THE LAST TRADE CARAVAN IN TIBET(XI)
The Business of Galzang Wangdu
TEXT BY GYAYANG XIRAB
Gelzang Wangdu on the rangeland.Photo by Jogod.
Galzang Wangdu Cooperates with Tseng Dra
Every year herdsmen trade salt in spring and farm produce in autumn. At other times they work in animal husbandry, which it has been their economic base for generations.
Galzang Wangdu's family is one of the most well-known households throughout surrounding areas with the biggest number of family members, livestock, and a successful business. The family even possesses a truck branded Dong Feng. Having so many "biggest numbers"closely matches Galzang Wangdu's inborn business intuition. During the period of the people's community, he acted as storeman for a production team. With a background of "Experience is the Greatest Teacher", Galzang Wangdu never left productive indicators and the accounts book behind. After land was distributed to each household, he took advantage of being in a favored position to purchase the only storehouse with four rooms. His family became the first household to have its own house to settle in. After being in business for several years, he became successful and his family stood out from other families as wealthy. But he was not satisfied with a very steady lives usually experienced by herders. He wished to become a businessman, at least a seasonal businessman. Therefore, he set up his business in goat cashmere, sheep wool, and yak hides; he shuttled between the fifth village of Poche and Nagchu for trade in the products of animal husbandry and commodities.
At the very beginning, he sold lollipops by lifting others' trucks to commute between Nagchu and the fifth village. With a sharp business sense, he constantly expanded the variety of goods and shortened the business cycle; finally he achieved success and become a well-known businessman in the surrounding areas.
Every spring when lambs delivery was close to finishing and the season for sheep wool production came, Galzang Wangdu greeted his best business season. Thus, he decided to spread his business to nearby villages. Because he could not drive a truck, he had to cooperate with Tseng Dra from the same village. Tseng Dra came from Dopa Township in Palgon County. In the past he was always a rather lazy person. Having married with a divorced woman in the village, he settled down here. Within a few years, he had wasted all of the women's property by slaughtering sheep and yaks for food and selling out. Finally, his family turned out to be the poorest in the village, ranked last or the second of last.
Frankly speaking, to cooperate with such kind of person was really not what Galzang Wangdu wanted, but there was no alternative. Tseng Dra often worked for others as a laborer. Once he disappeared after going to the downtown area of the county and nobody heard of him for about a half year. Actually, during this time, he worked as assistant to a truck driver to repair trucks. In payment the driver offered him meals or cigarettes. It was in this period he learnt how to drive a truck and even repair minor problems with vehicles. Nevertheless, nobody wanted to employ him. He had to come back to the fifth village again. Galzang Wangdu bought an old truck from Nagchu Hotel. He was worried there was no-one to help him drive it. Eventually, he decided to hire Tseng Dra.
Tseng Dra is one of the governmental targets for poverty relief in Poche Township. Poor people here are usually provided with casual relief every year through donations of goods and livestock from town governments. In the long run, such a relief strategy is not acknowledged as a good way to solve a big problem of poverty. Thereupon, the villagers soon lost interest and saw that the targets of poverty relief as symbolizing an "exploitation class". Such an interpretation embarrassed the villager administrators, and they did not like to give the low interest loan, offered by the government, to the persons like Tseng Dra.
Having heard the employment of Tseng Dra by Galzang Wangdu, the administrators called on both of them. They asked Galzang Wangdu to help Tseng Dra to relieve from his poverty with a conditional loan of 5000 Yuan to Tseng Dra for three years under the management and funds control of Galzang Wangdu. Three years later, the profits could be divided between them, but Galzang Wangdu had to pay back the capital sum, including interest. The family situation of Tseng Dra must be improved, and Galzang Wangdu did not need to pay a salary to Tseng Dra.
Though Galzang Wangdu thought it was unfair because of the possible risks, he eventually agreed with these conditions. After all, he urgently needed a driver, and he did not want Wangchen to learn to drive. He had a clear idea in his mind that herders should see animal husbandry production as their major business because it was the economic foundation of herdsmen. Therefore, in his family he definitely would not like Wangchen to divert from animal husbandry.
