Following on from the playwriting workshops held at the Royal Court Theatre last Autumn, our writers group have decided to carry on with writing workshops this spring. We’re excited to keep going with what we’ve started and are looking to expand the group. If you are a UK based Tibetan please join us, no previous writing experience necessary! All details in the announcement below, deadline for applications is 3rd February, 2020.
So thrilled to see this publication “Blossoming Broken Flowers: Selected Writings from High Peaks Pure Earth” in print, produced in partnership with the UK charity Tibet Relief Fund!
It’s been a pleasure to work together with the Tibet Relief Fund, can’t believe it’s been almost a year since they hosted the poetry event “We Were Made for Home” here in London. Even back then we’d been discussing putting a book together of writings from High Peaks Pure Earth and now we’ve done it!
The best part of doing this book is that Tibet Relief Fund will distribute free copies to Tibetan students in India and Nepal, making online writings more accessible and in particular, writings from Tibet. I’d like to offer my personal thanks to staff at Tibet Relief Fund both in UK and India for working hard on realising this project!
For a limited time, “Blossoming Broken Flowers: Selected Writings from High Peaks Pure Earth” is available for the special price of £4.99 (usual price £6.99) and can be ordered via the Tibet Relief Fund’s online shop: http://bit.ly/HPPEbook
This year has flown by without my managing to blog here too much. In May I spoke about Tibetans and our special relationship with Apple at RightsCon 2018 in Toronto in May and the following month I was beamed into a UN Side Event in Geneva by the International Service for Human Rights to give an overview of freedom of expression in Tibet. A personal favourite speaking engagement of mine though was in July when I gave a talk called “Adventures in Tibetan Social Media” to the YTEC Youth Camp just outside London.
That brings me to “We Were Made for Home”, a poetry evening on Wednesday at Burley Fisher Books in East London. I’m really looking forward to talking about my work with High Peaks Pure Earth and also being in the company of young Tibetan writers and scholars. It’s not often we get Tibetan poetry nights in London so a huge thank you to Tibet Relief Fund for hosting and putting everything together!
Please join us on Wednesday if you can, the Facebook Event Page is here for all the details: https://www.facebook.com/events/2185528025060845/
On 26 November 2011, my Uncle Dr. Tsewang Yishey Pemba passed away at the age of 79 in Siliguri, India. It was a great loss to our family but his distinguished life and career was honoured all over the world by those who remembered him.
Even though we still feel his loss, it is heartening to be able to announce that his novel “White Crane, Lend Me Your Wings: A Tibetan Tale of Love and War” has been published posthumously in India by Niyogi Books and will be launched at an event in Delhi this coming Friday, 17 February 2017. For the full details of the launch, see this link to the Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1220255771396207/
Even though my Uncle was a distinguished surgeon and had a long medical career, he had a huge passion for literature and the arts and spent a considerable amount of his free time furiously tapping away on his typewriter. His memoirs “Young Days in Tibet” were published in 1957 and Idols on the Path, the first Tibetan-English novel, came out in 1966.
It was always his dream to publish more of his fiction so this makes the publication of “White Crane, Lend Me Your Wings”, after more than a 50 year gap since “Idols on the Path”, all the more special and poignant. The novel is a work of historical fiction set in the Nyarong Valley of Kham, Eastern Tibet, in the first half of the twentieth century.
As the book description says:
The novel begins with a never-told-before story of a failed Christian mission in Tibet and takes one into the heartland of Eastern Tibet by capturing the zeitgeist of the fierce warrior tribes of Khampas ruled by their chieftains. This coming-of-age narrative is a riveting tale of vengeance, warfare and love unfolded through the life story of two young boys and their family and friends.
The personal drama gets embroiled in a national catastrophe as China invades Tibet forcing it out of its isolation. Ultimately, the novel delves into themes such as tradition versus modernity, individual choice and freedom, the nature of governance, the role of religion in people’s lives, the inevitability of change, and the importance of human values such as loyalty and compassion.
