East Bay Tibet Stores Close to Protest Torch Relay

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday April 08, 2008

Posted Wed., April 9—As pro-Tibet groups and supporters of the Beijing Games engaged in a war of words during the Olympic Torch Relay in San Francisco today (Wednesday), Tibetans in Berkeley kept their businesses closed to join in a movement very close to their heart. 

A handwritten message greeted customers at Little Tibet, a curio shop on University Avenue, saying, “We are closed on April 8 and 9, sorry for the inconvenience.” 

Tsewang Khangsar, who owns Little Tibet, trekked across the Himalayas to escape from the Chinese occupation 47 years ago. 

Khangsar was one of thousands of Tibetan refugees from India to win a green card lottery in 1995 that eventually brought him to Berkeley. 

Next door at a shuttered Lhasa Salon, a “Why Care About Tibet?” poster with saffron monks rallying in the background left no doubts about where its owners could be. 

Signs encouraging passers-by to join the “Global Human Rights Torch Relay” to protest China’s crimes against humanity and free Tibet were plastered all over the desolate storefronts of sister stores Tibet Jewels and Cafe Tibet at 2020 University Ave. 

More than 160 groups from across the Bay Area rallied against the 2008 Olympic Games in San Francisco, the only city in North America through which the torch will pass during its journey spanning six continent and 150 cities. 

Students, local businessmen and families from Berkeley took the BART or drove to San Francisco as early as 6 a.m. to support either Tibet or the Beijing Games. 

Yiining Chan, a third year finance student from UC Berkeley, missed school to show his support for the torch relay at the Justin Herman Plaza in front of the Ferry Building. 

“It is sports for people from all over the world,” said Chan, who grew up in Hong Kong. “It’s about the Olympic spirit, there should be no relationship between the Olympics and politics.” 

Jessica Kali, who had braved the crowds on the MUNI’s underground trains disagreed. 

“I think it’s important for people of color to stand in solidarity with supporters of Tibet,” she said. “It’s up to us to pressure China to free Tibet. A lot of people think that China isn’t using the Olympics for political reasons, but it is. It’s using it to justify its power.” 

Yi, a Beijing Games supporter held on tightly to a “San Francisco Welcomes Olympic Torch” flag on the steps of the plaza. 

“My wife’s hometown is Beijing and we are very proud that the games are being held there,” he said. “We want to welcome this great moment. I think the protests are improper. It’s an insult to the Olympic spirit. When I read about how a protester hit a disabled torch career in France and grabbed the torch, I was very sad. We want this to be a peaceful event. We don’t want to talk about politics at a sports event.”