Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Toronto entry number two

Well folks, not too much to report. The last two weeks have not been as active as my first two. This is the case mainly because there have not been any large Tibetan activities or gatherings, and because my main friend Tenzin has begun to work which makes him rather busy.

However, I have still been enjoying myself. One personal challenge has been learning to adjust the pace of my life. The past four years in college I have been used to a hectic schedule, and this year I am certain that life will be more laid back. So the challenge is to learn of ways to be productive yet relaxed.

In the second half of the month I have been using my time to explore as much of Toronto as possible. I believe I have seen virtually all of the main neighborhoods in the downtown and central areas of the city. In this time I have gone on a tour of a local brewery and even visited a shoe museum.

I have enjoyed my time here in Toronto where I have begun to learn what life is like through the eyes of refugees. My visit here has been most useful in terms of allowing me to compare Tibetan life in various areas of North America, namely Minnesota and Toronto. My tentative conclusion is that Tibetans don’t really choose between adapting to life in the US or Canada on the one hand, and preserving their culture on the other. Rather, I think the more specific challenge is to balance economic necessity with cultural preservation.

A Tibetan’s livelihood can act as both a gateway and hurdle toward preserving their cultural. On the one hand Tibetans must earn money in order to ensure basic survival; money is needed to pay the rent and put food on the table. And, this income is necessary in order to pay for things that promote cultural retention such as paying fees for Tibetan language school. However, a Tibetan’s job (or their source of income) can often be, and often is, very time consuming, so much so that the job(s) take up all a person’s time. In this way, a Tibetan may have a stable income that ensures survival, yet they are unable to dedicate themselves toward cultural preservation not because they lack the desire, but simply because they are short on time. (I imagine this is the case for many refugees/immigrants in the U.S. and Canada.) Ensuring cultural preservation is therefore left in the hands of dedicated volunteers such as my host father. It is people like him who give every spare minute they have to the Tibetan community; a task which is not easy and often leaves them tired and burnt out, but which is nevertheless necessary and commendable.

So, tomorrow I head off to Europe to the land of mountains, chocolate, watches, knives, money, neutrality, and yes, even a few Tibetans.

Zurich here I come…to be continued…

Friday, August 12, 2005

Stop #1 - Toronto

So, my first stop on my trip is Toronto. I have been here for two weeks now and find the place fascinating. I was expecting it to be the exact same as the U.S. but in many respects it is quite different, though in many instances the differences are certainly subtle. One of the major differences is the national health plan, which guarantees healthcare to everyone. The city also has thrown a few surprises my way, it is not as clean as I was expecting and there are a great deal more homeless people than I had anticipated.

Furthermore, I cannot believe how diverse this city is. I have heard several people say that over 100 languages are spoken here. The area where I am living has people from every region of the world, mostly coming from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, east Africa, and Latin America. A couple days ago I went on a two hour walk through several parts of the city including Little Italy, Chinatown, Korea Town, Greek Town, Little Portugal, Little India, and other ethnic areas. With the exception of NYC I have never been anywhere with such diversity. I would dare say that even London is not as diverse (though of course I could be wrong about that).

So, on my second day here I ended up moving in with a Tibetan family who live in a modest yet comfortable apartment. The man, Thupten, has been here for three years while his wife, Tsering, just moved from India eight months ago. He and his wife both work ‘survival jobs’ i.e. he watches over a two churches (one from five to ten in the morning and the other from 3-10pm) and she works for a temp agency; they carry out these jobs as they wait for better opportunities to come their way. He is also involved in the Canada Tibet Association of Ontario, volunteering for them every day between his two church jobs. When he has free time, which is almost never, he likes to watch WWF wrestling. (I can’t help but wonder what watching the show makes him think of American culture.)

Thupten has told me that visiting Tibet is his number one priority and the only reason he moved to Canada was so that he could get citizenship. Doing so would ultimately allow him to visit Tibet. Unbeknownst to me, India (where most Tibetans have moved to Toronto from) has never granted citizenship to any of the Tibetans that live in the country, even those born in India. So, those Tibetans who are able to get citizenship in the US, Canada, or some other country, are doing so for the very first time. Though I am sure they would all prefer Tibetan citizenship I would think it must be an amazing feeling to finally have a country call you a citizen.

Most of my days here have been pretty laid back. I have befriended a 20-year-old Tibetan, Tenzin, who has been very kind, showing me many parts of Toronto and relating several stories about his life as a refugee in both India and Canada. Last weekend we spent doing an array of interesting activities. On Saturday morning I went to the Tibetan Cultural School, where little kids are taught to pray, sing their national anthems (both Tibet’s and Canada’s), how to speak, read, and write Tibetan, and how to perform traditional Tibetan dances

After the class we headed over to the annual Tibetan basketball tournament. Six or so teams played for the tourney title. One of the teams was even from Minnesota. I never imagined that Tibetans could be so good at basketball because after all, it is not played in India where most of the kids lived before coming to Canada or the U.S. The highlight of tournament, however, was the halftime show—a performance by Canada’s first Tibetan heavy metal band. What a sight it was to see a Tibetan wail on his guitar all while head banging and flicking his tongue out like Kiss. I never thought I would see such a sight.

I have also spent a lot of time talking with Tenzin and his friends about many of the differences between living in India versus Canada. They all say that life is much too fast here and too expensive. From the stories it seems as though it is easier to have no-money fun in India whereas fun here always has a $ price.

Tenzin also told me that he has met Tibetans who were born here (as opposed to those who have recently come like him) and he believes they are more self-centered and selfish as a result of growing up in Toronto and being exposed to western influences. Tenzin tells me how many of these first generation Tibetans do not speak Tibetan, and for that, Tenzin blames the parents for not speaking the language in the home.

All his friends also say how hard it is to get a job here, but that the welfare system, compared to America, is so good and helps them out greatly. Tenzin (who is on welfare right now) showed me his healthcare card, saying that the visits to all doctors are free. I think this must make life much easier for immigrants and refugees, what a world of difference it could make for people in the U.S.

Below I have posted some pictures of the apartment I am living in and from the basketball tournament. The quality of the photos is not great since I bought the cheapest digital camera I could find, but I think they are good nonetheless.

A group shot of two of the teams.

One guy getting award. Notice the american influence on his dress, the air jordan head band. And in the picture directly below check out the guy on the left with his baggy shorts, they are almost long enough to be pants.

A guy lines up for a three-point contest before a game.

A group huddle. If you look carefully at the back of #23 the jersey has both the Tibetan and Canadian flags which is emblematic of the way in which Tibetans must promote their patriotism--they must straddle their allegiance to both Canada and Tibet simultaneously.

Toronto’s future Tibetan Eddie Van Halen rocks out.

The small grey object underneath the paper on the mic is a rubber bat that the singer taped to the mic. Reminiscent of Ozzi Ozborns bat eating days?

My bed in thier apartment.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Purpose of Blog

For those I have not spoken to in a while, this past spring I was awarded a Watson Fellowship. This travel grant will allow me to look at Tibetan communities around the world for one year. I will be traveling to seven countries: Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand, Japan, India, Bhutan, and Tibet (China). Through the medium of photography I want to explore the ways in which Tibetans are adapting to a diverse set of host countries and at the same time retaining their cultural heritage. This blog will serve as my travelogue as I journey around the Tibetan diaspora from Aug 2005-06.