Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tibet and China... Finding the Common Denominator (Essay by Leung Man To)

In response to my previous lament about wanting to find more cogent analysis of the Tibetan situation, a blog friend very kindly sent me an essay by the Hong Kong public intellectual, Leung Man To. This essay was apparently published a few weeks ago.

Obviously, events and debates have moved on, what with the Chinese government now agreeing to talks with the Dalai Lama. However, in light of the Chinese President Hu's definition of the Tibetan issue as purely a sovereignty issue, that “Our conflict with the Dalai clique is not an ethnic problem, not a religious problem, nor a human rights problem”, and the continuing public relations gaffes - which I will elaborate in another post if I have the time - made by the Chinese government in the handling of the debate, Mr. Leung's balanced dissection of the core issues needs to be re-stated. Here I shall attempt to translate his lengthy essay:


為西藏問題尋找最大公約數--期待民族的和解 /梁文道
Finding the common denominator in the Tibetan problem - the search for mutual understanding and resolution across the ethnic divide. Original text by Leung Man To.

(一)2006 年,達賴喇嘛在印度舉行時輪金剛灌頂法會,他在會上批評當今藏人喜好皮草的虛華作風不僅庸俗,而且有違佛教義理。幾天之後,西藏各地就有人紛紛公開焚燒價格高昂的豹皮外衣狐狸帽子。當地官員大為震怒,認為這是以「達賴喇嘛為首的藏獨分子的精心?#92;作」,然後下令藏人要重新穿上皮衣,因為它們證明了黨的德政使大家過上了好日子,甚至以穿不穿戴皮草來檢證大家的「政治覺悟」(關於這次事件的詳情,可以參見西藏作家唯色的《看不見的西藏》)。

這樁近乎鬧劇的事件可以說明兩個問題:一是北京為何在國際民間外交的戰場上佔不去達蘭薩拉的上風,二是流亡在外的達賴喇嘛為什麼在藏人心目中仍然享有如此巨大的影響力。先談第一點。現在恐怕沒有任何一個國家膽敢得罪中國,承認西藏流亡政府的地位。但是在民間社會的層面上,情形就完全不同了。對大部分西方人而言,達賴喇嘛甚至可能是位比現任教宗本篤十六世還要受歡迎的宗教領袖。達賴喇嘛極少談及本篤十六世關心的墮胎和「性氾濫」等很容易被人批為保守的議題,他的主題一直是和平、寬容、理解和慈悲,所以就算不能贏得所有人的支持,至少也沒有多少人會對他有惡感。為什麼每次西藏出事,每次有藏獨的集會遊行,我們都會看見一大群演員、名流、作家和知識分子站出來支持他們?相反地,支持中國政府的「國際友人」這時都到哪裏去了呢?對很多人來說,達賴喇嘛代表了一套美善而完整的價值觀,他對西藏的種種訴求則符合了當今人權觀念的整個論述。再赤裸點說,大家會覺得聲援達賴喇嘛是為了「義」,給中國面子反對分裂則是為了「利」。再也沒有比06 年「皮草事件」更好的例子了。達賴喇嘛的主張不只出自慈悲,更與流行的動物權益_動若合符節,國際進步青年聞之莫不稱善。反_來看,西藏地方官員竟然為了抵制達賴喇嘛的影響,不惜違反世界潮流和保護野生動物的國家方針,要求藏民重新披上動物的皮毛。其間高下實不可以道里計。

In 2006, the Dalai Lama held a Buddhist conference in India, in which he criticized modern Tibetans' preferences for fur and animal skin fashion as not only vulgar, but are also contrary to Buddhist teachings. A few days later, people across Tibet began publicly burning expensive fur coats and fur-lined hats as a show of their religious adherence. Government officials in those areas however were extremely angry at what they perceived as "the careful handiwork of the Tibetan separatists headed by the Dalai Lama". They proceeded to order all Tibetans to wear fur, for the fur coats symbolised, in these Government officials' eyes, all the positive policies that they have implemented in the Tibetan region, which, to their mind, have enabled everyone to achieve a better quality of life. They even went as far as to use the wearing of fur as a test of the citizens' adoption of the correct "political consciousness". (For more information on this incident, please read the Tibetan writer 唯色's "Hidden Tibet").

This soap-opera-like fiasco can be used to answer two questions: firstly, why Beijing fails to gain the upperhand in the international public relations battle against the Dalai Lama; secondly, why does the exiled Dalai Lama have such enormous influence in the hearts of the Tibetan people. To answer the first question. In this day and age almost no country would dare to upset China and confer official recognition to the Tibetan government-in-exile. However, this official stance is not carried over to the public realm, where the situation is vastly different. To most Westerners, the Dalai Lama is perhaps an even more popular religious figure than the Pope [ed: that might have been different now after the Pope's recent visit to America, which has proved immensely popular with the American public]. The Dalai Lama rarely talks of such issues as abortion or sexual promiscuity, issues which are close to the Pope's heart but which easily draw criticisms to the Church's conservatism. Instead, the Dalai Lama preaches Peace, Tolerance, Understanding and Compassion, so that even when he didn't win over the support of everyone, at the very least his stance never brought him any ill will. Thus we witness how, every time the Tibetan issue comes up and every time the pro-Tibetan independence groups organize their protests, there are huge numbers of actors, writers, intellectuals and other celebrities voicing their support. In contrast, we never see the "international friends" of the Chinese goverment showing up at such times. To many people, the Dalai Lama became the embodiment of a virtuous and cohesive value system, and his numerous calls on behalf of Tibet fit very well with the whole modern philosophy of universal human rights. To put it bluntly, voicing support for the Dalai Lama's cause came to be seen as a "moral" imperative; whilst objecting to "splittism" and saving China's face is driven purely by commerical interests. There is no better illustration of this than the Fur Incident of 2006 - the Dalai Lama's call stems not only from spiritual compassion, but also cohere with the popular animal rights movement, thus winning the support of self-professed progressive youngsters everywhere. In contrast, the Chinese government officials, in their bid to stem the influence of the Dalai Lama in Tibet, actually went as far as contravening their own national policy regarding the protection of wild animals, and running against the international prevailing wisdom by forcing people to wear fur. The difference in the levels of sophistication between the two could not have been bigger.


(二)比起這點,第二個問題或許更令北京憂心。達賴喇嘛人在印度50 年,其一言一行在藏區竟然還有如斯巨大的影響力,原因究竟何在?近日的藏區紛亂,官方一直強調是「達賴集團」在幕後精心策劃出來的,我以為這個說法必須好好分析。首先,所謂「達賴集團」指的其實不一定是達賴本人。凡對西藏問題略有所知者,都知道「西藏青年大會」才是流亡西藏人中的激進派,他們的勢力龐大網絡周全,雖然奉達賴喇嘛為尊,但也公開批評過達賴的非暴力主張,二者潛存矛盾。我們目前雖然沒有足夠資訊研判內情,但最近的事件卻不一定就是達賴本人指揮煽動。反過來看,達賴那番若藏人暴力活動持續他就要退位的聲明,則有可能是對「西藏青年大會」等激進派的反制施壓。然而,不管有沒有人策動藏人上街,也不管策動者是誰,中國政府首先該問的是何以它在過去數十年來投入了大量的人力財力,使西藏年均GDP 每年皆有超過10%的增長,竟還有許多藏人深懷怨憤,隨時就能人手一面「雪山獅子旗」呢?以我個人所見,這甚至是不少漢族知識分子都感到難以理解的,他們有的相信官方主流論述,認為共產黨把藏人從神權統治下的農奴制解放了出來;有的則覺得漢地各省長期以來勒緊自己的褲帶對西藏施行慷慨的「對口援助」,藏民卻毫不領情,一翻臉就不認人,甚是奇怪。

