He Zhiben lights an incense stick. Taking off his felt cap, he rubs his balding head and chants verses from the scriptures of the Dongba religion of the Naxi ethnic group in Southwest Yunnan province.
A tourist in her 20s sits quietly opposite him.
"Did your dog die this year?" he asks.
The woman is stunned. She is speechless for a second, and then nods.
The 83-year-old shows the woman the scriptures filled with pictographs and points to what she says is a blurred image of a dog.
He is the last surviving Dongba, or religious priest, in Baidi village, the birthplace of the Naxi people's Dongba religion, 100 km from Shangri-La county in northeastern Yunnan.
The Dongba is an integral part of Naxi culture, and the Dongba scriptures are written in pictographs, the world's only pictographic script system still in use.
The Dongba religion has no official organization or fixed ritual place. It is only during rituals that the priest is given an exalted status. At other times, he is like any other farmer.
Thanks to Baidi village's remote location, flanked by mountains on three sides and Jinsha River on the fourth, its traditional Dongba culture has escaped being converted into a tourist attraction, like Lijiang some 200 km away.
Many indigenous elements go back nearly 1,000 years.
On Feb 8 of the Chinese lunar calendar, villagers from Baidi and afar gather at Baishuitai, a holy place, to worship the dragon god under the guidance of the Dongba.
He also appears at every funeral to release the soul of the deceased and guide it to heaven. Fortune-telling is another role the Dongba plays.
But the Naxi's Dongba culture is declining. Since the 1970s, the ritual of praying to the sky on the first and seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar has been combined with the celebrations on Feb 8.
The role of Dongba is a hereditary one but of He's three sons, only the youngest, He Yonghong, 44, has shown any interest in the mysterious pictographs of Dongba scriptures.
Owning to the suspension of religious activities during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), He Zhiben can only recognize some 60 pictographs, one-tenth of what his ancestors knew. His son understands less than 30.
With great difficulty, He counts five other Dongba who can recognize some of the 1,200 pictographs of the Dongba script and are familiar with some of the rituals.
"Since the age of 27, I have shepherded countless souls to heaven, yet who is going to be there at my funeral to help mine?" he wonders.
"Many youngsters want jobs in the county to make more money. Few of them are willing to learn their traditional culture," says Yang Zhengwen, a local scholar who has been researching Dongba culture since the 1970s.
To raise interest, Yang founded a small-sized school named Holy Spirit Dongba Culture School in 2000.
He invited He Zhiben to teach the pictograms and scriptures and Yang took charge of lectures about Dongba culture.
Some of the first batch of 12 students, who mastered 12 pictographs, were invited by neighboring villages as Dongba.
But a shortage of funds forced the school to shut down three years ago.
While some of those who attended were eager to learn the pictographs, others were there just to make money.
"Armed with just a little knowledge, they wanted to go to Lijiang to sell their poor writing," Yang says.
Li Dejing, vice-director of the Naxi Dongba Research Center in Lijiang, suggests the government should provide bilingual education - in Mandarin and the Naxi language - to local children.
"The 15 Dongba living in the area are aged over 70. To build a Dongba school as soon as possible is a pressing need," Li says.