There is much that doesn’t make sense about Hongpo, till one hears the story. Hongpo is very pro Chinese, and they truly embrace the improvements from the government. Not so long ago, they were under an oppressive war lord’s authority. Mao freed them from his domination, and they worship him still. They are anti Big D, so much so that followers (only six families), even though villagers, are pretty much ostracized. It is getting a little bit better, I am told. I did hear drumming one morning, and later visited the home from whence the sounds had come. It was the home of a very beautiful woman I had seen at the community center. Her brother is a yellow-hat monk in Deqin. She appears to be an active member of the community, but admittedly, with the exception of Dolma’s family, all of the people at her lunch were from the six aforementioned families.
I was perplexed at the dances to see so many animal skins, especially big cats, as Bid D has made it very clear that the use of animal skins for decorative purposes is no longer an acceptable practice. But, now that I know of their distaste for Big D, it all falls into place. There is also a lack of basic spiritual celebrations. Yes, we walk around the stupa daily, and chanting is a continuous background sound, but mostly Losar is a lot of visiting and eating.
In some way Hongpo feels like a secular village. Perhaps it is the extensive atheist Chinese presence that contributes to this sense, but, it is also capitalism. I was told there are quite a few very rich people in the village. They, for, the most, part keep it pretty low key, visually. Attitude? That is a different story. Only one family seems to have come into their money by merit. Not far from Ah Mo’s house, a familial dwelling is owned by a very prosperous couple. He is a sought after traditional painter and stupa builder. His wife is a doctor, and she and their daughter, also a doctor, have a clinic in Shangri-La. They are now building an enormous, Chinese-style (cinder block, covered with stucco-like stuff) hotel in the village, which has altered the scale and authenticity of the community. The family spends most of their time in Shangri-La, so, I guess it is just progress.
Most notorious of the wealthy is the self- proclaimed lama of the monastery. He recently declared the nearby healing hot springs as his, charging people to go there. His son is placed well as one of the town’s high officials, so the lama is now well situated to maintain his personal interests. His daughter sounds kind of interesting. She has gotten her Phd, and it is in something that, if I recall correctly, is rather noble. Wish I could remember.
Dancing, eating, drinking, cards (for a few) and TV are the main preoccupations outside of circumambulating the various stupas. The TV thing is pervasive, and deserves its own post. But the most popular wherever I have visited are the traditional Tibetan singing and dancing shows, Chinese extravaganzas, and the Guinness Book of Records competitions.
Probably the singular most surprising thing I learned about Hongpo is that it is OK for a woman to marry brothers. This situation is not unusual, and occurs when one brother is away a lot. So one might be a farmer staying in the village and the other a driver, like a long distance taxi driver. It is not at all acceptable for one man to have two women, emphatically. Remember, it is the women who do the bulk of the work.