说起來,西藏問題真是一團迷霧,只要你朝它多走一步,你就會發現原來所相信的任何一種簡單立場都能碰上理據十足的反駁。不只現在的西方媒體造假與中國傳媒監控各惹嫌疑,歷史上的詭局謎團更是令人眼花撩亂。如果你認為「自古以來」,西藏就是中國的一部分;你將會發現要花很多時間去解釋古代宗主國對藩屬的關係為什麼等同於現代民族國家和它的轄下省份(越南反而確曾是中華王朝的一省)。反過來說,如果你相信在「中國入侵」之前,西藏是片連丁點暴力都不可能發生的和平淨土;那麼你又該如何理解14 任達賴喇嘛裏頭只有3 位順利活到成年的事實呢?假如你覺得文革對西藏的破壞是不可饒恕的,你或許應該知道當年打砸佛寺佛像的主力之一竟然是藏人。假如你認為中央對西藏的宗教自由已經足夠寬容,甚至准許流亡在外的眾多上師返鄉建寺(最有名的當屬頂果欽哲法王);你可能也曉得現在的西藏小學生是連隨身護符也不准帶的。關於西藏的歷史,北京和達蘭薩拉各有一套說法。前者強調老西藏是塊大部分人充當農奴的黑暗土地,是共產黨一手把它帶進了光明的現代社會。後者則將西藏描繪為一個牧歌般的和平桃源,沒有爭戰只有靈性,是無神論的共產黨摧毁了這一切。

平心而論,兩者都各有偏頗,不足為信。西藏確曾是個農奴社會,1951 年前,光是三大領主經營的莊園竟然就佔了全藏可耕地的62%,其中又有37%為寺院所有。大部分平民都要在耕作之餘替領主服終身勞役。不過這些農奴的實况遠非中文裏的「奴」字所能概括,雖然身分是「奴」,但他們的物質生活卻不一定很差,所以在「劃成分」時才會出現了「富裕農奴」這麼古怪的類別。西藏確實也是個佛國,出家人所佔的人口比例舉世罕見。只不過和任何俗世社會一樣,以前的西藏也少不了各種勾心鬥角、貪污暴政甚至高層僧侶間的政治暗殺,與完美的世外桃源相去甚遠(詳見王力雄《天葬》、Melvyn Goldstein 的經典巨著《A History ofModern Tibet 1913-1951》(中譯《喇嘛王國的覆滅》) 及《The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China,Tibet and the Dalai Lama》)。

Compared to the first question, the second question is even more worrying for China: how come the Dalai Lama carry such enormous influence within the Tibetan region even though he has been exiled to India for the past 50 years? The Chinese authorities have ascribed the recent unrest in Tibet as being masterminded by "the Dalai Lama Clique". I think this assertion warrants careful analysis. First of all, "the Dalai Lama Clique" obviously involves not only the Dalai Lama himself. Anybody who has more than superficial knowledge of the Tibetan situation would know that the "Tibetan Youth Congress" constitutes the radical faction among the overseas Tibetans. They wield enormous power through their comprehensive networks of exiled Tibetans in different countries, and while they hold the Dalai Lama as their leader, they have also publicly criticised the non-violent approach advocated by the Dalai Lama, resulting in hidden tensions between the two. While we don't have enough information to fully appreciate the situation from the inside, it is clear that the recent unrest and riots were not necessarily incited by the Dalai Lama himself. On the contrary, the announcement by the Dalai Lama about his intention to resign his post as the leader of his people if violence continues, could be seen as His Holiness's attempt to rein in the aggressive elements among his people such as those within the Tibetan Youth Congress. In any case, whether there was indeed a mastermind behind the recent unrest, and no matter who was the true agitator, the very first question the Chinese government should ask itself is this: how does it come to pass that, despite its investment of enormous amounts of financial and human resources into the region over the past several decades, leading to annual double-digit GDP growth, there remain so many indigenous Tibetans harbouring deep anger and resentment, such that they could be so easily called upon to raise the Tibetan "snow-mountain-and-lion" flag at the drop of a hat? From what I can see, this is not something that even intellectuals in mainland China could easily explain. Some of them brought into the official government narrative, believing that it was the Communists who liberated the Tibetans from a brutal theocracy; some expressed bewilderment at the Tibetans' sudden about-face and seeming lack of appreciation of the sacrifice that citizens in the rest of China have made, who tightened their own belts to allow such generous assistance be given to the Tibetan region over the years.

Actually, the Tibetan problem is indeed a thorny one, full of uncertainties whereby the more one learns about the issues, the more one discovers that any simple stance on the problem has its own set of evidence-based counter-arguments. This is not only in relation to the Western media bias and the Chinese government clampdown, which have drawn their own accusers; but the intrigues and riddles surrounding the history of the region are even more puzzling. If you believe that, "since time immemorial", Tibet has always been a part of China; then you will have to spend a lot of time explaining how the ancient relationship between the central kingdom and its foreign neighbours [ed: a political relationship that was cemented at times by inter-marriage of the royals from the two sides, not dissimilar to how members of the royal families from different European countries inter-marry to maintain stability of the realm in the Middle Ages], should come to be reinterpreted in modern political terms as the relationship between that of a central administration and its legislative provinces (while Vietnam on the other hand was actually a province under imperial China and yet became a sovereign nation in modern times). On the other hand, if you believe that, before China "invaded" it, Tibet was a land of peace and virtue untainted by any speck of violence; how do you then explain the fact that, of the 14 Dalai Lamas that have existed in history, only three of them managed to survive into adulthood? If you believe that the damage caused by the Cultural Revolution to Tibet is absolutely unforgiveable; you perhaps should also know that a key figure leading the charge to destroy the temples and the statues of buddhas at the time was actually an indigenous Tibetan. Conversely, if you believe that the Chinese government has already given more than enough concessions to the Tibetans for their religious freedom, even to the extent of allowing exiled Tibetan monks to return to rebuild their temples (the most famous example of which is 頂果欽哲法王); you should perhaps also know that Tibetan school kids nowadays are not even allowed to carry their own religious charms on their persons [ed: and Tibetan families are strictly forbidden from having any Dalai Lama related artefacts in their own homes even for the purpose of private worship]. Regarding Tibetan history, Beijing and the Dharmsala each have their own version. The former emphasizes that old Tibet was a dark, unenlightened land blighted by feudal serfdom; whilst the latter paints old Tibet as a spiritual and peaceful Shangri-la, and that it was the atheistic Communists who destroyed everything.

To be fair, both sides have misrepresented or overstated facts that negate their credibility. Tibet was indeed a feudal society. Before 1951, just counting the farms controlled by the top three seniors in the Buddhist hierarchy, they already represented 62% of all available agricultural land in the whole of Tibet; of these, 37% were owned outright by the monasteries. The vast majority of ordinary Tibetans were obligated in perpetual servitude to their religious masters in addition to being serfs on their farms. However, in reality the lives of these Tibetan serfs were far more complex than could be encapsulated by the Chinese word "slave". Although their official status was indeed a "slave", not all of them were materially-deprived, thus leading to such curious categories as "rich agricultural slaves" when they were later formally classified. Tibet was indeed, and continues to be, Buddhist country, with a disproportionate number of the population taking the vow compared to any other country on Earth [ed: perhaps excepting the Vatican?]. However, in spite of such spiritual calling, like any other human society, the old Tibet was not without its foibles, including all manners of political intrigue and corruption, and even political assassinations among high-ranking monks, which were all a far cry from the perfect image of Shangri-la. (For more information, please refer to Wang Li-Hung's "The Burial of Heaven"; Melvyn Goldstein's classic "A History ofModern Tibet 1913-1951" and "The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China,Tibet and the Dalai Lama")。


