The Other Shore
In the early '80s, I was working as a textile designer for the American firm Jim Thompson Thai Silks in Bangkok. I was paid very well, but my very talented Thai co-workers were not, nor were they otherwise treated fairly. Unethical practices — not atypical in the overseas corporate world — lead to my quitting the job.
Back Story: The Dream
When I was 14, I had an indelibly lucid and memorable dream. There was a large rectangular indoor room held up by massive white marble columns. In it was a swimming pool that took up most of the space. The water was sunset or sunrise orange. Around the pool were men in burgundy colored robes, attentively observing me. They were monks. I was swimming in the pool, and somehow I knew that I was there to succeed or not succeed in a challenge. I succeeded.
Second Back Story: Not a Dream
Living in hot south India, not feeling too well, I decided to go to the much cooler Kulu Valley in north India to get better.
I met many Tibetans who had walked over the Himalayas to escape Chinese persecution. Many were gravely ill, but always managed a smile. They all treated me as if I were their brother, even though I could not speak more than two words of their language. Although they had nearly nothing, they always shared their tea with me.
I knew that the Dalai Lama’s residence was not too far from where I was staying. Sitting on a boulder overlooking the river valley, I wrote him a letter. In it I expressed my great appreciation for his people, and how I felt a deep kinship with them. For some reason I put my birthday along with my return address on the envelope.
A few days later, I received an invitation to visit His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. When I sat and conversed with him, it felt familiar, not at all the way one feels meeting someone for the first time. He informed me that we shared a birthday.
The dream, the time in Kulu Valley and my conversations with the Dalai Lama immeasurably enriched this person’s brief journey on this small planet.
Onward Towards Tibet
I arrived at the airport in Chengdu, capital of Szechuan Province in China, and asked to purchase a round-trip ticket to Lhasa. I was told that no tickets were available. I returned to the airport for three consecutive days and was finally able to purchase a much more expensive first-class ticket.
I had no knowledge of Tibet, no reservations, no notion of where to go or how long I would be there or really even why I was going.
My experience there was transformative, and in ways that transcend description in words. Music or image would come closer in expressing what occurred in that mostly silent time.
I eventually flew back to Chengdu and was stopped by the Chinese authorities. After grilling me for two days, they decided to prevent me from purchasing any sort of ticket on any sort of conveyance out of China until they were good and ready to do so. They had found and confiscated an Illegal photo of the Dalai Lama among my possessions.
I had already learned to meditate, so I meditated and reached some degree of equanimity while awaiting my fate. I returned to the foreign office and once again requested permission to leave. And then I sort of lied: I told them that my father had died and that I had to go home.
I got a ticket on the next flight to Hong Kong.
My father had died — about 20 years before the incident.
I still mediate. I am still involved with Friends of Tibet. I still remember the orange water in the pool and the smiles on the faces of the dream monks.
I tend to smile a lot.
I am not permitted to return to Tibet or, indeed, any other part of China.