Sky Train : Tibetan women on the edge of history by Canyon Sam

sky train book

Author Canyon Sam is a third generation Chinese American who looks at the Theatre performances and contemporary issues through the lens of Buddhist practice.

She has travelled to Tibet, worked in Dharamsala and despite her Chinese heritage worked as a grassroots activist for Tibetan freedom in the eighties and nineties,

Her approach is feminist and this book, again an unexpected discovery for me, looks at the role of Tibetan women in four decades of unrest and change.

We hear of torture, midnight knocks by Chinese soldiers, of escape, of losing loved ones,living in exile, imprisonment. This is backed by the unswerving belief that one day things will go back to normal.

But the’ normal’ is the ‘new normal’ with a leader and government in exile and the Chinese in power

Four oral histories documented over twenty years give us interesting perspectives on the lives of women who were left behind when the men left for India as part of a mass exodus to escape Chinese persecution in the fifties.

Through the stories of an activist, an educationist, a child bride and a prison camp survivor we hear of a a Tibet that once was.

But the view is not romanticized. It also takes an objective view of the issues in Tibet -medieval practices, superstition and unequal social hierarchies that kept it isolated and out of touch with the changing world.

The shock- loss of a Traditional Tibetan way of life, the psychological impact of having a spiritual and political leader in exile and the ghettoization in to the old quarter in Lhasa is poignantly exposed.

Canyon Sam stayed in Lhasa in the eighties and went back twenty years later by the famous Sky train- the Chinese super fast train that brought progress, change and a ‘modern’ life that devastated the old and traditional.

She sees the changes,the urbanization and the slow death of an old civilization.

It makes one think about progress and change, about religion and politics,aggression and passive resistance. The role of women usually unsung and unspoken is documented with great detail.

A foreword by the Dalai Lama sets a perspective for readers .

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