(三)在這種種互相衝突的證據和理論之上,任何一方要是堅持自己的認知來決定行動方向,其實都是在玩一場後果難斷的賭局。為什麼明明有那麼多線索顯示與達賴喇嘛漸行漸遠的「西藏青年大會」才是騷亂主_,中央政府仍然堅持要把達賴拉下水呢?為什麼中央不肯聽陳思這些獨立學者的意見,趁並不堅持獨立而且態度溫和的達賴喇嘛圓寂前與他對話呢?這就是中國政府的賭局了。大家都曉得,就算達賴在海外轉世,一個幼年的靈童也起不了什麼作用。[...] 沒錯,達賴一走,中國就會少掉一個難以應付的對手,但是激進的「藏青會」豈不也是會趁勢崛起?各種極端的主張和暴力的手段豈不將如脫_野馬般地蜂擁四起?然而,對中國政府而言,這或許也是正中下懷的好事,因為整個海外西藏流亡政府_動將會名正言順地轉變成人人得而誅之的恐怖分子,昔日的和平宗教色彩將因此一掃而空。有人可能會擔憂那些恐怖活動帶來的破壞和犧牲,不過,沒有風險又怎能叫做賭局呢?更詭異的是流亡西藏_動一旦走上了暴力路線,本來隱匿的所謂「外國勢力」也會變得非常尷尬,他們願不願意直接敵對中國,С忠粋€公開放棄非暴力主義的組織呢?可見中國政府鷹派對待達賴的拖延手法其實不是外間所以為的愚蠢盲目,反而是相當聰明的。最大的問題只是中國要付出多大的代價呢?大家是否都做好了長期武裝抗爭和剛性鎮壓的準備呢?所有平民百姓知不知道以後的日子可能要在惶恐中度過呢?因為除了「疆獨」,日後或許會多出一批前所未見的劫機犯。就算中國政府預備好了硬性的手段,面對藏人普遍的忿恨不滿;它既不可能把他們統統都蒸發掉,也不可能成功地按照自己幾十年來的邏輯,將「極少數的藏獨分子」和「絕大多數的愛國藏胞」完全分隔。另一方面,即便流亡海外的西藏獨立_動真的完成了最不可能的夢想,爭得西藏獨立;他們也不得不面對西藏境內早已住上了許多漢人和回民的現實,難道你能強迫他們全部離開嗎?更不用提四川、甘肅、青海、內蒙古等地藏區多民族混合的局面了。所以,無論你抱持何種政治立場,你也不能不認真對待漢藏等民族間日後相處的問題。於是在徹底壓抑西藏主體性與完全獨立這兩個各走極端的方向之間,我們至少就可以找到一個最起碼的共通點,最大的公約數了,那就是真正的民族和解。

In this situation of claims and counter-claims, with different sides marshalling different evidence in support of their arguments, any side that chooses to rely solely on their own bounded rationality and ignore totally the viewpoint of the other is actually playing a very dangerous gamble with unfathomable consequences. Why, when there are so many evidence pointing to the Tibetan Youth Congress (which has increasingly been falling out of step with the Dalai Lama) as being the real agitator behind the March riots, would the Central Chinese Government continue to blame the Dalai Lama for what had happened? Why do the Beijing authorities not listen to the recommendations by independent academics such as Chen Zhi, and try to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama, who does not agitate for full independence and whose manners and political outlook are calm and moderate, before his passing? [ed: it has now transpired though that Beijing is finally ready to talk] This is the Beijing government's gamble: everybody realises that, even if the Dalai Lama is reincarnated overseas, a child Dalai Lama would not have much effect politically-speaking. [...] While it's true that, once the Dalai Lama is gone, China will have one less tricky opponent to contend with. However, would that not lead to the opportunistic rise of the radical Tibetan Youth Congress? Would the passing of the peaceful Dalai Lama not simply mean the unchecked rise of extremism and violence everywhere? Yet even this potential scenario could also be to the political advantage of the Chinese government, because then the Tibetan government-in-exile would be turned into a terrorist organization that everyone loves to hate, losing all credibility and moral authority they previously commanded under the Dalai Lama. Perhaps some people would be worried about the damage and destruction that would be caused by such potential terrorist activities - but any gamble requires the bearing of risks. Once the Tibetan government-in-exile pursues the route of violence, those hidden "external anti-China forces" would suddenly find themselves in an embarrassing position: would they wish to openly oppose China, or would they publicly denounce the once non-violent, but now terrorist, organisation? [ed: actually, the "external anti-China" forces could simply deny labelling the TYC as "terrorist", and continue their pre-existing agenda without fuss; after all, if they could finesse the definition of the Iraq war at the beginning as just "military operations" and the Darfur genocide as not textbook genocide, I don't see why they can't support a violent TYA and oppose China at the same time. In any case, I don't think embarrassment alone could force any action on those who don't have any scruples to begin with] From this perspective, the delaying tactics employed by the hawkish elements within the Chinese government against dialogue with the Dalai Lama are not so stupid and blind after all, but are actually rather smart. The biggest question then arises though as to how much is China willing to sacrifice? Have everybody braced themselves for long-term military conflict and violent crackdowns? Are all citizens prepared to live the remainder of their days in fear and retribution? Because apart from the run-of-the-mill ideological Tibetan separatists, there may come a day when there are groups of never-before-seen plane hijackers and suicide bombers targeting the Chinese. Even if the Chinese government is prepared to use hard-hitting measures to suppress the Tibetans' grievances, it could never totally evaporate a whole people, nor could it proceed according to its decades-old formulation of trying to differentiate between "the few Tibetan separatists" from the "vast majority of patriotic Tibetan-Chinese". On the other hand, even if the exiled overseas Tibetans finally achieve their improbable dream of Tibet independence, they must also face the fact that there are already many Han Chinese and Muslims who have settled in Tibet, and it will be ridiculous to suggest that these communities should simply be told to leave, not to mention the fact that, in many areas such as Sichuan, Gangsu, Qinghai and Inner Mongolia, there are already the intermingling of many ethnic groups. [ed: this is precisely the situation in Northern Ireland - the long establishment of ethnic communities, whether implanted or indigenous, meant that there is simply no way for a pure nationalist or unionist administration to settle the centuries-old score; instead, both sides must - and have - come together in forming their own political assembly]. Therefore, whichever side of the political divide you happen to be on, there is no way you could ignore the serious issue of the mutual coexistence of ethnic Chinese and Tibetan people. Between the extremes of total suppression of Tibetan autonomy at the one end, and complete Tibetan sovereignty at the other, we should be able to find at the very least a basic common denominator - true mutual understanding across the ethnic divide.


(四)然而中國政府處理西藏問題的大方向卻簡單得出奇,那就是把一切責任都往達賴喇嘛身上推。其目的無非就是要在達賴在世的時候把他塑造成最大對手,以後就更能充分地矮化或許會成為暴力組織的其他激進派系了。於是各級官員才會把話說得一個比一個還狠,例如公安部長孟建柱上周入藏視察時就曾放言「達賴不配做一個佛教徒」。從戰術邏輯看來,這番話是有的放矢;但是聽在藏人和藏傳佛教徒耳中,它無異於對著一群天主教徒指斥教宗不配當天主教徒,你猜他們會做何感想呢?要知道許多藏人在家私藏達賴玉照早已是公開的秘密;如果真心追求西藏問題的順利解決,維護國家領土的完整,政府豈能如此漠視藏人的感受,為了一時戰術上的功效犧牲全盤戰略的佈局,屢屢辱罵藏人的精神領袖呢?難道他們不知道這種做法只會迫使許多藏人更加陽奉陰違,甚至增加他們的離心嗎?1998 年,時任國家主席江澤民曾經公開對著來訪的美國總統克林頓說過這樣的話:「我去年訪美的時候,也包括到歐洲的一些國家,我發現許多人教育水平很高,知識水平都很高,可是他們還是很相信喇嘛教的教義」。他的意思再明顯不過:「喇嘛教」如此愚昧落後,你們這些文明開化的西方人怎麼還要信它呢?無論從任何標準來看,這都是番令人震驚的言論。一位國家元首怎能如此公開侮辱國內一支主要少數民族的信仰呢?我們可以想像克林頓會說猶他州州民教育水平這麼高,還要相信摩門教真奇怪嗎?如果連整個國家的領導人也是如此,其餘更是思過半矣。直到近年為止,隨便翻翻《西藏日報》,我們還會看見如下觀點:「西藏由於受到歷史地理等諸多因素的制約,經濟、社會發展水平還相對落後,從封建農奴社會遺留下來的迷信、愚昧、非科學的東西至今還禁錮廣大農牧民群眾的思想」。令人感慨的是,除了政府和官方媒體之外,就連一些知識分子也就著最近的事件中動輒放言「藏人的民族性天真淳樸,很容易受人迷惑」。即便對西藏問題一向開明中肯的民間學者王力雄也有他的盲點,他除了曾用「喇嘛教」這個充滿漢地佛教偏見的稱謂指稱藏傳佛教或藏人喜用的「金剛乘」之外,也不能免俗地以簡單的環境決定論去說明藏人對宗教的渴求。

