I am a Chinese agent

Lower Dharamshala

EveningEvening in the valley

HHDL residenceWhere His Holiness lives. Didnt quite manage to sneak past the armed guards

Outside of HHDL templeThe pogada area outside the temple

They say religion and Politics don’t make good conversation but what else is there to talk about when you are in Dharamshala. Tonight I was accused of being a Chinese agent – way to go, talk about building rapport. Now, Ive always considered myself to be pretty pro-Tibet… you know the whole going to Dharamshala thing and have even been accused of being whitewashed in the past for my views… but I would  this would ever happen. Ok well heres what happend. After visiting HHDL temple, I struck up a conversation with some of the locals (there wasnt really much else to do here otherwise at night). A lot of them happen to be second generation Tibetans, whose parents fled Tibet as refugees and have built their lives there, establishing shops and communities.. and after many years the area has really grown and flourished with the influx of tourism (and blessings of HHDL of course!).

A kind store owner pulled up a chair and told me about the situation happening to Tibetans, which was great as I really wanted to know abouit first hand, an older Frenchman who had overheard us came in to join the conversation.  I consider mysef the type of person that likes to challenge things, and accepted ways of thinking (or so I think), and so the conversation turned to a friendly debate on what we think China and Tibets future. As the conversation got more heated, I thought I would turn it around and talked about more casual stuff like where he was staying, for how long, what his plans were, etc.. but he just gave me alot of vague answers of which then I came to know why. “I think you are a Chinese Agent. Ive met Chinese agents before and they speak like you”, he stated in full seriousness. My reaction was a mixture of bewilderment, amusement and confusion… I laughed and asked him to check my passport “Well, you could be an Australian but still be a Chinese agent”. I told him about how I try to read widely especially on views that challenged my own… we sat in that store for the next two and a half hours discussing the topic (I chucked in some extra anti-Chinese arguements just to make him happy) and at the end of it we exchanged internet sites to review and he said he no longer thought I was a Chinese Agent, well thats what he told me anyway. He was actually quite informed about the Tibetan movement. I still havent quite figured out what the lesson to be learnt out of this is: When in Rome?, refrain from talking about politics in an  unfamiliar place?, French people have a strange sense of humor? don’t be a Chinese Agent in Dharamshala? Its interesting how so much of our perceptoins which we take as our own and as certain and concrete are shaped by wha we read, and who we interact with in order to form world views on things. To have my views of my own perceptions challenged in that way was a really interesting. At least I now know that its not the dreadlocks that are causing those stares from the local tibetans. =)

Anyways, Tsuglagkhang was beautiful… I’ll post some photos when I figure out how to. Anyways, off for more adventures.


11.17am McLeod Ganj, (Dharamshalla)
As I walked out of Manju-Ka-Tilla yesterday trying to avoid the beggar lady carrying her child that wouldn’t leave me alone (might’ve had something to do with my confusion in trying to understand what she was saying being mistaken for compassion) I was approached by a driver who said he could take me to the Australian Embassy (I had to sort out troubles with my credit card). Driving through the crazy traffic again, I got to glimpse Delhi in the day and the poverty is much more striking. I also learnt many insights from my Punjabi driver through his broken English about his Sikh Guru’s special miraculous healing powers, how one of them was maytred with his throat slit by the Muslims who didnt like his religion, how driving in Delhi is actually very “orderly” comparatively as it is the state capital, and how police in Delhi are very friendly “You just give them 10 or 20 rupies and they say “You go now””. However he was unable to articulate answers to my more naive curiourioties “Why do police here  carry machine guns?”. We drove past some kids holding signs “Staying in your lane is good” – apparently its road safety week. It was also amazing to see the industrialisness of everyone everywhere where hawkers will just walk amongst the traffic and try to flog you everything from newspapers, fruit to feather dusters.  “What happens in a accident?” I ask. “Everyone comes and helps, take to hospital”, My driver replies. “What about the damage?” “We compromise how much agree”, “Do you always agree?” “Always”, “What about police?”, “No, no police”.

