Person Travel

The Dalai Lama visits Ann Arbor

Tenzin Gyatso, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and the 14th Dalai Lama delivered the annual Peter M. Wege Lecture on Sustainability at the Crisler Arena last Saturday. This was his second trip to Ann Arbor, the last one was in 1994.

I was woken by a phone call from Akash, informing me that he had an extra ticket to the Dalai Lama show, and wanted to know if I was interested in coming. I jumped at the offer, it is always fun to see famous people. Given that these tickets were extremely rare and were selling at absurd amounts of money on Craigslist; I’m not sure if I should be grateful to Akash or rebuke him for his choice of ticket recipient.

Walking to the Crisler Arena was fun; throngs of people dressed in their hippiest — for some reason Bob Marley t-shirts, flowing handloom skirt and jute sandals were appropriate fashion decisions for a lot of people that day. It reminded me of the Harry Potter book releases; I saw a middle aged woman with short white hair walk by me wearing the maroon and orange monk clothing that the Dalai Lama always wears. I find it quite amusing how rastafarianism, sprituality, liberalism and fantasy are seem to occupy the same space in the brain of some people, entwined into a singular non-conformist happy-thought.

In stark contrast to this crowd were the slowly growing crowds of the Chinese protesters, conspicuously dressed in “Keep Olympics 2008 out of politics” t-shirts. Considering the huge furore over Tibetan and human rights protesters sabotaging almost every Olympic Torch rally, I had expected this. Many of them had tickets and made a concerted effort to be as visible as possible during the event, the rest were outside holding signs that said STOP LYING, driving around the arena with the Chinese flag flown as a mark of solidarity. The message was clear — as a friend’s Facebook status read, “Tibet was, is and always will be a part of Mainland China”.

The arena was packed; and the event started with a group of flautists playing random “spiritual sounding” tunes; which was nice, except that if I recall correctly, one of their tracks was the background score of some Indian-esque movie I can’t put my finger on, while another was a film song depicting a rather pubescent Sunil Shetty crooning over the delicious Shilpa Shetty. But hey, whatever gets you in the mood.

We then had some words by the head of the host-department and the President of the University Mary Sue Coleman, who then invited the Dalai Lama to talk.

So, what did I think of the speech? A lot of people asked me if this was a life-changing experience for me and whether I was moved by the greatness of the man and his words. To be honest, what really impressed me was not His Holiness’s words; but, wrong or right, the solidarity shown by the Chinese people to defend their country’s image against the Free Tibet media machine.

For those interested in watching the speech, here’s the video of the event:

image credits: IShutterTothink, alexander, heathzib and MLive.

update: Old friend Anita has some interesting commentary from the other side of the planet.