Wednesday, December 22, 2010

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.

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