The Tibetan: Tashi གཅིག་

I don’t like to talk about it. But I see it in dreams. I dream of it. I’m there. On the floor, that cold concrete floor, where I stayed for what I think was months. I stopped counting the days. But it was probably two or three months. I only know this because the season had changed. It was the dead of winter when they came for me, when they came to my house.

We’re used to seeing them. We’re used to their questionings, or them cordoning off the village. They rope off the village during holidays. Or if there’s an immolation. There were more immolations before, but they’ve stopped almost entirely since the Chinese began arresting the immolator’s family members. Is it guilt by association or that they fear the family members would do it next?

It’s unclear, to me, why they’d care. The cynical side of me believes they’d be happier with us in flames, us eaten by fire. Then there’d be less Tibetans for them to worry about.

My grandfather spoke of our country before it was invaded and captured. He spoke of greed. He spoke of serfdom. I wasn’t sure whether to believe him or not because he’d been in a reeducation camp like I was. He was schizophrenic. He’d parrot the party line in public, but at home he’d speak of the country, the old times, independence, both in nostalgia and disgust.

He spoke of it being karma. That Tibetans had strayed from the righteous path the Buddha had set for us. He’d wished the next life, for him, and for every Tibetan, to be better.

I pondered the next life a lot, my first days in jail.

When they arrested me, they bound my arms behind my back, blindfolded me, and hauled me away. Then they brought me to jail and chained me to a chair, a tiger chair; my arms and legs strapped tightly, by leather bands, to the cold, hard metal seat. I sat rooted in that chair for hours. I pissed myself.

They yelled at me, again and again, demanding that I confess to my crime, but I didn’t know what crime they meant. I’d been an English teacher at the local school. I’d only taught from the books they gave me. I’m a devout Buddhist. I don’t believe in harming others. I’ve never stolen. I’ve never committed an illegal act.

I repeated, over and over, that I’d committed no crimes. That didn’t satisfy them.

I remember the room… The interrogation room… It was dark and freezing. It stank. It’d stunk so thickly of urine, already, when I’d been led in there. The atrocious smell was the first thing I noticed when I entered the room, blindfolded, my hands roped behind my back. I was revolted by the intensity, the heavy punch of the stench. It reeked worse than any toilet or outhouse or manure pit… It made me woozy…

They’d untied my blindfold, but I couldn’t see their faces. All I could see were their helmets. The helmets were pill blue and shaped like turtle shells. I still couldn’t quite see their faces when they approached me, either. It was as if they had no faces. There was only a ball of darkness where a face should have been. There was only a black bubble, a void between their uniformed bodies and turtle helmets. It was as if the turtle helmets were hovering in the air above, like flying saucers.

I believe that I pressed my eyes shut when they approached because I didn’t want to see them. I wouldn’t see them. I would control that, if nothing else. But I couldn’t stop hearing. I couldn’t stop hearing the cries, accusations of sedition. Sedition? That’s what it was about, I pieced together. And I denied that, strongly. I professed my patriotism to the Communist Party. I professed my love for my country.

“What is YOUR country?!” one shouted, before dashing over and whacking me, hard, on the shoulder, with a truncheon.

“China!” I cried, “China!”

“China?!” he bellowed back, before striking my sides and shoulders several times, sending shockwaves of crunching pain searing through me.

There’s only so much a person can endure, and eventually the anguish reached its crescendo. My nerves became blunted, and I numbed up, and thank Buddha, the last couple strikes I felt only the sickening jolt of their sticks whipping my numb body. But at least the pain… the pain slept… Then I figured out what I’d said wrong…

“The People’s Republic of China!” I cried out, and then began to sing the national anthem, “March of the Volunteers.” I’d memorized it by heart, after hearing it, every day for years, blasting from the loudspeakers installed around my village.

Once I started singing the anthem, the men relented striking me.

So I sang louder, and louder, my voice straining, hot-salt tears involuntarily streaking down my cheeks, I sang, “Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves! With our flesh and blood, let us build a new Great Wall! As China faces her greatest peril, from each one the urgent call to action comes forth. Arise! Arise! Arise! Millions of but one heart! Braving the enemies’ fire! March on! Braving the enemies’ fire! March on! March on! March, MARCH ON!”

I’d had a cousin who’d been interrogated, beaten, and he’d spontaneously burst into the song, thinking it might make his captors let up their assault. And it worked. Fortunately, it worked for me too.

But again, they demanded I confess to my crimes. I knew my options were limited, that I would probably have to confess.

After they’d struck my back, the blows must have damaged my lungs because it hurt to breathe. Between choking gasps of breath, I requested they present me my crimes, in writing, and that I’d sign a confession.

I supposed that as long as I wasn’t being framed for a murder and wasn’t facing the death penalty or life sentence, I might confess, depending on the charges. Once the Chinese arrest you, whatever they arrested you for, you did, whether you really did it or not. I’d learned from others’ experiences that the only way out is to confess, that way you’ll receive a lesser sentence.

A murder or other heinous crime that carried too long a sentence I wouldn’t confess to, since either way, I’d be dead. A death penalty would be better, anyhow, than a life in the Chinese labor camps. I’ve heard of life there, waking up at sunrise, picking cotton all day, digging holes, doing hard labor, or toiling with backbreaking factory work. Being beaten, kept in a small dog cage if you didn’t meet quotas. The prison labor camps in China are hell on Earth. I’d rather they just shoot me in the head…

A piece of trash