Grass­land pro­vides in­spi­ra­tion

En­tre­pre­neur’s yak dairy creates jobs for no­mads, al­low­ing them to stay on the land

China Daily (Canada) - - TIBET - By PALDEN NY­IMA andDAQIONG in Lhasa

Lhasa en­tre­pre­neur Don­drup Tser­ing, born to a no­madic fam­ily and cap­ti­vated by the grass­lands, has a dis­tinc­tive dual mo­tive: earn­ing a profit while preserving Ti­betan cul­ture.

His vi­sion, in which the no­mads of Maqu county in Gansu prov­ince earn enough to main­tain their tra­di­tional lives among their pas­tures and live­stock, started with a robe shop and then ex­panded to in­clude a yak dairy.

“Fast-grow­ing ur­ban­iza­tion means many no­mads no longer con­tinue their tra­di­tional no­madic lives on the grass­land. In­stead, they come to the cities to live,” Don­drup said. “Their liv­ing con­di­tions changed with the mi­gra­tion, and­many parts of Ti­betan cul­ture are van­ish­ing in this way.”

Keep­ing young peo­ple on the grass­land will help to pre­serve the sin­gu­lar tra­di­tional Ti­betan cul­ture, in­clud­ing no­madic singing, sto­ry­telling, weav­ing, horse rac­ing and yak rac­ing, he said.

“I want to help them to stay on the grass­land, and the key to that is to make it pos­si­ble for them to make good money on the grass­land,” he said.

This is no old man’s fan­tasy. Don­drup is just 30. He had been work­ing as an editor at the Ti­bet Peo­ple’s Pub­lish­ing House for more than three years when he quit his job to pur­sue his dream.

He first opened a Ti­betan clothes shop in Lhasa, the cap­i­tal of the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion. Com­pe­ti­tion is daunting, both in both de­sign and pric­ing, Don­drup said, forc­ing con­tin­ual in­no­va­tion and lower costs.

Com­peti­tors “will ei­ther copy or cre­ate sim­i­lar prod­ucts, or lower the price for the same prod­ucts, so cre­ativ­ity is al­ways needed”, he said. “I’ve had many fail­ures with busi­nesses, but I have never given up, be­cause I want to live for my dream.”

Born in­Maqu county in the Gan­nan Ti­betan au­ton­o­mous pre­fec­ture in Gansu prov­ince, an area fa­mous for its wild­flower-car­peted grass­lands, flocks of sheep and herds of horses, Don­drup ex­em­pli­fies the chang­ing prospects for Ti­bet’s youth.

With rapid eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and so­cial progress, more young peo­ple are leav­ing the no­madic life­style to move to the cities for em­ploy­ment, busi­ness ven­tures and other op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“Most lo­cal young peo­ple choose to find govern­ment jobs, such as govern­ment work­ers or teach­ers. Mean­while, some peo­ple, es­pe­cially young peo­ple from out­side, like to do busi­ness in Lhasa,” said Zhang Lina, a post­grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Col­lege of Eco­nom­ics and Man­age­ment of Ti­bet Univer­sity.

“The num­ber of young Ti­betans en­gag­ing in busi­ness is ris­ing as there is rel­a­tively less com­pe­ti­tion com­pared with other Chi­nese provinces, and Ti­bet is in the process of rapid de­vel­op­ment.”

The Ti­bet govern­ment is also en­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple to cre­ate busi­nesses by mak­ing it cheaper and eas­ier to get started, such as re­duc­ing re­quire­ments for reg­is­tered cap­i­tal, the amount in­vestors must have to start a com­pany.

“In the past, the reg­is­tered cap­i­tal for a small or medium en­ter­prise was at least 10 mil­lion yuan ($1.56 mil­lion). Last year, the govern­ment re­duced the reg­is­tra­tion to zero,” Zhang said.

In­flu­enced by his par­ents, who have long op­er­ated a Ti­betan robe busi­ness in Maqu, Don­drup started his first busi­ness in 2005, while still a col­lege stu­dent study­ing Ti­betan lit­er­a­ture at Northwest Univer­sity for Na­tion­al­i­ties.

