Thursday, March 6, 2014

Happy Losar (Except for you guys)

We from Overlooking Tibet would like to wish everyone a happy Losar.  We had a Losar post, but in Tibetan culture it's bad form to scold during the first 3 days of Losar, so we decided to wait.

Some of you may have noticed that last month, about one day off of Chinese New Year, many Khampa and Amdowa Tibetans posted about their Losar celebrations, as did Tibetan practitioners of the Karma Kagyu school.  Every year this causes a bit of confusion and discussion, especially among Tibetans residing in exile where (except for especially devout practitioners of the Karma Kagyu School and people from Kongpo) Losar is pretty standardized (and even in these two cases, they usually celebrate "standard/phuglug Losar" as well.)

But this year, I got to see this:

Followed not long after by this:

T is the only Tibetan anywhere in this conversation.  Everyone else, most importantly A, the original poster, is a westerner.

I started with annoyance, then moved to disgust at her move of publicly shaming Tibetans in Tibet for celebrating the new year on the timing it is celebrated in their region. I then moved on to rage when she went so far as to call them "collaborators".  For what? For celebrating Losar on a different date?  Then "Chinese Losar in Serta: Some Tibetans celebrated with Chinese army" (emphasis my own.)  Excuse me? Chinese Losar?

First: Brief lesson.  Losar is widely celebrated across different dates in Tibet. Many parts of Eastern Tibet, such as Minyak in Kham and several different areas of Amdo, have historically celebrated Losar one month early, nearly or exactly coinciding with the Chinese New Year.  Is it Chinese new year? No. It coincides.  There are a lot of overlaps between the Tibetan calendar and the Chinese one.  For example, it's the wood horse year all across Asia, not just Tibet. Not just China!  Mongolian new year also falls within a few days of Chinese new year, similar to the Amdo Tibetan new year.  Would she also like to argue that the Mongolians have lost their culture and are collaborators?

Another group that celebrates Losar on a slightly different calendar which usually falls within 2 days of Chinese new year are followers of the Tsurlug calendar.  Even the Official Website of the Tibetan Astrological And Medical Institute, founded in Dharamsala by the Dalai Lama acknowledges the validity of the Tsurlug calendar as one of the "two major traditions of Tibetan astrology." (The other is the more mainstream, and slightly newer Phuglug calendar, which coincides with the Chinese new year every other year anyway).

Kongpo Losar generally falls between October and Decembera nd is widely celebrated by Kongpo Tibetans in Tibet and exile. It is radically different from Phuglug Losar, but since it doesn't fall near Chinese new year ever, it is never a source of controversy.

Second and worst: Who does A think she is to publicly shame and condemn Tibetans?  She reports that last year Lobsang Sangay asked Tibetans not to celebrate Losar, who is she to condemn them for celebrating this year?  There has been no call from inside Tibet that I know of (or in exile for that matter) not to celebrate Losar!  Why should they have to give up their holiday and chance for enjoyment?  Worse yet, she makes herself out as the victim in this scenario "I feel devastated in my desire to help the preservation of Tibetan culture. Looks like they really do not mind."  What?  By celebrating their holiday according to their regional calendar she feels "devastated"?  Who does she think she is? The holder of Tibetan culture?

These photos, she acknowledges, were sent to her by friends on WeChat. I think it's a safe assumption, based on her own comments, that they were sent by Tibetan friends enjoying Losar and wanting to share their enjoyment of the new year with her.  I wonder how her "friends" would feel knowing that she is referring to them as "collaborators"? I wonder how they would react to her using their uncensored photos, sent in conversation of celebration, to publicly shame Tibetans?

Does she really think she's aiding the "unity" of Tibetans by accusing Tibetan celebrants of being collaborators?  By condemning the unique cultural practices that differ across Tibet?

But you know what? It's Losar. So on behalf of us at Overlooking Tibet, whether you celebrate Phuglug Losar now, Tsurlug, Amdo Losar or Tsagaan Sar a month ago, or Kongpo Losar in autumn, Happy Losar.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Holier Than Thy Autocorrect

This little number popped up in response to a photo of HHDL on facebook.  The first person was a Tibetan and the second person, white.  Let's call them "Tsering" and "Max" for the sake of ease.

When I saw this interaction, I was so shocked by how quickly and harshly Max jumped on Tsering that I had trouble identifying what was the shocking part.  It took me a while to realize that it was a combination of factors.

Let's be clear: was Tsering, when wishing Long Life to HHDL purposely mispelling lama? Not a chance.  I do, however, challenge any reader, Tibetan or not, to honestly tell me that they've NEVER had "lama" autocorrected to "Lana", "lame" or some other variant while using the ever-popular iphone.  I know I certainly have hit "send" before realizing that I've referenced the Lana visiting the local Buddhist center.  (Other favorites, asking my Tibetan friends what China they are wearing for Losar, instead of chuba, and referring to Hatches Rinpoche instead of Garchen Rinpoche.)

So, chances are Tsering, like the vast majority of Tibetans who want to have easy access to Tibetan language while texting, was using an iphone and it autocorrected Lama to lame.  An unfortunate autocorrect, but one that I hope most people would just get an embarrassed giggle out of.  But not in this case. In Max's effort to show his own holiness and how he is a better servant/representative/whatever of the Dalai Lama than Tsering, he attacks.

Not only that, but "the Precious One"?  I did a quick look at this guy's page. He generally refers to HHDL as "HH."  Yep.  Two letters.  But in this case, "the Precious One"? Really?  Sorry, that sounds a bit forced to me.

Then his charming comment about "write in your own language."  What on earth is that?  OK, good, he acknowledges that English is likely not Tsering's first language, but then denies Tsering the right to choose to comment in English, the primary language of this thread (and facebook in general)?  Let's make the assumption for the moment (and this is a total assumption, because we have no way to know) that Tsering is, like many Tibetans, not fluent in English.  And let's make a second assumption that the error was neither an autocorrect, nor a typo, but an actual spelling error based on difficulty with English. Who the hell does Max think he is to tell a Tibetan, who is clearly trying his best to use the language of the conversation in order to express his own devotion to the spiritual leader of his own people, that Tsering doesn't have the right to use English unless he can use it perfectly?

This is just as bad as when white supporters demand that Tibetans, in a Tibetan space, speak English.  But in this case, instead of acknowledging that learning a second (or, as is the case of most Tibetans, likely a third or fourth) language is difficult and the effort should be lauded and encouraged, he feels like he should flaunt his own supposed holy superiority and basically demand that 'if you can't speak English, go home.'

All this for what was probably a stupid autocorrect.