There have been quite a few changes done since I left more than a year ago. They have built the long awaited toilets/showers! Now there’s no need to bother the relatives or hike up to the hot spring to get a shower. And i think the toilet is the cleanest room in the house. For some reason it’s ok to kill flies in the toilet but not in the kitchen.
Storage building & toilets/showers
The wooden storage building has been moved up here from the old house. Before I left I bought a new washing machine but the electricity was so bad that it wasn’t enough to run the machine. Now there’s a new power line through the village and going all the way to Yubeng so now the machine works. Not that it’s much use to me as women’s clothes below the waste are believed to pollute the machine so besides shirts I still have to hand wash my clothes. Mom is also a bit confused why we can wash the sheets in the machine but not our pants. And I’m wondering why the plastic buckets are so much more pollution resistant than a washing machine as previously it was enough that men’s clothes weren’t washed in the same water as women’s clothes but the buckets we used were the same ones.
The main room hasn’t changed much except that now we have a fridge. Mom had put some meat in the freezing compartment and complained that it’s too cold, everything sticks to the ice. So they had decided to turn the power down a bit. Then they were worried that the thing is broken as there was power but meats just started to rot. Well, they had turned the power off but the lights were working.
Dad has been putting tiles on top of the walls so that they wouldn’t be eroded so easily by rain and now they are also building a new kitchen.
So slowly, slowly it’s getting done!
About 80% of Shangri-la old town (Dukezong in Tibetan) burned down in early January. The fire started at a guesthouse at the old town center and burned for nearly 10 hours. The fire trucks couldn’t get in to the narrow streets and water was either frozen or cut off which is usual in the old town winter time.
This photo is not from the fire this year. This was one building burning and the fire was luckily put down.
Luckily no one died in the fire although it started in the middle of the night. It was saddening visiting what was left of the town. The center burned down completely, some buildings were saved at the front and on the edges. The southern side and the temple on the hill are unharmed.
Spared by the fire. The front of the old town.
At the edge
The old town square
About the only building left standing – public toilet
Beijing is pouring money into rebuilding the town and now they are also making proper water system. But the work is slow and everything is still mostly rubble with some blackened walls standing. The plan is to complete the work in three years.
The dance that took place every evening at the square has been moved to the southern part, the square in front of the temple.
The family has been building this house for six years and it’s still not ready. They build something and then work to get more money, and build something more. Because the house is located at a steep slope even the ground works were very expensive. When I came here two years ago they were still living at their old house. They loved the old house but because part of the floor had collapsed and there was no road to the house, they had decided to build a new one. Tibetan houses are made of rammed earth so the life expectancy of a house is limited. The walls are built by placing two planks on both sides of the wanted wall and then wet dirt is poured to this mold and rammed solid. Commercial loggings are banned in this area but every family has a quota of wood that they can cut for building material. This means that they have to cut the timber themselves, pull it down from the mountain, debark, saw and dry it themselves. Tibetan houses are huge, so many families work together in the construction. They keep records of which families worked at their construction and how many hours because they have to repay the work done when that family is building a house.
Building a wall
Tibetans don’t use toilets. There was no toilet at the old house but when we moved in to the new house, I forced them to do one. Well, it’s just a shack but at least it gives you some privacy. We are going to build proper toilet but everything takes it’s time here. First we needed to build one wall on top of which comes a roof and then we’re going to build the toilets and showers there. Now the wall is done (after 2 years) but no roof yet. Mom just said the other day that there is no rush as you don’t frees your bottom at summer time. So, I guess I’ll have to wait till winter to get the toilet. Try to run a guesthouse here with people who think that toilets are unnecessary! And yes, we don’t have showers either but we can use the showers at relatives’ house just up the road. Other option is to hike one hour up to the Hot Springs to have a shower. The name of the place is a bit misleading as there are no real springs, just showers. But the water comes from a hot spring. Especially at winter time it’s great to have a shower there as the water is really hot. Also when it’s raining the hot springs are the only option because all other showers are solar heated.
When I came to the village I expected everything to be done in a few months as it would be in Finland. So I left to Kunming to buy things for the guesthouse and to make flyers and spread them around Yunnan. When I came back I discovered that nothing was done. So, when the first guests arrived we didn’t even have rooms.We put some beds in the open space upstairs. When the family had some money saved dad went and bought big windows to put upstairs so that it would not be that windy up there.