For those who can’t make it to the Delhi book launch, there will also be a launch event in Dharamsala on 23 February 2017.
I’d like to take the chance to thank in particular my cousin Acha Lhamo Pemba La who has been working hard to see her father’s wish realised. Special thanks must also go to Shelly Bhoil for all her help and to Trisha De Niyogi and all at Niyogi Books too. I’d also like to take a moment to remember my dear Aunt, Dr Pemba’s wife Tsering Sangmo La, who passed away on 8 September, 2016 – they had been married for over 50 years.
For more information on the novel please visit: http://niyogibooksindia.com/portfolio-items/white-crane-lend-me-your-wings-a-tibetan-tale-of-love-and-war/
If anyone would like to get the ball for the book rolling over on GoodReads, please head to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34208098-white-crane-lend-me-your-wings
Finally, you can order the book from Amazon India – please feel free to rate and review it! Follow this link to Amazon: http://bit.ly/DrTYPemba
Below I’m posting an essay I originally wrote a while ago for the Kathmandu based literary journal La.Lit which was published in La.Lit Volume 4 earlier this year. It was fun for me to think about translations for this essay as well as to think about the literary relationship between Nepal and Tibet.
In the time since this essay was published, I have read about Google including support for Tibetan script in Android but to be honest I haven’t quite understood how this works (!) My phone still doesn’t display Tibetan!
Lastly, many thanks to my friend Iona Liddell for introducing me to the lovely people at La.Lit who are doing an amazing job.
“The Language of Languages”
By Dechen Pemba
In October 2012, at an event marking International Translation Day at the British Library in London, I was struck by how Kenyan author Ngugi Wa Thiong’o described the act of translation. He spoke of translation as “the language of languages, the one language that all languages speak”. As someone who grew up bilingual, studied two more languages, and now works full time with translations, I very much liked his idea that somehow all languages have one thing in common, the ability to be translated into another.
This idea reinforced my belief that translation was a priority area when it came to any kind of work related to Tibet. As the editor of High Peaks Pure Earth, a website that monitors social media use by Tibetans and translates blog posts, poetry and music lyrics from Tibetan into English, I both translate and commission translations. In doing this work, I like to think that I am not only bringing the voice of Tibet and Tibetans to a wider world but also contributing to the world of languages and the universal language of translation.
Due to the political situation in Tibet today and long-standing policies of the Chinese government on language, it is necessary to monitor Tibetan blogs, social media and cultural expressions in both Chinese as well as Tibetan languages. It became clear to me in 2008 that whatever information was being made available online by people on the ground, despite being freely accessible (at least for a while), was not getting out due to one simple reason, the language barrier. For example, had it not been for the efforts of China Digital Times, key information being blogged by Tsering Woeser would not have had the impact that it did. Woeser’s documentation of the Tibetan uprising in real time was translated from Chinese into English and made available on almost a daily basis. This proved invaluable throughout 2008, and, Woeser’s blog is now regularly translated into English on the translations website I subsequently co-founded in September 2008.
Though it has racked up close to 500 translations into English alone since them, High Peaks Pure Earth started as a humble blogspot blog and has now expanded into a trilingual website far beyond anything I had envisaged at the beginning. There are regular translations, Tibetan music videos, commentaries, a section for resources (useful for translators) and reading recommendations. For various reasons, it hasn’t been as easy to keep with translations into Chinese and Tibetan and a fully trilingual site with every post available in English, Tibetan and Chinese is still a goal I strive towards.
