How to keep the show on the road when it’s 20 de­grees

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By JIANG XUEQING

You need to be phys­i­cally tough to work in Tsonyi county. It sits more than 5,000 me­ters above sea level in­Nagqu pre­fec­ture of the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion and the weather can be bru­tal.

At the Tsonyi county sub­branch of Agri­cul­tural Bank of China Ltd, only three of the 24 bank clerks are fe­male. “Even the rocks in Tsonyi are male,” Mig­mar Dradul, head of the Bain­goin county sub­branch of the bank’s re­gional of­fice in Ti­bet, said.

Be­fore he came to Bain­goin in 2007, the 45-year-old worked as head of the Tsonyi county sub-branch for 10 years. He said the harsh en­vi­ron­ment there was too “hos­tile” for fe­male em­ploy­ees.

“On the chill­i­est days in win­ter, the tem­per­a­ture drops to 20 de­grees be­low zero. No one goes out­side, ex­cept for dogs and crows,” he added.

The weather is so ex­treme that of­fices and homes have to be heated 12 months of the year.

In the win­ter of 1997, the county was hit by heavy snow falls and Mig­mar Dradul and the rest of the bank staff went on a 300-kilo­me­ter drive to pick up cow drop­pings to use as fuel.

Later, they started fer­ry­ing coal from Lhasa, the cap­i­tal of Ti­bet, to Tsonyi. “What’s dif­fi­cult for our staff is work­ing when they are ill,” he said.

Many suf­fer from high blood pres­sure, arthri­tis, stom­ach and heart dis­eases as well as mem­ory lapses be­cause of the al­ti­tude, bad weather and poor wa­ter qual­ity.

But de­spite the prob­lems, the sub-branch still pro­vides fi­nan­cial ser­vices to more than 2,900 no­madic fam­i­lies in 31 vil­lages. More than 80 per­cent of them are scat­tered across the county, which has an area of nearly 120,000 square kilo­me­ters— roughly big­ger than the size of Por­tu­gal and Slove­nia put to­gether.

Some of the fam­i­lies are sep­a­rated by more than 200 kilo­me­ters and cer­tain vil­lages lack paved roads. Bank of­fi­cials are of­ten left stranded af­ter their cars get bogged down on dirt tracks as they drive to work.

On one oc­ca­sion, the car car­ry­ing Mig­mar Dradul and his col­leagues be­came stuck in the mud dur­ing a visit to the bank’s op­er­a­tional of­fice in Tsonyi.

Since there were no mo­bile phone masts in this rugged wilder­ness, they had to fend for them­selves. Even­tu­ally, they ended up putting rocks un­der the wheels of the car to free it from the mud.

“It took us three days to get go­ing again,” he said.

For those fam­i­lies that live where there are no roads, bank of­fi­cials visit them on horse­back to agree loans or col­lect re­pay­ments.

“We usu­ally send two staff to­gether on a trip. They ride a max­i­mum of 300 kilo­me­ters for two or three days, car­ry­ing a cash­box of more than 1 mil­lion yuan ($161,000),” Pug Tser­ing, 28, deputy head of Tsonyi county sub-branch, said.

The sub-branch has three op­er­a­tional of­fices, each send­ing em­ploy­ees to visit two vil­lages a month on av­er­age.

“Our staff will no­tify the vil­lage chief a month be­fore their visit and try to gather as many fam­i­lies as pos­si­ble on a fixed date,” Pug Tser­ing said. “For those who can­not be reached, the bank clerks will visit them one by one.”

Win­ter is the best sea­son to gather no­madic fam­i­lies to­gether although the weather can be ap­palling.

Tem­per­a­tures can dive to as low as 20 de­grees be­low zero and snow storms are com­mon. But dur­ing the sum­mer, most of the herds­men are graz­ing their live­stock and are scat­tered across the re­gion, so track­ing them down can be dif­fi­cult.

Fam­i­lies usu­ally bor­row money from the Agri­cul­tural Bank to buy grain, fur­ni­ture and tents. They re­pay loans by selling live­stock prod­ucts, in­clud­ing milk tea, yak but­ter and cash­mere.

By the end of last month, the Tsonyi county sub-branch had ex­tended loans worth 691.49 mil­lion yuan, com­pared with 14.96 mil­lion yuan in July 1995.


A bank clerk helps a herds­man to fill in a form for a loan in a fam­ily tent in Ngari pre­fec­ture.

Agri­cul­tural Bank of China Ltd launched its Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion branch 20 years ago. The date was July 1, 1995, and the de­ci­sion to open their doors was in re­sponse to the re­gional gov­ern­ment’s call to help lo­cal res­i­dents.

The na­tion’s fourth-largest len­der by as­sets took over 378 credit co­op­er­a­tives in Ti­bet from the Peo­ple’s Bank of China, the cen­tral bank, and trans­formed them into com­mer­cial out­lets at the grass­roots level.

To­day, the Ti­bet branch of Agri­cul­tural Bank has 511 fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions of var­i­ous kinds. They ac­count for 78 per­cent of the bank­ing in­sti­tu­tions in the re­gion. Its out­lets cover all cities and coun­ties in Ti­bet, as well as 61 per­cent of the lo­cal town­ships.

Apart from Agri­cul­tural Bank, sev­eral other large State-owned lenders, pol­icy banks and medium-sized com­mer­cial en­ter­prises, in­clud­ing China Con­struc­tion Bank Corp and China Min­sheng Bank­ing Corp Ltd, have also set up branches in the re­gion.

With sup­port from the Ti­bet of­fice of the China Bank­ing Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion, the Bank of Ti­bet Co Ltd be­came the first lo­cal com­mer­cial len­der to open its doors in­May 2012.

As of June 30, to­tal loans from bank­ing in­sti­tu­tions in Ti­bet reached 191.19 bil­lion yuan ($31 bil­lion), com­pared with 14.5 bil­lion yuan at the end of 2003. The out­stand­ing agri­cul­ture-re­lated loans hit 37.79 bil­lion yuan in the re­gion. Out­stand­ing loans to small and mi­cro en­ter­prises were 28.3 bil­lion yuan.

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