover, looking at the primary election, Tibetans allocated a lot of resources on the Kalon Tripa primary election, and not enough on Chitues. I could not find any single election video on Chitues, while there are several on Kalon Tripa. To sum up, Tibetans must be active in all aspects of our new and blossoming democracy, and confer importance to all electoral processes including Kalon Tripa, Chitues, Settlement Officers, and other local leaders.

Campaign
The Kalon Tripa primary election produced never-before-seen campaign activity from the candidates. For the first time, Tibetans learned about the Kalon Tripa candidates not only from NGOs, the media, writers, friends, and the general public, but also from the candidates themselves. Without any argument, these numerous campaigns assisted many voters to choose their candidate in the primary election. However, they also helped to create uncertainty among lay Tibetans who have little skills to analyze “what is truth and realistic” from “what is effective and smart campaigning.” In other words, campaigns have both positive and negative impacts if not understood from the right perspective.

Throughout the campaign thus far, I was never satisfied with the debates of the candidates, or the discussions about them. Candidates discussed, talked, and presented themselves only on the philosophical level. They talked and talked about policies, but said hardly anything on the implementation of their visions. It is comfortable to talk on the philosophical level. However, candidates must talk on a realistic level to reach the majority of the voters. Our candidates must be more open and less diplomatic, and also should evaluate the present Kashag’s policies.

Lets hope our Kalon Tripa campaign doesn’t end up like campaigns in other countries where the majority fail to live up to their campaign promises once they are voted in. This will definitely have multi-layered implications for our next Kalon Tripa election in 2015.

Election Commission
The role of the Election Commission in this much-hyped Kalon Tripa electoral process is difficult to ignore. I agree with the decision of the EC to hold the election of both Kalon Tripa and Chitues on the same day. However, from my perspective, the EC failed to see and react where it was needed most.

Few non-governmental organizations nominated or invited their Kalon Tripa candidates for debate or discussion, even before EC announced the election date. These organisations considered some as Kalon Tripa candidates even when the participants themselves were denying it. This might look simple and appropriate, but it is not if tested from the standpoint of EC. I felt these organizations, whether intentionally or unintentionally, helped to promote their own preferred candidate among the general Tibetan populace.

I believe the EC should have issued notice to these organizations to hold off on nomination, endorsement, and debate of their candidate until the election date is officially announced. This untimely nomination of a candidate is ethically wrong. Due to this practice, the chances of later candidates were lessened.

I bet we will see the effects of these unethical practices when the primary election results come out in November 2010.

Finally, I am waiting to hear from the EC on alternatives they will provide to the Tibetan electorate in Kathmandu, Nepal, whose ballot boxes were seized by the Nepalese government. I hope EC will come up with a viable solution.

What next?
I voted—and so, what next? Let me provide my take in three simple points.

First, Tibetans should be more critical on what a Kalon Tripa candidate proposes or advocates. They should not merely watch and hear from TV and radio, but also read from the Web, which provides more dimensions, depth, and discussion on Kalon Tripa candidates. For instance, there are now several Tibetan news sites, as well as blogs, tweets, and social networking sites. Through these, Tibetans should critically analyze each candidate and their visions, approaches, ideologies, policies, attitudes, and strengths and weaknesses. Tibetans should be more informed before they go on to vote on 20 March 2011.

Second: A strong call for investigative journalism. What we have been hearing from Tibetan media and press is what the Kalon Tripa candidates say or advocate. There are some analysis, such as the recent one from Jamyang Norbu la and several from Tibetan Political Review editors. However, I am looking more to the media and press who have sizeable followers in the larger Tibetan population. Tibetan journalists should analyse candidates’ past and present social role-plays, political standpoints, leadership abilities, and most importantly, conflicting speeches if any.

Third, from now on, I sincerely hope that Tibetan non-governmental organisations will promote their candidates fairly and in a timely manner, without denying Tibetan people their right to hear from all Kalon Tripa candidates.

To conclude, you may or may not agree with my personal reflections, but it is my sincere hope that they provide you an opportunity to think further, to go beyond the borders. And TO DISCUSS.