In 2010, on a trip to New York, I had a memorable lunch with the staff members of the Office of Tibet. We talked about our shared love of literature but also of our concern that Tibetans were missing out on world literature as too little was being translated into Tibetan. We ascertained that there were certain disconnects in the Tibetan community relating to language and, interestingly, the people at the table represented these disconnects. The Liaison Officer for Chinese at the Office, Kunga Tashi, felt comfortable in Chinese and Tibetan, and is very active online on social media in those languages, but not in English. The Liaison Officer for Latin America, Tsewang Phuntso, is active online in English and Spanish and also has a very good level of Tibetan but knows no Chinese. The Special Assistant the Dalai Lama’s Representative to the Americas at the time, Tenzin Dickyi, felt comfortable with Tibetan and English, and is an accomplished translator in those languages in her own right, but has no knowledge of Chinese. As for myself, one reason I had wanted to learn Chinese was to try to be able to build more bridges in the world but that at the end of the day, the language I felt the most comfortable with was English. When it came to Tibetan affairs, Kunga Tashi observed that Tibetans who read Chinese were reading Woeser’s blog, Tibetans who read Tibetan were reading Khabdha.org and Tibetans who read English were reading Phayul.com. Wouldn’t it be great, we mused, if there were one site where all Tibetans could read and exchange with no language barriers? I guess we didn’t realise at the time that we were wishing for a Tibet website written in the language of languages!
But it’s not just disconnects between Tibetans or in gulfs between very different cultures where translation can play a big role. Even when it comes to our neighbouring countries such as Nepal, literary translation has been sorely neglected. It is bewildering to think that two peoples, a great number of whom are fluent in each other’s spoken language, have no written works translated into each other’s languages. There are no comprehensive Tibetan-Nepali dictionaries in existence. Despite the most famous work in Nepali literature, Laxmi Prasad Devkota’s “Muna Madan” being set in Lhasa, there is no commercially available Tibetan translation. In fact, a Tibetan translation was done in Lhasa, from the English (!), on the occasion of the Nepali King’s visit to Tibet and was given as a gift to the Nepali delegation. So how many Tibetans know the work of Devkota and how many Nepalis know the work of Gendun Choephel? Two communities remain totally ignorant of each others’ literary history only because no work has been translated.
There are other Tibetan-run translations projects online that are doing great work. For example, the team at Karkhung.com translate all kinds of articles from English into Tibetan, not just Tibet-related articles but also works of investigative journalism and literary fiction. These acts of translation go far beyond mere words on the screen: translations into our own language contribute towards modernising and enlarging our own culture and play a large part in raising the self-esteem of a nation. We Tibetans can feel proud that our language is not only being translated into other languages but that our language is also more than able to handle and convey complex meanings and ideas from outside. Using our language is akin to asserting our right to exist.
Given that the Tibetan literary tradition goes back to the 7th century and its linguistic influence reaches far across the Himalayas encompassing areas of India, Bhutan, Mongolia, Russia and Pakistan, my pet hate is when Tibetan language is described as “obscure”. I wonder how it is possible that the language of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhists, comprising of as many as 60 million people, can be wilfully left behind in terms of modern technology? For instance, Google has failed to incorporate a Tibetan font into its Android software, failed to develop a Tibetan language interface and failed to include Tibetan in Google Translate, the most useful of tools. At least Apple has seen the light there.
Imagine a Tibetan education curriculum solely made up of literature in translation – would China allow Tibetan schoolchildren to grow up reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, 1984 by George Orwell and Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie? A handful of Tibetan translation projects are by no means enough and in an age of fast media, quick fixes and online translation tools, the humble practice of translation isn’t receiving enough support, recognition or funding. How incredible it would be, to have more translations of Tibetan literature and writings in world languages. Well-trained translators who are fluent in Chinese, English and Tibetan would change the game in terms of our movement when it comes to information and knowledge bases, not to mention the wealth of cultural capital that would be at our fingertips. So to get back to our friend Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, let’s pay more attention to the one language that all languages speak.
Published in Volume 4, 2015, of La.Lit Literary Journal
I’m happy to report that the “Banned Expression in Tibet” event at Kings Place on 20 June 2015 went very well! Thank you to everyone who came along and made it a memorable night!
