A Tibetan Student's story
I received this story from an Austrian friend of mine, who has been working and traveling in Asia for 15 years. A few years ago he met the author at a discussion at Qinghua University in Beijing. He has remained in contact with her. Last year she left China for the first time. This story is about her return from Laos. I have not corrected or edited anything in the text. The English mistakes do not preclude understanding, and this way her voice sounds very authentic, at least to my mind. Here it is:
In starting this story, I have to say that I have never talked about politics. Politics has never interested me and I don't find it interesting. I just want to tell a story of what happened to me. Remember, please, that this is not just a story but a true story.
It was about 04:00 am in the morning in 16th April, Protected content I arrived at Lun Nam Tha, Laos, by bus. It was very dark and the only light came from a few light bulbs in this small bus station. The only people were an old man who took care of the toilets and three or four Tuk Tuk drivers.
After I picked up my bags and carried them inside the bus station one of Tuk Tuk drivers asked where I was going. I told him I wanted to go to Boten. He said the bus to Boten didn’t come there, but I was not sure what he meant as his English was poor. Using hand signals he showed me that the bus to Boten was at another station in another direction.
It's still dark outside and I’m not sure if I should trust this driver because this bus station looked more like a wide spot in the road in the countryside. As there were no other people around and I am a single girl traveling alone, I decided to wait till daybreak to be safe. When the other drivers began asking me if I wanted to go to this other location I turned them down preferring to wait until daybreak when there would be more people and told them, “No.”
They stayed there waiting for me until about an hour later when they all left. One of the older drivers said to me, “No more Tuk Tuk,” and then left. But I was thinking there had to be something more and wasn’t concerned that they were leaving. So there was only me and the old man who took care of the toilets.
I sat down to read a guide book. After about half hour in the dawn light I could see there were high mountains with a large village along the road. There were lots of banana trees and some small patches of farm land around the bus station. But it appeared that there would be no bus to Boten, no taxi, and no more Tuk Tuks. I tried ask the old man how can I go to Muang Sing but he didn’t understand me. I took out a map and showed him Boten on the map and he finally understood me. He pointed in the direction where I could take a bus to Boten and I thanked to him. I began to regret that I didn’t take one of the Tuk Tuks earlier that morning and started walking in the direction he pointed to.
My bag was bit heavy but I’m strong enough to carry it. When I came closer to outskirts of the Village I saw a lady on a motorbike coming toward me. I waved my hand and she stopped. I asked if she could take me to the Bus station to get the bus to Boten and showed her the map and some cash and she understood that I will pay her to take me there.
After about half hour, we arrived at the other bus station. It was small but there were more people. I could see that some small buses that had the name Boten on them and one was going to Boten at Protected content .
I thanked the lady and paid her some money, then went to a restaurant across the road for a breakfast as it was still early. I had been traveling on the other bus for about 20 hours without rest and by now I was exhausted and hungry. Noodles are my favorite food and I order a dish and a drink. After I finished my breakfast there I was feeling relaxed and crossed back over to the bus station and got on the mini-bus to Boten at Protected content , but there were only four people inside, and hen almost the bus leaving time. I got on the small bus. There wasn’t many people inside and the driver was not leaving until he filled up the bus. I was so tired I dropped off to sleep in my seat and when I awoke the bus was already on the way to Boten.
Perhaps we had been on the road some thirty or forty minutes already, and the bus was full. I could hear some people speaking Chinese and some were speaking English. Next to me was a Chinese man and next to him was a foreigner, but I was too tired to talk. I tried going back to sleep and just as I was almost asleep, I heard a Chinese man say, “We have arrived in Boten.”
From Boten it is easy to go to China. I got off the bus and gave my passport to the Laos frontier guard to stamp. I needed to go to the bathroom but wanted to make sure my bags were safe. Looking around and I saw a foreign man who came on the same bus with me. I remembered him because he wore his long hair in a ponytail. He was sitting on a bench and I asked if he would look after my bags as I wanted to go to the bathroom. He nodded and said OK.
