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Dalai Lama's visit turns Albany into 'Tibet-stock'

May 8, 2009

Wednesday, May 6, 2009 · Last updated 7:58 a.m. PT

ALBANY, N.Y. -- It's shaping up to be something of a Tibet-stock.

The Tibetan house party will begin downtown three hours before the Dalai
Lama's 2 p.m. talk at the Palace Theatre Wednesday and continue long
after the event.

Tibetan monks and lamas will attend and participants will wear colorful
Tibetan chubas, or gowns. They'll join in traditional Tibetan singing
and dancing, and enjoy Tibetan tea, dumplings and steamed bread.

"It's a very big deal and we're going to throw a big Tibetan cultural
party. We feel very blessed he's coming to our little city," said
Jessica Higgins, who is hosting the party at her Mansion neighborhood
home with her Tibetan husband.

In the next breath, Higgins described her husband's reluctance to give
his name and to comment about the exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual
leader, whom the couple has seen speak nine times. Most recently, they
traveled Saturday to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., to hear the
Dalai Lama speak to a crowd of more than 16,000.

"I'm still floating on Cloud 9 from that day. I always get a contact
high when we see him," she said, noting that the couple has seen the
Dalai Lama at his headquarters in Dharamsala, India.

But Tuesday will also carry a bittersweet feeling for her and her husband.

"I'm always mindful I'm seeing His Holiness on behalf of all Tibetans in
Tibet who have never had the opportunity to see him," Higgins said.

Her husband recently applied for a visa to visit his family in Tibet
this summer for the first time in several years. If he publicly declares
his interest in the Dalai Lama and his remarks are interpreted as
critical of China and its human rights policies, he fears Chinese
authorities will deny him.

"It's a very sensitive time right now and we don't want to jeopardize
anything," said his wife, who teaches French in a local school district.

Other members of Albany's tiny Tibetan community -- of whom there are
believed to be fewer than a dozen - have said they're fearful of Chinese
retribution and declined to speak on the record.

Joining the local Tibetans at the party and the Dalai Lama's Palace talk
will be Vicki Schacter, 76, a retired nurse who lives in Guilderland.
She hopes for a brief audience with the man she met in 1959 in
Dharamsala in northern India.

In her recently published memoir, "Lessons from My Father and the Dalai
Lama," Schacter recounted her experiences as a volunteer nurse in a
refugee camp for Tibetan children alongside His Holiness the 14th Dalai
Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, his mother and sister after they took refuge in
India following the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959. Both he and
Schacter were in their mid-20s at the time.

"I will focus on hearing what he has to say, but I hope I might get a
chance to ask him how we can save this beautiful planet because I'm very
depressed about the direction we're going," Schacter said.

"Meeting the Dalai Lama 50 years ago changed my life in profound ways,"
she said. "His purpose is to teach the world what Buddhism has to offer.
He's enriched me and so many people with his teachings."

When Higgins tried to describe how excited she is about the Dalai Lama's
Albany visit, she used this analogy for her seventh-grade students:
"Imagine the Pope and the President all wrapped into one bundle and
that's who we're getting to see."

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