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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

From refugee to restaurateur - Tibetan-Indian couple uses food to educate, share their culture

March 8, 2008

India New England, MA, USA
7 March 2008

BROOKLINE, Mass. — When husband-and-wife team Lobsang and Phurbu
Thargay decided to open a Tibetan restaurant here in September, they
didn't want it to be like any other restaurant in the area. So, the
two decided to open one with a story as rare and unique as their own.

Tashi Delek — whose name is also a Tibetan greeting meaning "hello and
good luck" — is one of only about four Tibetan restaurants in
Massachusetts. And with that rarity comes responsibility, according to
the Thargays.

"Our goal is to educate the American people on what Tibet is and what
Tibetan food is like," said Phurbu.

The Thargays' story begins at an Indian refugee camp — where Lobsang
and Phurbu were born after Tibet was taken over by the Chinese
government in 1959. During that year, some 80,000 Tibetans — including
members of Lobsang's and Phurbu's families — fled to refugee sites in
India, Nepal and Bhutan. The couple got their lucky break decades
later when, as part of the Tibetan United States Resettlement Project
established in 1989, 1,000 Tibetans were resettled to the United
States.

Phurbu came to Massachusetts in 1992, with Lobsang following a year
later. Their parents joined them shortly afterwards, and the two
married in 1994, a year after Lobsang joined Phurbu in Boston.  The
two say they are part of a closely-knit group of approximately 500
Tibetans who live across the greater Boston area and regularly meet at
the Buddhist center in Medford.

Lobsang, who worked for the Japanese consulate for 14 years and quit
last June, has always had a passion for cooking. He went to the
Cambridge Culinary School in 1995 with dreams of opening his own
restaurant, but decided to put them on hold when the couple had their
son. However, a love of food has always been in their family, with
both sets of parents always cooking in the shared house, where their
large extended family lives in West Roxbury.

The two were looking for a location for their restaurant when they
stumbled upon a Russian restaurant in Brookline Village for sale
online. When they secured the location, they already knew they would
open an authentic Tibetan restaurant and said they were never worried
about attracting business, opting not to advertise. Since there are
only three other Tibetan restaurants in the Boston area — one in
Cambridge and two in Somerville — they were confident that their
location and word of mouth would be enough to sustain their uncommon
ethnic restaurant. And so far, since their restaurant's opening in
September of last year, they haven't been disappointed.

Somewhat tucked away from the busy shops on Washington Street, Tashi
Delek has a cozy dining room interior of dark greens and reds and
feels like an escape from the daily grind outside. On the east wall is
a large futuristic painting of modern day Tibet that sets the mood of
hope and pride for the entire restaurant.

Even though the couple has never been to Tibet, it is still their
dream to one day take their family with them and reconnect with
relatives that they've never met. Since they grew up in a country that
wasn't their own, they've always felt a need to fight for Tibet and
keep it alive. But that's not to say that they didn't wholeheartedly
appreciate everything that India has done for them.

"The Indian country gave us refuge when our own failed us. They are
our guardian angels — we are immensely grateful to them. Without them
it would have been hard for us as a people to survive," said Phurbu.
"Our culture and everything is at stake, which is why we are so
passionate with our country and our food – it is our survivorship.
Right now Tibetans are becoming a minority in their own country. China
advancing might wipe us off the map."

They've also made sure that their 12-year-old son grows up with a
strong sense of pride in India and Tibet. He has been back to India
with them to visit family once in 2002, and has been surrounded by
Indian and Tibetan cooking at home since birth. They say that everyone
at home only speaks Tibetan, and that their son is very well-informed
on Tibet's history and the current state of the country.

"Our parents don't speak English, so at home we only speak Tibetan,"
explained Lobsang. "He's bilingual and very smart. We've always
encouraged him to learn everything about Tibetan culture. He knows
everything about the politics, and is currently reading a book on the
Dalai Lama."

The couple also hopes that the opening of their restaurant will help
set an example for younger generations to preserve the rapidly
vanishing Asian culture.

 "We [as Tibetans] want to strongly educate our children to learn
about their culture, and our children have grown up seeing us very
involved in our cultural preservation," said Lobsang. "We love
everything about this restaurant and what it represents for us as a
people. It is our heart and soul."
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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