A Travellerspoint blog

February 2012

Dharma Blues

A Conversation With a Former Tibetan Political Prisoner

We think of prisoners as violent offenders, exploiting or flouting the law. But what happens when laws intentionally distort life into a mutilating world of oppression and violence?

Tibetan refugees.

Joanie and I arrived in Dharamsala, India yesterday morning after a 13-hour overnight bus ride from Delhi. Home to the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government in exile and around 80,000 Tibetan refugees, Dharamsala is a tranquil mountain town carved into the Himalayan foothills.

After exploring the city and the Kalachakra Temple, where the Dalai Lama resides, we spent a few hours practicing English with former Tibetan political prisoners who escaped China-controlled Tibet.

Jigme ("Like the American name, Jimmy," he said) is a 42-year old monk and below is his story:

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His troubles began with a notebook.

It is illegal in China (which includes Tibet) to talk or write about the Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader who fled to India in 1959 under a cloud of Chinese violence.

Since then, China has systematically worked to destroy Tibetan identity through "reeducation" programs, forcing the use of the Chinese language, subjugating Tibetan Buddhism, economic warfare, and many other restrictions on the Tibetan way of life.

Jigme had written an essay in his notebook about the Dalai Lama, and somehow - he does not know who turned him in - the police found out.

They came to his monastery and after convincing them to search only the room he shared with a fellow monk and his library of sacred Tibetan texts (and not the rooms of the 4 young monks he taught) the police found the offending notebook.

He had lent it to a friend who was arrested and sent to prison.

Two months later, the police returned and arrested Jigme for writing about the Dalai Lama. (He assumes his friend, while being tortured, told them Jigme was the notebook's rightful owner).

He was sentenced to a year in prison in deplorable conditions: sharing a drearily small cell with 3 other prisoners (at one point they included a murderer and thief) that had no running water and only a bucket for toilet. They weren't given blankets and struggled to keep warm through Tibet's frigid winter. They were only allowed to leave the cell for 30 minutes - once a month.

They were fed - twice a day - rice soup (he put out his hand and drew a circle with his finger on his palm, illustrating the soup's pittance of rice) and 2 pieces of rice cake. Hardly enough food to keep a man full, let alone keep warm during the winter.

Luckily his family lived nearby and brought him food. But more often than not it was confiscated by the prison guards. Sometimes the guards let him keep the food and Jigme divided what he received evenly with his cell mates.

The prisoners with whom he shared his cell changed every 3 months but all turned to Jigme for advice and council, he said. They respected him since monks are revered in Tibetan culture. At one point, one of his cell mates was a weak Chinese man and Jigme fought another Tibetan prisoner to defend the man from abuse.

After one year and the sentence complete, he returned to his former life. But the police continued to harass him, ordering him to the police station 3-4 times a month to find out what he was doing and ask about other Tibetans.

Unable to endure such treatment, Jigme decided to leave. Leave his family, friends, monastery, homeland, for the chance of a life free of persecution.

But first, he had to get from Tibet to Nepal, the first stop for fleeing Tibetan refugees.

After taking a taxi to the border, he paid 6000 RMB (around $1000) to be smuggled across the mountainous frontier.

For two days the guide shepherded him over snowy mountain passes, avoiding the guard posts of China (whose soldiers are notorious for killing fleeing Tibetans; the arm of a refugee we met was healing from a China's border guard's bullet) and Nepal (who return escaping refugees to China, guaranteeing them a prison sentence; the 8-year old son of the refugee Joanie spoke to was caught and sent to a Chinese prison for 6 months and is now afraid to risk joining his father here).

The Tibetan government maintains a refugee center in Katmandu where fleeing Tibetans (once they arrive) receive paperwork for their next destination: India and Dharamsala.

Jigme arrived here in April 2011 and was fortunate enough to meet and have his photo taken with the Dalai Lama. Bestowed with such an honor, Jigme sent a copy of the photo to his Mother and 6 siblings in Tibet who must keep it hidden.

If the Chinese authorities were to find the photo, it would be confiscated and his family possibly arrested.

Yet despite their freedom here, Tibetans do not feel liberated.

Last weekend was the Tibetan New Year. Unlike their normal new year celebrations, this year's observance was a muted, mournful event. A lamentation of the many deaths at the hands of the Chinese authorities (more one million since 1949) and the recent self immolations many Tibetans are turning to in protest.

It's sad when an notebook's essay can land someone in prison and even sadder when the essay's subject, a revered spiritual leader preaches peace and compassion.

Below are a few links Jigme asked me to share with friends and family to learn more about the plight of Tibetan and the Tibetan people:

www.tibet.net
www.tibetexpress.net

Posted by bucketbath 09:50 Archived in India Tagged india china himalayas buddha refugee tibet free freedom dharmsala liberation Comments (3)

The Faces of Yangon, Myanmar

Myanmar's an amazing place where people's inquisitive personalities contrast the governments reclusive tendencies.