Yet the Chinese government has treated the complex Tibetan issue in a mind-bogglingly simplistic manner: lay all the blame on the Dalai Lama's head. Its goal is simply to portray the Dalai Lama as the sole biggest opponent facing China while he's still alive, so that they could reduce him to become equated with a would-be terrorist organisation and other aggressive Tibetan elements upon his passing. Hence the increasingly extreme denouncements made by successive government officials as the Tibetan protests unfold, such as a police chief's declaration last week, during his visit to monitor events in Tibet, that the Dalai Lama "is not fit to be a Buddhist monk." From a purely tactical perspective, that speech served its intended purpose. However, to the ears of the Tibetan people and other Tibetan Buddhist followers, it is equivalent to declaring the Pope is not fit to be a Catholic - how would you think they feel? It is an open secret that many Tibetans secretly retain a portrait of the Dalai Lama in their own homes in spite of the official sanction. If one is indeed serious about tackling the Tibetan issue and maintaining the territorial integrity of China, how could the Government be so chirlish in ignoring the feelings of the Tibetans, insulting their spiritual leader again and again, thus forsaking the game plan of the entire strategy for a momentary tactical advantage? Do they not realise that doing so would only lead to more and more Tibetan people paying only lip service to government policies, and may even increase their support for separatism? In 1998, the then Premier Zhang Zemin once said this to President Clinton during his official visit, "Last year when I visited America and a few European countries, I found that most of the people's education levels are very high, yet it's curious how many of them also follow the teachings of the Dalai Lama." His point is obvious: Tibetan Buddhism is so stupid and backward, why would the self-professed enlightened Westerners believe in such nonsense? From any angle, such a pronouncement is truly astonishing: how could the head of a country so blatantly insult the religious beliefs of one of its minorities? Can you imagine President Clinton making similar pronouncements about the high education levels of the citizens of Utah yet finding it curious that they follow the Mormon church? [ed: While it may be very difficult to imagine Clinton saying this, I won't put it past President Bush to make such gaffes. In fact, Bush has often insulted the Islamic religion even though there are practising Muslims within the U.S.]. If the national leader is behaving in such an inconsiderate manner, what hope is there for expecting anything different from the rest of the country? Until recent years, when one flicked open pages of the "Tibet Daily", one could often find passages along the following lines: "Due to constraints imposed by such factors as geography and history, Tibet's economy and society remain extremely underdeveloped compared to the rest of the country. The vast majority of nomadic citizens remain shackled to the superstition, stupidity and unscientific dogma left over from the feudal times." What is most troubling however is the observation that, apart from the Government and the state-controlled media, there are even some intellectuals who non-chalantly commented on the recent unrest in Tibet as simply the result of "naive and simple Tibetans being easily misguided by others". Even someone as fair and open-minded as the civic scholar Wang Li Hung has his blindspots - in addition to using such ethno-centric terms as "Lamaism" to describe the Tibetan faith, undergirding Han Buddhism bias against Tibetan Buddhism; he also could not refrain from using simplistic environmental determinism to explain the Tibetans' deep-seated need for faith.

(五)走筆至此,我們不難發現所謂西藏問題其實有一半是漢人自己的問題。從在上位者一直到民間百姓,不只對西藏的民情文化沒有起碼的認識和尊重,更對複雜纖細的民族問題毫不敏感。進而言之,中華人民共和國雖說是多民族國家,但我們的少數民族政策卻從來都是不完整的,一是因為我們只是單向地把它看成是對少數民族做工作,卻從未反省漢人為主的主要族群該如何與其他民族共存;二是這些政策的範圍相當狹隘,沒有把民族視野恰當地貫注在其他政策之內。且以文革遺產的清理為例。根據班禪喇嘛早在文革爆發前4 年向中央委員會遞交的「七萬言意見書」: 「民改前的西藏有大、中、小寺廟2500 餘座,而民改後由政府留下來的僅只有70 多座,減少了97%多,由於大部分寺廟沒人居住,所以大經堂等神殿僧舍無人管,人為的和非人為的損害,破壞巨大,淪於已倒塌和正在倒塌的境地」。到了文革那十年,僧人被迫還俗,佛寺遭到洗劫的慘狀就更是變本加厲了。有些論者承認這種種做為對西藏造成的災害確實很巨大,但轉頭卻說不只西藏,「那十年裏全國各地一樣受害」,言下之意是大伙過去都遭殃了,你們藏人不該老拿這些往事出來說三道四。這就是對民族問題不敏感的絕佳例子了,他們似乎完全不明白同樣是文革,對漢人而言或許是自己人鬥自己人,但到了西藏卻是你們漢人帶頭來搞我們西藏人了。所以在處理這些歷史傷痕的時候,政府應該格外小心,不能只是出錢修復廟宇,甚至還要採取比在漢地更徹地的解決方案(例如查明歷史真相和道歉),方能締造民族和解的基礎。

比起雖有魁北克問題但大體上和平的加拿大,中國其實一直沒有認真實行過多元文化的路線。首先,我們要知道所謂的「普通話」其實就是現代漢語。當許多官員誇誇其談西藏的教育普及做得如何之好的時候,大概沒有想過對藏族青少年來講,他們正在學著掌握一種非母語,且要用它為工具和來自漢地的同齡人競逐大學的入學機會以及政府公職,其間的差異足以造成重點大學藏人入學率偏低的情形。假如准許用藏文考高考的想法太過不切實際,讓各地中學開設藏語和維吾爾語選修班也十分異想天開的話,我們能不能審視一下現有的教材內容呢?翻翻歷史課本,身為多民族共存的現代國家,我們念的卻還是唐宋元明的王朝世系,那你要置吐蕃王國於何地呢?番邦嗎?同樣地,農曆新年是法定假期,那麼藏曆新年呢?就算不用全國放假,漢人學子也該學點藏曆和回曆的基本紀年知識吧。真正完整的民族政策,不可能只是保障各少數民族在自己居住地內的傳統文化和權益,更不可以只是讓他們學融入漢人定義的「中華文化」;而是要讓人口佔多數的漢人也學懂其他民族的文化傳統,平等地對待其他民族。

Following from the above discussions, it is not difficult for us to realise that half of the Tibetan question is actually to do with the Han Chinese themselves. From the national leader down to ordinary citizens, not only is there an absence of basic understanding and respect regarding Tibetan life and culture; there is also an extreme lack of sensitivity regarding the complex yet fine-grained issues of ethnicity. Thus, even though the People's Republic of China is said to be a multi-cultural society, but our policy towards our ethnic minorities is neither comprehensive nor cohesive. This is firstly due to the fact that we have never regarded the task from anything other than an ethnocentric, unilateral angle, as something that "we" have to do "for" the ethnic minorities, and have never reflected on how Hans as the dominant ethnic group should actually live together with other ethnic groups. Secondly the terms of references covered by such policies are very narrowly-defined, and there has never been proper incorporation of ethnic perspectives into the development of major public policies. Let's take the example of clearing up the legacy of the Cultural Revolution. According to the "70,000 Word Consultation Letter" submitted to the Central Committee by the second-in-command Lama four years before the start of the Cultural Revolution: "Before the Reform there existed more than 2,500 temples of varying sizes in Tibet. After the Reform the Government has preserved only 70-odd temples, a reduction of more than 97%. Because most of the temples are no longer occupied, it leads to the dereliction of many shrines, prayer halls and monk quarters. Enormous damage was caused by both human and natural forces, leaving many temples in a severe state of disrepair if not total collapse." Yet the ten years of the Cultural Revolution itself brought even more destruction to the sorry state of the temples and monasteries, along with the forced renouncement of the monks' religious vows. Some commentators, while admitting that all these meaures resulted in immeasurable losses for Tibet, they pointed out at the same time that "everyone around the country suffered hugely during the ten years of the Cultural Revolution also", implying that the Tibetans should not keep banging on about their loss when they were not the only ones who have suffered in that period. But this is precisely a prime example of cultural insensitivity: these commentators somehow never understood that, while Cultural Revolution from the perspective of the Han Chinese was a case of self-inflicted pain, where "everyone of us" suffered as family, friends, colleagues and comrades were forced to denounce and destroy each other; when it came to Tibet however, the Cultural Revolution was seen by the Tibetans as a case of the Han Chinese coming to attack and destroy them. Thus when dealing with these historical scars and helping all ethnic groups to truly come to terms with each other and with past history, the Government should have been extra careful. Not only should it spend money to rebuild temples and monasteries, but the Government should also employ even more thorough measures than those used within China proper in designing reparations for Tibet (such as establishing a proper inquiry and issuing an official apology for what had happened), so as to provide a firm basis for resolving inter-ethnic grievances.