We had such a great team of performers and crew so that on the actual day, it wasn’t stressful at all but really fun and everyone played their part beautifully.
I just wanted to post some of the amazing photos of the event which were taken by our good friend Luke Ward at Kings Place. If anyone re-posts the photos from here, please be sure to credit him as the photographer and mention that the photos were taken at Kings Place, thanks.
For everyone who came and enjoyed the visuals we used as background on the night, here they are below. Many thanks to our talented graphic designer who offered her services and did all the artwork for Banned Expression, often to tight deadlines!
I’m also glad that Tibetan media picked up on the event, here are two radio reports online:
Voice of Tibet: http://www.vot.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/tib_23_06_2015.mp3 (From minute 19:26)
Voice of America report: http://www.voatibetanenglish.com/audio/2815048.html (From minute 33:20)
Finally I’d like to thank everyone who gave their time and effort to making “Banned Expression” a success. It’s going to be a long blog post but I wanted to take the time here to thank everyone who contributed and also make their contribution known!
My website High Peaks Pure Earth has enjoyed an extremely fruitful partnership on Banned Expression with Voice of Tibet and Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy and their support has been unwavering these past three years.
Thank you to FreeMuse for supporting Tibetan musicians and for sending a wonderful message of solidarity to us. Several Tibet-related groups helped with spreading the word, so thank you to Students for a Free Tibet and Tibet Society. A special mention must go to Tibet Society and Tibet Relief Fund for bringing their whole crew to the event and especially to Philippa and Riki for supporting the work of High Peaks Pure Earth.
Thank you to co-host and co-organiser Kunsang Kelden, a natural on the stage and a prolific blogger at Lhakar Diaries: http://lhakardiaries.com/author/kunsangkelden/
Thank you to our performers! Thank you Ngawang Lodup! Ngawang is an emerging artist on the world music scene here in UK, don’t miss his session for BBC Radio 3: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02tykp5 and catch him at the end of July at WOMAD for a full 45 minute solo set: http://womad.co.uk/lineup/ngawang-lodup
Ugyen Choephell thrilled us all with his rock and roll heart and passionate words. Ugyen is always there to lend his support for Tibet, no matter how big or small the event, thank you for coming all the way from Bristol for us! Visit Ugyen’s website here: http://www.tibetalivingtradition.co.uk/about.htm
Thank you to Palden, someone who is somehow able just to turn up on the day and effortlessly pull off two songs amazingly!
Thank you to Sonam who conquered her nerves and reached new heights! Thank you to Bhuchung D. Sonam for letting us premiere his translation of “Today, I wish to offer three prostrations towards Lhasa” by Tashi Rabten at the event. Sonam read it well and the full power of his words could be felt in the room.
And thank you to Youdon Aukatsang who managed to fit Banned Expression into her already packed programme and effortlessly graced the stage like a true pro! A thank you must also go to A.E Clark at Ragged Banner whose translations of Woeser la’s work are so beautiful, the two poems that Youdon la read, A Vow and Scream are both to be found in Tibet’s True Heart, a highly recommended book.
And where would we be without our amazing crew members? Eli, thank you not only for your genius make-up and beauty skills but also for your support over the years for everything that we do. Eli was with us on Banned Expression from the start and looks after us all! From the Green Room to the Dressing Room to the way home, Eli had it all covered so that we were hydrated and had plenty to snack on, she thought of everything, even bringing flowers and scented candles to calm our nerves.
Shu-Ting, thank you for your AV assistance and sorry you got stuck in the booth all night! Thank you JD & ND for lending a hand whenever we needed it and thank you to Luke Ward for his photos.
Several businesses in London promoted Banned Expression by giving out our leaflets and having our posters up, including the Tibetan owned businesses Vintage Basement just off Brick Lane and in Camden and Kailash Momo Restaurant in the Tibetan hub of Woolwich. The lovely Nepalese couple at Rising Green Coffee Shop were similarly helpful, anyone in the Old Street area should check out their delicious momos every Wednesday!