The cooperation between Galzang Wangdu and Tsengd Dra is not an equal one because Galzang Wangdu was the boss and Tseng Dra acted as his employed driver.
Galzang Wangdu did not bring any goods with him in this business trip. Early in the year he had purchased goat cashmere on credit and he wanted to make a business tour to understand the status quo of business. The price of animal husbandry products was very active. Galzang Wangdu clearly sensed this because he was a person with natural business intuition and could master all kinds of situations in business. Next, he would like to buy goods on credit in Nagchu, purchase products, and also get money back from villagers. Lastly, he wanted to check if there was somebody to go to Nagchu. He would never let pass any opportunity to make profits. Unfortunately, being spring everyone was very busy and nobody wanted to travel.
Several days later when we were on the way back to Lhasa, we encountered a Dong Feng truck at the cross road from the fifth village to Poche. Unexpectedly, we saw Galzang Wangdu sitting inside, coming back from Gomang Township for his business survey and on the way to Nagchu.
Galzang Wangdu Negotiated with Tsertra
In mid summer, it was extremely sunny and splendid. The mountain ranges in the distance had already turned green, but sheep were still wearing their thick "coats". Nevertheless, yaks, their bodies shining from having gotten rid of their old hair, were spanking mosquitoes with their tails. In the heat of summer, men resembled the yaks their tendency to be easygoing. They collected sheep cashmere and did needlework. In north Tibet, men usually do the needlework, but in fact few of them are good at it. Spring is the busy season for women: a housewife often works over ten hours every day. Generally speaking, this amounts to the following: get up before daybreak, mix up yogurt, milk the yak, pick up dung, cook milk, prepare milk dregs, fry barley, milk sheep, cook sheep milk, grind barley, do sheep and yak milking again. At intervals they also make buttered tea, feed kids and take care of old people. However, they could make their own meals at any time. Thus, men are always acting as an assistant in a family.
The phrase "Yak dung" is often read in papers in association with Tibet. At first sight, you might find this repugnant because, just as its name implies, it refers to"the stool of yaks". How could it be possible to feel otherwise? However, yak dung is a necessity for herders and we should not treat it like shit-a dirty thing. Yak dung is everywhere. It costs nothing and you can pick it up everywhere. When people differentiated themselves from animals and learnt how to use fire, there was nothing more important than having fire. In the northwest of Tibet, trees could not grow. Therefore, people have to rely on yak dung to keep warm and to cook; they have maintained this custom for hundreds and thousands years. Tibetan herdsmen depend completely on the natural environment to raise their herds. To some extent, yak dung is actually free from pollution and in fact, a purely nature fuel. Therefore, picking up dung is a daily duty, usually accomplished by women.
Listening to a story while sitting aside a yak dung fire. Photo by Jogod.
It was midday, the time for milking. The third son of Galzang Wangdu, Tsegyal, came back from the grazing of their female yaks. An extra pure black female yak had appeared in the herd. Galzang Wangdu sensitively questioned Tsegyal; "Why does the black come back?" Tsegyal is an inborn hypogenetic boy with an adult face, which rather contrasted with his short stature and child's voice. Tsegyal answered carefully: "Tsertra asked to withdraw from his deal with you, and asked me to get this yak back; he said he would come to reclaim his yak in several days."
"Ao! That is to say you have already agreed with him. Who authorized you to do this? I am still here, even though I am old." Galzang Wangdu became more upset. "There is a very easy way to answer him. Some words like, 'I don't know', and 'you could talk directly with my father'. This is so easily dealt with. How come you conscientiously brought this yak back?"
Galzang Wangdu is a typical family head and no one in the family opposes him, nor does Wangchen who is the pillar of the family. How did Tsegyal dare to do this?
"Ok, let's do this." Galzang Wangdu thought for a while. "Brother Wangchen, you take this yak back and say that my father does not agree with you". Wangchen was not willing to do that but afraid to oppose him. When I asked him about his thoughts on this, he said: "My father asked me to go, so I had to but actually it really embarrassed me. Tsertra is one of our relatives and I didn't know what he would say."