“There is an an­nual horse rac­ing fes­ti­val on the grass­land in my home­town. I sold horse-re­lated prod­ucts dur­ing my sum­mer va­ca­tions a decade ago,” he said.

The in­spi­ra­tion for his clothes shop came from see­ing how many ru­ral Ti­betans ex­changed the colorful robes they wore in their vil­lages for or­di­nary city clothes when they trav­eled to Lhasa.

“When I saw how many Ti­betan peo­ple do not wear Ti­betan robes in the city, I be­came sad and I be­gan to think how to en­cour­age them to wear Ti­betan robes in the city,” Don­drup said. So he in­no­vated. “With their long sleeves and heavy vol­ume, tra­di­tional Ti­betan robes were pro­duced ac­cord­ing to the aes­thetic stan­dards of Ti­betan peo­ple in the old days,” he said. “New robes had to be made in or­der to sat­isfy the needs of mod­ern Ti­betans.”

He chose the Ti­betan word Khawa­jan, which hear­kens to the snow-capped hills, for his com­pany’s name. The clothes have caught the fancy of young Ti­betans, es­pe­cially stu­dents who study out­side of Ti­bet, but want clothes that sig­nal their roots, Don­drup said.

Mi­mar Tser­ing, a stu­dent at Ti­bet Univer­sity, said he likes the fit and the style.

“As a stu­dent, I find the clothes made by Khawa­jan more con­ve­nient than the tra­di­tional ones be­cause the robe has short sleeves and a pop­u­lar style,” Mi­mar, 23, said. “It’s con­ve­nient to wear, and with Ti­betan de­sign, it is more fash­ion­able.”

With in­creas­ing in­ter­est in the brand, Don­drup has opened 10 branch shops in other Ti­betan com­mu­ni­ties, such as Xin­ing, the cap­i­tal of Qing­hai prov­ince, and Hainan Ti­betan au­ton­o­mous pre­fec­ture of Qing­hai prov­ince.

With the clothes shop off the ground, Don­drup turned his at­ten­tion to open­ing a yak dairy store near the Po­tala Palace in Lhasa. Its prod­ucts in­clude but­ter, yo­gurt, cheese and milk.

In a nod to mod­ern times, while tra­di­tional yak dairy prod­ucts are made by hand, all of Don­drup’s goods are ma­chine pro­duced in ster­ile con­di­tions.

Al­though the pro­duc­tion process has been mod­ern­ized, the dairy prod­ucts re­tain “the real tra­di­tional taste”, he said.

Don­drup was de­ter­mined to buy his dairy’s raw ma­te­ri­als di­rectly from the no­mads. The goal ini­tially proved fi­nan­cially dis­as­trous.

“The dairy prod­ucts were trans­ported on flights for a dis­tance of more than 2,000 kilo­me­ters, and I had al­most closed the busi­ness as many fail­ures at Don­drup said.

But he was de­ter­mined to suc­ceed, as so many of his fellows on the grass­lands ben­e­fited from the busi­ness. More than 20 no­madic fam­i­lies pro­vide him with yak milk daily for the dairy.

Kalzangyal, a no­mad in Machu county who sells milk to Don­drup, said the dairy’s pur­chases have helped them to sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease their in­comes.

“With our in­come dou­bling, we no longer need to sell our yaks to make money,” Kalzangyal said.

Sum­yar Mar, the name of Don­drup’s yak dairy shop, is de­rived both from the renowned Ti­betan poem The Epic of King Ge­sar and the rare but­ter that is made from the milk drawn from the mother of a three-year-old yak. Ti­betans prize this but­ter as the most nu­tri­tious.

The shop is still strug­gling fi­nan­cially, as too few­cus­tomers have dis­cov­ered it as it is hid­den near the palace park­ing lot in Lhasa.

“I had al­most closed the door of the dairy shop, but I con­tin­ued, be­cause I do not want to see no­mads dis­ap­pointed bymy de­ci­sion,” Don­drup said.

Dur­ing his last visit home to the grass­lands, he was pre­sented with many white hada, the silk scarves rep­re­sent­ing pu­rity and grat­i­tude. It in­spired him to con­tinue the dairy, de­spite the set­backs.

Con­tact the writ­ers at palden_ny­ima@ chi­nadaily. I suf­fered first,”

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