Ten Reasons on Why Tibetans Need “Ten Ways to Promote Tibetan Language”

1.  Negativity: The beauty of Tibetan language lies in its grammar (Sum Tak). However, from the very early years, Tibetans have been told and dogmatized that Tibetan language is complicated and hard to learn. The recent call for spacing and tsikchen/tsikchung has helped to reassert that Tibetan language is not only difficult to learn but also to read.

2.  Lack of Motivation: There is less or no motivation to learn Tibetan language. Students and parents alike consider English language as the language of prosperity. Some parents even prefer to send their child to a private school with the hope that their kids will be better in English and thereby, a better future.

3.  Everything Western is Superior: Within the small Tibetan community, there is a high regard for people who really speak, write, and read English well. It’s not the same for writers and intellectuals who are good in Tibetan language. Sometimes, they are rarely known and respected. In brief, Tibetans think English as cool, progressive and advanced, whereas Tibetan as 'backward,' and 'outdated.'

4.  School Education: Most of the young adults are taught in an educational setting where all three languages were taught simultaneously during the kindergarten years. This leaves Tibetan as a jack of three languages but king of none. Moreover, the teaching strategies or techniques applied by the Tibetan language teachers were not impressive enough to pull-in the interest of their students.

5.  College Education: In the academic world, Tibetan language has no place after High School or Class XII. Many lose touch of Tibetan language and then, they hardly comes back to the language. In my words, they lose one integral part of their identity forever.

6.  Tibetan Language is Painful: Many Tibetans consider Tibetan language as a complicated stack of words with confusing grammar and sentences. They hardly realize that English language is more complicated than it seems to be. Tibetan language is not in itself a painful language to learn.

7.   Tibetan lacks hard work: Tibetans are lazy when it comes to learning Tibetan language. They put it off as something they can’t do. However, there are few good examples of foreigners who have done extremely well with Tibetan language within one or two years at Dharamsala. In short, Tibetan love to conceal their laziness by saying Tibetan language is a hard language without putting any hard work on it to learn.

8.   Study Abroad: If you are good in Tibetan, there is less or no prospect to study in Europe, North America, or other Universities. With the strong stigma of Go West, every parents and their child strives to secure one of the few study abroad scholarships offered via the Department of Education, CTA by stressing primarily on English language skills.

9.   Immigration: Many Tibetans look to west as the dream-come-true destination. And moving to west means in one way or other accepting the western culture, system, and language. Therefore, in order to properly function in the West (like U.S. and Canada), Tibetans attend English Language Learning Center to learn English language by paying good amount of fees. However, when the same is offered for learning Tibetan language, there is hardly any interested Tibetans even though it is offered at no or minimal cost.

10.   Act now: There has been a lot of talking on the need to improve Tibetan language acquisition among the Tibetan refugee population. However, most of these talks remained on the talking and surface level, and not on the action level. All concerned parties need to act more and talk less to bring the needed improvement in the acquisition of Tibetan language in the school, community, and society.

Note: These reasons are not intended to generalize all Tibetans. When I say Tibetans, I mean the larger portion of Tibetan refugee population.

Results and Analysis: Online Opinion Polls on 2011 Kalon Tripa Final Election

Introduction and Background

The Kalon Tripa election generated a never-before hype, interest, and discussion within the Tibetan electorates, who are spread across the globe. The growth of the first phase of online opinion poll on 2011 Kalon Tripa final election is the result of one such personal interest.

The primary purpose of this online poll, as with other opinion polls, is to generate statistics based on participants’ inputs/responses. These statistics are expected to help achieve three important goals.

First, with so much interest and discussions on the Kalon Tripa candidates and election, there is bound to create some common assumptions. For instance, after the primary election results, many assumed that Lobsang Sangay la’s has a strong supports from monks and nuns, and young college going students. Likewise, Tenzin Namgyal Tethong la from government employees and a group of educated Tibetans. However, these assumptions are merely an assumption with no statistical data to support them. Therefore, the first goal is to examine the validity of these assumptions via opinions of the Tibetan electorates.

