Monday, June 19, 2006
More updates from Dharamsala
June 16, 2006 - 09:05 IND
Here it is Saturday, and for the first time since I arrived in India it feels like a weekend. Maybe it's that I'm getting into a routine here, doing one-hour conversations Monday through Friday with my friend at the restaurant and getting used to the incomings and outgoings of the rich Punjabi tourists as they have their breaks from their own workweeks. Or maybe it's the way this morning's panning out, cold and cloudy in the pine trees of these Himalayan foothills. It's the kind of weather that breeds a lazy day.
In any case, I'm taking advantage of this morning (and of the water heater in the girls' bathroom) to do some laundry and to warm up my cold feet with a hot bucket shower. The clothes are soaking a little in the bucket next to me now while I type at a table we've just put into our room. Someone brought the table to our guesthouse yesterday, and one of the guys who takes care of the place, Surindr, offered it to us for our room. We put it in the corner of the room by my side of the bed and set up all my things with it - computer and my contacts and toothbrush on top, clean and dirty clothes all rolled up on a little shelf below the tabletop, and a folded-up wool blanket on the floor below so my bare feet don't get too cold while I sit and work. To the left of the table I stow my camera (which is beautiful) all set up on a tripod while it waits to be taken out for shooting the next day, along the packpack that carries my rainjacket, boom pole, and consent forms. From this corner I can sit and study in the mornings: as I take a seat in my chair here the windows are to my back instead of in front of me, and the light from the windows shines on my book instead of my face when I sit down to read. It's made all the difference.
Speaking of Surindr, this week we've really seen a good relationship develop between him and us. I give Ben the credit; since their long conversation about work and school the other night I've sensed that he knows we're really interested in him as a person. He feels comfortable stopping in at night or just stopping to say hi through our window. He makes jokes with us about how much we work, and the other night when I went down to watch the end of the England-Trinidad and Tobago match he was there too. He knows we're interested in football (soccer - 'football' and 'match' have just become habitual phrases for me now) and gives us results each morning. More importantly, I think he feels comfortable coming to us with his frustrations at work and in life, and I'm glad we can be here to hear him out.
Ben's playing some music on his computer. She said the man in the Gaberdeen suit was a spy... Meanwhile, I realize I don't know how to spell Gaberdeen.
Yesterday I went back again to watch the dancers from a certain village in Kham (a region of Tibet) prepare for the Karmapa's birthday celebration. I don't know what village they've all come from, but they get together every day to rehearse for the Karmapa Lama's upcoming birthday celebration. Since I've been going every day for a week now, I think they're getting pretty comfortable with my being there. I've learned the melody to the song they sing as they dance, and one day I even jumped into the circle of dancers and tried to follow along. I think they appreciated all of that. So yesterday I pulled out the camera, and Ben grabbed the boom and ran the microphone for a while. They were nervous at first, but eventually I started to sense that they were accepting my presence there - especially when the dance leader, a hard-looking man who wears traditional clothing and a couple of turquoise jewels in his ears, approached me behind my camera and looked at the image in my LCD. I decided to just allow for a timecode break, rewind the tape a bit, and show him what I'd been shooting, and when he saw himself on the screen he got a big smile on his face. I hadn't seen him show any real signs of smiling at all up until then, and I felt like this might have been a big step in building trust with the group.
You should know that I've decided the best way to maintain the safety of those I video and of their families and friends still in Tibet, and still keep some kind of artistic unity throughout the whole piece, is to simply blur every shot I take. I think I've said that already in my last entry. And I think that's actually going to prove to my benefit as I go shooting. The fact that the man in traditional clothing, the dance leader, saw that he was unidentifiable to the viewer likely made it much easier for him to accept the fact that he was on tape. And that fact - the fact that he can trust me to not reveal who he is - allows him to share that trust in me with others. What I mean is, it helps ease some of the doubts or fears that Tibetan refugees would have appearing on tape and makes my job of shooting and interviewing that much easier. I only have 3 1/2 weeks left here on site, so I hope those relationships can grow, both in number and in strength, within that time.
Some things I think I'll need to do soon: try to set up interviews with some educated and influencial folks who can tell me more about Tibetan regionalisms and other divisions that might exist between Tibetans, especially differing opinions they have about policy regarding Tibet's political position relative to China. I'll also be heading up to TIPA - Tibetan Institute for the Performing Arts (?) - to see what they think about my filming preparations for the Dalai Lama's birthday and interviewing some of the students there. I'll have to take a tape that shows blurred footage so they know that I'll be shooting everything like that. Otherwise I too, like everyone else, might have to obey the signs at TIPA's gates that read 'Cameras strictly prohibited'.
I've now done some laundry, taken breakfast, and showered from a bucket of hot water. That last one felt goooood, believe me. My clothes are up on the roof hanging from a communal clothesline, but since it's so cool and humid out I doubt they'll be ready to wear any time soon. Today I'm going to talk to my friend at the travel agency to see about meeting for a more extended period of time tomorrow afternoon. Though it's Sunday, I feel okay about meeting with a friend and just shooting the breeze - even if some of the byproducts of that meeting are directly related to my research.