When I back he said he needed go to the bathroom and asked me to look after his bag. When he got back we started talking to each other. He told me his name was Philip and that he came from Quebec, Canada. When he learned I was Tibetan he wanted to know about Tibet and the climate, culture, language and the people. He had been to China before and this time he wanted to go to a Tibetan area of Sichuan province.
We decided that we might as well walk to Mohan and as we headed toward the border, two young Swedish men caught up with us. So we all walked together to the border station.
On arriving at Mohan, the Chinese border station, I handed my passport to the border guard. When he opened my passport he looked at me with his eyes and face showing surprise. He nervously asked, “Are you are Tibetan?” I said Yes. The other border guards on hearing that got hyperactive and looked scared. They told me to open my bags and said they needed to check my bags. As I had been talking to Philip they asked him to open his bags as well.
I didn’t see them checking anyone else’s bag, just Philip’s and mine. It seemed to me that they checked him only because he had been talking to me and I am Tibetan. They thought we were traveling together but they where wrong, of course, as we had just met each other about half hour ago.
As a Tibetan girl, I am a Buddhist and pray for Dalai Lama every day and admire him. The name, ‘Dalai’ comes from Mongolians and means precious victor while ‘lama’ is Tibetan and means teacher. Buddhism came from Nepal to India, then through southeast Asia, into Afghanistan, Xingjian, Mongolia, China, Korea, Japan, and into Tibet.
When Gautama Shigamoni, the Nepalese prince mediated on what life was about, the people asked him who he was and he said, “I am Buddha, meaning I am awake.
The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. He is not a king but when the previous Dalai Lama passes away, there is the search for his reincarnation by priests who will look all over Tibet for the reincarnated Dalai Lama. When the child is found, he is reared among the most spiritual and elevated minds of the Tibetan people to show the way to spirituality. I have always wished that I could get a chance to read his books on life and how to live one’s life peacefully. I never had a chance to buy any of his books in China but when I was in Cambodia there were many book stores selling his holiness's books. There I had bought two books. One was The Art of Happiness and the other book was, Practicing Wisdom.
I had also downloaded some pictures of his holiness from the Internet and had saved some pictures friends from other countries had sent me by internet that I had saved in my Laptop.
The frontier soldiers start checking my bags and found my laptop computer and my digital camera. Then they found one of his holiness’ book and now they were confident that I am some kind of extremist or fanatic and they were going to give me some problems. They called to some leaders to come but in the meantime there was nothing incriminating they found in Philip's bag. Actually the books I had bought in Cambodia were the main charge against me. I have always esteemed books that gave me knowledge about life and my duties to mankind.
Tibetans and Mongolian Buddhists do eat meat while Buddhists in other countries avoid eating meat. The focus of my trip to southeast Asia was to see how Buddhists in other countries live. We all have the same origin to our writing and culture which comes from Buddhism and from India. Our Tibetan culture has always intrigued outsiders and we have been intrigues by the wars and strife outside Tibet as well.
But Philip and I were sitting and waiting for get our bags back and leave while the frontier guards were looking at us like we would try to escape. It was so preposterous that we would think of trying to escape that if it were not for the serious way they were treating us it would be laughable.
As one of the frontier guards started checking my laptop, I wrote down my email address on a piece of paper and gave it to Philip. I told him that in case I had trouble here and they arrested me to notify my friends.
Another of the frontier guards saw me slip the paper to Philip and took my email address from him. That really upset me then. I hadn’t done anything wrong. But the way they were carrying on that it is illegal to have books written by His Holiness, I figured I may be in for trouble. But I was sure that I would be cleared because I have never done anything to against China or talked against China. I felt confident all would be resolved because I believe his holiness is always with me. I have been living China since I was young and went through whole educational system in China attending pubic schools in China.
But as they were treating me differently than all the others and going through my bags searching for something to incriminate me I could only wonder why? They tell us that we Tibetans are Chinese. So if I am Chinese, why didn't they check the bags of the other Chinese people?
I felt it was unfair to pick on me just because I am ethnically Tibetan. China celebrates its diversity and 60 different nationalities, but if there is no equality there is no justice.
Philip and I were kept waiting for about 2 hours while they sent for a computer expert to check my Laptop. Then a border guard came and said it was time to have lunch. But Philip and I said we were not hungry. We just wanted to continue our journey. Then a few minutes later a police car parked outside the office of the border police and they told us to get into the car and we would be taken some place else.
