Wed, March 03, 2010
Lifestyle > Society

You've got mail

2010-03-03 06:33:05 GMT2010-03-03 14:33:05 (Beijing Time)  China Daily

Carrying her mailbag, Nyima Lhamo, 34, travels alone in Yunling township, to make sure all her letters and parcels reach its most far-flung areas. Photos by Li Bo / for China Daily

Postwoman Nyima says what scares her most as she travels around Deqen county is the eeries forms that the rocky silhouettes take on at dusk.

Nyima Lhamo slides across Lancang River carrying her mailbag.

Showing sheer grit, a young woman has braved roaring rivers, snowstorms, landslides and snakes to bring news of loved ones to residents of a remote township in Yunnan province. Mei Jia reports

As millions of Chinese gathered in front of the TV to watch CCTV's Spring Festival gala show this year, a Tibetan woman sitting in the front row of the studio audience of special invitees, won the loudest applause.

Postwoman Nyima says what scares her most as she travels around Deqen county is the eeries forms that the rocky silhouettes take on at dusk.

Postwoman Nyima says what scares her most as she travels around Deqen county is the eeries forms that the rocky silhouettes take on at dusk.

Nyima Lhamo, 34, never dreamed she would one day be in the spotlight when she first took up her job at the local post office, 11 years ago, for a paltry 300 yuan ($44) a month.

The first time she was assigned to cross the roaring Lancang River to deliver mail to 26 villages in Yunling township, northwestern Yunnan province, she hesitated.

Only a few years earlier, her younger brother had drowned in the river. Nyima had to slide across a steel wire suspended high above the angry waters and secured by hemp ropes. A fall meant certain death.

Nyima recalls how her legs felt leaden and hands trembled as the post office head gave the initial push that sent her flying.

But when she reached the other side, she found that all her fears had vanished.

From then on, sliding on the steel wire with mailbags weighing up to 30 kg became routine. It was only in 2006 that a bridge was constructed across the river.

Nyima is the only mail carrier of Yunling post office in Deqen county, Diqing Tibet autonomous prefecture, Yunnan province. Better known as the legendary Shangri-La, the area is locked by the Meili and Baima snow mountains and three big rivers.

Sitting at an average altitude of 3,800 m, with a drop of 4,900 m from the highest mountain peak to the lowest valley, the isolated area presents a major challenge for the provision of postal services. But showing unusual courage, Nyima has been delivering mail messages of hope and comfort to her fellow villagers.

"These letters and parcels mean a lot to the villagers who are shut-off from the outside world," she says. "Whatever the difficulties, I make sure they reach their destination."

A decade ago, it took Nyima five days to distribute each week's mail. She had to battle not just snowstorms and landslides, but also snakes and loneliness in her 350-km journey.

Sliding across the Lancang River became even more risky on rainy days. The brakes would fail to function and she would be flung against a rock face at the end of the wire slide. Even as she struggled to regain her balance, she had to make sure all her letters and parcels were intact, and move on.

Ye Na, a Yunnan correspondent with China Post News, has followed Nyima twice on her trips. She recalls that in 2004, they began their journey on a pathless slope.

"It was so steep that we had to crawl on both hands and feet. Nyima's feet were almost right on top of my head," Ye says.

Nyima says what she feared most was not the slide or even the precipices. Rather, after sunset, the rock silhouettes take on eerie, human forms. The wailing wind adds to the sense of creepiness and can chill the heart of a lonely traveler.

"I get scared but tell myself, 'Keep going, keep going. Once you get to the next destination, all your troubles will be gone'," she says, adding that she often sings to herself to calm her nerves.

But these are not the only challenges she faces. Many of the 5,800 Tibetan residents of Yunling township covering some 930 sq km, share similar names.

Nyima Lhamo slides across Lancang River carrying her mailbag.

Nyima Lhamo slides across Lancang River carrying her mailbag.

Once, Nyima had to deliver a letter from Jiangsu province for a Tibetan named Dawa. After walking for two days Nyima finally reached the remote village, only to find that there were more than 20 men named Dawa there.

She visited all the families and eventually found Dawa. The young man smiled brightly after reading the letter.

"Dawa's older brother had found a good job in Jiangsu. He asked his family not to worry about him," Nyima says.

"It is at such times that I feel all my efforts have been worthwhile."

After that experience, she began compiling a database of the villagers in her mind.

So when another letter arrived from a Tibetan who had left home 50 years ago and could provide only a vague address, Nyima was able to locate the sender's younger brother, who never imagined he would ever hear from his long-lost brother again.

August is Nyima's favorite month, because that's when outstanding students receive their letters of acceptance from universities or colleges.

"I love to deliver such mail and see the students' smiling faces. They bring hope of a better life to my hometown," she says.

In 2004, she spent six days to deliver such a letter. She climbed to a pasture 4,000 m above sea-level to find Tashi Tseding and hand him his acceptance letter from Yunnan Normal University.

Along the way, she experienced extreme weather - from sultry to freezing cold. Her jackets, which were at one time dripping with sweat, seemed frozen when she handed over the letter to the tearful young man.

Nyima has experienced great changes in her hometown in the past decade. She used to be granny Yungchen's sole connection to the outside world, with her two sons working outside the township. Today, she no longer needs to read letters to the 79-year-old or write letters for her so often, as phones have reached more families in Yunling.

Besides the bridge spanning the Lancang River, more roads have also been built in Yunling. She now makes between 1,700 and 2,000 yuan ($249-$293) every month.

As more tourists visit her hometown, Nyima now has more advertisements, newspapers and small parcels in her mailbag. But one thing remains unchanged - she is still the carrier of her fellow villagers' hopes and dreams.

She has earned many honors for her exemplary devotion. As a national role model, she was an Olympic torchbearer in 2008. She also participated in last year's Tian'anmen parade, held to celebrate the country's 60th anniversary.

Nyima, who has an 8-year-old son, is grateful for all the praise, but remains the devoted postwoman.

She also has a supportive husband, Ashbul, who never fails to remind her to check she is in proper clothing every time she sets out with her mailbag.

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