Wangchen drove that black yak tied together with another two yaks. He passed along the long and narrow grassland in front of the village and crossed over the east mountain hill. Tsertra's house was just in front of him.
Director Tan was very interested in this. We paid careful attention to watching the situation develop. Thus, I became the espionage agent and frequently visited Galzang Wangdu's house to seek information. Galzang Wangdu didn't go to his herds, but rather took a leisurely break to do some needlework at home. He was working on sewing a dress for his daughter Trinley.
Mt. Khesur looked like a sitting eminent monk bathing in sunshine, and the sunbeams seemed to radiate like a monk's golden hat.
The village was now in the shadowed of the mountain. It was time to stop grazing. We were waiting for Wangchen and his much-anticipated story. While the shade of the west mountain was moving to the peak of the east mountain, three layers of huge naturally colorful lights suddenly appeared. Down to the ground, the light fell on black soil. In the middle there was the golden mountain range shining under the sun, but on the top was an azure blue sky. Just between the mountain and the sky, yak and sheep herds suddenly appeared followed by Robzang, Wangchen, and Tsertra. Tsegyal saw this and informed his father: "It seems brother Tsertra comes."
"That is okay for him to come. He did not care what it happens at the beginning, so how should I care what it would come to next." Galzang Wangdu obviously did not blame his son now.
I questioned Galzang Wangdu what had happened before with regard to this issue.
Several months before, Galzang Wangdu went to the fourth village for business. On the way back to the fifth village, Tsertra accompanied him. Thinking highly of Galzang Wangdu's black yak-a tall animal with shining hair, Tsertra believed it could be sold for a good price if he owned it. He actually thought to exchange yaks with a good horse but the horses' owner required three female yaks that could be slaughtered in winter. Thus, he asked Galzang Wangdu if rather than hand over the three fertile female yaks to the abattoir, he could exchange the female yaks with him for the black one. What a good business it was! Galzang Wangdu, of course, loved it very much. To be slightly critical of him, he is a bit of a moneygrubber. He preferred to have more fertile-aged female yaks so that his number of yaks could be increased. In his mind, he always wanted to make comparison with the old Gyada. However, Tsertra's dream to buy a horse was dashed to pieces, and now he felt it was unfair to have such a deal with Galzang Wangdu. Therefore, he asked to withdraw from this business.
Putting down the needlework, Galzang Wangdu didn't step down to tie yaks but entwisted his wool with cross wood sticks under the sun. It was unusual. When yaks and sheep are brought back, man and woman in a family usually have their separate business. Man goes out to tie yaks and woman does the milking. Everyday, Galzang Wangdu would go out and tie his yaks, but today he didn't. With this change of routine, he was seeking to show his unhappy face to Tsertra. This was not an attitude issue but rather an expression of his prestige. He intended to give a lesson to this young guy who did not understand the rules.
Tsertra didn't visit Galzang Wangdu straight away; instead he assisted Wangchen to tie the yaks. He hoped his action could help pacify Galzang Wangdu. However, Galzang Wangdu didn't show up. Tsertra was good at public relations but facing such a famed businessman, he clearly understood that Galzang Wangdu was a solid person in business who never broke his word. Thus, it was such a hard thing to pull it back. Maybe Tsertra wanted to test his fortune because of the relationship as a relative or he just intended to stack up against the famous merchant.
"Granduncle, are you in home?" Tsertra was greeting Galzang Wangdu when he entered into the house"Au, brother Tsertra comes!" Galzang Wangdu answered. "Sit down. Brother Wangchen brings tea to brother Tsertra". Wangchen treated Tsertra with tea, and then the two negotiators kept silent with each other. Galzang Wangdu placed a piece of lamb on fried cookies in a basket and asks Tsertra to taste. He then kept on winding his wool, and once in a while, he asked Tsertra to taste lamb again.