The Australian embassy itself was a fortress with 4 m high walls, surrounded by security checkpoints and large menacing No parking or Standing signs greeting anyone who approached, essentially meaning my driver couldn’t get in. However, by flashing my Australian passport, they let me in through the security complex. Above the fortress was a poster with smiling Australians promoting multi-cultralism , while outside Indians queued on a dirty road outside for Visa processing behind green bars. Inside the embassy itself, I met some fellow Australians, from the Gold Coast. They had just had a baby boy (who is technically Indian since he had just been born here a month ago) trying to sort out his citizenship. “Why is everything in Australia so difficult” the father said, “In India, anything can be done, as long as you have the right amount money”.

At night, I boarded the Potala bus to Dharamsala. Racing through the dark streets to the mountains, it was cold… very cold, but I managed to sleep through most of the interruptions, with hawkers coming on our bus trying, as I watched cows eating rubbish by the roadside. At about 8am we reached McLeod Ganj, passing some picturestue valleys like just out of a postcard. Kashmiri men rushed up to the bus, being extra helpful in trying to assist us in our luggage. I asked a monk if he knew the way to the post office, but he was unable to understand my English. Not knowing the way while trying to carry three large packs, I thought, what the hell and took one of the men on their offer. He carried my bags up to the postoffice, but we couldnt find the way to my guest house, so he asked one of the other locals, who told us that the Hotel was closed and he could take us to a much nicer one. I insisted and (as dorky as it was) took out my Lonely Planet and pointed. With sudden change of mind, he said he misheard and and pointed to the right way.  The room was much nicer than the previous night, with a view of the street and mountain and had what I had been eagerly looking forward to… a hot shower. It was too late when I realised that “hot water” advertised actually meant 5 minutes of lukewarm water, but at least it woke me up.  Credit card is still stuffed after spending the last 3 hours on the phone with them just then, Tried to upload a picture of my view, but doesnt seem like the computer likes me either.. o well.. on to Tsuglagkhang (HH Dalai Lama’s residence) after this.

Delhi – first impressions

12.30 PM Manju-Ka-tilla, Delhi

Hooray! Im finally here! Arrived in India last night. It was a pretty surreal experience. The first thing that hit me was the air. Even, at the airport a thick haze hung over the air, smelling like dried embers of a burnt fire. Initially, was concerned about myasthma, but it doesn’t seem to be much of an problem. After retrieving my luggage, I was then stopped for my passport by armed officers (policemen maybe?) carrying submachine guns and was greeted by my driver, Ramu as I came out. He was carrying a sign with my name but it wasn’t a smiling face, maybe he was as nervous as I was. As we walked out, an armed guard with an AK-47 stopped my driver and demanded something in Hindi, Ramu said the hotel I was staying at and scrambled for some documents. Eventually they let us pass… I guess he was on my side then in case Ramu had decided to kidnap me =). We walked through the car park, and stopped in front of a concrete block, which seemed to work as a Hindu Shrine. The first thing I noticed about his car was that the windscreen was cracked, there sat a Hindu god on his dashboard illuminated by LEDs changing color slowly, and a fire extinguisher sat on the window pane. When he started the engine, hindi music blasted through his sound system.

As much as Ive heard about Indian driving, its nothing until you experience it. Think of it like dodgem cars all going in relatively the same direction… except not hitting each other. The concept of staying in the same lane doesnt seem to exist here, I wonder why they even have lanes here (I did smirk as we passed a sign saying “Stay in your lane, Violations will be penalised”). As I held on for dear life, weaving in between rickshaws, trucks, bicycles and rickshaws Ramu seemed to ease up, maybe cos he left the airport. He smiled and we chatted but we didnt get very deep due to the language. There is alot of dirt well… everywhere. Along the roads, there are mounds of dirt just piled up, like everywhere is just a big unfinished construction site.

View from car on night of arrivalView from car on night of arrival

I was pretty tired by the time we reached the Guest house, it would be 5am Australian time. Ramu took a leak by the road, before he took me into the Tibetan Refugee community, Manju-Ka-Tilla. Before I knew it, a boy came and grabbed my luggage up to the room. He turned on the TV for me, and eagerly awaited a tip. I paniced as I had no change, so I gave him 100 rupies . The room was quite …well basic. Nothing was really clean, there were dark stains on the pillow, sheets, walls and even the towels. The bathroom was also underwhelming, no hot water (although the hot water tap was there), a toilet that didnt flush, and no toilet paper. Taking a shower wasnt really the something I was keen on, especially with tempretures of 7 degrees here. Nor could I brush my teeth as I didnt get a chance to pick up any bottled water. But really I guess I was glad to have somewhere to stay for the night.