Compared to a country like Canada, which is generally peaceful despite the Quebec issue, China actually has never genuinely developed, let alone implement, a multi-cultural strategy. First of all, we need to realise that what is called "Putongwa", or "the common tongue", is in essence the modern Han language. When lots of officials proudly proclaim how good a job they have been doing to increase the general education levels of the Tibetan people, they probably have never thought about the fact that, to the many Tibetan youngsters, they are actually being asked to acquire a non-native language, and to use this non-native language to compete with native Han Chinese speakers of the same age for places in universities and the civil service. This difference of using one's native tongue versus a second language could well explain the relatively low numbers of Tibetans securing places in key universities in China. If it is too impractical to have high school examinations in the Tibetan language, and the idea of creating specialist Tibetan language classes can only exist in fairytales, could we not at least review and revise the contents of modern teaching materials? A flick through history textbooks shows us that, for a modern country where many ethnic groups live side by side, we are still studying only such imperial dynasties as Tang, Soong, Yuan and Ming, and pay little attention to the ancient Tibetan kingdom and its relationship with imperial China. Similarly, while the Lunar New Year is an official holiday, what about the Tibetan New Year? Even if the Tibetan New Year may not become a national holiday across the whole of China, at the very least Han students should know a little more about the Tibetan and Muslim calendars. A truly comprehensive ethnic policy should not just focus on protecting the rights and cultures of the various minority ethnic groups within their own geographic regions, and it should never be about just teaching the minority ethnic groups how to assimilate into a Han-predefined “Chinese culture”. Instead, it should enable the numerically-predominant Han ethnic group to learn more about the cultural heritage of other ethnic groups, and teach everyone what it means to treat others equally and with respect.


(六)我在電視上看見一些青年僧人也參與了近月的事件,甚至還拿起了石塊和棍棒……他們的憤怒我只能盡量體會。現謹摘抄13 世紀偉大的成就者嘉瑟.戊初.東美〈菩薩行三十七頌〉片段如下,祈願藏漢的真正和解:「即使有人用各種難聽的話貶損我,並且在千萬個世界中到處張揚,出於慈悲,我讚美這個人的功德,乃是菩薩的修行。」「在大型集會之中,某人用侮辱的語言揭露我隱藏的缺陷,恭敬地向他行禮,視其為法友,乃是菩薩的修行。」「被我視如己出地來關愛的人待我為仇敵,如母親愛生病的孩子一般更加愛他,乃是菩薩的修行。」「如果有人即將斬下我的頭,即使我沒有絲毫過錯,透過悲心的力量,擔負他所有的惡業,乃是菩薩的修行。」

I saw from the television how a number of young monks have joined in the riots in recent months, some of them even picking up sticks and stones as weapons… I could only try to understand their anger. In the hope of a genuine resolution of the conflict between Tibetans and Han Chinese, I shall solemnly paraphrase the words of the great 13th century mystic 嘉瑟.戊初.東美 (The Deeds of Bodhistsattva, verse 37):
“Even when someone uses all kinds of unpalatable words to hurt me, and spreads these in thousands upon thousands of worlds; out of charity and compassion, I praise this man’s achievement, for it is the teaching of the Bodhisattva.”
“In a big gathering, when someone uses insulting language to expose my hidden weaknesses, I shall respectfully bow to him, and claim him as a spiritual friend, for it is the teaching of the Bodhisattva.”
“If someone is about to chop off my head, even though I have not done anything wrong, through the power of infinite compassion, I shall bear all of his horrible deeds, for it is the teaching of the Bodhisattva.”

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It Ain't Over Til It's Over

I just learnt a brand new word today - "Punditocracy" - and how unrelated it is to actual voting reality.

From Salon.com:

"A fascinating wrinkle buried in the Pennsylvania exit polls is that Democratic voters do not appear to believe that Obama's nomination is a foregone conclusion. Given Obama's purportedly unassailable delegate lead, it was stunning that 43 percent of Pennsylvania voters said they believed that Clinton would be the Democratic nominee. Clearly, we have identified that proportion of the Pennsylvania electorate who never, ever turn on a cable TV news show.

In short, the easiest way for Democrats to end the long march through the primaries is simply by deciding en masse to vote for Barack Obama. But that did not happen in Tuesday night's primary, nor did it occur in Ohio and Texas (though Obama won the late-night caucuses there) seven weeks ago. As Obama is learning the hard way, hope and uplift are no substitute for a majority vote in a big-state primary."
I was really turned off by those talking heads who kept chirping that Clinton remaining in the race is "bad for the party". As if completing a democratic process is not something self-avowed Democrats should do. The fact that the people in those States with late primaries finally get a real chance to pick a Presidential nominee and partake in making history seem to irritate those who have had their chance to do the same earlier in the year, as if they just couldn't countenance the idea that others may think differently from them and would like to have their say too. The Obama-biased Huffington Post even went as far as declaring John McCain as the winner just because Clinton won the Pennsylvannian primary by a decisive margin (54% to Obama's 45%), and many pundits decry Clinton's temerity to remain in the race as "scorched earth tactics", as if she should just pack it in like Edwards did or else she is a traitor to her party for daring to give voters a choice. Nobody see such shrill calls for Clinton's withdrawal as actually showing Obama in a very bad light - as someone who has no confidence that he would win over the rest of the country if everyone gets to have their say, given how fearful his campaign is of actual voters just simply voting. The fact remains that he still doesn't have the margin in delegate count needed to lock in his nomination, and I would have thought that if Obama is really confident, he would simply say to Clinton, "Bring it on".
In truth, the premature demand that Clinton hoist the white flag runs against both political history (every trailing candidate in her situation has taken the fight to the convention) and the competitive spirit. For all the scorn heaped on the institution of superdelegates (795 party leaders who go to the convention automatically without pledging to a candidate in the primaries or caucuses), Obama mathematically cannot come close to reaching a majority without a significant boost from these political free agents. (Salon.com)
Make no mistake - the only people hurting the Democrats are the over-zealous Obamaboids and lazy pundits who kept complaining that Democrats are not behaving like Republicans - step in line behind a single candidate as early as possible for the sake of the party, and participatory democracy be damned.

Again, quotes from actual flesh-and-blood voters:

And even the Obama fans in the crowd were anxious for the race to stay competitive. Lori Felker, a 29-year-old teacher from Chicago, was visiting her native Bethlehem along with Adam Strohm. Felker said she was happy that Clinton was visiting her hometown, and was anxious to hear how she would address local concerns. Both Felker and Strohm are Obama supporters, but Felker said, "I'm not at all anti-Hillary. If she were nominated, I would be excited to vote for her in the general election." Moreover, she added, she does not believe Clinton should drop out. "Everyone should stay in to the end," said Felker. "No way should she give up."

[...]

Further down the line, I asked 6-year-old Melina Heffner whom she was supporting. She paused. "If you say McCain," said Melina's mother, Lori, 47, "you gotta go live with Grandma." Lori Heffner, who works in healthcare, said her family is split -- along gender lines -- between Clinton and Obama, and that she is loving the Democratic race. "But let me tell you," she said, "no one's ever told a man to drop out of a race before the end because he's messing it up. This is our choice, to the end. So we'll have a convention, not a coronation; that's a good thing. I remember conventions when it went to four ballots to pick a president. It's our right to make this choice; this is history happening in front of us, this is what we fought for, and we'd better get to make the full choice available to us."

And from a forum thread where an Obama volunteer reacts to the news of the Clinton win:

lajuperouge wrote:
NBC has already projected Clinton as the winner in PA.

I just saw :(

I really hope that if Clinton wins the nomination, we will get the Obama folks to come out and support her. There was so much enthusiasm that I'd hate to see them walk away after this.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Links to Old Movie Reviews...

I've been trying to finish typing the earlier movie review posts that I have started earlier this year, before my computer troubles. I managed only to finish one. Click here for my take on Lust Caution the movie versus Lust Caution the novella, which is now buried somewhere in the January archive page.

