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VOA's Tibetan Lumberman-Broadcaster - 2002-04-21

A VOA Snapshot - Part of VOA's 60th Anniversary Year Coverage

Lobsang Gyatso was thirteen when he left Lhasa. It was 1959, and the Chinese communists, who had just occupied Tibet, had imprisoned his father.

Mr. Gyatso said, "He was a businessman, but the Chinese claimed him as a guerrilla leader. After he was arrested, I went to see him a couple of times. I got beaten by the Chinese guards, with their gun butts. I was just by the window, and I saw my father inside. He was handcuffed, and shackled. I gave him some food. The Chinese guard wouldn't let me talk to him, but we had a few words, and he says, 'I want you to leave Tibet, go to India. If you stayed, you would be arrested, and it would be very difficult for you.'"

Dressed in a servant's clothes, hoping that any Chinese who saw him would think he was on the mountainside collecting yak dung for fuel, the young boy eventually made his way to the Bhutanese border. There he joined a group of older Tibetans for the 1,000 kilometer trek across the Himalayas to India.

"I was very sad to leave Tibet," he said. "For a few days I was kind of lost, so I couldn't think much about it. And afterwards, when I remembered my mother, and my father, most of the night I keep crying, quietly, because I was so sad."

Lobsang Gyatso spent seventeen years in India. For two years, along with thousands of other Tibetan refugees, he worked on road construction, first as a laborer and then, having learned Hindi, as an interpreter. With the help of a relative he left the work camp to go to school and study English. He attended Delhi University, and then went to work in the Dalai Lama's office in Delhi. He was put in charge of Tibetan settlements in India.

"My job," he said, "was to contact the Indian government and foreign agencies for help. So Indian government gave us land, foreign agencies gave us money for construction of houses, hospitals, schools, things like that. I thought it was a contribution to my people, I was very proud of what I was doing."

However, Lobsang Gyatso wasn't making much money, and he and his wife worried about educating their children. So in 1976 they immigrated to the United States, and settled in the northwestern state of Oregon, where Lobsang found work in a lumber mill. He remembers his first impression of America.

Mr. Gyatso said, "When I first got there, since there's a lot of lumber mill people, lumber jacks, things like that, people were rough, and there's a lot of bars, you know, taverns, and people drinking in the morning. And Isaid, jeez, early in the morning and people are drinking beer. And later I found out that they were working at night, you know, the graveyard shift, so they get off from work early in the morning so they drink like it's nighttime, and then they go to sleep."

Lobsang Gyatso spent sixteen years in the lumber mills. He started out as a cleanup man, but then learned about lumber and trees and gradually rose through the ranks to become production coordinator and quality manager for the lumber company. Life was good, he says. But in 1990 the Voice of America was organizing a Tibetan service, and Lobsang Gyatso decided to leave his job in the mills and move across the United States to Washington, to work for VOA.

"I was very sad to quit," he said. "I was very reluctant, but then the other job was something that, again, my people, you know, I would be bringing some contribution to my fellow Tibetans in Tibet and in India."

Lobsang Gyatso now is a newscaster and reporter for VOA's Tibetan service. He says the Voice of America is an important source of information for the Tibetan people. "We have no restrictions on the news," he said. "We are open with the world news, we tell the truth. Nothing but the truth, whether it's good or whether it's bad, but we tell the truth. So that makes me very proud."

Although Tibetan culture continues to be a large part of Lobsang Gyatso's life in America, he says he feels at home here. "I think I'm very lucky, very fortunate that I'm in a country where you have every freedom, you have everything you want. I never dreamt that I could own a house in America, own a car in America, send my kids to prestigious colleges. And now I'm doing this kind of job which I'm very proud of doing it," he said.

Next week, you'll meet a VOA broadcaster whose career began in a radio station in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Snapshots will contine throughout our 60th anniversary year, here at

To write to us about our anniversary, send an email to Or, send regular mail to Anniversary, VOA News Now, Washington, D.C. 20237, USA.