I've just had a realization, while taking a moment to open H. Russell Bernard's Research Methods in Anthropolgy, a book I've come to really enjoy. Before I left Provo and got to 'the field', I imagined myself looking forward to coming home each night to report about what I'd learned or observed. What I'm talking about here is field notes. For some reason - well, maybe because it's just something I've tended to do all through school - what I expected to be an enjoyable endeavor in learning has often turned into drudgery. I'm not sure what the reason is for this constant fight to keep my ideals alive, but I need to find a way to rejuvinate them.
Ben's just come home with momos, little vegetable-filled Tibetan dumplings, and I'm chomping down on one of them right now. (Like I've said before, Ben's always helping out everybody else.) I guess this kind of thing might help rejuvinate me in my efforts to enjoy this because man-oh-man do these taste good...
June 19, 2006 08:30 IND
Happy Father's Day, Dad. (Sorry it's late. I was thinking about you yesterday though!) (Mom, I'm well aware that your birthday's coming up.)
Last night I had a conversation with my friends from BYU - there are four of us here in McLeod Ganj - about our upcoming world religions tour of India and how I'm really not looking forward to it. A lot of my frustration stems from the fact that I'm here to do my research and to do the video documentary piece on Tibetan refugees, and everybody heard me out and that was good - in fact, we share some of the same frustrations. But this morning I had a thought. As I'm getting on that plane in Chennai headed for Mumbai, or as I'm boarding in Mumbai for Frankfurt and eventually Los Angeles, how am I going to feel? Will I be looking back, or forward? And if I am looking back, how do I want to see my time here? As seven weeks of utility and a wasted rest-of-the-summer? It's pretty obvious to me that that won't do me any good. So I might as well embrace this tour of India - which, I have to say, I've been able to do on several occasions while preparing for and being on this trip, though that's been inconsistent. I'm just going to have to get out and shoot everything I can and set up all the interviews I can in these next two or three weeks and let that be enough and work with it in the editing room later.
I think a lot of my frustration comes from things here not matching up to my ideals, and from my unwillingness to detach myself from those ideals. And it seems like that's a problem. First of all, why should I expect all my ideals to become realities? And second, why am I so attached to these ideals, as if they were actually important just because they're mine? After all, maybe my ideals aren't actually for the best - the long-term best - anyway.
Better I think to just go with the flow a little bit more and relax.
Here's a bit from a letter I'm sending to my family. I thought it was of general interest, too.
"Actually, I'm glad we did go to the pool in Bhagsu because it's what happened as we left it that was really great. On our way up some stairs toward the Hindu temple, I saw a Western guy, kind of middle-aged, with bushy hair and a video camera. He was standing on a small platform overlooking the pool and filming all the folks swimming and playing around, and there was a Western kid, around 20 years old or so, standing right behind him with a backpack. I thought maybe the kid was an assistant or something - but he looked like he could have been a son. Anyway, we walked past them and I realized they were using the same model of camera I had brought to India, a Panasonic AG-DVX100B. On top of that, he had some model of Nikon digital SLR with a big ol' fatty zoom lens on it. (I didn't get good enough of a look to tell what model of still camera it was.) We stepped away from the pool complex and rounded a corner, where we could see beautiful Bhagsu falls, but we didn't go any farther because it was just full of people. So we turned around and walked back between the pool and the temple up towards the main road.
"I realized suddenly that the two Western guys were ahead of us on the road, and that we were catching up. I kept our pace and soon we were coming up right behind the kid with the backpack, who was trailing the man with the camera. I happened to glance at the kid's back, and right there, between the kid's backpack straps, was the word UTAH, in all caps. No way, I thought. No way.
"I didn't even say hi - just blurted out (probably too loudly) "Are you from Utah?!" They turned around, kind of taken aback, and replied that yes, they were. Whereabouts? Salt Lake City. I couldn't believe it. I told them I was at BYU, and we had a great conversation about what we were all doing there. Turns out they are in fact a father-son team and that the father's wife works for the Salt Lake Tribune. She, from what I understood, was unable to go on this assignment, but these two guys had been visiting Tibet and were writing some pieces on Tibetans for the paper, as well as doing a vidcast in a couple weeks - thus the camcorder. (Incidentally, they told me it had been the son's dream since childhood to visit Lhasa, and that this was sort of a present too since he'd just graduated from high school and was starting at the University of Utah this fall. Cool present - even if he had to work during the trip.) They seemed to like the idea of my project as I explained it to them, and I told them a little bit about BYU's International Studies Program here. I figured they were busy and wanted to get back to the peace of my guesthouse back McLeod Ganj myself, so I let them go, but they said I could send them an email - which I might do soon, while they're still here in town - and check out the Tribune's website in the next couple of weeks to look for the stories and the vidcast. I can't wait to see what they'll turn out."
That was kind of a cool experience. I'll have to email them; I'm really curious about their work, and I think they're a little curious about mine.