Here is the first part of an extensive conversation—well, as extensive as it can get in 30-plus minutes—that I had with Sikyong candidate Speaker Penpa Tsering. We met in one of Parkdale’s ubiquitous Tibetan-owned establishments, Shangri-la restaurant, where we discussed his Sikyong 2016 campaign so far, the state of Tibetan democracy, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lukar Jam, Tibet Support Groups, Donald Trump, and Rob Ford, among others.
Yesterday, inside the cavernous hall of the Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre (TCCC) in Toronto, Sikyong candidate Penpa Tsering began his public talk by stressing on the importance of harmony and unity, as a way of framing his campaign policy. In what eventually turned out to be a rambling three-hour speech that spanned everywhere and nowhere—a performance that at turns resembled a professorial lecture on the mechanics of bureaucracy, nostalgia for bygone times, and a church sermon—Speaker Penpa Tsering reinvigorated some of the charged proclamations that brought much notoriety to his campaign last year and, consequently, captured the attention of the Tibetan diaspora.
He also revealed new opinions (new for me anyway) that left me scratching my head and “stunned tweetless”, a term I used since I was live-tweeting the event in person. Right from the outset, he shared an opinion that may well prove to be a decisive turning point in his quest to be the new leader of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).
The searing clarion call from Tibet. The ripples of anguish across the communities in exile. The amoral handwave by the Chinese ruling class. The deafening silence from its detractors in the mainland and beyond.
Everything that’s needed to be said has been said, and yet we find ourselves unable to confront the malignancy of the situation. For those of us outside Tibet, we do our part in going to protests. We write impassioned essays. We get arrested. We get into online arguments.
And yet the simple fact of the matter—the skin of the truth—is that we don’t know. We shout a lot, but at the core, within that gauze of work and life and shit, we are at a loss for words. We wonder how the picture of a charred body pricks us, reminds us of our injustice and insecurity, and of our connection to a piece of land many of us have never stepped foot on.
We think we know what drives a young teenage monk to pour fuel on himself and strike a matchstick. We hope we can relate to a mother of three children when she abandons them for the Cause.
What is it that binds us together?
Where is that mischievous, irrepressible smile?
How deep is our well?
My days are ordered with quiet streets and bulbous figures wrapped from head to toe against the November cold. They are insulated within walls and windows, muffling the clinks of streetcars and the wayward songbird. They are filled with breaks of coffee and tea from the computer screen. They are chores pushed back and messages to be returned.
They are not this.
But every week, they become closer. Bit by bit.
There is a protest happening tomorrow, Wednesday, in downtown Toronto. At Richmond St. and Yonge St. In front of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. It has to do with the pending sale of Canada’s natural resources to a group of investors in China who have financed the forced resettlement of Tibetan nomads. Tibetans nomads who have now resorted to burning their bodies in order to express their defiance.
It will happen at 10 am in the morning. I know it can be inconvenient, but please try.
We may not know who we are or what we ought to do. But we know this much: our righteous condemnation against a transaction that facilitates the destruction of the Tibetan people, culture and land must be felt and heard.
Especially if it is inconvenient.
But instead you are biking purposefully, dodging cars and pedestrians, angling your handlebar across streetcar tracks and passing slow cyclists on the road. You are cutting it close to this evening’s workshop, the fifth in a series of sessions that you have to attend in order to qualify as a hospice volunteer caregiver. You rue the time it took for you to select the colour for the walls of your study room, which came to naught anyway because you decided to go with the leftover paint.
You make it to the location on time with seconds to spare—in one piece, thank god; struck only by tiny pangs of wistfulness upon seeing the steaming joggers on the sidewalk.
It follows that a mayor who is smugly suburban, is driven by an uncompromising zeal for fiscal “prudence” and has a preternaturally myopic outlook on what a liveable city is, would vote in favour of removing a perfectly serviceable bike route. Never mind that the cost ($300,000) to remove the bike lanes goes against his creed of respecting the taxpayer above everyone else. It’s Rob Ford. His nonsense makes sense in a sad way.