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A Nomad Who Became a Diplomat

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 05/05/14; May 14, 2005.]

By Bhuchung K. Tsering
Tibetan Review, May 2005

An average Tibetan of today has some understanding of the system of aristocracy, lamas and clan leaders in independent Tibet. Judging by individual experience and the political window through which one looks at them we can find positive and negative aspects of these social systems.

But a vast area of Tibet was nomadic area (it still is) where the nomads had their own internal system of administration and social norms. Like other levels of Tibetan society, the nomads also had their hierarchy and a person upon whom they looked as their leader. I have seen very little information about nomadic life, particularly on the way the leader undertook to run his community. Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise to read the biography of Chope Paljor Tsering (The nature of all things: the life story of a Tibetan in exile, Lothian Books, Australia, 2004, price not listed).

I know of Chope la the civil servant and a diplomat in our Tibetan Government-in-Exile but until reading his book, I did not really know that he belonged to a big name Drokpa (nomadic) family and that his father had served as the Garpon (leader) of his community in Namru in northern Tibet. Through the book we get a glimpse of the life of a nomadic leader, his administration of the nomads, including in the field of justice. The information is sketchy and I wish there was an entire chapter devoted to the nomadic administration system, but Chope la's point seems to be to use the nomadic leadership by his father to merely illustrate his early upbringing.

In addition to the father's role as a mediator in disputes, he also had to provide them housing, particularly when people came from faraway places for justice. As Chope la says, "These cases meant that there were always different people around us. Those who had their own means would pitch their tent nearby our home and those who didn't would come and stay with us."

Other sections of the book deal with the dramatic flight of his family from Tibet to Nepal and period of destitute life that his family had to lead in Nepal. In Chope la's description of his early life in Nepal he gives a very candid observation of the way some of the Western volunteers who were assisting in the rehabilitation of the Tibetans in Nepal worked. He has praise for some and strong criticism of others.

He also writes about his more recent responsibilities, including as the Representative of H.H. the Dalai Lama in Nepal, Budapest and Australia but the most recent period is covered only superficially.

The book is anecdotal and is interesting from a relaxing reading perspective. The book was revealing in more ways than one. It is clear that Chope la came from a privileged family, including in the field of education. Unlike an average Tibetan family, his family seemed to have more literate members. Despite living in the nomadic area, their family had inculcated the habit of reading Tibetan books and learning from them. His description of the life of Tibetan nomads calls a bluff to the conventional view of the Drokpas from the north, who are termed Apo Hor and are the butt of Tibetan jokes. I was astounded by the level of political consciousness of the nomads in Chope la's area as indicated in the book through an incident in the period immediate after the entry of the Chinese forces into Tibet. Soon after crossing into Nepal in the early 1960s (I think), his father was discussing with the community on what they should be doing. Should they sell the domestic animals that they were able to bring with them from Tibet and move on to India or should they reside in Nepal? The response, as Chope la writes, is, "But our community urged him to stay where we were, until the United Nations helped resolve the invasion of Tibetí as some community members suggested." This happened in remote Mustang and I would not think many Tibetans of that period knew much about the United Nations.

The book throws more light on the modern history of Tibetan civil service. Chope la's period in the Dhorpaten Tibetan settlement in Nepal reveals how the Tibetan officials coped with the meagre resources of those days and tried to fulfill their obligations. As starters, he began his first night in Dhorpaten with a burnt bread as he had to fend for himself for his food and he knew next to nothing about cooking.

It was in 1989 that I first had my direct interaction with Chope la. I was working in the Department of Information & International Relations in Dharamsala and was sent to accompany the first ever staff delegation from the United States Congress who visited the Tibetan community in Nepal. Chope la was the Representative of H.H. the Dalai Lama in Nepal. For a few days I was able to observe his work at close quarters. Subsequently, I have known him as he began another nomadic life (in a modern sense) as he moved from one post to another in the Tibetan diplomatic world. He was the first Representative of H.H. the Dalai Lama in Eastern Europe (the Office of Tibet in Budapest whose imminent closure has since been announced by the Tibetan Government in March 2005) and he moved thereafter to Australia and currently serves as the head of the Tibetan office in Tokyo.

I hope this book is available in the Indian subcontinent. It will be particularly beneficial to young Tibetans of today as it gives another perspective of the life in Tibet and the early period of Tibetan refugee life in Nepal and India. I hope it also encourages other Tibetans who have grown up in the nomadic community to write about their experience to enrich all of us on this section of our society.

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