The Kings Place crew were a God-send and made us look professional, thank you Andrew, Delfina, Michael, Alex, Matt and all the Front of House staff.
As this post shows, it takes a lot of people, planning, patience and support to put on a 90 minute show! I hope that events like this will continue to be supported so that the incredible creative resistance taking place in Tibet today can be honoured and given a fitting space.
At the end of 2013, the “Banned Expression” campaign officially kicked off with a huge rock concert in Dharamsala, India, by Parikrama, one of India’s most respected rock bands. The campaign Banned Expression aims to highlight the fast shrinking space for writers and artists in Tibet to freely and fearlessly express their views and it is being jointly run by Voice of Tibet, Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy and my website High Peaks Pure Earth.
The Banned Expression story actually goes back a bit further than that though, when a small group of us took part in a conference that was one of the most inspiring I’ve ever attended. It was held in October 2012 in Oslo’s Opera House and it was called “ALL THAT IS BANNED IS DESIRED – World Conference on Artistic Freedom of Expression”, it was organised by Fritt Ord Foundation and Freemuse. The conference promised a lot:
Artists from all genres: music, literature, film, performance, theatre, painting, photography, etc., will perform, examine and discuss where, how and to what extent constraints are placed on artistic freedom of expression, not to mention examples of the potential of art to challenge established truths and framework conditions.
Tibet was represented by visual artist, USA based Tenzing Rigdol and France based musician Tenzin Gonpo in a session moderated by British journalist Frances Harrison. Their session can be seen on YouTube and is highly recommended viewing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1_0Su_0Eio
The conference was thought-provoking and led all of us to think about the many silenced creative voices in Tibet, especially after 2008 and what we could do to highlight their words and music. We all went away and did our bit, on High Peaks Pure Earth we started to translate, subtitle and post all kinds of music videos from Tibet and to date have over 50 music videos on the website. In a personal capacity, I started to focus more on Tibetan musical expression and published articles on Global Voices about music censorship and creative Tibetan musical initiatives.
For what became the “Banned Expression” campaign, Voice of Tibet and TCHRD did a formidable amount of work, putting together not only the rock concert but publishing a report Banned Expression: Stifling Creativity and Dissent in Tibet and producing a documentary film that premiered in Oslo at the Human Rights Human Wrongs Film Festival in February 2014. You can read all about the events that took place that week in Oslo in a previous blogpost of mine.
So… all that brings me to London and Banned Expression as I’m finally putting on an event here on 20 June 2015 at the stunning venue Kings Place. It’s going to be a great night as our team have managed to put together a varied programme that will include live music, spoken word and short talks. The evening will also showcase the best in UK-based Tibetan talent such as Bristol-based Ugyen Choephell who is an artist, musician and poet.
Myself and Kunsang Kelden, co-founder of one of the best exile youth blogs Lhakar Diaries, will be the hosts for the evening and we’ll introduce performers and guests who will perform songs from Tibet and read poetry, both in Tibetan and in translation. Among the stifled Tibetan voices that we will highlight are those of prominent Tibetan writer and poet Woeser, imprisoned singer Lolo, writer and poet Tashi Rabten and Shokjang, writer and currently detained.
Tickets for Banned Expression are available from the Kings Place website here for £9.50: http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on-book-tickets/spoken-word/renaissance-series-banned-expression-in-tibet
Social media links:
Banned Expression Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/freespeechtibet
Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1436153880019797/
I do hope that many of you will join us next weekend in London. Any proceeds from the night will go to the performers to support their creative work for Tibet.
It’s always satisfying to see an article in print and yesterday, on Lhakar, two copies of the latest issue of Brennpunkt Tibet arrived in my snailmail postbox! Thank you to Tibet Initiative Deutschland for commissioning and publishing the article, Brennpunkt magazine is available to order from their website here.