But just as I was getting into the car, one border guard told me to go back inside. I wasn’t certain what they wanted but I followed him inside where he directed me to another room. Inside, was a female policewoman waiting for me. She said they needed check my body and asked me to remove all my clothing. I felt this was a hideous joke. They are treating me like I am a convicted criminal. I wanted to know why she wanted me to undress? Before she could answer, my independent spirit came out and I said “No way.”
She replied sternly, “Now you are under suspicion. You have to do whatever I say. I kept arguing but it was useless. I feel like super angry but there was nothing I could do as I was powerless. A criminal would be told be told he or she had the right to call a lawyer, but nothing of the sort was allowed me.
Of course she didn't find anything and she was checking me everywhere. That was the worst and most humiliating experience I have undergone in all my life including what they did earlier.
But at least they didn't do that to Philip like did to me. That was good. He got respect.
We got on the police car and drove about a half hour until we got to a frontier station where they told us, “As long as you answer all of our questions, we will let us go very soon.”
We both agreed and then they separated us and put us in different rooms. While they were questioning me, they took my laptop into another room where the ‘computer expert’ was checking it. In the meantime I knew that they were questioning Philip but I don't know what kind of questions they were asking him.
But they would ask me the same question 5 times or more. Each question took about one hour as it was repetitious. Sometimes it seemed like more than an hour. I was really doing my best to cooperate with them because they said as long as I answered all of their questions they would let me go. And I trusted them to keep their word.
But their questions sounded more like answers. Whatever I answered I feel like they are making something out of my answers. Some questions I really didn't know how to answer because I never knew the person or had never heard about any of the places. Then they said I needed be honest with them. They always smiled when they were asking me questions. But they should know that for me that smile just like crying. I learned later that these techniques and training was like that copied from the NKVD in Russia.
Late in the afternoon about Protected content and it was dinner time. They asked us if we wanted some dinner, but I felt full and wasn't hungry. We asked again when we could leave and they replied, “Be patient. We are still checking.”
Whenever we asked to go to bathroom, soldiers came with us. Were we losing our freedom already? Philip was beginning to get upset. The border guard leader just kept saying sorry to him but wouldn't let him leave. When we began to feel hungry, they let us eat dinner at the same table but wouldn’t let us talk.
After dinner, Philip was taken to another room for questioning. I was worn out that morning after being 20 hours on the bus. The whole day they hadn’t given me a chance to rest as I was answering their questions and by now I was exhausted. I still thought that they release us as it was completely blown out of proportion to think either Philip or I were involved in anything criminal or had any criminal intent of any kind.
However, they began to ask questions the same questions that they has been asking all day. Again they asked me about Philip and again I told them that we met only briefly that morning before they detained me. But they still thought we were involved romantically or had some relation with me.
At last I said, “I’m sorry I cannot continue. I am tired and I have answered your questions. Just let me alone now. So they stopped questioning me. About midnight I saw 3 police cars drive up and stop outside the frontier station. The policeman got out and went into the office with the leader of the frontier soldiers. About Protected content leaders in another office, they came out and told us that we needed go with them to the State police office to check more to check my computer. They explained that they didn’t have a local computer expert and had to go to the state level to find a good expert to check my laptop.
They asked me to sign a paper. When I refused, one of the police man told me, “It's OK if you don't sign. We can still keep you and you know we can.”
There is no justice. If they want to keep someone as a prisoner, they have the power, especially as I am a Tibetan I have been singled out and judged to be a danger. It is unfair as I have broken no law or hurt anyone or plotted to hurt anyone.
When we was getting on the car, I heard Philip say, “I am a good man. I don't know this girl. We just met on way.” He kept telling the police he didn’t know me before but they ignored him.
From Mengla county to Xi Shuang Ban Na is about 4 hours by car. I fell asleep in the car. I was too tired.
