New homes and roads bring more opportunities to farmers, herders
LHASA - As each guest came through his front door on Tuesday, Tubtantanpel filled his glass with homemade barley liquor, made a toast and then drained it in one.
For the 74-year-old and his family, it was a time for celebration.
Not only was it a lucky day on the traditional Tibetan calendar, but they were also hosting more than 100 neighbors for a house-warming party.
"Thanks to the government's housing project, we've been able to move from a small, adobe house to this 200-square-meter, two-story home," said the smiling pensioner, who like most Tibetans uses only his given name.
Along with a government subsidy of 88,000 yuan ($14,000), the family spent 30,000 yuan in savings to construct their new home in Shelrong village.
They also invested 20,000 yuan to buy furniture in time for Losar, the Tibetan New Year, which falls on Feb 22.
Tubtantanpel's village is in Quxu county, on the outskirts of Lhasa, capital of the Tibet autonomous region. As of Tuesday, all but one of the 22 households that live here are in new homes.
"The last one is finished and the family is just waiting for a date to move in," said Tashi, the village head, during the party.
He added that all the houses were carefully designed to blend Tibetan style and modern convenience.
"It has helped reduce the health risks that are caused by poor living conditions, such as when people used to live under the same roof as their livestock," said the 52-year-old. "Fire hazards are also reduced, as people no longer store fodder randomly and electrical wires aren't dangerously intertwined anymore."
New highways have helped connect the village to the outside world, while most families now have cable TV receivers provided by the government.
An expressway linking Lhasa's suburbs with its airport in Gonggar was completed in July, and a railway line from the city to Xigaze has been under construction since September 2010.
"With the improved living environment and transport links, people have greater opportunities," Tashi said.
And the farmers and herdsmen of Quxu are making sure they take them.
Like many others, Tubtantanpel accepted the local authority's offer to borrow 100,000 yuan at a low interest rate. Along with 300,000 yuan in savings, he used the money to buy a truck and began transporting sand and gravel to construction sites.
Last year, the family earned 300,000 yuan from the business. They also run a convenience store from their home and farm a hectare of land.
When work resumes after Losar, Tubtantanpel said he expects to be able to pay back the government loan with interest within just a few months.
"I have no worries about the future," said Dawa, Tubtantanpel's 63-year-old wife. "I only hope my family will stay healthy and safe, and that the country maintains its peace and stability."
Grain harvests in Quxu in recent years have been abundant, with the family reaping 4,760 kilograms of grain last year. They sold 4,200 kg to buy new furniture, but still have two rooms stocked with 6,000 kg of barley, wheat, peas and rapeseed in nylon bags, enough to last them two years.
Tubtantanpel and Dawa live with their son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. Their eldest daughter lives and works in downtown Lhasa, while their youngest son's home is about 160 kilometers away in Shannan.
Loyeshi, the couple's nephew, who is a Living Buddha at a monastery in Shannan, returned for the party with three other monks.
The family uses a room on the top floor as a Buddhist pray room, complete with a Buddha statue, colorful thangka (scroll paintings) and shimmering butter-oil lamps.
Their spacious living room is decorated with ornaments of vibrant colors and delicate designs, while on display are also eight objects related to Tibetan Buddhism, including a lotus flower, prayer wheel and a pair of goldfish.
Yangjan, one of two women who helped give out barley liquor at the party, said the hosts had prepared eight barrels of wine, each containing 50 kg, and many cases of beer. It ensured guests were kept in good spirits as they chatted and played cards or mahjong.
A buffet of 32 dishes was offered, including ginseng cooked with twi (a desert made of butter, cheese and brown sugar), spicy beef paste and Nepali lamb curry, as well as cuisines from Sichuan and Hunan provinces.
The meal ended with a toasting ceremony in which young women in Tibetan dress offered wine in silver bowls. Each guest held a bowl with the right hand and used the middle finger of the left to splash drops of wine into the air three times, a gesture to honor Buddha, Buddhist dharma and the monks, and to bring good luck to the hosts.
Gyaltsan, 24, came to the party in a modern outfit of a down jacket, jeans and hiking shoes, but topped it off with a traditional Tibetan hat.
"I have prepared gifts and a khata (Tibetan scarf) for the many parties we will have during this time, from Spring Festival to Tibetan New Year, right until the busy farming season begins," he said.
Toward the end of the party, Tubtantanpel added: "Tibetan farmers lead a peaceful and happy life, and better yet is to come, so long as there are no natural or man-made disasters."