China / Society

Treading a fine line between modernity and tradition

By Liu Xiangrui (China Daily) Updated: 2015-07-08 07:52

Madoi is probably the smallest county town in which I've stayed overnight, and at 4,300 meters it's certainly the highest.

We set out from Xining, Qinghai's provincial capital, early in the morning for the eight-hour, 600-kilometer journey to the county town.

During our short visit, I was impressed by the way the local residents are trying to strike a balance between traditional and modern life, and between the development and conservation of their home.

Many of the buildings have been erected recently, so the town looks brand new, but there were few people on the streets, even during what were normally busy times of the day.

The high altitude means Madoi has long, cold, windy winters and short, cool summers. Even in June, the temperature can fall below zero at night.

On the second day, we took a trip to Eling Lake and the Yellow River Source Monument, which stands atop a mountain close by the lake, about 100 km away from the county town. As we drove along the reserve's gravel road, we came across Pasang, a 25-year-old Tibetan woman who was picking up cow dung for fuel, and had her baby slung across her back in the traditional manner.

Pasang, who didn't speak Mandarin, told us through a translator that she and her husband herd yaks on their pasture near Eling Lake for about two months every year, bringing their two children with them. The family owns five yaks and more than 100 sheep. They also have a car. Only two other families nearby also continue to herd yaks.

Along the way, we saw wooden posts in the fields, carrying wires. They stretched away far into the distance, but apart from a couple of workers who were maintaining the wires there was little sign of human activity.

In addition to regular farm animals, we occasionally spotted some wildlife, including feral donkeys, Asian gazelles, and even a wolf loping along quite close to the road.

The weather was generally good, although there were occasional squalls of rain, and when we reached the monument on the mountaintop, it began to snow, so we rushed back to cover to avoid the freezing wind.

Madoi may be one of the world's toughest environments, and it's certainly not an ideal place for outsiders to stay for too long. However, for the locals it's an irreplaceable home, and many of them have expended a lot of energy and made many sacrifices to save it from destruction.

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