Second, before the online opinion poll, interested Tibetans have no platform or forum to share their opinions on Kalon Tripa candidates and election. The second goal therefore is to gather these opinions in a single pool so that common voices are heard via media and news channels.

Third and finally, it is hoped that through this poll, Kalon Tripa candidates will be able to envision the opinions of the general Tibetan population. With that visualization, their future talks, debates, and discussions are expected to be more directed and focused towards the needs and interest of Tibetan electorates.

However, online opinion poll is not free from criticism. I have highlighted these limitations in the later section of the paper.


Methodology

This first phase of online opinion poll on 2011 Kalon Tripa final election was open for interested Tibetans for 13 days i.e., from Nov 12, 2010 to Nov 24, 2010. Participants were contacted via facebook messages, facebook wall postings, and facebook link sharing. Moreover, Tibetan popular medias were contacted for support to spread the word out to reach maximum number of participants for the poll. Three Websites that helped with this endeavor are: Zomsa, PhosaMosa, and The Tibetan Political Review.

Through my personal facebook page, I contacted facebook users with frequent reminders. I also requested my friends and others to forward the request to their friends, colleagues, and friend’s friends. These reminders were sent with the hope to earn a good response rate so that the findings of the study may be closer to accurate.

On the survey request, clear information were provided in terms of anonymity, duration, survey link, qualified participants, closing date, my contact information, and the opportunity for one-time participation. This online survey was set to read the IP address so that a person using a computer can only participate once in the poll. This is intended to reduce the duplication of opinions.

The online opinion poll carried 13 questionnaire items with one on qualifier, next four on Kalon Tripa candidate, then the next seven on participant’s demographic, and one on conclusion. Participants were requested to provide their personal opinions. Out of the 13 items, 12 were multiple-choice items and one open-ended question.


Results

On the poll closing date of Nov 24, 2010, there were a total of 114 participants. Out of which, 9 were not qualified to vote and 23 were invalid responses. Finally, 81 valid responses were received and analyzed for this first phase of online poll.

The results for each questionnaire items are as under:

Question:       For the next Kalon Tripa, what leadership qualities are you looking for?
Responses:    The top five responses are:
                     1) Visionary (63 responses);
                      2) Honest (63 responses);
                      3) Experience (58 responses);
                      4) Intelligent (58 responses); and
                      5) Dedication (56 responses); and
                      The three lowest responses are:
                      1) Religious (11 responses);
                      2) Bureaucratic (16 responses); and
                      3) Sense of humor (20 responses)

Question:        What three issues are most important to you?
Responses:     The top three responses are:
                       1) Tibetan Political Struggle (75%);
                       2) Culture and Identity (54%); and
                       3) Education (52%); and
                       The three lowest responses are:
                       1) Women empowerment (0%);
                       2) Religion (1%); and
                       3) Immigration (1%).

Question:         Demographic?
Responses:       Out of the total participants,
                       1)    60% were from North America and 28% from India.
                       2)    82% were male and 18% female.
                       3)    62% were from the age range of 31-40 years, 20% above 41 years, and 18% below 30 years.
                       4)    55% were married, 42% single, and 3% monk/nun.
                       5)    89% has at least a bachelor’s degree, 10% at least Class X, and 1% others.
                       6)    53% works for private or NGO/NPO organization, 18% for government, 13% students, and rest others.

Question:         If you have to vote now, who will you vote for?
Responses:       59% would vote for Tenzin Namgyal Tethong, 25% Lobsang Sangay, and rest others.


Analysis

Using a statistical software SPSS, I analyzed the results using descriptic statistics and cross tabulation. I will highlight some of the key findings here with support from graphs and charts.