I'll see if I get to finish any of the DIFF movie reviews also and might update their links later here also.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Tibet and China...

Having read so many articles and watched so much television coverage of the Tibet protests, I am still heavily disappointed with the lack of any in-depth analysis on the China/Tibet situation, from either the Western or the Chinese press, or indeed, within the blogosphere (whether in English or in Chinese).

The whole thing is reduced to a mere spectacle, of flag-waving (whether Chinese or Tibetan) and slogan-chanting (whether pro-Tibet or pro-China), and of tussling to get hold of the Olympic torch. Footages of the actual uprising in Tibet back in March were few and far between, thanks to the ill-advised media blackout by the CCP, who still has no clue that a stage-managed tour of the region is the worst way to try to buy PR from sceptical Western journalists. So limited tourist footages of the civil unrest were used within the Western media's narrative of the brutality of Chinese military suppression - even when the footage simply showed the Tibetans' vandalism of Chinese shops rather than actual footage of the military crackdown.

So the deep-rooted problems between Tibet and China gets cheapened into a media farce about who gets hold of the Olympic torch. Media commentary in the West centred on the "face" that China is losing over this whole torch-relay fiasco, as if a Chinese loss of face is all that so many Tibetans struggled so valiantly for so long. Nobody is actually engaged in meaningful debate about solutions to the region - apart from the Dalai Lama, who repeatedly call for dialogue with the CCP, and whose government-in-exile actually disapproves of disruptions to the Olympic Games. But did the Western media, or Western politicians like Nancy Pelosi for that matter, who purports to support Tibet's call for independence, actually try to help engender such a dialogue between the two sides? No, the media is gleefully reporting mere grandstanding gestures like refusals to attend the Olympic opening ceremony by Western leaders, as if that will really help the cause of Tibet. If the pro-Tibetan activists' original plan was to bring the world's attention on their problem, what they have managed to achieve is only the fleeting attention that mere spectacles will engender by a voyeuristic media, rather than the kind of intellectual, engaged, positive (in the true sense of the term), sustained attention by the key stakeholders that will actually help to resolve problems.

Instead, both sides are busy name-calling and talking across each other. I wish all the pro-China supporters will STOP with the economic argument, as it just doesn't wash with the Tibetan people when it's their ethnic identity that is at stake. This is similar to the British telling the Irish eight hundred years ago that the Irish should be happy that they were occupied by the Brits because otherwise Ireland would remain a forever backward country. Also, the bigger question as to whether any of the economic improvements are really benefiting the local Tibetans or merely serving the Chinese interests has never been voiced, much less properly-answered, by hot-headed pro-China jingoists. (In the same way, the British and other Western colonialists who believed their rule "enlightened" the uncouth natives and improved local economies conveniently glosses over the fact that it is the colonies that are supplying the colonial powers with vital natural and human resources - the latter sometimes literally. This was the case of the Irish famine and the African slave trade, is currently the case in the Iraq war, and is, to a muted though no less oppressive extent, the case in Tibet). When rampant, corrupt capitalism is combined with authoritarian rule (or what the CCP called its "capitalism with Chinese characteristics"), not to mention measures that delimits, and thus demeans, the traditional Tibetan way of life, could you blame the Tibetans for wanting independence?

[Tangent: A few years ago on one of my conference trips, I had a really lovely and memorable dinner with a Mainland Chinese female academic and two Singaporean - one ethnically Chinese, the other ethnically Malay - male academics. The dinner was memorable not so much because of the food, which was fabulous, but because of our no-holds-barred debate about world politics during it. The girl was originally from Qing Dao, who is now currently lecturing in Australia, and she is as lovely and open-minded a person as one could have the pleasure to meet. But both the Singaporeans and I were surprised to find that she didn't know anything about June 4th, 1989, who in 2003 was still under the impression that the Tianamen protestors were a bunch of good-for-nothing rioters, despite having lived outside China for a few years and could have accessed un-state-censored materials in the West. On the other hand, it was the first time I heard the Chinese "protect the integrity of the land" argument being put forward so eloquently in English. At the end of the dinner though, I (and the Singaporeans also) was still unconvinced by the argument that "integrity of the land" trumps "self-determination by the people". On a more basic level I just could never understand why people can't simply live and let live, rather than be seduced by grandiose imperialist ambitions that forever seek to impose one's rule over others, and which values territorial supremacy over territorial harmony; on a more detached level I was, and remain, deeply mistrustful of regimes that purport to know better than its own multivariate citizenry what's in their best interest. Once you have a real taste of what it's like being able to have your own say in, if not actually run, your own affairs, you can never go back, no matter how many carrots or sticks the oppressor dangles in front of you to try to make you their good lap dog.]

What worries me deeply when I saw scenes of violent protest clashes is how much of it seemed to have stemmed from ethnic distrust, and dare I say, hatred. What started out as disenfranchisement from the oppressive political regime became dangerously entangled with ethnicity, so that ordinary Chinese shopkeepers took the brunt of the Tibetan's frustrations, simply because there is nowhere else to channel their legitimate discontent. The ethnic tensions between the two sides are stirred by extremist activists on the one hand, and the bluntly inept Chinese Communist Party on the other, who thought (like the American and Israeli neo-cons) that brutal military crackdown is the best and only solution to silencing dissent and controlling unrest in one's occupied territories.

These ethnic tensions are further fanned, rather unashamedly, by the Western media, who seem all too happy to mould their portrayal of Tibetan / Chinese tensions in the image of their earlier handiwork regarding the alleged Shia / Sunni factions in Iraq (Why did I say "alleged", you may ask? Isn't it "obvious" that Shias and Sunnis can't get along with each other in Iraq? Well, if you have actually listened to the academics and intellectuals and yes, even political leaders, from both sides - such as during a recent live tele-debate hosted by Channel 4 news' Jon Snow, who was visibly taken aback by how all his hand-picked Iraqi guests openly contradicted his biased questioning - the alleged Shia-Sunni tensions didn't exist until well into the American occupation). Not to mention their gross misrepresentation of basic facts about the March protest riots in Lhasa, which were justly taken to task by the legions of Chinese compatriots within and outside China for being such outrageous slanders. Whether such gross misrepresentation in Western media was intentional, as part of some big conspiracy theory against China, or out of blatant ignorance and sheer journalistic laziness, is open to debate. One can argue that there already exists a culture of laxity in Western reportage of Asian news events - I frequently saw footages of the Hong Kong stock exchange being used to stand in for the Tokyo one on Sky during financial news, and the ordinary Western viewer would not know any different. And in the absence of any real footage of the protests and their aftermath in the CCP-engineered media black-out, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine the typical lazy and ethically-challenged Western mainstream media journalist substituting one footage or image for another, within a presumptive narrative of China vs the West, out of sheer convenience if not premeditated malice. What really demonstrates the bias in Western media was not so much that facts were grossly misrepresented in the first place, but that they continue their critique of the Chinese censorship of news materials without owning up properly to their own gross mishandling of the facts. Even though numerous misrepresentations - some as basic as mistaking Nepal for Lhasa - have been pointed out by Chinese citizens, the Western media try to hang onto their moral highground by studiously ignoring, much less informing their readers/viewers, of reporting mistakes they have made themselves, and concentrate instead on the spectacle that is the Olympic torch relay fiasco.

On the other hand, the Chinese state media's insistence that the protests were the work of a few trouble-makers emboldened by "external anti-China forces", rather conveniently and dangerously glosses over the grave and legitimate greivances that Tibetan people have about how they have found themselves, at best becoming second-class citizens in their own land, at worst being potentially ethnically-cleansed by both physical (state programmes that sterilised Tibetan women against their will) and cultural measures (reducing the currency of the Tibetan language in everyday life). Such convenience in rhetoric however belies a clear and present danger of a pressure-cooker situation that China is actually facing if it continues its bellicose way of not seeking any political solutions with the Tibetan government-in-exile.

