Thursday, June 15, 2006
Updating more frequently from now on?
June 14, 2006 - 10:18 IND
If I have anything to say about it, this is going to be a busy day. There are a couple of people I'll be hanging out with so I can get to know them better - really nice people I've met over the past week or so who probably have important things to say about 'being Tibetan' or 'traditional Tibetan' dance or Tibet's future. One of them is a guy I met a few days ago in front of a clothing/curio shop where I hang out often (we know the guy who works at the desk there). This guy introduced himself in English that was just beautiful and then told me he'd received his masters in economics from a university about four hours out of Mumbai (formerly Bombay). We went up into his office and he helped back-translated a consent form I have to use for the university's ethical interests, and he was awfully friendly. A couple days later I ran by with some Indian-versions-of-muffins (not muffins like I know them, but tasty!) to say thanks. Today I think I'll just spend some time chatting with him.
Right now, at 11, I'm going to my daily one-hour English lesson with a woman who works at a Japanese restaurant here. She's quite friendly but (understandably) finds English to be quite difficult. I don't blame her; learning about their syntax I can see why she says "English is backwards". I happen to think the same thing, from my frame of reference, about Tibetan! But we get along well enough; I'm trying to give her some - what's it called? - comprehensible input (good old i + 1, for all you second-language teachers out there) in the hopes that she'll be open enough to pick up on some things during our few weeks of conversation.
She's also been a source of some information I'm just not sure I would find anywhere else. It's kind of like I remember Seinfeld doing - never talking about the same thing, and trying to extend the list of things you can talk about. What that means is that we're both (I think) trying to find meaningful topics to discuss given her limited vocabulary, and that that's making us cover a large variety of subjects. Each day, it seems, goes into a new subject (though many revolved around Tibet and Buddhism), and where I feel so inclined I ask further questions that might be useful in my research. I don't think this is unethical: I don't try to turn the conversation in any certain direction 'so that' it fits my research, and I didn't start doing the conversation lessons as a way of doing research. It was just a way to help out. And it's just happened to be beneficial for both of us, on a lot of levels. (I also don't ignore the fact that spending an hour every day doing these conversations, while not totally altruistic, helps me stop thinking that my research and my life are the only important things going on here. I get to forget about myself a little bit while I'm there.)
Another place I need to go is this café run by the rock band I want to interview, together with their mother. (All the band members are brothers.) One of the guys in the band knows our friend Sonam, and I introduced myself to him the other day. He seemed more than open to talking with me, but before I do anything with them and video I hope they'll be comfortable with me. That's what today's about, really: building relationships with the people around me and understanding them more deeply.
If you're wondering why I'm not using a lot of names, I don't feel comfortable doing so when most of the people I'm talking about here are political refugees, often with many family members and friends back inside Tibet. The last thing I want to do is endanger them or their loved ones through thoughtless use of their names in such a public venue as the Internet. Now ask me if that's a problem for filming their faces and showing them to audiences...
June 16, 2006 - 07:35 IND
The things I wrote so optimistically in that entry two days ago just plain didn't happen like I'd hoped. I mean, I had my English conversation with the woman who works at the restaurant (the TV was on this time, and she gave me a synopsis of the storyline - it was kind of like a Tibetan Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, with the daughter falling in love with a doctor from some African country) and I did in fact stop by the other two places to talk to my masters-in-econ friends and the rock and roll band. But neither went like I'd hoped.
My meeting with the guy with the masters degree was at his workplace, and I couldn't tell if he was annoyed with having to deal with such a pestering American, or whether what I was sensing was just some tension because he was trying to negotiate a relationship with another human being with his work responsibilities (and thus a relationship with his boss). I'll hope it was the latter; he didn't seem too put out to schedule a time for us to meet this Sunday, when he's off work. Usually Sundays are kind of off limits as far as doing field work goes because I try to maintain a posture of worship on the Sabbath, even while I'm here, but this seems like it's all right. First, I'm sitting down to get to know an individual a little more deeply. Second, he's a peaceful enough guy to where I probably won't feel like I'm in party mode during our visit. Deep down, I kind of hope I can also use this time together to ask him about the possibility of his translating an interview for me sometime, but if it doesn't happen right away I'll be all right with that. Anyway, the reason I didn't feel like it had gone really well with him was that tension I mentioned above. But talking about it now, I think maybe everything was a lot better than I imagined coming out of our conversation.