Morning came, and I ate at the Restaurant downstairs, and chatted with the people there and alot of safron robes. Everyone seemed to think I came from Japan… so I had to explain I was from Australia, but Chinese, etc. They were all very friendly and I picked up some Tibetan words for the day. I went downstairs to confirm my hotel for tomorrow and as my agent typed stuff into the computer, I thought she mustve been entering stuff into some booking system, but it turned out she was on msn to her counterpart in Dharamshala. It seemed that Wizard Mastercard had just blocked my card, I will have to goto the embassy to get that sorted. Time now to go exploring! What am I doing here in an internet cafe anyway…

Multifaith extremism

I’ve just gotten back from the Parliament of World Religions, a massive gathering of people from all faiths and religions with more than 5000 delegates and speakers. After spending 7 days down in Melbourne I thought I needed some time to reflect on the experience.

Overall it was a great experience. With so many important leaders coming together to talk about how to solve the worlds problems of poverty, climate change and peace, no doubt the world would be changed even in a little way. Every timeslot had about 20 things happening concurrently so it was a true struggle to pick out the one you wanted to goto the most.

The sessions which had the most effect on me were actually the indigenous sessions.  Wisdom was found in Chief Oren Lyon’s presence. When someone asked whether there was separation between church and state with the Native Americans, he responded by saying “There is no church or and no state. There is only a state of being. There is no religion, it is a way of life.” Makes us think about how we practice religion these days, as something we might do on a Sunday, or when we sit down to meditate, or prostrating to the Buddha. Religions these days have been separated out into institutions, when once before it was lived and breathed, not as something called religion, but embedded into everyone’s values system, and were constantly connected with the spirit of the earth. What I found quite touching was the way indigenous people related to the land. Consciously or unconsciously we have a tendancy to view indigenous peoples of our contry as primative: incarcerated and intoxicated, or dressed in their loin clothes dancing. It makes us feel safer and superiour knowing that we are the “civilisated” ones looking after the “primatives”. Little do we recognise the wisdom that these people posses. They have been the custodians of this land for 60,000 years, making them the oldest people on this earth. Western civilisation on this continent of a little more than 200 years doesnt even raise a blimp. The land to them is sacred. The spirit is in this land, their spirits, our spirits. The laws of the land are contained in their song and stories, and they have knowledge passed on from generation to generation. Yet when the colonisers came, their knowledge culture and heritage was systematically wiped out… and we continue to rape what is sacred to them today.

I had always wondered what the point of all this multifaith stuff was about. Maybe it makes sense to have it in Israel, areas of conflict, or even between Muslims and Christians in Australia, but Buddhists? After speaking to Petr, one of the PWR organisers earlier this year about it, he did make a good point.  Religion is something people tend to keep private, we practice it ourselves, but day to day we are actually live these values which also manifests into real consequences in society, so until the day we start understanding each other openly in dialogue. You can think of it as insurance…. don’t apply it when its too late.

Run Run Run

Im not quite sure what to do with this blog, whether I keep it like a journal of the insignificant happenings of my life, a thoughts and philosophies blog of ramblings, or just reviews of my most recent gadget/cd/movie/<insert distraction here>. But at the end of the day, I think its just going to be an all of the above.

So today, after much procrastination, I went for a jog. Been doing some jogging lately. Today I ran  to the beach. About 19km. Took me 1hr 49 minutes. It was great, especially getting close to the beach and realising I had made it. During dusk, there were lots of Mediterranean and middle eastern families camped out near the water, watiing the planes come down from the runway where oil fields don over the horizon.

Jogging is great. I makes you ponder things like, maybe they put traffic lights at the top of a hill so that cars will slow down when they reach there, cos you have no breath left either, and that its much better to run against traffic as you can at least see when a car tries to sneak up on you when you cross the road. Anyways, I’ll keep running.