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Economic interconnectivity of Tibet

Publish Time: 2018-12-06 Author: From: chinadaily.com.cn

China Reform and Opening – Forty Years in Perspective

Economic interconnectivity of Tibet

Editor's note: Laurence Brahm, first came to China as a fresh university exchange student from the US in 1981 and he has spent much of the past three and a half decades living and working in the country. He has been a lawyer, a writer, and now he is Founding Director of Himalayan Consensus and a Senior International Fellow at the Center for China and Globalization.

He has captured his own story and the nation's journey in China Reform and Opening – Forty Years in Perspective. China Daily is running a series of articles every Thursday starting from May 24 that reveal the changes that have taken place in the country in the past four decades. Starting this month, China Daily will run two articles from this series each week – on Tuesday and Thursday. Keep track of the story by following us.

The author in Tibet. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

2007, Lhasa: I awoke each morning to the sound of local people doing their morning kora,or circumambulation, reciting mantra while turning handheld prayer wheels, as they passed along the alleyway outside my window. Each morning I would buy Tibetan flatbread from the lady who gave her profits to wandering street children.

At the alleyway crossroads of Tsongsikhang market, dried Tibetan cheese was piled high at stalls. The fragrance of red chili and yellow cumin overflowed from the wooden trays of spice vendors. This juncture between alleyways was an ancient traders’ market, in unbroken service since the seventh century when the city was first built. Nomads from Kham wearing chunks of amber and turquoise around their necks and red tassels tied to their hair from which coral pieces dangled, chatted into dusk excitedly trading semi-precious stones, saddles and pelts. All of this occurred daily, just minutes from the front door of my Tibetan courtyard house. I observed each day how every aspect of the kaleidoscope of color in these alleyways was actually part of an integrated economy. I realized that the success of what we wanted to achieve with our social enterprise would depend upon joining that integration.

In the afternoon Pembala and I usually walked through the neighborhood, visiting artisans in their shops, asking if they wanted to work on our products. Together Pembala and I designed everything needed for this little hotel. We sketched designs with pencil on scraps of paper and gave them to the artisans. Only traditional materials were to be used.

Soon the whole neighborhood became stakeholders in Shambhala.

When we wanted to create coffee cups, plates and bowls for our first restaurant, Pembala and I traced the source of Tibetan ceramics. We did this by talking with migrant street vendors squatting in the alleyways selling earthenware. The source led to a village about three hours from Lhasa. Here the earth was a deep red. The pottery village specialized in ceramic vats to store chang. However, production was in decline because Chinese-manufactured plastic and aluminum products were cheaper. With no money in pottery, young people were leaving to find work in cities. Pembala and I suggested modifying the natural shape of traditional ceramic vats and storage bowls to create cups, plates, and vases for shampoo and bath lotion. With three hotels and three restaurants in the planning works, we kept the villagers quite busy revitalizing their craft. The best thing about the plates and coffee cups they made for us was that no two matched at all. It was all just pure art.

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