Sunday, March 16, 2008

Throwing Stones

It's incredible how sometimes life throws you a curve ball. How one day you could be just another tourist, snapping pictures in a museum, and the next day you're a foreign correspondent, broadcasting precious facts about a distant land in turmoil to people around the world.

That's what's happened to my best friend, "Ken". He started up a blog a few months ago, as a one-stop-shop for friends and family to keep up with his trip to the Orient. He was meandering his way west from Hong Kong to Xi'an--where the famed Terracotta Warriors reside--and would eventually make his way to Tibet.

That's how I saw it in my head, anyway, when I heard a news bulletin announce that there had been an explosion of violence on the streets of Llasa. "Hey," I thought. "Isn't that where Ken is going soon? Maybe he'll be forced to change his plans... stay in Xi'an a bit longer..."

The next day a mutual friend called to ask if I had heard about Ken.

"Heard what?"

Well, the rest of the story is on full display at Kadfly. It turned out he wasn't heading for Tibet, he was already there, caught in the middle of the turmoil. His pictures (up until that point a placid mix of local cuisine, landmarks and blue skies) depicted blazing bicycles, angry rioters brandishing machetes and police in riot gear cowering under a barrage of stones. Days earlier he had posted a shot of a pile of rocks behind a glass case illustrating a watch tower's simple defensive technique: dropping stones on intruders below.

Now Tibetans were hurling stones against 'intruders' of a different sort. Oh, the irony.

Awareness of Ken's blog quickly spread around the internet. Comments started trickling in, thanking him for bravely shedding light on a dark corner of the world. News organizations also took notice. Just after Ken arrived, access to foreigners into Tibet was shut off by Chinese authorities. The only real journalist in the city was James Miles of The Economist so demand was extremely high for any words or images that might clarify the situation on the ground.

The next morning , Ken's photo of the riot police under seige landed on the front page of the New York Times. His blog was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor. Meanwhile the 'comments' page was buzzing with more thank yous and spilling out into a general discussion and debate about Tibet (so far, as I write this, 143 comments).

However, Ken is unable to see the hubbub that his humble blog is causing because internet connections have been severed in the area, while a video of Ken's that someone has posted on YouTube is now being blocked in China.

As you can imagine, his friends and family are a tad bit concerned about Ken and we're still waiting to hear back from him today. Obviously, getting out of harms way is priority no. 1--especially as China's deadline for protesters to turn themselves in by today [CORRECTION: not all protesters, just the violent ones; see 'Comments'] has now expired and more violence is a real possibility. Add to this the fact that authorities have been determined to block, censor and withhold any information that doesn't paint China as a socialist utopia and you see how we'd prefer to have Ken 'reporting' from less volatile regions.

However, his posts have been fair and balanced (and I don't mean that in the Fox News sense). While he acknowledges that "the Chinese government bears a huge amount of blame for this situation" he also makes it clear that the protesters were not exactly a model for peaceful civil disobedience--as the video clip makes abundantly clear. So no one can say Ken is spreading anti-government propaganda. Indeed some of the debate going on on the 'comments' page include people supporting the governments actions while at the same time thanking Ken for his posts.

Anyway, until he can do so himself, I will graciously acknowledge on his behalf, the massive outpouring of interest and gratitude toward his work. He'll be mightily impressed by the attention, and who knows, maybe he'll actually make a buck or two from the ads at the bottom of the page.

News From Tibet
On Nationhood


Anonymous said...

Hi there,
Hat off to your friend, Ken. I wish the best to him. I'd like to make a little comment on one issue in your post, which in my opinion could be misleading. You mentioned that Chinese government set up a deadline for protesters to turn themselves. I did a careful research and I believe the deadline which was set up is not targeting the “protesters,” but the people during this riot who committed to crimes; i.g. those who broke into stores, robbers, or those who physically abused other civilians. Is there a difference? I believe so. I wasn't in Tibet during those days and I didn’t witness what happened. But I think it’s important to clarify this issue, particularly after I read Ken's testimony which was saying that the protest was NOT peaceful.

Hope Ken’s aftertime trip safe and sound.

blogdai said...

Hi adam, sorry to follow you here from Kadfly, but I'm a bit concerned.

If you are in contact with Ken and he needs help, we may have some options for insuring his safety.

contact me at

We can discuss this better on a private email channel, no joke. thanks

Adam Juice said...

Thanks 'anonymous'.
THe sources that I checked were just vaguely stating that protesters were to hand themselves in. I thought that was rather strange but didn't look in to it deeper, so thank you for making the distinction that it is the active agents of the violence they are targeting.

Altough, in a mass riot scenario, where individuals become one unidentifiable mass, I don't know how they'd be able to determine who's who.

Anonymous said...

Never underestimate the power of delation in a tightly controlled state.

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