The current media spectacle reminds me of the "Battle in Seattle" film I saw at the Dublin International Film Festival recently (yes the one where I recorded Charlize's Q and A talk and which I still have to find a way to upload). Any protest movement is not without its extremist, violent factions (indeed, look at Northern Ireland and the paramilitaries from both the nationalist and the unionist camps); and the media - even when reporting its home-grown protests - always go for the shallowest sensationalist angles regardless of the facts on the ground. The way to respond to these, even from simply the self-serving angle of winning the PR battle, is not through an eye-for-an-eye heavy-handed military tactics, nor jingoistic slogan-chanting about how great your country / your government is. A chilled out and more laissez-faire handling of the whole affair would have taken the oxygen out of the kind of fuss that biased onlookers enjoyed kicking up in, and paved the way for more cool-headed analysis of how to move beyond the current morass.

p.s. Originally my post title is "Tibet, China and Olympics". But of course, the China / Tibet situation really has nothing to do with the Olympics. So as not to follow the misleading footsteps of the shallow mainstream media, I neither titled nor tagged the sacred Games to this post.

[updated: Hmm actually a Western Beijing correspondent concurs with my view above, to a certain degree, though he certainly was letting the media off the hook a lot more than I did here, see: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/foreign/richardspencer/april08/
tibetbackfire.htm]

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Spring pictures...

Now that I can finally surf the net on my own computer in the comfort of my own home, below are a few pics that I've been meaning to upload to my blog (along with the thousand and one things that I've been meaning to blog about in the last while). It's finally spring and it's so lovely to see the flowers and pot plants I have in my house doing well...




I can't believe I have been living in my "new" apartment for a year now! My official move-in date was 29th March, 2007, so it's now just over a year since I got settled into my new home. The cool thing is, the novelty still hasn't worn off and I'm still absolutely loving it! The bamboo plants in the last two photos have been with me since the very beginning, and I'm amazed that they are still flourishing even though they are just being given water and little else.

I've spring-cleaned my home last weekend - even though there really isn't that much to clean up. Who'd have thought that I'm really a very tidy person at heart, and that I'm really my mother's daughter after all... I feel justified that the many epic battles I had had with her over the years about the state of my room is really a battle over control of the space, and not at all about how apparently untidy I was. It was nice when my family came over on Saturday for dinner, and my mum was sitting comfortably in the wingback armchair poring over my store of interiors magazines and she and I talked about the things that are in our homes. We have very different styles - she came back from a recent trip to Budapest with deer skin floor rugs! - but I'm glad she could see how lovely I could make my own space when given the chance.

Last Friday also saw the delivery of a new Roland digital piano that I bought since last Christmas and which I've finally paid off the last installment of the costs a couple of weeks ago. (And oh, the shop where I bought it from is Waltons', the piano store location for the duet between the guy and the girl in the "Once" film - in fact, I used to take piano lessons at the Waltons School of Music - located right above the shop - until a couple of years ago - when I couldn't afford the time to practice anymore). Finally, I have the wherewithal to begin to fulfil one of my earlier new year resolutions about keeping up with my piano practice (though of course, finishing my PhD is still my number 1 priority, so I guess whatever practice I'll do in the near future really depends on how much PhD stress I'll need to vent via music).

Anyway, I've always meant to add the below lovely poem from an Ikea ad about what it really means to have a place of your own, a timely reminder about what's really important in all the talk about the housing market doom and gloom these days...

Do you live in a house or a home?
Are you in it for the money or the love?
Do you think you'll be happy when you move?
Or are you happy now?

Does it give you financial security or emotional warmth?
Does it make you feel like you're getting somewhere?
Or does it make you feel like you're there now?

If it could talk, could it tell anyone
what your favourite colour is?

When your little boy draws a plane on the wall, do you reach for the paint roller
or grab another crayon and draw a rocket?

Is it perfect?
Or is it real, and still perfect?

Do you keep it as empty as possible to create space,
or do you fill it with
all the people and things you enjoy the most?

Do you look in estate agent's windows?
Or do you look in your own window and think 'how lovely'?
Are you constantly monitoring its price?
Or are you measuring its occupants' heights on the back of the bathroom door?

What's the most important thing you put into it,
two-fifths of your salary,
or your life and soul?

What's the most important thing you'll get out?
A profit?
Or a treasure trove of memories that'll never, ever go down in value but always up.

It's not too late.

A house can always become a home.
Love, not money.
That's what gives a home a soul.

And a home's soul is NOT FOR SALE.


Btw, I also heartily agree with Ikea's motto: "Home is the most important place in the world."

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

To HELL with DELL AND PCWORLD!!! [Updated and Updated again...]

Okay, this is not going to be a polite post, for those who are expecting a nice warm how-are-you type post after my rather-unexpectedly-long hiatus, Sorry, not happening.

And it's not my fault.

The computer woes that I reported in the last while HAVE NOT ENDED. In fact, they have DOUBLED. Why, a kind soul may enquire, is that? Didn't I boast about the fact that I paid GOOD MONEY on the laptop insurance? Didn't I say, back in my last post in EARLY MARCH, that those fuckers in tech support at PCWorld (the 'Walmart' of PCs in UK and Ireland), that they were supposed to be contacting me to pick up my laptop for repair by courier? And my, isn't it already THE FIRST OF APRIL NOW???????? Shouldn't my laptop be under reenginnering somewhere in the UK, if not already repaired????????

Well, I must be very naive. But I really, really believe what was promised me over the phone and in my insurance policy in black and white. But no, THOSE FUCKERS AT PCWORLD TECH SUPPORT HAVE NOT EVEN BOTHERED TO CONTACT ME TO PICK UP MY LAPTOP FOR REPAIRS, A SERVICE WHICH THEY OWE ME ACCORDING TO THEIR OWN POLICY DOCUMENTATION IN BLACK AND WHITE.

Actually, there is a factual inaccuracy there. They did contact me. ONCE. During the entire time from mid-February, to now, April. This is DESPITE PCWorld's self-styled "Techguys" promising me, when I first contacted them in the olden days of February, that their sub-contractor, Teleplan, will contact me WITHIN 24 HOURS OF THE FIRST FAULT REPORT. What did I get? NOTHING. NOT A PIP.

I rang back to both the customer service number and the tech support number to follow up. Each time I was promised that an e-mail have been sent to Teleplan to urge them to follow up on the courier service. Each time NOTHING. I asked if they could just contact Teleplan while I'm on the line and they just arrange the courier service there and then, but no, can't be done.

Then out of the blue, when I was away from the office doing on-site fieldwork for my PhD, I got ONE phone call from Teleplan. I didn't have my office calendar with me so I cannot confirm the date, explaining that if they have rang me at any time earlier than that day I could've been able to confirm. I asked the guy if he could book the following week, as I'm definitely a lot more flexible that week (you see, the kicker is that they only collect Monday to Friday during business hours, and you must be at your home address that is on the policy, so that means that as a customer you MUST LEAVE WORK AND WAIT AT HOME FOR THE ENTIRE DAY for them to pick up the laptop, as they can't even confirm if the courier would come in the ballpark range of the morning or the afternoon ). But no, he could only book up to 7 days in advance, as he rang me on a Wednesday, that 7 days INCLUDE the weekend that they CANNOT deliver anyway. I resigned and asked if he could ring me back the following Monday, when I will be at the office and can confirm for sure when I might be able to stay home. But no, he said that I should ring them back again on Monday. More than that, I was given a UK number to ring, which means I am being asked to make AN INTERNATIONAL CALL to them to follow up. I then said, rather politely yet assertively I might add, that I have rang them many times over the last while to follow this up, and I am not prepared to ring and being put through various voicemails or get stuck on phone transfers while paying INTERNATIONAL PHONE CHARGES AT MY EXPENSE for that privilege. At which point, HE, the fucker, hung up.

I waited to the following Monday, to see if Teleplan will actually ring me back. Nada. I rang back to the PCWorld Techguys on Tuesday, asking if they could follow up on my behalf. The guy said that, he has to make a whole new request now to Teleplan because my earlier request was "left too long without any action" and would have been considered out of date (Quite right indeed). And then I was told, again, that Teleplan should give me a call within 36 hours.

Oh you should know the punchline by now. OF COURSE NOTHING HAPPENED.

I was also told, by this kindly Techguy person, that if they don't ring me within 36 hours, I should ring back PCWORLD Techguys again and explain the situation and ask the person to just ring Teleplan to confirm the courier arrangement.

