March 10, 2011
10:40 am I look around and see familiar faces. With umbrellas in one hand and placards and flags in the other, most of Toronto’s Tibetans are braving the cold damp weather to mark the 52nd anniversary of the Tibetan people’s uprising of 1959. Less than a week ago we were dressed in our chubas and sipping chhang at the Exhibition Place celebrating the first day of Losar. Today the chubas are less festive and we are all gathered to mark a more solemn and historic moment in Tibet’s past. Fifty-two years ago on this day over 300,000 Tibetans converged around the Norbulingka palace forming a barrier between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Chinese unit stationed on the outskirts of the city. The people rose up to protect their leader and to protest the presence of Chinese troops on their land.
11:15 am I’m walking behind a couple with a baby in the stroller. The parents have a small Tibetan flag attached to the stroller. Many school age children are marching alongside their parents and grandparents. Every year I see more babies and elderly folk- the former are born Canadian, the latter come from Nepal and India to be reunited with their sons and daughters. Parkdale has turned into Little Tibet. Not surprisingly, Tenzin is the most popular name for boys and girls in Parkdale. The young Tibetan Canadians around me are passionate and articulate. If China thinks the passing of His Holiness the Dalai Lama will signal the end of the resistance, it is gravely mistaken. There is a new generation of Tibetans both inside Tibet and in exile ready and waiting to take charge of the struggle. We are shouting slogans for freedom, justice and demanding an end to China’s illegal occupation of Tibet. The boys behind me start chanting shame shame, China shame. The woman in front of me mutters that she thought we weren’t doing that particular slogan anymore. Apparently no one else got that memo.
11:35 am We are marching up Yonge St. past numerous adult novelty stores. Passing strangers and cars honk and give us the universal gesture of approval- thumbs up. I can’t help but notice the occasional smirks we get from a few people. I have no way of knowing they are Chinese so I won’t make that assumption.
12:15 pm Three cops rush over to a young Chinese man on the sidewalk across Bloor street near St. George. A fellow marcher tells me the man threw a small bottle of Billy Bee honey into the marching line a few rows ahead. This sour moment is quickly forgotten as we near the Chinese Embassy. Our chants grow louder as we get closer to the Embassy. Once there, we hear words of encouragement from longtime Tibet supporter Cheri Di Novo, former MP of Parkdale-High Park Peggy Nash, and Toronto City Councilor Gord Perks among others. Cheri puts things in perspective by reminding us that we are “one year closer to a free Tibet.”
12:50 pm I think about the not-so-sweet billy bee incident from earlier. I have in the past been confronted by people who believe in the far left’s version of a feudal Tibet devoid of any of the rights Tibetans are now fighting for. When the owner of the local French patisserie learned I was Tibetan he told me he was happy for me because Tibetans were no longer shackled by ‘old Tibet’s’ brutal feudalism. I find it hard to have meaningful discussions with people who have already made up their minds about Tibet instead of doing a bit of research. What’s tragic is that Chinese citizens believe their government’s propaganda. When a family friend visited Tibet in the late nineties, she found the treatment of Tibetan people by Chinese settlers in Lhasa quite unsettling. While at Norbulingka, the summer palace of His Holiness the Dalai Lamas, she saw a minor scuffle between a Tibetan and a Chinese. It ended with the Chinese person remarking something to the effect of “After all we have done for these barbarians, they treat us with such contempt.” It is hard to even begin engaging with people with this mentality. I wonder if the honey jar thrower had the same thought when he saw us marching on Bloor St.
I push these thoughts out of my mind and focus on the now. It’s still drizzling but the chanting hasn’t stopped. We sing the Gyallu, the Tibetan national anthem, followed by O Canada. Then comes a prayer I have heard sung numerous times but do not know the words to: Tseme Yonten. The full translation can be found here. One verse is especially apt for the day:
Those unrelentingly cruel ones, objects of compassion,
maddened by delusion’s evils,
want only destroy themselves and others;
May they achieve the eye of wisdom, knowing what must
be done and undone, and abide in the glory of friendship
I urge all Tibetans and supporters to continue fighting for what is right. Take your Lhakar pledge today and join the growing strategic nonviolent movement that started inside Tibet. For Dhondup Wangchen, Norzin Wangmo, Jigme Gyatso, and the countless other political prisoners suffering in Chinese prisons. Bhod Gyalo!
Nawang, SFT Toronto