"Missing the cold? Nostalgic about snow? Have we got a country for you!"
By MIKE BOONE
Montreal's 20th annual Tibetan bazaar begins this afternoon and continues through tomorrow, but Tibetans' celebration of their culture has been running 24/7 for 50 years.
That's how long it's been since China invaded Tibet. The incursion caused a diaspora that sent thousands of political refugees into exile, literally walking from Tibet to India and Nepal and, subsequently, travelling as far from home as Longueuil, where most of Quebec's 135 Tibetans reside.
I met three of them this week at the Shambala restaurant on St. Denis St. Over cups of a delicious buttery concoction that was sort of a Tibetan latté (I had feared tea), Dicki Chhoyang, Gyurme Dorje and Phurbu Risnewa talked about an ethnic community that's been in Quebec since 1971 - because of the humanitarian concerns of one enlightened diplomat.
Jim George was Canada's ambassador to India. He was interested in Buddhism and had an audience with the Dalai Lama.
"His holiness asked if Canada might welcome some refugees," Chhoyang said, "because it was very difficult for Tibetans to make the transition from the high Himalayan plateau to the tropical climate in India. There was a lot of illness and difficulty in adaptation."
Missing the cold? Nostalgic about snow? Have we got a country for you!
"The transition to Canada was hardly an ordeal after what they'd been through escaping Tibet," Chhoyang said.
Tibetans who first came to Quebec lived in St. Hyacinthe, Granby, Farnham and Drummondville. Over the years, they've gravitated toward Longueuil, where, Chhoyang joked, "You can narrow it down to the street where most of us live."
"We like to live close to each other," Dorje added.
Wherever they are in the world, Tibetans strive to keep their identity alive. There are cultural associations wherever there are emigrés.
"It's difficult with young children," Dorje said. "They like to watch TV all the time. But still we try to teach them our culture."
And history. Chhoyang said Tibetans are "an extremely politically aware community."
That awareness is passed on at an early age. Children are participants in Free Tibet rallies.
"We joke that children are born between demonstrations," she added. "As soon as you can walk, you go. Politics is intrinsic to our community."
Most Tibetan homes have prayer rooms, and Buddhist values are incorporated in Tibetans' daily lives. Many households are multigenerational. Children are not allowed to forget who they are and where their parents and grandparents came from.
Santa Cruz Church, at the corner of St. Urbain and Rachel Sts., will be home to a far-from-home celebration. There will be Tibetan music and dance, Tibetan food,
Tibetan clothing and jewellery, Tibetan Buddhist literature and, at one time or another, most of those 135 Tibetans.
"This will be the largest bazaar we've ever had," said Dermod Travis, "with 20 vendors from Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. There'll be a number of NGOs: Amnesty International, the Tibetan Cultural Organization."
Travis is not Tibetan. He uses the first person plural because he's with the Canada-Tibet Committee, which educates the public and lobbies the federal government to press China on its human rights abuses and oppressive policies in Tibet.
The 20th annual Tibetan bazaar begins at 4 p.m. today and runs through tomorrow in the Santa Cruz Church hall, 60 Rachel St. W. Admission is $5, or $3 for seniors and students.