Things are changing there fast as the government peels open up the country to the west.

Check out a few photos - the first in a series I'll be adding - from Yangon, Myanmar's former capital and current economic hub.


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Posted by bucketbath 06:43 Archived in Myanmar Tagged burma nut portrait face yangon myanmar rangoon betel Comments (0)

Pink Granola

Helping and healing in Chiang Mai

sunny 90 °F

It's amazing how quickly 5 weeks of your life can pass you by. It seems like just yesterday that I was whisked away to the bus station on the back of motorbike, streaming tears as I waved good-bye to Micah. Now, I'm excitedly awaiting our reunion in India! There has been a bit of a problem getting my visa so I'm actually meeting him a week later than originally planned. In the meantime, I'm spending my time in Chiang Mai with a completely open schedule and nothing but rejuvenating, "me" time to kill. I woke up this morning and proclaimed to my roommates that I think I'll go meditate with the monks today. Chiang Mai is a "Pink Granola" girls dream. (The alternative is brown, dirty, hippy granola. Micah is borderline brown, I'm pink...with a few sparkles.) The city has a surplus of yoga studios, body and energy workers, temples to meditate in, vegetarian restaurants, and an endless number of shops to fully stock your fisherman pant wardrobe. I now own 3 pairs when I swore to Micah that I would NOT become that traveler! It's seriously like living in a dream world. I can fully understand how people pick up their entire lives and thrive on the expat energy here. It's magical.

I officially graduated from the 150hr Thai Massage course at TMC last Friday. Our last few days were spent practicing for our final exam and completing an internship at the Children with Special Needs Center. The experience at the children's center is one I'll forever hold in my heart. We started the morning studying different types of cases and discussing what massage techniques would be most beneficial. All the while, the children were peaking their heads in and out of the doorway, peering at us with excited anticipation. We were each assigned a child and informed of their specific conditions. I was given a 7yr old boy with Autism and ADHD. He was by far the most active and rambunctious child of the group- the karmic repercussion of the endless amount of energy I had at his age, I'm certain. He didn't stay on the mat for more than 30 seconds at a time. I had the help of an aid to keep his curious mind occupied while I worked on his restless feet and legs. Her novelty soon wore off and he was wanting to run all over the center. I attempted to pour as much love and calming energy as possible into his body's perpetual state of fidgety motion. At one point, we both became frustrated as the aid was practically holding his squirming body down. I felt so much sadness for his tireless, agitated spirit. I asked her to let him go for a few moments and he quickly scooted to the front of the mat with his back facing away from us. I watched as he sat completely still for 2 min and then suddenly crawled into my lap with the most loving hug I've ever received. As he sat nestled in my lap with his head on my shoulder, I worked down the energy lines on his back. In all, I probably only got in about 10 minutes of massage, but it's amazing what 10 minutes of having love poured into your body can do for the soul. I knew it made a difference when his tiny hand wouldn't let go of mine as he led me around the center to curiously gaze at the rest of the relaxed children as they received body work from my classmates.

Lunch time brought on a new world of excitement. We returned from the cafeteria to discover the children all dancing to popular Thai songs. My "Miss Joanie" instincts took over and I soon had a small group off followers. It felt amazing to be dancing in a group of children with such a wide range of mental and physical disabilities. We're all human and share the same love of body movement. It's so deeply ingrained and instinctual. It becomes therapeutic when we're able to turn off our sensors and let it out. Our frustrations, stress and worries manifest themselves into our posture, gestures and daily movements. It shows up in the form of tight muscles, tension, headaches, diseases, etc. You can visibly see the healing transformation of movement when you witness a child with a disability dancing. It's as if their troubled, earthly body is able to match their loving, soaring spirit for a brief moment in time. It's a shame we can't all let our self consciousness go and cut lose. It would save $1000's of dollars in therapy!

The entire day was full of successes for my classmates, the children and myself. I went home and was forced to have good cry because my heart was exploding with so much love and happiness.

I'm making the most of my last few days in Chiang Mai. I've had many wonderful, life changing experiences here. I'm excited to carry them with me and see how it enhances and changes the rest of this bucket bath.

To book your discounted "Pink Granola" Thai Massage click the Pay Pal link below.

$30/ 30min, $50/1hr, $75/1.5hrs

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My TMC diploma at graduation!

My TMC diploma at graduation!

Some new friends at the Children with Special Needs Center

Some new friends at the Children with Special Needs Center

Lunch time dance party!

Lunch time dance party!

Posted by bucketbath 23:29 Archived in Thailand Tagged children life love dancing thai changing energy special yoga journey body massage movement soul therapy needs cry adhd karma autism tmc instict restless Comments (2)

Myanmar Monks

Photos of Myanmar Monks at the Monestary

Nothing could have prepared me for meeting (and taking photos of) young monks in Thaunggok, Myanmar.

