Amdo. It is still here! The ride in from the Xiahe airport was refreshing with vast grasslands and herders, and hardly any development for the 30 km drive. LaBrang town has changed. It is no longer a provincial hamlet, but a booming urban center revolving and evolving around the big monastery. Despite its modernization, the place FEELS Tibetan. A young, soft spoken Chinese woman who came in on the same flight as I also needed a ride to LaBrang, so we shared the taxi Samtso hired. Once in LaBrang, this young woman couldn’t believe she was in China. She was enchanted, and that was nice to see.
It was a sad ride out to the village, because it was on this leg that I encountered the large hotels, humongous residential projects, government buildings and widened roads where I didn’t want to see them. But once turning into Fudi Village, time and concern evaporated. Of course there are changes, everyone is seven years older, for starters, and Samtso has a 15 month old girl.
Probably the most extraordinary reunion was with the little dog, who is no longer tethered. I am surprised he is alive, and so pleased that he remembered me! Rather remarkable that he does, and he even wanted his hand out. That was our thing. He was a ferocious protecter, tethered near the two-plank. Every time I went out to use it, I would bring a piece of bread. In the beginning, I would toss it to him, as he was really a formidable presence, good at his job. But within a day he stopped barking at me and by day three, we were buddies — like, I could pet him! I have his picture in my office at home.
The hearthside welcome was warm, and Samtso and I visited like we were sisters.
I caught up on the scuttlebutt about the nunnery, sad but not at all surprising. The head nun, the fat one with the scheming eyes, has indeed, ascended to her self built throne. For herself, she has built opulent chambers, replete with servants. Meanwhile, she kicked out all of the older nuns and recruited new ones who are under her sway. They live in little tiny rooms. She would not report to Samtso, who had worked very hard getting and supervising a grant helping the nunnery build the much needed temple. The head nun shined Samtso on, saying that her group’s donation didn’t amount to anything anyway. She, the nun, said she had much richer friends who donated ever so much more. So, no accounting was ever made. Altho Samtso is certain there is money left in the coffers from the grant, she feels it has gone to line the sleeves of the head nun. Samtso does not know what has happened to the beautiful nun, nor, of course, he “youngest”, both of whom I photographed on previous visits. I was hoping to see them, but the women have dispersed with the winds to places where they can stay for little or no money…which is what they have.
Speaking of money, I gave Samtso the donations I gathered for her bakery, and it sure is a relief to get that wad out of my belt. We spoke a bit about her ideas to get the business off the ground. It will be really great if she can succeed, not only for herself, but the idea of an independent Tibetan business that furthers the self sufficiency of Tibetan women is terrific. She has trained her niece in French style baking of pastries, so that ultimately Lhamo can be the head pastry chef, training others. The equipment is in place, and her plan is to start small, serving tourist hotels that cater to western guests, enhancing her presence with a small outlet in the historic center.
I have no doubts that Samtso is up to it, and she has been working hard developing the idea for a couple of years. But there is one serious problem, not at all in her control. A year ago there was a huge fire in Shangri-La that burned the entirety of the the old town business thoroughfare.
I went there. It is devastation full blown. The government is rebuilding, and they are doing a nice job, but it is no longer OLD. It is a reconstruction, and the vibes aren’t there. That said, forgeries in China are remarkably deceptive. Still, for Samtso, the new rents are prohibitive. She is trying to figure this one out.
Now let me tell you a bit about Kelsang Pudrun, whom I call Padoon, cuz that is whatI thought they were saying. She is a doll! Fifteen months old, smart as they come, and with a disposition so delightful that she is a true joy to be around. After the spending time with the naughty Lhasand Dundrup, Dolma’s boy, the idea of children in the same room with me for any length of time was, mildly put, off putting. Padoon is simply fun. She laughs at about anything, and warms instantly to whomever enters the house…me included.