We arrived at Xi Shuang Ban Na in the morning and were directed to a hotel. There were three policewomen just to keep watch on me. I was too tired to care. I fell asleep immediately. It was about 09:00 in the morning when they woke me up. They said it was time for breakfast and then I had to go to the office. I couldn't really eat. Just I felt like they were treating me like a rotten piece of meat and I was beginning to smell like it too.
After breakfast the police took us to their office and began asking questions. From their questions I knew that they read all of the emails I had saved in my laptop. I have some very good westerner friends who I feel are just like my family. Every email I got from them. I saved. Each of their emails was very important to me. Each is a beautiful memory and shows a real friendship with love. I couldn't believe they would invade my privacy to read the exchange of words between friends. I had also written some short articles about my travel that I describe some of my feelings. I think everyone has some special feelings when you are arrived to some different places or different country.
As a human, you must have respect for others. We all like it when others show an interest in your culture, history, and your foods. We all need to show how we have a special feeling to those whose culture is so vastly different. We all look different, whether a small dwarf or someone born with a defect. I feel sad and say a blessing on them as they will have experienced rejection and hurt. My feelings or your feelings are private about what you see in the different people you have met. Some actions by others are repulsive to me or to my friends and these are private. There were private thoughts that one does share with except with friends or family. My friends and my family divulged their innermost ideas, ideals, and personal feelings that were entrusted to me and I should ask them first if it were OK to share with others.
This is just a very easy act if you want to show that you are a polite person or polite team. This is a very simple human nature act. But some people never know what is polite and what is respect. I feel so sorry for those who invaded my privacy as they have lost that essence of being a human. I wish I could teach them little bit what is to be a human – to alleviate suffering, misery, and to console and offer them your love.
I also had so many pictures from my friends and my family that money could not buy. These were images of people I loved and for me to remember them by. To spy on me or others is reprehensible but just the act of looking into my private life made me feel violated.
From their questions. I realize that all of those emails and pictures from my friends and family are the reasons that why they keeping me. Each of friends and each of family. I need to explain one by one. There was 3 people asking questions. When they finished ask all of those questions for the first time. Ask me signature on their record. But for the first time I didn't. Because they are encroach upon my rights. Then they said OK. Let's go for lunch. And you should think more careful what you have down. If you are cooperation with us. It will help you much later. But I knew that was rubbish. And one of the policeman told me. Do you know why we keeping Philip? Because he is with you. Otherwise we won't keep him. So you have to tell all. That will help yourself. Then I was confused. Because in that morning. When we arrived to frontier station not only me and Philip. There was also two boys from Sweden with us. We walked together to there. But they didn't keep those two boys after check their bags. So it was just a excuse. I think they keeping him because he is from Canada. But I am sure they told Philip they was keeping them because of me.
When in the meals room. I told Philip. I am so sorry that I just knew why are they keeping you. Because of me. So sorry. But you have rights to call to your embassy. He just looked at me. And didn't say anything. I thought maybe he was angering with me. But After I knew that they was agreed to let him leave. So he didn't wanted to say anything because he was afraid to have any other troubles. But I feel better that they let him leave if it was really because of me kept him for more than 24 hours in the police station without rights. He is just a traveler. And I am sure that was the most special experience for him in his life.
And they took me to the office back . Start their questions again. They ask me explain that from in the beginning of my trip to the end. And why I was travel. Who I met during the travel. And which hotels that I was staying. That was a long story. But they said I have to answer very detail. And asked me if I knew any about protest in Lhasa. I couldn't believe that the protected in Lhasa. But now let me answer those questions. How silly it was! As I said I am a Tibetan. But it doesn't mean that I did something to against this government. And I said I really don't want to answer any of your questions. Because I didn't answer their questions. And they can not force me. Also it was about 20:00pm. They determined detain all of my stuff. And they checked all of my bags again. But the most amazing thing was one of his holiness's book still In my big bag. But they didn't discovered it again. I didn't tell them I have one more his book. Because I knew it is a big problem. When this finished check my bag. I said I need put some cloth in my small bag that I need it in the night. They was agreed. And 4 of them looking at me . I determined bring his holiness book with me. And throw it away when I got a chance. I was really careful put book in a small jacket . And pretended very calm. Actually in my heart. I was shaking. And keep praying for his holiness. I knew he will protect me. I was success. I bring my small bag to the hotel with 3 police female. And I told them that I need take shower. They agreed with me. In the bathroom. I open the shower water louder. Then took out his holiness's book. I said sorry to him and praied for him. Then started tear up the book. And running away with water. I feel very bad for that. But I am sure his holiness knowing what I was doing and forgiving and protecting. Because I was afraid. So I hurt one of my finger and bloody. But those police ladies didn't discovered. Everything went perfect without any problems in the bathroom. I knew that who is protecting me. Those ladies were bit polite with me. So we had good conversations. Because I like to have conversation with any people as long as you are a good person.
