A trip from Deqen Yangzom's current home in Beijing to her hometown of Lhasa takes only four hours by plane. However, it took Deqen Yangzom ten years to make a return to Lhasa.
As the plane landed at Gongga airport in Lhasa, and the pleasant memories came back to her, Deqen's began to cry. This was a happily emotional moment in her life.
Deqen Yangzom was born in 1976 in Lhasa to Tibetan parents. In 1984, the entire family moved to Beijing, but every year they returned home to see relatives. The trip would take them to Chengdu by train, and then by air from Chengdu to Lhasa. With so much experience traveling by plane, the young Deqen Yangzom began to dream of becoming an air hostess. The reason for this burning ambition was quite simple - the beautiful uniforms and the opportunity to serve the traveling public.
Opportunity came knocking after Deqen graduated from high school in 1994. That year, Air China (CA) was recruiting air staff and, together with her friends, Deqen Yangzom decided to try her luck. In spite of being the last one to apply for a position, her natural Tibetan charm, excellent appearance and talent made Deqen an outstanding competitor in the interview and exam. Finally, she became the first Tibetan air hostess in CA's history, and her new career provided many chances to fly to large foreign cities such as Paris and New York. But she was never presented with the possibility to fly to Tibet.
With one ambition fulfilled, returning to Tibet had become Deqen Yangzom's other great dream. "Have you gone back to Tibet?" had been a typical greeting from Deqen's friends. She missed her hometown a great deal and would often think of the enormous changes happening in this part of China.
Luckily she got the chance when China Central TV planned to film some Tibetan women in Beijing and Tibet, and report on their daily lives and work. Two women were chosen; one was Dawa Yangzom in Lhasa, who had passed on the Olympic torch; the other was Deqen Yangzom.
On September 6, 2005, Deqen Yangzom eventually returned to Lhasa. She was very excited upon seeing so many familiar and unfamiliar scenes, and as the memories flooded back, she began to speak in Tibetan. "I can't help speaking in my own language! I really want to do that now!" She said with excitement. Deqen Yangzom visited her uncles and cousins, whom she had not met for a long time, and enjoyed the delicious ghee tea.
In Lhasa Deqen Yangzom revisited the places of her childhood memories. She found asphalt and cement had replaced the previous dusty roads, and once gloomy-looking houses had been turned into new ones. By chance, her return coincided with the annual "bath festival." When Deqen Yangzom went to the Lhasa River, which was one of her favorite places from childhood, she saw young children swimming and laughing in the river. Also, many adults were enjoying themselves in groups, and "washing away a year's dust" according to their customs. Under a clear blue sky and in the natural warmth of the sun's rays, Deqen, who had been afraid of water as a child, now had the courage to try it herself. With one hand in the protective grasp of her mother, she could now enjoy herself in the water.
Pointing at a distant hill, Deqen explained to us that it is called "vase hill," due to its distinctive shape. It is a tradition to climb to the top of the hill on the third day of the Tibetan New Year. Once the summit has been reached, people then hang streamers up, and written upon these are Buddhist scriptures with the names of family members. This ritual signifies a prayer for peace and good luck.
The Jokhang Temple Monastery was full of people when Deqen arrived, and it's here people come to worship Buddha Sakyamuni. This is a place Deqen Yangzom visited frequently when she was a child, and she joined the crowd and knelt down to show her respect to Buddha. On a square in front of the temple, there stands a pole written with blessings. As she read the characters on the pole, Deqen felt all the good wishes and blessings from these characters.
Later, as Deqen was shopping on Bajiao Street for some Tibetan handicrafts, she received a phone call from her younger sister in Beijing. Her sister, a singer in Beijing, told Deqen that Lhasa's top rock band was playing in a bar. On hearing this, Deqen immediately took a taxi, rushed to the bar, and had a great time listening to the music.
The tremendous changes in Lhasa leave Deqen sometimes too excited to put her feelings into words. However, there are still things that have not changed. Although a commercial atmosphere has taken root in the city, and modern things can be seen on the streets, the place still retains some of its historical heritage. The people remain honest and simple, their traditional culture stands strong, and Lhasa hasn't lost its holy and mysterious atmosphere.
At 7:00 AM, on the fourth day of her stay in Lhasa, Deqen Yangzom had to say goodbye to her beloved hometown. Laden with bags full of special local products prepared by her family, Deqen Yangzom got on the bus to the airport. As golden sunshine swept over Potala Palace, she made her departure.
Deqen Yangzom shops for handicrafts on Bajiao Street.
Deqen Yangzom and Dawa Yangzom (right) meet each other in Lhasa.
Deqen Yangzom is happy upon return to her hometown.
In front of Jokhang Temple Monastery, Deqen Yangzom pushes the prayer wheels.
(China Pictorial January 13, 2006)