[Editor’s Note: Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra (CATS) and Sierra Friends of Tibet present Nawang (Sonam) Anja-Tsang at the U.S. premiere of his film “Little Tibet 2.”]
It’s Tibet time in Nevada City again, where there’s a deep well of interest in the people, the place, the issues. This time around, a Tibetan comes to town with a film he made. Like so many Tibetan souls, Sonam lives exiled from his homeland.
In “Little Tibet 2,” Sonam takes us on his arduous journey through Nepal to the border of Tibet, a secret border. Indeed, he must travel undercover through Nepal as an Indian tourist.
By bus, jeep, horse, and trudging footsteps, he starts in teeming Kathmandu (population, 2.5 million) and ends in Upper Mustang (population of the region, 15,000). Trekking to about 14,000 feet, he deepens his connection with the memory of his father and others who fought China’s continuing onslaught into the 1960s.
Intentionally, Sonam treads lightly on politics and conflict. He chooses to make his film more like a travelogue, though not like some breezy, Rick Steves entitlement. He chooses to make his film more like a Western Buddhist sensibility, drinking from the heart of the real Buddhist deal.
He injects examples of Buddhist aphorisms such as “Everything gets easier when you get used to it” but adds that after riding on a horse for seven days … not really. He says, “There are ten things I could complain about, but if I don’t, everything is all right,” but he also relates that you have to multiply any predicted travel time by three.
Sonam converses with people respectfully, lighthearted, diffusing any nervousness that filming might cause. Sonam, who admits “I don’t know much [about] prayers, and I don’t have a clue of meditation,” asks a yogi how close the revered man is to enlightenment after 40 years of Buddhist practice.
Sonam chats with nomads in their yak-hair tent. Some might say they are rich because of their animals, but their herding is a subsistence lifestyle, and family members leave for greater opportunity in the cities. These quintessential Tibetans (in a forbidden kingdom that is now part of Nepal) think that educated people are not particularly tough but for educated people, life is less tough.
As remote as this part of the world is, the sweeping landscape is planted with a dilemma. Better roads and policies would bring more tourists. The economics of tourism can make local life less tough; more touched; less notably a sustained remote culture; more supported in a hope for a free Tibet.
Sonam does not characterize what Westerners may see as a dichotomy. “Little Tibet 2” doesn’t emphasize any agenda beyond raising awareness about things Tibetan, but a cross pollination of images is nonetheless on screen.
Should it seem odd that a school has a satellite dish and little kids recite the English alphabet? Why shouldn’t the local festival include a soccer tournament alongside traditional archery competition? Should an Italian curator engage local women in restoring age old paintings of a temple that must be de-consecrated to get around restrictive rules about women? Why shouldn’t foreigners visit the culturally Tibetan outposts of Nepal since Mount Everest is so cluttered these days? Should remote people want and have things that modern people want and have?
Sonam is a Tibetan name that means fortunate one or meritorious one. Following the 7pm showing, Sunday, June 8, at the Nevada Theatre, you can ask him in person about his good fortune and how much he appreciates Americans, especially Californians, for the attention and support he has received.