In the second morning. That have been 45 hours passed since they keeping me. In Chinese law .you have to tell your family if you arrested someone more than 24 hours. In the beginning I told them don't tell my family. Because I thought I won't have any problems. now they are keeping me for more than 45 hours. I knew I have rights to let my family know about it. But I didn't want to let family worry for me. I know I will be OK. So I didn't ask them tell my family. And they never asked me if they should let my family know that I was there with them.
In the morning. That was 18th morning. They said because they need check me more. So they have to send me to the jail. And when checked all out clearly. They will release me. But if I wanted to get release. I have to cooperation with them. Then the government will leniently dealt with for me. I said you have to give a reason to me that why you send me to jail. I didn't do anythings to against this country. And you have to responsibility for all of your acts what are you doing for me now. I knew as a person. Your thinking is free. As long as you never act to did something wrong. And as the government said. Religion is free. Your faith is free. As a Tibetan Buddhist. I think I have rights to keep all of this. on my ID. I am a Chinese. on my passport. I am a Chinese . But now you are treating me like that I am not a Chinese. Your act telling me that you are not treating me as a Chinese. Did you check all of Chinese people like me? Because I am a Chinese as well. I have been lost my rights more than 48 hours. But I am not complaining to you. Because you are doing your job. I should understand. And as a Buddhist I will forgive you as well. But now you are tell me that you need send me to the jail without a clearly reason. Don't you think it's unfair front of the law? Everyone is equality front of the law. But now I feel like Law is so fake. And if I real have contacts with those Tibetans who joined protest in Lhasa. It is impossible that I would enter without any preparedness. You think I am stupid like that? It has been more than 48 hours. But you still didn't check out that what kind of crime I have. You have been encroached upon my rights. But of course they didn't care what I said. They just do what they wanted. They never knew what real justice is. In the morning about 10:00 am .They sent me to the jail. When we arrived to the front door of the jail. I feel bit sad. But still pretended very strong looking. from first time they leader of jail said some words that I really felt what is jail. What is prisoner? And what is a right? What is dignity? And my long nightmare was just started
They didn't let me take anything in side of jail. Except my toothbrush and toothpaste. But they break off toothbrush. Then ask me go to the toilet one of police lady need check me. My body. I said they checked already. But they said need to check one more time. And I have to be naked. I feel like all of my face were burning and all of my body were shaking. I took off my shirt and said can I keep my bra? She was scream to me and said . “No way be quick. Took off all .” Then I said with very politely. “You should be polite to me. There is no reason and no rights to scream to me. Because your stupid people are keeping me in the jail without any clearly reasons. I just like you a human being. We are same. The only different is you are dressing an uniform now. This is the only different from me and you.” But I had to take off all. You know for a person. Your body is belonging to yourself. It is your secret. No one else doesn’t have any rights with any excuses to see it except you were allowed. And special they are doing all of this to me is against law. Because I didn't do anything. If I really did something wrong for this country and Caused any serious consequences. Of course they have rights to punish me with right way. With respect Law. Because they are justice keeper. But now what they are doing is broking justice. And they don't know what is justice. Just some blind people in there. When I took off all of my cloths. In that moment that I wish I never born . As a Tibetan. How seriously problem it is in my culture. But I have to face to it. And Also they broke my pants. Took off waist belt and all of strings and zips on my pants and shirt. And they didn't let me take my glasses. And no strings for my hairs. Open my hairs without glasses. and dressing a broken pants and shirt. I feel like there was only a dead body keep moving. I lost completely. Those policemen told me that I didn't answer some questions that they wanted to know. I should think it more careful in the night. And they will come in the second day to ask. Then they left. And the jail worker opened door inside of the jail. In the second door. They give me an old broken sheet. And a broken