INTERVIEW: Exile takes ‘Free Tibet’ bike tour to Taiwan

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff reporter

Sun, Sep 08, 2013 - Page 3

As he traverses the globe by bike in a bid to rally support for the Tibetan cause, exiled Tibetan Rinpo Yak yesterday embarked on the latest leg of his trip from Liberty Square in Taipei.

Mounting his bicycle to the loud cheers and good-luck wishes of the Tibetans and Taiwanese who gathered to see him off, Rinpo departed from Liberty Square to raise awareness about the suffering Tibetans endure under Chinese rule.

Before arriving in Taiwan, Rinpo, who has been living in the US since 1998, cycled his way through 44 states in the US, 13 countries in Europe and Japan.

A native of Aba County —administratively part of China’s Sichuan Province — Rinpo was a businessman before he went into exile. He could have led a comfortable life, but instead chose to follow a more difficult path because he felt he had to do something for his people.

“I’ve started doing business with a uncle and my father since I was 18. We imported goods from Nepal and sold them in Tibet,” Rinpo said in English during an interview with the Taipei Times in Taipei on Friday.

“Because of what I did [importing goods] I had many chances to be in touch with people from Nepal or other countries and so I also received much information about Tibetans living in Nepal or in India and started handing out flyers about China’s repression and human rights violations against Tibetans,” he said.

After handing out flyers for four or five years, a police friend of Rinpo and his uncle tipped them off that the authorities had noticed what he was doing and were preparing to interrogate him, he said.

Rinpo left Tibet for Nepal in 1997 when he was 25, and moved to the US to seek asylum in 1998.

His family had been victimized by the Chinese government before, when one of his uncles was executed in 1970 for cutting communication wires being used by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in an attempt to stop Chinese troops’ repression of Tibetans.

Rinpo started his new life in the US as a dishwasher and worked hard to bring his wife and two children — who were all in Nepal at the time — to the US. He achieve his goal in 2000 and eventually opened two restaurants.

However, Rinpo could not forget the suffering of his people, which inspired him to spend his vacations promoting his cause by riding his bicycle from state to state, hoping to tell more people about what the Chinese government was doing to Tibetans.

“To me, spending vacations doing fun things is not important, compared to Tibetans who are suffering inside Tibet, I feel lucky enough [to have escaped],” Rinpo said.

He screened videos and give presentations on Tibet to anyone who was interested at community centers, churches and colleges, and would also speak to Chinese expatriates living in the US, telling them that it was not just Tibetans who are suffering under the Chinese Communist Party’s rule, the Chinese are also suffering.

“I would tell them that I’m not against the Chinese, it’s the policy of the Chinese Communist Party government that I’m against, it’s not good for Tibetans and it’s not good for the Chinese as well,” Rinpo said. “I would also tell them that, Tibetans and Chinese should work together against the government, we can live together, be happy, you want a happy life, I want a happy life too.”

Rinpo said most of the Chinese he has spoken to agree with him after hearing what he had to say.

After biking through 44 states in the US, Rinpo felt he had to spread his message to more people, a need that was furthered by the sorrow he felt at the rise in Tibetan self-immolations in recent years.

With his kids all grown up, Rinpo sold his restaurants and his house, gave his furniture to charity and started his biking trip in Europe in March.

“In Europe, I would not only speak to the people, but would also just knock on doors of political leaders, such mayors, city councilors and parliamentarians, asking to meet them to discuss the Tibetan issue,” he said. “I’ve successfully met with 128 political leaders that way.”

He said he always carries two notebooks with the names of the 120 self-immolated Tibetans with him, to help him explain to each political leader he meets what happened to these people and why they did what they did. He also asks them to write messages in the notebooks.

“I carry these books with me all the time, feeling that they are with me always, and they give energy,” Rinpo said. “It may be cold, hot, windy, rainy along the way, and I would feel thirsty, hungry and sometimes slept on the street, it’s hard, but I’m happy, because compared to them, it’s not quite so hard.”

He said he also takes the books to holy places to pray for the Tibetans who sacrificed their lives.

“I will eventually take their names to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and ask His Holiness to pray for them,” Rinpo said.