(Since I could not add charts and graphs here, please see them in my photo album with its short description by clicking on this link. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=246522&id=1066153528&l=c9f156dd40 )


Moreover, an open-ended question was posed to participants asking for additional comments on 2011 Kalon Tripa final election or candidates. Out of the total responses, I looked for repeated pattern and themes. From the responses, some were general comments on the need of active Kalon Tripa to the suggestion for the Election Commission. But majority were directed towards two Kalon Tripa candidates: Tenzin Namgyal Tethong la and Lobsang Sangay la. The most common and repeated theme was the need of experience for the next Kalon Tripa, which played an important role for Tenzin Namgyal Tethong la to win this opinion poll. However, Lobsang Sangay la supporters seem to be more determined with their comments such as he is the only best, he is modern and international way of thinking, and he has a breathe of fresh air. One interesting comment was made on the need of Kalon Tripa (Tenzin Namgyal Tethong la) and Deputy Kalon Tripa (Lobsang Sangay la).


Limitations

Online surveys are not without limitations. Some of the limitations of this online opinion poll are:

1.  The opinions of Tibetans with no computer and English language skills were excluded from the study.
2.  With one-time participatory settings, only one member of the family (having one computer) was able to provide his or her opinion.
3.  With the Tibetan electorates spread across the world, it was not possible to adopt a good sampling technique. Therefore, the study’s finding cannot be termed as statistically significant.
4.  Finally, due to the low participation, the generalization of the study’s findings is limited.


Conclusion

The findings of the study cannot be generalized to the larger Tibetan electorates. The current study succeeds in securing only 81 valid responses out of the approximately 80,000 Tibetan registered voters. However, the study did helped to provide some understandings of the opinion of a small group of participants. From the analysis, it is understood that Tibetan electorates from the North America and Tibetan electorates with higher educational qualification support Tenzin Namgyal Tethong la. It would be interesting to see how the results of first phase of online opinion poll change or not change with more participation from Tibetan electorates in India and Nepal.

Also, 89% of the participants voted for Tenzin Namgyal Tethong la and Lobsang Sangay la, which clearly posits that the final race to the Kalon Tripa is between these two candidates.

In order to achieve more accurate results, the online poll needs a higher number of participants. It is therefore my sincere request to the Tibetan electorates to share their opinions in the upcoming second phase of Online Opinion Poll on 2011 Kalon Tripa final election.



Note: This is an article written purely based on the participant’s inputs and responses. The author has no affiliation with any of the Kalon Tripa candidates. Neither do the author endorse any of them. The author tried to be as short and objective as possible throughout the analysis here. Further analysis of the results is more than welcome.

My Day Out – Nobel Peace Prize Celebration at NYC (Part 2 of 2)

This is in continuation to my earlier note on the same topic. In the first part, I shared my personal experiences on the celebration by directing my na├»ve microscopic lens to analyze certain aspects of the Tibetan community organization and its program. In this remaining part, I will shift my lens on Tibetan as an individual and its overall impact on the future generation of Tibet in particular and Tibetan community in general. Throughout the note, when I say Tibetan, I don’t intend to generalize all Tibetans. Also, I am far from an expert on any of the following subjects that I plan to share, but hope to offer you an outsider’s perspective on them.

I felt young when I saw all those beautiful Tibetan ladies in their best traditional costumes. Moreover, looking at those bright costumes definitely took my heart for a while. But sadly, none of them noticed my presence :-(  Nonetheless, when these beautiful ladies were performing on the stage, I immediately started to hum and tap my feet along with their amazing voices. Particularly, Yangchin is one of my favorite Tibetan instruments. It has a soothing melody for me.

Out of the blue, I met two gentlemen from Maryland who turned out to be a distance relative of my father and me. They have been in the United States for the last 8 or 9 years but we were seeing each other for the first time ever. It was beyond my appreciation to first-hand witness the benefits of such community programs.

In the meanwhile, as I was listening to the afternoon talks on the Tibetan community hall project, a small cute kid of around 5 or 6 years of age was busy handing out fliers on “vote for Tenzin Namgyal Tethong”. I sensed the supporters of TNT are trying hard to reach each and every individual after the not-so-promising preliminary election results. All in all, the day was turning out to be as educative as it should be. There are things to learn and there are things to contemplate.