By now we have 4 guestrooms done (well, almost. The paint job is bit unfinished.). Surprisingly, many people told us not to build the rooms. They liked it that you could seethe great view straight from your bed. Unfortunately it’s bit too cold here at winter time not to have room.
The view at a rainy day
My Tibetan family consists of mother, father, grandma and grandpa and two brothers. Our family also includes two cats, one dog, two mules, six pigs, two cows, four yaks and a rooster and a few chickens. Our old dog just died recently and we kill two pigs every year, but some new ones are born as well. And the next baby yak is going to be mine! The cows and last years baby yak are moms, and dad and the brothers each has a yak bull. It’s time for me to have one. Last years baby yak loves pigs. When she was weaned of her mom, she took the pigs as surrogate, and likes to suck their ears.
Our baby yak
All the animals run around free in the village except during the planting season. They return home every night (well, at least most nights). During the tourist season the mules have to work daily carrying people up the mountain, but now they also can have a rest. I feel so sorry for the dogs. If they aren’t shepherd dogs they spent all of their lives chained down in a short leash. We need the guard dogs as the animals roam around free, so they would come inside the house and eat all the fodder and vegetables mom has worked so hard to get. We need to listen to the dogs. Especially goats are excellent climbers and able to get anywhere. On the other hand, the cats are really enjoying their lives here. Cats are of course necessary as there’s food everywhere for the mice to eat. But the cats are also especially loved. They get treats from the table and mom would even let them sleep with her. The Tibetans say that one hair in the fur of a cat is blessed by the Buddha.
When I came to Xidang we agreed on the rent that I would pay every year, but now the family has practically adopted me. I’m the daughter that especially mom always wanted. Of course I can’t pass as a real Tibetan daughter because I’m no good in the field work, which is womens job. The only thing mom let’s me help her with is washing dishes. But at least I’m female companionship for her in a house full of males. Although farm work is womens job, it doesn’t mean that the men spent their days doing nothing. Everybody works very hard from morning till night, and men also participate in larger farming projects. The older of the brothers drives tourists up from Lijiang which means he’s never home. He also married a Han Chinese girl, so they are never going to live here in the village. In practice, this means that the younger son has to marry a Tibetan girl regardless of his own wishes. Mother can’t keep doing most of the field work alone for much longer.
Me and my family except for dad and big brother
There are about 75 houses in Xidang and approximately 350 people. The village is located in the Mekong river valley near the Tibet and Myanmar borders. Xidang is a part of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture which consists of the counties of Zhongdian, Deqin and Weixi Lisu autonomous county. In 2001 Diqing officially changed its name into Shangri-la, although it’s mainly Zhongdian which is known by that name now.
The nearest town from Xidang is Deqin which is about two-hour bus ride away from here. The local bus leaves to Deqin every morning between seven and nine o’clock in the morning (not very punctual) and leaves Deqin at three in the afternoon. So, the trip to town takes all day. Not that I visit Deqin often anyways. The locals go there to do shopping but other than that there’s nothing to do. Nowadays you can’t even use internet there unless you have a Chinese ID-card.
Deqin is located 3 500 m above the sea level. As Xidang is in a river valley, we are only in 2 400 m. So, the temperature here is much warmer and even wine grows here. Farming is the main source of livelihood. Well, that and tourism. We get two harvests a year; the first is highland barley and second is corn. Every house also has a vegetable garden for their own needs. Every family also owns walnut trees around the village, and walnuts, corn and grapes are the money crops. The rest of the harvest goes to the needs of the family and their animals. From the mountains they collect mushrooms (i.e. matsutake) for sale, and many of the herbs of Tibetan medicine grow here (i.e. snow cabbage, which grows only at an altitude above 5 000 m).
Tourism has brought some opportunities, for example every family owns mules with which they transport tourists up the mountain to Yubeng. Many (especially young men) want to do guiding. There are a few guesthouses in the village. Now many boys wish to buy cars to drive tourists up here from Shangri-la and Lijiang. But tourism has also brought many side effects with it. Obvious one is garbage. There is no garbage disposal in the village. We burn what can be burnt. For example, empty beer bottles can’t, so they are dumped everywhere. Another one is the so-called sex tourism. It seems to be fashionable among the wealthy Han-girls to have a holiday romance with a Tibetan guy. They buy the guys cell phones, computers and even cars (many of the cars in the village are acquired this way). But some of these girls also fall in love with the guys braking up their marriages with Tibetan girls and disturbing the traditional family structures.