Sangde, a 45-year-old employee at the Tibet Qamdo weather station, still remembers the first time he saw Tibetan calligraphy, an art with a history dating back about 1,300 years.
His infatuation with Tibetan calligraphy came from an interesting anecdote that happened to him 17 years ago.
During a visit to his home village in 1991, his neighbors next to his parents house asked him for help in mending their mantra book that had lost 16 pages. Instead, they had other pages written in the Tibetan language but not in the book's original calligraphy.
As Sangde was the most knowledgeable man about Tibetan culture among them, the neighbors wished he could present the complete mantra book written in its original Tibetan calligraphy exactly as that of the lost portion.
Despite having a solid foundation in the Tibetan culture, Sangde said he found his mission almost impossible, for the book was very holy in the eyes of his fellow people. In addition, he would be despised if he failed in the task.
However, when he took over the manuscripts of the book, he was extremely happy to find a treasure trove of information that was more than just calligraphy, but instead a description of the culture handed down from his Tibetan forefathers.
Tibetans are especially fond of calligraphy. They commonly use it to write mantras and prayers with white pebbles on the slopes of mountains. Tibetan calligraphy has three different scripture types, each with many variations.
Sangde totally immersed himself in the beauty of the art, somewhat forgetting the folks anticipating his answer.
"Can these pages be copied?" the villagers asked anxiously.
"Ah, oh, good, I'll have a try," Sangde said, raising his eyes from the book.
During a period of three to four days, Sangde concentrated intensely on the exquisite calligraphy, learning, practicing and copying mantras at the same time. In this way, he finished the difficult task.
As word spread around the village of his feat, more town folks flooded into his small room to find out how the work was accomplished.
In accordance with the traditional requirements, Sangde cuts his own pens from bamboo and painted with black ink.
"It's amazing to express the beauty and profundity of Tibetan philosophy by simple strokes of a bamboo pen," said Sangde, whose fame came after nearly two decades of hard efforts in practicing the calligraphy. Since then, he has won numerous awards.
While pursuing his interest in the ancient art form, Sangde was eager to share his craft with his daughter. However, sharing his enthusiasm proved an uphill battle.
When his daughter was six years old, Sangde moved alone to the neighboring Sichuan to receive college training. He returned five years later, having missed out on his daughter's initial training in Tibetan calligraphy.
He then chose to teach the girl calligraphy himself. At the beginning, she showed keen interest in the art. However, the enthusiasm was short-lived as the girl preferred playing with her friends outside to sitting before a table and scratching with a bamboo pen.
Sangde's efforts had been in vain.
Currently in high school, the daughter now regrets her lack of interest in her cultural heritage: "I am a Tibetan. I should be learning something about Tibetan calligraphy."
Sangde's work, however, is now helping others as he is mainly engaged in Tibetan language computer editing and translation.
"Working and making the Tibetan calligraphy to be known by more people is my lifelong mission."
(Xinhua News Agency, April 2, 2008)