Tsertra poured a little snuff onto the thumb nail of his left hand, and then the middle finger worked together with the thumb of his right hand to hold the snuff, a little by little, to his nose and inhaled. Having almost sniffed it all, he decisively inhaled the last bit on his nail, which made his face change, and a smoke then came out of his nose and mouth, accompanied with a light cough, and tears like a glass bowl were running down in a loose line.
Now Tsertra opened his mouth, and said: "The reason I come here today is to return two female yaks bought last time from you granduncle. You might already know that, originally, I intended to exchange yaks for a horse but the deal was failure. Thereupon, it is really useless to exchange an old female yak with a female yak at the fertile age. My father disagreed with this deal, too. I believe that you, my respected old granduncle, could give me a chance and return my yaks. Please forgive me if did something I am wrong."
"I will not undo this deal", said Galzang Wangdu without beating around the bush. "We all consider our own business at the very beginning. Both of us had discreet thoughts and then we decided to have this deal. Nobody forced us to do that; of course, nobody has the right to force us to do this or that. If it was just like what you said, you did business when the deal benefited you but withdraw after several days because the business will no more bring benefits to you. On this basis, nobody would like to do any more business deals. In addition, such way of running business would never be accepted by any people. Moreover, you just asked the kid to pass the message to me and then want to break this deal so easily. If you really want to withdraw, this is not a proper way to do it. Am I right?"
"Therefore, I asked Wangchen to take the old female yak to you. If I agreed to reclaim it, would it have been possible to ask him to take half day to do this? I didn't expect you to come. Okay, you have already been here, and let us talk frankly. How is my female yak? It does not need my comments any more because you have chosen it. Today, my yaks came back in good condition. The hair looks wonderful, and you have kept the old hair at the sides of legs; two big rings have been placed on the ears of the yaks. It all looks gorgeous. But I have no interest at all. Though I appreciate it, it does not belong to me. If I had lost fortune on a deal, I would have never regretted it and surely I will not try to undo it."
"You might know that I am the kind of old person that is never patient to stay in one place. It is impossible to do my business in the future, if I withdraw from this deal because of you today. And others will come to ask me to withdraw from other business tomorrow. How can I answer them? If I canceled all deals, there would have been no meaning to do business anymore. If I refuse to withdraw, people would ask me why I let Tsertra off but not them. How can I give a proper answer to them?"
"If such a case happens, in the long run it would give business a bad reputation in the future. I really don?t like to be the person to provoke such a bad reputation. At the surrounding areas, I have embarked on business at a very early stage; afterwards, many people followed this step to run a business. If today I broke the rules, people would have followed my example. Historically, there are rules in business, i.e. if backing out of the deal, you are asked to pay a fine of nine times of the original price. Of course, we will not do this, but I will also not return the yak to you."
"This case is not the first such case I have experienced. Several years ago, a man from Gomang Township loved my wooden bowl decorated with silver and asked to exchange a yak. I gave him a breeding yak. The yak was grazing on the mountain. I knew it well. Several months later, that man brought back the wooden bowl when I was not at home. Ma Ma (Galzang Wangdu's wife) agreed to take this bowl. I strongly criticized her because of that. Later on, I asked a person to return the bowl to this man in Gomang Township with a message: "don't send this bowl back and the breeding yak is forbidden to him to touch as well. Though it was stolen or even slaughtered, it was still none of his business. Afterward, I sold this yak, and he didn't make any trouble. That is because this yak was no more his yak."
"It is useless to talk any more about this issue. In short, I will not return it to you, and that is the reason. You said we were relatives. Though we know each other before or not, the relative relationship is something that it can never be changed, but now we are talking on two different issues. Relationship is one thing, but business is another. The only thing I can say here is that, please forgive me."
Having heard Galzang Wangdu's speech, the men fell into a deadly silent. Such feeling is horrible, even to us as the outsiders. We held our breath.
The women and kids returning from milking broke the silence and embarrassment amongst the men.
The Dong Feng Truck of Galzang Wangdu
Two years later, we again visited the fifth Village of Poche Township. None of us believed that Galzang Wangdu had already sold his truck when we heard this news.
