For 46-year-old Tibetan Kelsang Drolkar, her first overseas trip is exciting, but also filled with "surprise" and "puzzles."
A deputy to the Chinese National People's Congress (NPC), Kelsang Drolkar traveled with four other Tibetan NPC deputies to the United States and Canada, where they had an opportunity to talk face-to-face with Westerners about Tibet, her hometown.
Shingtsa Tenzinchodrak (R), living Buddha and head of a five-member delegation of the Tibetan deputies to China's National People's Congress, talks with Tsering Shakya, a professor with the Asia research center of the University of British Columbia, during a discussion with the delegates from the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada in Vancouver, March 24, 2009. [Xinhua photo]
"They all showed strong interest in Tibet, but I think some of them have misconceptions," she told Xinhua on Tuesday. "They do not see a whole picture of Tibet."
Like many Tibetans, Kelsang Drolkar said she is proud of what has been achieved in Tibet, one of China's autonomous regions, over the past 50 years.
Kelsang Drolkar's parents were both tralpa in Tibet before 1959, when a democratic reform started there to overthrow Tibet's feudal serfdom system and liberate about 1 million serfs and slaves. Tralpa at the time referred to people who tilled plots of land assigned to them and had to provide corvee labor for the serfowners.
"My parents never had a chance for schooling when they were young. They even didn't have enough food and clothes at that time," said Kelsang Drolkar, also head of a village some two km away from Lhasa city, capital of Tibet.
"They didn't have personal freedom then, and even their marriage was not at their own choice," she said. Her mother had never met her father before but had to marry him at the order of the nobles.
Compared with the days of her mother, Kelsang Drolkar said Tibetan people now live a happy life.
"In my village, every household has tap water, electricity and gas. And most families have telephones, mobile phones and TV sets," she said. Her village has more than 1,700 villagers.
Kelsang Drolkar said her mother, now living an easy life, always regretted that she could not read and write. "However, all her three grandsons went to college. That has partly made up for her regret," she said.
Commenting on the so-called extinction of Tibetan culture and language, Kelsang Drolkar, who spoke only Tibetan at the meetings in the United States and Canada, said such an accusation was ridiculous.
"We speak Tibetan every day and our culture is well preserved and continuously developed," she said.
"Tibet is not some people's decoration. We Tibetans have the rights to pursue a better life and benefit from the modernization. No one could stop the development of the society," she said.
Kelsang Drolkar said she would like to present a true picture of the life in her village, when meeting with officials, parliament members or scholars in the United States and Canada.
"There have been so many developments in Tibet," she said, "I really think the visit is short and I hope I could introduce more so that they could have a better knowledge of Tibet."
Her efforts were not made in vain. Lanny J. Davis, who served as special counsel to former U.S. president Bill Clinton from 1996to 1998, said after attending a press conference of the delegation in Washington D.C. last week that he was impressed by the delegates, especially Kelsang Drolkar.
"The lady from the rural area was very powerful and eloquent in her simplicity, in her truthfulness and in her feelings about the progress of her people," he said.
"I'm moved by some people not being high officials, but being from a serf's family whose ancestors were basically slaves," he said.
He said a complete lack of information has led the American people, including himself, to incorrect impression about what the facts are about Tibet.
"They (Americans) have only heard one side of narratives that are not accurate historically or not complete. What we need now is that the Americans get a balanced presentation about the facts about Tibet," he said.
During the meetings in the United States and Canada, the delegation encountered many questions concerning Tibet, ranging from freedom of religious belief, human rights, economic development, environmental protection and cultural preservation there.
"It is natural that differences exist. I think great efforts should be made to improve exchanges so as to improve people's knowledge and understanding of Tibet," said Shingtsa Tenzinchodrak, a living Buddha, also head of the delegation.
The delegation will leave Vancouver for Beijing Wednesday afternoon.