I am not a nester who sticks to a chair for long. I prefer to wander around to take stock of what else are there on the plate. Outside the hall, at one corner, a White lady from the Students for Free Tibet was selling SFT products. I bought a hoodie that has “Tibet” in the front and “Bhoe” on the back. I like this particular hoodie because it only has Tibet on it and not Free Tibet or any other common slogans. I trust in a simple word that has different interpretation for different readers. For instance, the word Tibet itself may mean, “Free Tibet” to one reader, “I belong to Tibet” to another, and likewise.

At another corner on the left, there was a stall that sells drinks. Besides this stall, there was a delicious lunch for five dollars. I definitely want to share my sincere appreciation for all the peoples who provided their voluntary service to make this event possible.

At the third corner, just below the stairs, I saw a line of kids resting their backs on the wall, legs stretched, fingers thumping, and eyes struck on something. When I reached closer, I realized they were all busy in their own world of video games. They seem to be together yet so far from each other. To define them was easy: they are the tech generations obsessed with video games and technologies that are likely to result in isolation, depression, and for worse, obesity. On the same note, they are commonly defined as: upholder of the Tibetan dreams, seeds of our future struggle, keeper of our Tibetan community, fighter of Tibetan causes, and hope of the six million Tibetans. However, I saw more of the former definition in them and less of the latter one. I am making this presumption based on my observations in the subsequent paragraphs.

While sitting outside with my friend, I instinctively asked a little beautiful kid wearing a red silk Tibetan chuba, “Kherang Ming La Ga Ri Rae?” To my surprise, she gave an eye to me as if she was trying to say, “who the hell are you” or “what language are you speaking”. She immediately walked off with her friends talking in American English. I asked myself - where are the values of our culture that my parent used to teach me? i.e., to respect elders, to learn Tibetan language, to preserve Tibetan identity, and to be gentle and humble. I realized the little beautiful kid was wearing Tibetan chuba with no sense of what it means to her. I saw the diminishing value of Tibetanness in her both in terms of language, and culture and identity. My worst fear is - losing one’s connection to his/her mother language and culture has proven to be disadvantageous for minority child’s success at U.S. schools.

Research on minority immigrants posited that U.S. nativity and long term residence among the foreign-born increase English skills but significantly lower grades… strongly suggesting that second-generation children gradually lose their achievement drive with increasing acculturation. These studies have indicated that a second-generation child who maintains strong ties with his/her mother language, culture and identity, and community sense performs academically better at schools. Therefore, for our Tibetan parents, Tibetan language, culture, and identity is not only important in terms of maintaining Tibetanness in their child but also to succeed in the U.S. school. Our Tibetan parents definitely need to refocus their attention.

At the last corner, there is a special place that no attendees ever miss to pay a visit. I am a frequent visitor of this special place called restroom. When I first visited, the men’s room was nice, clean, and tidy. However, after few hours, it completely adorns a new look. A new look I hate to describe. It was a complete mess: used hand paper towels scattered into pieces, floors wet, taps running, bowls unflushed, and mirrors stained. I felt ashamed of myself at that moment, not because I was one of the attendees but because I am a Tibetan. The mess in the men’s room clearly demonstrates a part of our culture that lacks civility, responsibility, accountability, respect, and empathy. I don’t want to think on what the Church workers would be thinking and saying the next day.

Some of us might say that the mess in the men’s room is the work of some naughty kids. If that is true, then, I think it is worse. It is worse because we are nourishing a next generation of Tibetans who lacks these basic and simple values of our culture.

Finally, discussions (yea and nay) are important part of the learning process. Therefore, please feel free to post and share your comments and thoughts. Lets start with small changes to make our society a better place to live, grow, and learn. We, the first generation of Tibetan immigrants, have the moral responsibility to rightly nourish our future generations in the United States. Lets act before it’s too late.

My Day Out – Nobel Peace Prize Celebration at NYC (Part 1 of 2)

I wish the simple phrase “Don’t expect too much” has one and only one connotation to me. However, when it comes to Tibet and Tibetan, I always end up taking the hardest route. I tend to forget this simple phrase. My eyeball starts to roll 360 degree, my mind starts to scratch all possible spaces, my neurons starts to spark up my brain, my finger starts to scrabble on a piece of paper, and then, my thinking cap comes alive, afresh, and aloud. The present note is the result of this thinking cap, which some might consider as cynical, radical, or hypocritical.