I did ring back PCWORLD Techguys when nothing materialised after 2 days (that's 48 hours to you Teleplan! Don't say I didn't give you the benefit of the doubt), but the person that I was put through to is reluctant to ring Teleplan on my behalf, because, he says, that a request has been put through to Teleplan already and I should just wait for them to contact me, or, I could ring their UK number, again at my own expense, to follow up with them.

And oh, last night when I got home, I got two letters dated March 20th from Teleplan (one letter was postmarked 20th March, the other 25th March). They say they "have made numerous attempts to contact me but have failed" to get in touch with me, and that I should ring them at their UK number or they will consider my request invalid.

JESUS CHRIST ALMIGHTY!!!! THE CHEEK OF THOSE LYING BASTARDS!!!!!!

I was ready to go over to the UK and burn the whole lot of them down when I saw that.

So what's my recourse? I am NOT going to ring Teleplan anymore, I have had enough grief in my life on the computer front (also with my unfortunate purchase of Dell, but that's the subject for another rant, and I've expended my ranting energy now) and I'm not a masochist.

I AM however going to complain to the National Consumer Agency (thank God we have such an agency in Ireland) and I am telling all my friends and colleagues and even enemies (for the shabby treatment I got is not something I'd wish even on my worst enemies) and indeed anyone who would listen NOT TO BUY INSURANCE FROM PCWORLD.

But that still won't help my laptop getting fixed. But to be honest with you, after the way I've been treated, I am not sure I can trust my personal data (including my research data protected under ethical approval) to that bunch of feckless idiots. I will take my laptop personally to the PCWorld branch's on-site tech guys and see if they can do something with it, if they can't, they will just have to REFUND ME MY MONEY. ALL SIX HUNDRED EUROS OF THEM. And I withhold the right to sue them for time wasted and the costs of phone calls and indeed, extreme mental anguish that they have caused me as a result of such shabby service and their frankly feckless attitude to their paying customers.

In the meantime, I thought, I should just buy myself another computer so that I could complete the work. And I deliberately did not choose to go to PCWorld for that purchase.

What did I do? I rang Dell instead.

And I'm not sure if I have "SUCKER" tattooed on my forehead or something, but again I HAVE BEEN SWINDLED by the fecking sales / customer support / tech support. This time over the wireless card which is supposed to have included with my computer but which of course, DIDN'T.

I am THIS CLOSE [thumb and forefinger squished together in demonstrate how near I'm to the end of my tether] to going over to the Dell quarters and personally wringing the necks of the tech support / customer care or whatever the hell they are called at Dell. If anyone tried ringing their customer care number, which is off-shored to some call centre on the Indian subcontinent, and which contains mighty long pauses and which directs you always back to a switchboard operator who don't have a clue or to a voicemail number which never rings you back, you'll begin to appreciate what I felt. Which is on top of again, wasting a whole day for an adaptor that was promised last Tuesday but never materialised and then I found out that the guy who promised me that it will be delivered by Tuesday at the latest DID NOT EVEN BOTHER TO BOOK IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

I don't have the heart to detail the entire sorry saga here of what happened to me at the hands of Dell. As I said I used up all my ranting energy just to go through the sordid history of my maltreatment by PCWorld. Suffice it to say here that, I did get a call this morning from the "escalation point in the Sales department" that they will deliver my USB Internet Wireless Adaptor after all and that he will e-mail and call me by tomorrow at the very latest.

I have heard the same promise from at least 3 other Dell tech support / sales guy since my desktop was delivered Wednesday a fortnight ago. I will wait and see if Dell actually means business.

If any of you casual readers of this blog happened to know someone about to buy from Dell or PCWorld. Beware, you've been warned.

[Update: Nothing happened, again. In fact, worse than nothing happened. The guy who called me from Dell on Tuesday morning, who gave me his "direct line" number, turns out to have given me just a fax number, and when I eventually tracked him down yesterday through numerous phone-calls and having to repeat to each and every clueless Dell telephone operator ad nauseum explanations of how I've been mistreated by Dell (apparently Dell is a technologically-backward company where the databases of the customer care and their sales department are not linked in anyway and where their customer care reps cannot log any queries in any detail beyond generic descriptors like "specification issues", and where they are instructed to ask every single caller to repeat the whole query again no matter how many times or how many people the customer have talked to previously), he had the gall to say that I should e-mail him instead when he knows full well that I wasn't in a position to do so because I am not able to go on the internet at all due to the fecking missing Dell wireless card. (In any case, the email address based on the spelling of his name he gave me doesn't match up with any record on the Dell system according to the customer care people I've been put to, yet he denies this and say that that's his correct name, but he won't send me an email himself to confirm his address). Worse, he now would not confirm any timeframe whatsoever as to when he would be able to give me a confirmed reference number for the USB adaptor, just that it would be "some time". Hah!

I am having a coronary just reliving the above horrid treatment. But at least I'm not the only one. One of my students says that she too had an extremely horrible experience buying from Dell a few years ago, when they sold her something that she didn't need at all.

Anyway, below are the names of the irresponsible slimy lying bastards at Dell sales department who have basically screwed me over and over:

Sreekanth Karukonda - the sales rep who goes by the name of "Jude Smith" (no kidding), who gave me false sales information and who would not take responsibility to resolve his mistake in any timely manner, who kept giving out false promises and still more misinformation when I tried to track him down to resolve this.

Shater Jack (if that's his real name, at all) - that slimy and rudest son of a bitch who had the cheek to say that he's doing everything "to make me happy" when he knows full well that he's really enjoying screwing my order up and not being held accountable for it in any way.

If there is any justice in the world, may the both of you burn in hell.]

[Updated again:

Turns out I really isn't the only sucker who fell for Dell, in fact millions others apparently had similar hellish experiences. In fact, their frustrations with that sorry excuse of Dell support are all too familiar:

http://wizbangblog.com/content/2006/05/10/why-dell-sucks-today.php
http://wizbangblog.com/content/2006/06/01/why-dell-sucks-today-the-saga.php

Apparently though there are a couple of similarly frustrated bloggers who had blogged about their ordeals at the hands of Dell and managed to get some resolution to their problems. Here's the links:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2005/aug/29/
mondaymediasection.blogging
http://www.just-think-it.com/mydell.htm

Unfortunately my humble blog is read mostly by me, there is no audience to speak of so there's really only a snowball's chance in hell that my post will generate any sort of actual action from Dell. I mean, if they could easily ignore emails and phonecalls, it's really expecting too much to think Dell would bother with blogs at all, even three years on after the above blogger managed to break through their sheer wall of indifference.

Anyway, in case anyone out there who happens to stumble upon this: DON'T BUY FROM DELL if you care for your quality of life in any way at all.]

[Latest Update: 7 April 2008 just after 7pm

FINALLY!!!!! I am able to surf the internet on my Dell desktop, the machine that I bought back in early March and which was delivered on Wednesday 19th March. Am SOOOOO relieved!!! Finally I no longer need to try to read emails and blogs on my tiny tiny mobile screen and no longer have to guess the content of Chinese webpages. The Dell delivery guy called me this morning to say that he has a delivery for me, and he was kind enough to leave it until after work hours today to deliver it to my door. He came by about half an hour ago and I just after finishing installing the USB wireless adaptor to my PC, and hey presto, it works!!!

Am so relieved I can do a dance! Am so glad that the Goddess of Things Computing is finally smiling on me.

It's curious also how the Dell sales reps got back to me so shortly after I posted the above update with their names on it. I mean, I never imagined that the above post would generate any action at all, given how lowly-ranked this humble blog of mine was and still is. However, within a day or so of my update being posted above, Sreekanth Karukonda emailed me with a confirmation that my USB wireless adaptor will be delivered on or before 9th April, and this time, the promise is finally fulfilled. It may well be a coincidence that he got back to me so quickly after I've updated my blogpost with his name on it, despite days and weeks of futile attempts to follow up through the normal routes of phonecalls and emails. But I am never going to underestimate the power of blogging from now on :) ]

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Viewfinder...

Where are you from?

Que sera sera...

Feed my pet!

Currently getting stuck in...

Have just finished...

Me, Anime...

A bunch of snowdrops by any other name...

SNOWDROPS
S is for Sweet
N is for Natural
O is for Open-hearted
W is for Worldly
D is for Dedicated
R is for Romantic
O is for Original
P is for Perfectionist
S is for Special
What Does Your Name Mean?