Sonam describes his early life as a nomad in Jang Namchung, Namru. As a child, Sonam enjoyed spending his time grazing animals and playing games with other boys. He fondly recalls horse racing during a special month-long annual festival.
When the Chinese came to Sonam's village in 1959, they interrogated everyone and began forcing the villagers to participate in thamzin 'struggle sessions.' During the Cultural Revolution beginning in 1966, the Chinese restricted the Tibetans' freedom, including banning religious practices and imposing various taxes. Unable to tolerate this oppression, Sonam and others protested by beating up a few Chinese officers and destroying an administrative office.
Expecting to be arrested after the protests, Sonam decided to escape to India. He left his pregnant wife and one-year old daughter behind in the village and fled with several men on horseback. During a confrontation with Chinese soldiers on the way to Bhutan, one of Sonam's companions was killed. Then after reaching Bhutan, Sonam was questioned by American officials to determine if he was a Chinese spy. Sonam visited Tibet in 1986, seeing his wife and two children for the first time since he had escaped.
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