Check out the photo below (which is also a link) and the rest of the photos at blog.micahbrubin.com.


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Posted by bucketbath 09:15 Archived in Myanmar Tagged monk buddha buddhist myanmar thaunggok Comments (0)

Sore thumbs

Week four at TMC intensifies

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This week, I completed week 4 of my 5 week Thai massage course at TMC in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was the most challenging week yet! Learning Thai massage is much more involved than I ever imagined.

Every day, we're exposed to new techniques, new information, and new ways of adapting a massage to meet a client's specific needs. I have accumulated 4 textbooks and have a long list of others that I am going to purchase when I get settled back home. In addition to practicing daily, 2 hr massages on one another at the school, we completed an internship at the Piyamal Elderly Service Center.

My thumbs started swelling on Wednesday and I had to muscle through the rest of the week. Thai Massage isn't always done for relaxation. It's about using pressure points to release energy blockages in order to generate a healthy flow through the Sen Sib, or energy lines, in the body. That requires quite a lot of body weight and pressure. There is a different way to sit for every position in order to save your thumbs and have the maximum effect. I haven't yet mastered these techniques and sometimes forget if I should be: sitting up, sitting down, kneeling, working with one leg over the body, pressing with straight arms, keeping my back straight, pressing my weight over the recipients body, or simply just relaxing and focusing calm energy into a gentle massage.

As if the technique alone isn't enough to remember, we spent numerous lecture hours studying anatomy, pathology and learning how to locate and clear blockages within the body. I imagine this is a mini taste of what med school must be like. I had to learn the major Sen Sib lines that flow throughout the body, including their pathways, exit points and the body symptoms that occur when there is a blockage. There are 72,000 lines in all, but they are (thankfully) contained within 10 needed for Thai Massage purposes.

The internship was the highlight of the week and made the near mental breakdown worth it. We offered free massages at the Piyamal Elderly Center. When the clients arrived, they first received a mandatory health screening. In Thai Massage, it's important to know the client's blood pressure, temperature and body ailments or conditions. If someone has high blood pressure, it's necessary to eliminate many of the positions. The temperature is important because receiving, or giving a massage while running a fever can inhibit the body's natural healing process and also disrupt the energy flow. It's also important to know about ailments such as back problems, varicose veins, pregnancy, etc. I can't remember the last time I had a massage and was asked all of these important questions. At TMC, the giver and the receiver both weigh in before and after the massage because there is an ongoing study in the field of Thai massage and weight loss. On average, the receivers consistently lose weight following a Thai massage. I've seen the results, it's incredible!

After the screening was done, we were each given a clip board with an informational sheet written in Thai. We had to wait for our teachers to translate the ailments and precautionary sites of the body and then we were given a few minutes to consult our textbooks and plan for a 2 hr massage.

My first client was 62 and had high blood pressure along with chronic knee and leg pain. I surprised myself by remembering the knee pressure points and sequences for the massage. She spent a majority of the time snoring as the 82 yr old man beside her laughed and imitated her. I took it all as a compliment. Anyone that knows me, knows I have a love for the elderly and very young. I was in all my glory sitting in a room full of 60+'ers as they snored, moaned, farted and burped with sheer pleasure. To think of it, I may just have a soft spot for anyone that will shamelessly fart in public. :) (Don't get any ideas, Micah! This doesn't apply to you.) Upon taking her blood pressure at the end of the massage, she was estaic to discover that it had dropped from 154 down to 123. My healing hands had done their magic!

My second client of the day was only 32 and just wanted a general, relaxing massage. Our teachers informed us that the afternoon crowd would be much younger as the older people stay home in the afternoon to watch the Thai soap operas. While she didn't snore, she was very appreciative and lingered around to pay me numerous thanks afterwards.

After such a busy week, I've been thankful for a lazy weekend. Today, I had breakfast and watched the Chang Mai Flower festival parade with my adopted "grandfather"- a 74 yr old man that rode the bus with me from Cambodia when I arrived a month ago. My roommate, Elyse, returned from a week long stay in Cambodia. I happily awoke to her smiling face this morning. I enjoyed a fun, girls night dinner this evening at a local vegetarian restaurant and also forced myself to pick up a book for pleasure and not touch my Thai Massage textbooks!

It's back to work on Monday to finish off my final week, but for now, my brain and thumbs are on vacation.

To book your discounted Thai Massage click the Pay Pal link below.

$30/ 30min, $50/1hr, $75/1.5hrs

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Posted by bucketbath 07:38 Archived in Thailand Tagged flower vacation bus cambodia thailand school chiang mai opera festival thai relax energy block elderly massage disease pain soap sen lecture anatomy symptoms pathology sib tmc pathways knee ailments Comments (4)

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