However, having read Nathan’s book, “The hardest questions aren’t on the test”, I could not resist myself from pouring words and sentences out of my thinking cap. Irrespective of how others will view this note, I just hope that this note will help my fellow Tibetans to ask the hardest questions as I did in the following paragraphs.

Being at a small university town for the last few years, I hardly had the chance to attend any official Tibetan ceremony and when I came to New York City this X-mas break, I was super excited to attend the celebration of the conferment of Nobel Peace Prize to His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Armenian Church, Manhattan. It was a long awaited day-out with my Tibetan fellows. The Tibetan Community of New York and New Jersey organized the celebration and the handout program sheet read as (nearest translation from the Tibetan language):

-       Official program: 10.00AM to 1.00PM
-       Lunch break: 1.00PM to 2.00PM
-       Afternoon programs: 2.00PM to 5.00PM
-       Gor-she and Bae-shae: 5.00PM to 7.00PM
-       Dance party: 9.00PM to 2.00AM

A day earlier, I set my alarm so that I wake up at the right time. On the day, I met my good friend at Jackson Heights and then, we took a taxi since we were little concerned about arriving late if we go by Subway trains. Nonetheless, we reached few minutes late but when we rushed into the hall, there was no indication of any ongoing program. The hall was half full with organizer still doing the rounds of mike testing. With the hope the program will start in the next few minutes, we grabbed the two empty seats, and waited.

However, I was totally surprised as well as disappointed when the program officially started an hour late i.e., instead of 10.00AM it started at 11.00AM. Mockingly, yet regretfully, I whispered to my friend, “we are still following the Indian Standard Time”. The right time is still the Indian Standard Time and not the one I presumed to be. I expected Tibetans in the United States to embrace some of the positive elements of the American culture. Sadly, I did not see respect for the time.

During the wait time, I read the program handout, which was poorly written in the Tibetan language. There were several spelling and grammar errors besides organizational issues. Earlier, during one of my research work, I had the chance to skim through the Website of the Tibetan Community of New York and New Jersey (TCNYNJ) (http://tcnynj.org/).

Besides the Tibetan Community School that offers Tibetan language classes on weekends for Tibetan children, the TCNYNJ’s primary goal is to support the survival of Tibetan culture and identity (source: TCNYNJ Website). However, when I saw the poorly written handout, it immediately pressed me to ask the hardest questions: do TCNYNJ preaches what they say they do i.e., on the survival of Tibetan culture, language, and identity? How would they respond to a question from one of its school student - why there are several spelling and grammar mistakes in the official program handout? How to convince Tibetan parents that TCNYNJ seriously believe in the preservation of Tibetan culture, language, and identity? From my perspective, when you or your organization preaches something, you also need to practice them at all times. Tibetans (including students) should be able to see these practices at all times. Remember, all big changes start with a small change. Also, success befalls when all hands are raised towards that goal at all times. All in all, consistency counts.

Finally, the program started with a short announcement in English. I was glad to have a Tibetan butter tea and Dai-se (sweet rice with dry fruits) to quench the thirst and hunger I gained waiting. I was deeply touched and moved when I have to stand firm and sing our national anthem. The national anthem provides a strong sense of patriotism and helps to reaffirm one's commitment to do something for his or her own country. Moreover, singing national anthem after a long period helped me to recall my good old school days. :-)

Oh! Now coming back to the thinking cap, I experienced several things throughout the program: inconsistencies in the English and Tibetan version of the announcement; I believe there was no set duration for individual speeches; there was no one behind the mike to adjust speaker volumes; there were few changes in the program handout that remained unacknowledged; some talks were completely off the theme of the day; and most importantly, there was a complete lack of professionalism. For some, all these may not have any significance. However, I opted to take a different look at it.

Tibetan community programs are intended to help Tibetans not only to connect, meet, and greet with other Tibetans but also to offer an opportunity to experience the Tibetan culture. From my little observation, it seems that most Tibetans define culture in a very limited term. They look at culture as if it comprises only Tibetan dances, performances, and wearing chubas. However, culture is not only about external displays, which I believe is less important as compared to its core internal values.

