We changed the time of our group prayer meeting last night to accommodate the highly anticipated Miss Tibet competition and awards ceremony. We arrived 30 minutes early, but not early enough to get a good seat. In the end we were too far to see the faces of the contestants, but fortunately we didn't have to stand for the three hour program! Due to technical difficulties, the pageant started 45 minutes lat. We were surprised at the beginning because the host welcomed the crowd and introduced the event in English. He then introduced the judges--another surprise as they were both white Westerners, one American and one English.
The host then announced Lobsang, the pageant's founder, who came out in all his glory: shimmering silver suit, flowing waves of waist-length hair, and a practiced model's strut down the red-carpeted runway. His speech was entirely in Tibetan.
Next came two previous Miss Tibet winners in evening gowns to tell how the program had changed their lives. Last year's Miss Tibet is now working as a supermodel in south India.
The rounds of competition were separated by dance performances. The first was a solo Indian dance performed by a bare midriffed woman in flowing pants with bells at the waist. Her dance was simple and was interrupted by further technical difficulties. The second dance was a Tibetan woman in a short blue skirt performing an interesting hybrid dance that seemed, to me, to be an Indian Pacific Islander cha cha. Maybe that's my ignorance of cutural dance. The third dance was a large group of Indian women, split into a tall and a short group on opposite sides of the stage. The women were entirely covered in clothes except their faces. The dance seemed to be a story of conflict or competition between the tall and short groups of women, though I didn't understand the Hindi lyrics so I can't be sure.
The six Miss Tibet contestants had four appearances. The first was their introduction of themselves and their causes. This was entirely in English, and the women invariably spoke of forwarding the Tibetan political cause and empowering Tibetan women. Three girls were from Tibetan settlements in India (one from McLeod), one from Switzerland, one from Australia, and one from Minnesota, USA. One was a registered nurse and another was a certified accountant.
The second round was Western-style evening gowns (though the sole Tibetan dress, in long red silk, was my favorite). The third was traditional Tibetan apparel and the fourth was a question for each contestant from the judges. By far the best answer came from the McLeod girl, who spoke with honest grace about what she would do if she did not win the competition. Several of the questions and answers revealed a communication barrier between the judges and contestants, the same problems I've experience in my host family.
Just before the award ceremony, all the contestants danced to the popular modern Tibetan song for freedom while still dressed in the traditional attire. TIPA's power went out halfway through, but after 15 minutes it came back on and they started the dance again from the top.
The 17-year-old contestant from Switzerland won, despite mine, Rachel's, Megan's, Elizabeth's, and Bonnie's solid support for the contestant from McLeod Ganj, the one whose answer I liked. Fortunately, however, four of the contestants were named Tenzin (after His Holiness) and the others were named Dolma. We were rooting for Tenzin, and Tenzin won! Dolma was first runner up, and Tenzin second :)
My host family also attended the pageant finale. When I got home around 10:30 Tashi told me that he didn't find any of the contestants beautiful in the slightest, nor the winners from the previous years. His brother explained that people have different eyes and think different things are beautiful. That, he says, is a very good thing, and I agree.
Altogether the pageant was a melange of the same elements that compose McLeod Ganj itself--Tibetans, Indians, and Westerners, Tibetan, Hindi, and English, tradition and modernity, east and west, politics, art, dance, costume, and power outages.