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Story of Tibet: a Tibetan family in 6 decades
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Since that surgery, Wangdra has realized that he should be more concerned with his family.

"I especially need to help my younger brother, who still herds animals in pastoral areas."

Topden's 2008

Compared with the prosperity of Shiquanhe where the Ngari prefectural government is located, the Ngari pastoral areas seemed quite remote and desolate.

Only sport utility vehicles could transverse the over two-hour journey from Shiquanhe. After reaching a mountain more than 5,000 meters above sea level, vehicles were unavailable. Walking was the only way. Over a desolate mountain hundreds of meters high, a black tent was seen between mountains.

This black tent made of yak wool was Wangdra's home when he was a little boy. The sky could be seen through mesh from inside the tent. His younger brother, Topden, is 40 years old this year, but he seems much older than Wangdra. His wife and elder daughter tend sheep at home. His younger daughter Qu Drolma is 19 years old this year.

At the age of five, Qu Drolma was brought by Wangdra to Shiquanhe for education. Staying in her uncle's home, she has graduated from a technical secondary school. Now she is working as a clerk in Wangdra's tobacco company.

"I couldn't get an education when I was little, but my elder sisters and brothers all went to school. If I had also done so, no one would have been available to tend the sheep. Nevertheless, I would like to go to school," Topden said while drinking ghee tea. He could only communicate with the China Newsweek reporter in Tibetan language.

"We have 30 head of cattle as well as 280 goats and sheep in my family, we're average. Our living depends on these sheep and cattle, whose meat can be sold in Shiquanhe. Barley does not grow here. My elder brothers and sisters help support our life; otherwise, it would be a little difficult for us," he said. In the present pastoral areas, pastures have been distributed to different families. Topden's family got grassland covering an area of nearly two to three square kilometers.

Since March, most of the young men here have been laboring in a township between the pastoral areas and Shiquanhe. The local government invested 6 million yuan to plant barley there. These guys were responsible for moving stones and tidying up the ground, and earned 40 to 50 yuan per day. "We can work on it until June," they said.

"He sometimes said to me, without him, I would be the youngest and I would have to stay at home to tend cattle and sheep," Wangdra said.

In Ngari, a yak is worth 1,000 yuan and a sheep 250 yuan. In spite of that, it's also important to have a nice year. Snow and wind disasters continually happen. A big disaster could cause the death of half of herd of cattle and sheep. A very good year can yield earnings of tens of thousands yuan, but it seldom happens. In the worst case, the annual revenue is no more than 10,000 yuan.

There was a ghee teapot as well as some small silverware, handed down from Topden's parents, in his tent. Outside it, ten lambs kept bleating in the sheep pen. Topden lit a cigarette and said, "I plan to ask for some more money next year to mend the road in front of my house. This road is too bumpy."

Last year, Topden asked for about 50,000 yuan from governmental departments in Shiquanhe; the money was spent tidying up a stretch of road. He planned to ask for 80,000 more yuan in the following year. Wangdra said, "Topden got it all by himself. If he could get 60,000 yuan more this year, his tobacco company would offer him the remaining 20,000 yuan."

Wangdra's second eldest sister, Tsering Drolma, also lives in the pastoral areas, over an hour's drive away from Topden's tent. Her life is more difficult. Her tent is made of piece goods. Around the cushion are two dried sheep, red with dried blood.

There is a radio on the top of the tent, which can be turned on with solar cells. A Buddhist scripture volume, wrapped up tightly, is a keepsake handed down from her husband's ancestors. Tsering Drolma is 58 years old this year. She married at the age of 14 and it is said that she taught herself Tibetan language.

The herding life is very isolated. The old woman has had great difficulties in contacting the outside world. She is accompanied all the time by an over 20-year-old Tibetan mastiff. Her elder son, who has his own family, too is herding cattle and sheep in pastoral areas. Her younger son works in a bank in Shiquanhe.

There are more than 1,200 sheep in her family. She seldom sells them. "As long as there is enough to support my family, we won't sell them," she said.

The third generation growing up in the city

The eldest brother Lobsang is now dead. When he was quite young, he fell into a fire due to carelessness and was deformed. Because of this accident his father kept teaching him scripture, hoping that he could live independently in a temple.

Lobsang never became a monk, but finally worked as an electrician in the city through his own efforts. He never married. He died in 1991.

The eldest sister Dorji Drolma is 60 years old. This previous "activist" has retired from the position of the deputy director of the Women's Federation in Ga'er County, with a pension of over 4,000 yuan.

Due to living in a poor family at a young age, the third eldest sister Tsewang Drolma was sent to their relative's family for a three-year fosterage. Later, as she "didn't like this family", she came back to her own black tent family. She "learned a little arithmetic" and once worked as a vice president in a local Agricultural Bank. She wanted to take care of her family so she quit her job but worked as a general teller. Her long length of service ensured that Tsewang Drolma kept her previous pay scale; today she has a monthly wage of over 8,000 yuan.

The second eldest brother Sonam Phuntsok has already been transferred to Lhasa as the chairman of the Federation of Industry & Commerce in the Tibet Autonomous Region. He left his hometown at the age of 12, but he has led a successful political life along the way. His two children are receiving schooling at the other parts of the country. He was not willing to be interviewed in detail.

Nowadays young people in the pastoral areas would rather go to school or go out to work but they often fail the entrance examinations to senior high school after graduating from junior high school. When then return to the pastoral areas, they might "have difficulties readjusting to the way of life here". This has puzzled lots of parents.

Last year, Wangdra brought his four-year-old daughter back to his hometown. Upon reaching the pastoral areas, Wangdra's little daughter was not willing to get out of the vehicle. Wangdra asked her why. His daughter said, "It's rather dirty." Wangdra choked up and felt quite sad.

Topden' second daughter Qu Drolma has been living in Shiquanhe for over ten years and seldom returns to the pastoral areas. When asked, "Which do you prefer, the pastoral areas or the city?"

She hesitated a little, and answered in broken Mandarin, "The city, the city."

Professor Tsering Gyalpo has also been a visiting professor at Vienna University, the University of Virginia (2000-2001, 2004) and Harvard University (2003-4).

(China.org.cn translated by Pang Li, Zhou Jing, Wu Huanshu and Wang Wei, June 30, 2008)

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