I believe it is more than important to provide a good example to our upcoming generations on the core cultural values. Let them feel the culture of professionalism. Let them know it is essential to be organized in any kind of work, including their education. Lets make sure we provide a good role model to our next generation of Tibetans. Lets teach them the culture of punctuality, organization, management, and strive for excellence. Lets make our future better by making sure we involve the younger generations into such programs.

From the way the program was designed, I don’t see it appealing to our younger generations. If we don’t engage our younger generations into such programs, then, how are we going to instill in them the sense of belongingness, sense of community, and sense of Tibetanness among others. It is indispensable to provide an all-inclusive program where the needs and interest of all generations of Tibetans are considered and respected. Moreover, research has posited that it is important for the younger generations to remain connected to their roots to perform well at school and later at work and life.

From the way the current Tibetan program is designed, I am afraid I do not have any answer for my future son or daughter if they ask: do you consider these as the Tibetan culture – no respect for time, lack of organization, poor professionalism, inconsistencies, and unattractive to Tibetan youths, among others.

Finally, I may be trying too hard to think over my head. If I am missing anything here, feel free to jump in with your comments. I appreciate any feedback.

*The remaining part of this note will be up in the next few days.

Monday, February 8, 2010

"Show Me What You Got"?



The impulse to write this opinion turned into an obligation when I saw US President Barack Obama’s speech on CNN on 2 February 2010 regarding health care reform. While valuing the Republicans’ disagreement with health care reform, his immediate response to it struck really close to my heart — he urged Republicans to show him “what you got” (a better reform?)? This is so true in real life when people criticise for the sake of criticism with no better alternative to provide. I immediately felt the strong correlation between what President Obama said to the Republicans and the Tibetans’ present political situation.

The recent ninth round of talks between the representatives of the Chinese leadership and the representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as expected, failed to satisfy the hopes and aspirations of many Tibetans in India and abroad. People have little patience and expect quick results without realising which side of the pendulum weighs heavier. Like most of the Tibetans, I am also disappointed with the lack of visible progress or positive changes in the past several rounds of talks. Running out of patience with these slow moving talks has raised many eyebrows and some have even suggested for a change of approach towards China.

However, bad or worse, we should not forget that our situation is the same as an antelope whose head is under the jaws of a crocodile waiting to be crushed. We should not, even in our wildest dreams, ever overlook that we are, in all respects, weaker than China. We should be smart and intelligent enough to critically analyse how to get our heads out of the crocodile’s jaws, not only to safeguard our heads but also to accomplish the desired freedom. Freeing our heads from the strong crocodile jaws will not be an easy task but not an impossible one if we recognise the truth of the situation and react accordingly.

At present, I don’t see any approach that would surpass the peaceful middle-way approach. If we try to be aggressive, there might be a huge risk of getting our heads crushed before we can even move and talk.

A few Tibetan NGOs, embracing a different stand i.e., independence, have grabbed the slowness or lack of visible progress of the talks with China as an opportunity to press for the need of a change in our political approach. There is no disagreement in having a sound debate on the best approach towards resolving our current political status. However, one should not be driven away merely on the grounds that the current middle-way approach is not working or is a slowly moving process.

Before cursing the ongoing talks, one should critically analyse whether the alternate approaches, if any, are more viable, feasible, and doable than the current approach. Everyone will follow an alternative if it proves to be a better and realistic approach.

However, as far as I know, no other approaches seem to out-smart the current middle-way approach. Therefore, we should ask these few NGOs, proponents of an alternative approach (independence), to “Show us what you got”. We need to know their plan of action on how to best reach our final destination. Merely performing the duty of an activist is not a long-term solution.

Show me what is on your table so that I am convinced of your stand and approach. This might look like a direct confrontation but, in reality, this is what many Tibetans are looking for in the alternative(s) that would provide a better and more realistic approach to resolving our current political status.


*Published 8 February 2010 on Tibet Sun.com