A Hundred Thousand White Stones - Introduction
Like most of Tibet's refugees, I am neither a politician nor a saint; I am much like people from anywhere else in the world except for the experiences I've been through. I want to share my story because I don't know of any ordinary Tibetans like me who have spoken up about what we've seen and what's in our hearts. The process of going back through my history to write this book has not been easy. Some parts have been painful for me to revisit; many of the events in this book are ones I wish I could simply forget. For most of my life, I was ashamed of some of these experiences and told no one about them, not even my family or closest friends.
I was born in 1980 in a quiet village in the Amdo region of Tibet, where I lived until becoming a Buddhist nun as a teenager, a decision that led me to make the long and dangerous journey over the Himalayan Mountains into India to see the Dalai Lama. Although I gave up my nun's robes there under unfavorable circumstances, I did meet a good man, now my husband, leading to a family and new life in America.
The life I grew up with in Tibet was very simple. When I say "simple," I mean that we had what many people would consider a low standard of living, a life of poverty. I was born in a place without electricity or plumbing, with no cars, no telephones, and no television. Transportation was on foot or horseback. People knew almost nothing about the world outside of their own village and a few villages beyond it.
Even today, little has changed. Electricity was introduced to my village when I was around eleven or twelve years old. (Clocks and calendars were not widely used, so I'll have to guess my age and the dates of most of the events of my childhood.) When I was able to go back to Tibet in 2010, the use of electricity remained very limited, and there was still no plumbing. I saw that my family members do have clocks and calendars now. I'm not sure how much use they get though; the calendars have yellowed with age over the years since they were put up, and the clocks are motionless, each house stuck at a different time.
As a child, I didn't think our way of life in Tibet was any good at all. We worked hard with little to show for it, and our problems were deep, serious problems. Compared to the difficulties of daily life in Tibet, when Americans complain about a rough day, I can't help but think, "You've got to be kidding me!"
As I get older, I've come to see things a little differently than I did as a child. Leaving Tibet was not the end of my struggles in life; the struggles only changed. Although I know firsthand that Tibet is not a utopia and never was, people in my village were mostly pretty happy despite our circumstances. My favorite part of the traditional way of life was the close connection between family and friends. No matter what happened or how much we argued, we felt close. We lived and worked together, sharing our fortunes. Looking back on all my experiences, it seems like that feeling of personal connection with others is the real key to happiness. I wish now that I could have back the life I left behind.