16 October 2006

I was once Mr. Universe, but it was in a parallel universe where pasty guys with no muscle tone were idolized.

When a typical Miss [Insert Geographic Location or Random Agricultural Product Here] contestant speaks of using her beauty pageant notoriety to work for social justice, I get the sense that she chose that answer only because it tested better than "I want to raise the public's awareness of [Insert Geographic Location or Random Agricultural Product Here] by posing for Playboy".

That's definitely not the case when it comes to this young Tibetan woman, who has survived Chinese prison to compete in the Miss Tibet pageant, now being held in India:
Three years ago, at the tender age of 17, Metok Lhazey sat in solitary confinement in a pitch dark, filthy and horribly cramped Chinese prison cell in the Tibetan capital Lhasa.

This weekend, the nervous 20-year-old is dreaming about being crowned Miss Tibet in a small but controversial beauty pageant held by Tibetan refugees in northern India.

"My main motive is to push the Tibetan cause all over the world, because I know what is going on in Tibet," she told Reuters in her hotel room as she prepared for the contest, plastic beads in her hair and blue bangles on her wrists.

. . . .

Lhazey first fled Tibet in 1999, making the grueling trek across the Himalayas near the route where at least one refugee girl was reportedly shot by Chinese border guards last month.

She returned to Lhasa when her father grew ill, but did not make it in time to see him before he died. Instead she says she spent three weeks in small jails at Chinese checkpoints on the road to Lhasa, often beaten as she was interrogated about her links to the government-in-exile in India.

Later she was jailed for more than a month in Lhasa before escaping again two years ago.

With her solid cheekbones and rosy cheeks she seems the most "Tibetan" of the girls. She is the only one who does not speak English, and the only one who has experienced what Tibetans call "the atrocities of Chinese rule" at first hand.

But this might not be enough to secure the title, against more polished entrants who grew up abroad and who knew better how to get a rowdy, mainly male audience on their sides.

Still, she says she is having the time of her life.

"When I was a child I learned so much about happiness and sadness," she said. "It is very important to experience everything. Today I am very happy."

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