We asked the reasons, and he said: "I am a herdsman. To be a good housemaster, my main task is to do my best in production of animal husbandry, and only in my spare time I would like to do some business, or needlework, or grazing my herds. I don't like to use big words. If I can do it I will. That is who I am."
The old folk always bargained with Gelzang Wangdu.
"I gradually become old. There is no more a big ambition in me. Several years before I bought a Dong Feng truck and had some small business. Believe me or not, I don't think to do business is the only approach to becoming rich. I think a herder must embark on raising livestock and keep busy at earning income from animal husbandry. This is the only way to become a successful herdsman. In fact, the authorities asked us to take this approach. They said we needed to leave poverty and get rich. Such a policy makes us very happy. While speaking of riches, they also asked us to control the number of livestock. I neither agree with this policy nor understand it. To control the number of livestock is the attitude of a farmers but not a herdsman. We have no farm land at all."
"It could not be said that we don't have cultivated land... it says that we must learn how to support ourselves by taking the approach of planting grain ourselves. Nevertheless, what we got from our cultivation is that nothing we could eat, neither for man nor livestock. It is fortunate the barley we plant is edible by livestock. How much is the value of the green grass? The basic cost could not be paid back. Herders have to rely on livestock to become rich. The more the number of livestock, the more income there will be. This is a really simple truth. Based on what we have in my family, I don't need to worry that my property is not enough to me in my lifetime. However, as a man and also a father, I must leave something to my kids. What do I need to leave to them?"
"Running a business was not allowed in the past and it was said that business was somehow the tail of capitalism. Later on, words were changed and doing business was allowed. When I set off on business, the conditions were the worst. I had no capital and only started with selling lollipops. Having earned money in hands, I thought that to keep the money in hand would be useless to make profits. Therefore, I decided to buy a truck. With a truck, the quantity of goods sold was increased and profits got enlarged.
Gelzang Wangdu,the merchant,selling clothes.
"Why did I sell the truck now? I must say the truck is in very good condition and I felt unwilling to sell it. But eventually, I decided to do it. There are two reasons. The first is because I couldn't get a driver, and the second is because I have to pay for road maintenance. Certainly, not only I have to pay this and I am not reluctant to spend money. If I didn't pay, the well-kept truck would have been kept at home but never entering the city, which it was just like stolen livestock hidden in the home even though it belonged to me. But if I pay, I was reluctant because the money was obtained through my hard work and after paying of all kinds of fees, it will leave very few profits for me."
"I did not let me lose on this truck, now I have sold it. By using this truck, I have already earned all my investment by running business in many different places. There are no more big profits to make. We have been successful in returning the Tseng Dra's loan and interest, and the economic income of our two families have been improved to some extent. However, speaking for most of the situation, 'everything should end when it is still beautiful.'If it was livestock, I would develop an attachment to it and feel regret for it, but it is a machine. Therefore, I feel I have already earned enough from it."
Having sold the Dong Feng Truck,Gelzang Wangdu bought a Jie Fang Truck,
on which words"tohlung Dechen County Private Business"was written.
Without a truck, Galzang Wangdu was still a boss, and the only difference was that he had returned to his original position.
He was quite good at understanding commodity demands and also the seasonal consumption of herdsmen. Sometimes, he drove two yaks or a horse to carry various items loved by herders, to do his business. In the very early years he ran his business by visiting villages and households, resulting in the saving of capital for purchasing a truck. However, the current way to run his business made him feel it was inefficient and the quantity transferred was too little. He also felt that business without a truck was just like tea without butter, making you feel only water filled your stomach, nothing else.
One year later, when we visited the fifth village, we heard that Galzang Wangdu had bought a Jie Fang Truck costing him 8000 Yuan from his relatives in Lhasa.
Galzang Wangdu said: "This truck is the neck flesh of sheep". This is a particular metaphor of herders-If choosing flesh, it is better not to choose the meat from the neck of sheep because it is a little flesh on a big joint.