Next up I’m really excited to be a Festival Guest at “Human Rights Human Wrongs” next week in Oslo. The Festival itself looks amazing, from February 4-9 there are going to be a whole bunch of film screenings, related events, seminars and concerts.
I’m really happy to support the “Banned Expressions from Tibet” campaign and looking forward to seeing the documentary at its premiere in Oslo on February 6 at Kino Victoria. I’ll be talking about the situation in Tibet for singers, musicians and artists and reading some poetry too. On the evening of February 7, we’ll be at a special “Banned Expressions” concert featuring Tibetan musician Loten Namling.
Anyway there are loads of cool things going on for those few days so check out the Human Rights Human Wrongs website. A huge thank you to Voice of Tibet for supporting freedom of expression in Tibet and I’ll leave you with a video message I prepared for the “Banned Expressions” concert held in Dharamsala on December 10, 2013, jointly organised by VOT in partnership with Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy & Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts:
A long interview that I did with Clare Harris has been published today by Cerise Press. Clare Harris is the author of “The Museum on the Roof of the World” and very generously gave her time to answer all my questions about her book, Tibet in museums, propaganda and Tibetan art. I’d like to thank Clare for her patience both when giving the interview as well as in the follow up process. I really encourage everyone to read her interview and buy the book! It’s also the kind of book that would make a great gift.
I’d also like to take the time to thank Cerise Press for giving Tibet a place in their journal several times, Cerise had also published my interview with Woeser last year. Cerise Press announced that this edition will be their last. Fortunately, all issues of Cerise will remain archived online at the current site.
Update on August 10, 2013: Very happy to report that the wonderful team at Karkhung.com have translated the entire interview into Tibetan! It is online in three parts, here are the links:
1) “འཛམ་་གླིང་ཡང་རྩེའི་འགྲེམས་སྟོན་ཁང་”གི་རྩོམ་པ་པོ་དང་མཉམ་དུ་ཁ་བརྡ་བྱས་པ།(སྔ་མ) http://karkhung.com/?p=2537
2) “འཛམ་་གླིང་ཡང་རྩེའི་འགྲེམས་སྟོན་ཁང་”གི་རྩོམ་པ་པོ་དང་མཉམ་དུ་ཁ་བརྡ་བྱས་པ།(བར་མ) http://karkhung.com/?p=2551
3) “འཛམ་་གླིང་ཡང་རྩེའི་འགྲེམས་སྟོན་ཁང་”གི་རྩོམ་པ་པོ་དང་མཉམ་དུ་ཁ་བརྡ་བྱས་པ།(མཐའ་མ) http://karkhung.com/?p=2569
Following on from my first translation of a Woeser short story for MANOA, I’m pleased that a second piece titled “Garpon La’s Offerings” has now been published in Manoa, vol. 24, no. 2 (2012): “On Freedom: Spirit, Art, and State”, edited by Frank Stewart and Fiona Sze-Lorrain. The original title of the short story by Woeser la in Chinese is 《卡尔本啦的供养》.
The editor’s note says:
Woeser’s essay in On Freedom, “Garpon La’s Offerings”, tells the story of a Tibetan master’s loss and recovery of freedom. On one level, the narrator speaks in the voice of a slightly distracted reporter attempting to describe the “rehabilitation” of the political criminal Garpon La, the last acknowledged master of the Tibetan performance ritual known as Gar. On another level, Woeser uses irony to describe the government’s restrictions on physical, spiritual, and cultural freedoms.
I didn’t know much about Gar music and performance before translating this essay but I found Garpon La fascinating. When I told a few Tibetans about what I was translating, the older ones immediately recognised Garpon La and some even remembered him from Dharamsala!
One day last year I was on Facebook and came across a photo supposedly of Garpon La in Dharamsala in 1997, I am posting it below. I am sorry I don’t know who to credit for this photo.
The essay as published in MANOA is available on Project MUSE and for those without access, an excerpt is online: http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/manoa/v024/24.2.woeser.html