red bowl. I look like a shit I am in that moment. Then opened the third door. There were about more than ten female prisoners looking at me. I couldn't see them very well. Because I don't have my glasses. The wall is so high. And the door is so strong. There was nothing inside except those prisoners. And I lift up my head. There was only iron wire I can see. Everybody just staring at me. Looks like I am from another world. Looks like they never saw another human being. Each of them looks so strange for me. I was standing there didn't move maybe for one minute. And all of those prisoners looking at me as well. I was shocked with view of front. I think they was surprised that a new prisoner came inside. It's like I just arrived to another world that we never heard about in our real life. In our normal life. And I can't believe that I came to this strange world. Then I was slowly woke up. Said hi to everyone with very polite way. Some of them said hi to me back. But some is just looks like very angry and don't care what I said. Looks like very cold people. So strange looking. I went inside of the room. There was numbers for each of them. And 14 prisoners. I am the 15th . I found a small corner put down that old sheets and bowl. Also toothbrush and toothpaste. Everyone keep looking at me still. One of old lady came to me said: “Hey. You can't keep your toothbrush and toothpaste here. You should keep it on the front of iron wire window.” I said OK. And put on there. Then one of another lady came to me said: “ hey. You can't keep like that. Those Prison administrators will punish you. You have to keep like us.” Each of them put those stuff in their own plastic cup. But I didn't have. So I said: “I don't have a cup.” No one speak to me again. Everyone looks like lost their soul. Looks like they are not alive. Looks like they are all psycho. And I was little bit get scared to look at them in the beginning . I feel like I am in the dream suddenly. I really thought that I was having a dream. I touched my hands. Looks real. Then I hit my one of leg. It's painful. Shit. Then it wasn't a dream? So it was real? No. I can't accept it. Just sitting on the one of corner. Waiting for some normal one come to me and talk to me. Maybe after like 5 or 6 minutes. The old lady who talked to me first time. She came to me again. Sitting in next to me. And start ask some questions to me. I can see her face very clearly. Slim. Tiny. No energy. But I just like a boat that lost direction in the ocean. And suddenly found a like hope in the frond of direct. But made me most surprise thing was her first question: “are you a foreigner?” “No. I am a Tibetan.” I answered. Looks like other prisoners getting interesting in me when I said that I am a Tibetan. Then one of young lady asked me: “ Wow you are a Tibetan .” Sounds like she never meet a person who from Tibet. Or maybe in some other reasons. Looks very shocked. “So why you come over here? Like us Drug-smuggling. Or what ?” I even couldn't believe my own ears. Drugs? Heard about it before .But it is always so far from my life. For me the drug is just like in another world. Now I am so close to those people who was took drug or Drug-smuggling. I am with those really criminals who really did some thing against the Law. No wonder those prisoners looks so strange for me and unhealthy. I looked around. Looked everyone again. Everyone was looking at me again like the first sight. And looks they are waiting for my answer. Well. I really didn't know how to answer her question. Because I even don't know what is my crime. So I just answered as a joke: “Because I am a Tibetan.” Of course they don't know what do I mean? Then I continued: “I really don't know what I am being charged with. They just checked some pictures and emails from my laptop which included some books written by His holiness.” These people don't know who is his holiness. When I tried to explain to them who his holiness, the Dalai Lama was, one of the ladies said: “ Oh. I understand why you are here. You must a Tibetan separatist.”
I gave a second look at her. She was the tallest one woman in all of them and looked more approachable but now she kept silent after I told her: “Yes. That is what those police think. But I am not. I am just a girl who loves freedom and enjoys the mind of others who enjoy conversing with other people of different nations. I have always enjoyed doing what I liked.”
Of course they believed I was in jail for doing something not for my interest in the Dalai Lama. So I didn’t attempt to explain to them anything more. I also was a bit scared that they might try to hurt me so I kept my distance from them. I felt sure that I won't be in there for long time as people in that jail were there for some crimes they had committed. I had committed no crime against China or anyone.