As I sit here pontificating on the world’s injustices, I must, for a minute, shove my foot not so gently into my mouth. After months of spewing vilification at the Chinese government (well, through the electric waves of the virtual world), I seem to have turned my back on my once beloved Tibetan community. Much like that Nacho Cheese Dorito which I know is so bad for me, I just keep taking more handfuls of chips and shoving them in my mouth.
It all started two years ago when, after spending much of my young adult life as a Tibetan sympathizer, I finally decided to venture off to India to work with the exiled Tibetan community. Perhaps why I found it so hard to subsequently book my ticket to a pre-Olympic Beijing. “It’s fine,” I told myself, as I wandered through the maze of walls in the Forbidden Palace. “No problem,” I said, upon holding a Chinese baby in a buttless onesie in my arms for that lucky photograph. “Just this once,” I cowered, as I shoved an Olympic Games pin into my purse at a memorabilia shop.
I felt that my duty as a world citizen and global traveler gave me permission to travel to a country I once so despised. Just two years ago, I signed a banner protesting its role as host of the Olympic Games. It wasn’t a thoughtless pursuit. I knew that by penning my name onto that strip of cotton that I was dedicating myself to two weeks in August of no NBC, no sports, no action. And I was fully prepared to do it after what I’d seen and heard from the unending hardships of the Tibetan exiles I had met living in India. But, even though I was supporting China’s tourism industry, I justified it with the fact that I was broadening my horizons and discovering the true meaning of China… and not the distorted, corrupted view in my head.
And of course, visiting Beijing was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. An entire blog wouldn’t do it justice. Although I wasn’t ready to make kissy faces at the government, I was willing to give it a chance. But just one.
When I came home, Olympic pin shoved far back into the depths of a desk drawer, I looked on at my white Tibetan prayer scarf with pride. I could have my cake and eat it too.
I was fine until I landed in France, six months ago, shortly before the protests began in Tibet against China’s involvement in the Olympic Games. From my tiny bedroom in Perigueux, I sobbed like a small child, wondering if any of the Tibetan protesters were people I knew. I watched as Tenzin Tsundue, a man I had interviewed in Minneapolis months before, got thrown in jail with his predictable red scarf tied around his forehead in protest. Horrified, I paced my bedroom in anger, trying to come up with a battle plan – against China. There had to be something I could do – and it wasn’t in reporting on the local Tibetan community, because there wasn’t one. I thought about asking my mom to send my Olympic pin back to China with a nasty letter attached – or at least to throw it in the garbage in spite.
And so, like any normal American Tibet sympathizer working in France as a journalist would do, I decided to write an angry email to the Chinese government.
“Shame on you, China. Shame on you,” I spouted in the final phrase of the message. For paragraphs, I launched into a vicious verbal attack as to why China should not be allowed to host the Olympics, an event that prides itself on global and cultural unity, and that I would not watch the Games in protest. “Although I am a big fan of the Olympics,” I wrote, “this year, I will not watch.”
I was doing fine until the gymnastics rolled around a few days ago. As a competitor for over 15 years, the desire was just too much to bear. I looked online for results a few times, assuring myself that this time would be my last. But with every tiny bit of information I received, I was even more hooked. And watching all-day CNN coverage – my only English channel – wasn’t helping. By the second week, I found myself guiltily setting my alarm for 5 a.m. so that I could watch the women’s all-around finals, an event I had paid nearly 200 dollars to watch in the flesh exactly four years ago in Athens.
So there I sat, the world’s biggest hyprocrite, peering through weary eyes as the Chinese started the rotation off on the vault. Did it count, I wondered, if my eyes were only half open? I was almost relieved, ten minutes later, when the shoddy French coverage moved from the gymnastics to two continuous hours of fencing. Then, I thought, I had been set free from my guilt.
Yet, somehow, as dawn approached casting a hazy orange glow through my bedroom window, there I was on nbc.com watching the results pop up onto the screen in real-time, so obsessed that I was willing to forsake sleep, sanity and my own morals just to get a little slice of my favourite sport.
I will justify my choice in saying that I once dreamed of being an Olympian myself. I remember sitting on the porch at our cabin up north, tracking out the “Olympic plan” with my dad. We even busted out a notebook and made a timeline. If I could accomplish A before such-and-such time, I would be well on my way to becoming the next Mary Lou Retton.
Well, we all know how that story turned out. Fortunately, I’ve still got my wit and good looks. Or at least one of the two. Because I certainly don’t have an ounce of Olympic potential and clearly, only traces of integrity or morals. But don’t worry – it’s something that I’m working on. Luckily for me, I haven’t been able to watch any of the Olympics because of the time difference. And I don’t count it when results pop up in a newscast.
Despite my personal distaste of the Chinese government and unwavering dedication to the Tibetan cause, I can safely say that my avoidance of the Olympic Games has been largely circumstantial and has nothing to do with my original intentions of protesting it – on two accounts. The verdict is out on whether or not I’ll ever forgive myself for this rather major personal whoopsey-daisy. But like I said, protesting China is a little like those Doritos. You know the crap content, but they just taste so darn good. In the end, is anything guilt-free?