Sheltered in a valley, the county seat of Qamdo, in eastern Tibet, seems like many other Tibetan towns with monasteries perched on hilltops and sun-weathered residents.
Fifty years after the Democratic Reform in Tibet in 1959, its Tibetan inhabitants embrace development and co-exist with other nationalities, including Han Chinese.
Dressed in a padded purple Tibetan gown, Tsering Drolma, 18, a student at the No.1 High School of Qamdo Prefecture, dreams of studying in Beijing.
She will take the college entrance exam this summer. Her preferred university, the Beijing-based China University of Political Science and Law, is an elite school that enrolls only the very best students.
But Tsering is confident. She is a top student in her school and she can enter the college with lower exam scores than her Han Chinese peers thanks to the government's favorable education policy towards Tibetans.
Students at her school can choose to study either Tibetan or Mandarin.
Tsering says only three of the 17 classes in her grade are taught in Mandarin only and the rest in both languages. Tibetans can choose their classes, and the teaching materials are all the same.
In job markets, local Tibetans also have choice.
Tashi Drolma,who works at the local government publicity department, says the local government employs equal numbers of Tibetans and Hans.
Government posts are considered the best and most stable jobs and are accessible to anyone who passes the examination.
"Some government agencies, such as the police offices and political consultative conferences tend to hire more Tibetan employees as such posts require effective communication in Tibetan," she says.
In the streets of Qamdo County, most signs are in Chinese and Tibetan. Locals can buy groceries and medicines in shops run by Han Chinese, who mostly hire local Tibetans to ensure effective communication.
MODERNIZATION ON THE PLATEAU
Qamdo Experimental Primary School, the first modern primary school in Tibet, was built by the Communist Party of China government in 1951. Here, Qiangba Puncog, chairman of Tibet Autonomous Region, once studied, and today 10-year-old Drolma Yangjen watches slides in the new multimedia room.
"In Tibetan language classes, the slides were all in Tibetan language," she says, adding the computer has made her classes fun.
The school also offers English classes.
Not every Tibetan child is as lucky as Drolma Yangjen. It is impossible to provide multimedia facilities to every school in a region where the economy is mainly based on farming and animal husbandry.
Tashi Drolma's favorite pastime is watching local TV, which airs adaptations of Chinese classics such as "Three Kingdoms" and "Journey to the West", all translated into Tibetan.
Mobile phone services have long been available, but she was delighted when China Telecom, the country's largest telecommunications firm, introduced text messaging in Tibetan.
"It was a great step forward to retain the language, but it may need some improvement as the input is a bit difficult to operate," she says.
Tashi Drolma also chats online occasionally. "When I chat with Tibetans, I write Tibetan, and I use Mandarin with Han friends online."
Inputting Tibetan on a computer is a lot more convenient than on a mobile phone, she adds.
However, the access to the Internet may put young Tibetans at risk of exposure to "negative information".
The No. 1 High School of Qamdo Prefecture on Tuesday held a ceremony to warn students to avoid "negative influences" on the Internet, following a central government campaign to teach the young to avoid obscene content.
More than a hundred Tibetan students pledged: "I swear to be a good learner on the Internet, not to browse harmful information.. to improve self-protection awareness, safeguard Internet security.. and not to indulge myself in a virtual cyberworld."
Tsering Drolma recalls, "When I was a little girl, it took about 12 hours to travel from my hometown Mangkam to Qamdo, and now it takes seven to eight hours after a asphalt road was built."
She has heard the elderly people in her neighborhood talk about life before the Democratic Reform launched by the Chinese government in 1959. "Compared with them, I have a much better life."
However, Tsering Drolma sees her generation as different to her parents, who wear traditional Tibetan clothing more than she does.
"I wear Tibetan clothes during festivals and on important occasions. In school, I wear the uniform, and the rest of the time, I dress casually because it's convenient, not because of I don't like Tibetan clothes."
Padma Tsewang,vice chairman of Tibet Autonomous Region, said Wednesday, "The development of Tibet cannot be achieved without opening up and without the support of people of all ethnic minorities in China."
He would like more capital and skills coming in to foster development. "Tibet needs development as it is still economically backward."
The new generation of Tibetans, such as Tsering Drolma, might have those skills, but who knows where they will go after higher education?
Tsering Drolma's decision to take Chinese language-only classes was opposed by her parents, and more harshly by her grandmother. They feared she would lose her Tibetan language as the Mandarin classes are more competitive and require more energy.
But she won them over with a persuasive speech in Tibetan.
She says higher education will allow her to see how other places develop.
"I will at least bring some ideas home for my fellow Tibetans."
(Xinhua News Agency March 26, 2009)