The result of my time with the rock band was unequivocably worse, however. I went into the café they run and had a late lunch with Ben and Elizabeth at about 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon (my breakfast that morning had consisted of two huge pieces of Tibetan brown bread w/ butter and cheese, plus half an omelette on each to make a sandwich - two sandwiches!). The 'Potato Home Fried' was very good, and afterwards I went up to pay. It was the band's drummer, a long-haired Tibetan twenty-something in decidedly Western clothes with whom I'd spoken before, who stood behind the counter. A really nice guy. I paid (and bought one of their peanut-butter cookies to boot) and then just before leaving asked the guy if I could come back and get to know the brothers in the band sometime that would be best for them. Were they awake in the mornings, maybe, when the café might be less busy? He smiled and shook his head - I figured he meant they would be in bed, hung over or something. But then he shook his head again. Something bad was coming. "No man, the band, we're on a break right now, not really doing anything. So, no filming. No documentary, man." I gave him a smile and a friendly "Naw, that's okay!" and walked out the door and took a few steps before it really hit me what this meant. This meant the piece I'd put so much credence and excitement into just plain wasn't going to happen. I'd planned on looking at Tibetan traditional performing arts versus Tibetan rock music, but at this point it sounded like it just wasn't going to happen. Where was I going to get another idea, though, that would be as exciting? Or even viewable by a general audience? The whole thing really threw me for a loop.
So that was two days ago. Yesterday I woke up still in sort of the same mental state but still left in time to head down to do my daily hour of English conversation. On my way down to her small apartment I was thinking about the whole situation and just decided I needed to start filming, and that to avoid the ethical and artistic issues in blurring some people but not others, I would just blur everyone and everything. Every shot would be blurred. And when people say, "Man, that was really frustrating to watch!" I'll say, "Imagine how frustrating it was to shoot!" So waiting on the gravel-covered street in front of the woman's house, I got my camera out and just started getting shots of all the flyers and bills posted on walls and telephone poles: Tibetan cooking, yoga classes, meditation and cafés were all advertised there. These people really knew their audience.
While I was filming a couple of Tibetan cooking flyers a young Tibetan man came up behind me and looked at my LCD screen. "You can't even see the letters," he protested. I turned and saw he was with an older gentlemen, and that both were smiling. I explained to him a little bit about the ethical problems in filming refugees and what my solution was, and he seemed to think that was pretty cool. I noticed he was wearing a German national soccer jersey. We introduced ourselves, and he introduced the other man as his uncle, and then I just decided to ask if I could meet with him later that afternoon to do an interview. He said that was fine, and at 2:00 that afternoon I was at his house having my first consent form signed and doing my first taped interview. I felt like maybe he was giving some of the answers he thought I wanted to hear, but it was good nonetheless.
I need to start asking about people's views about what should be done with Tibet. That could get them speaking their own minds instead of a canned answer that they've heard other Westerners publishing in print and film. Apparently there's a lot of controversy and division in that question, and I wonder if any of the side-taking regarding autonomy and independence corresponds to other factors - why some people agree with the Dalai Lama in his 'middle path' approach and why some don't.
Well, in any case it's time to start my day with breakfast and some scripture studying, so I'm out of here. I think maybe I'm back on my feet - even if I don't know where I'm going with all of this.
I'll probably post this pretty soon - like this morning - and keep you better updated in the future. I'll try to post more regularly.
A quick shoutout to my friend Evan, who has emailed me saying he enjoys the blog. Thanks. Just so everyone knows, this is also my journal. Yes, you're actually seeing pretty much everything I type so I can either (A) remember for myself, (2) think through my problems, or (D) show off to friends. (That last one is the least honorable I think...) I type it up on my cheap laptop and save it under file names like "ElectronicJournal6" (which was this one) and throw it on my USB drive to bring to Internet cafés so I don't have to spend a fortune just to type.
I just spent probably an hour or so doing some observations in a café I go to for breakfast a lot, so I might throw those expanded fieldnotes up on the blog like I did with my temple notes last time.
Oh, and still no photos. Sorry everybody. I'll get to it eventually - just so busy with research and school stuff!