IN A SNOWY VILLAGE high above cloud level, two fur-clad young girls travel to a frozen mountain top lake and stand on the surface, surrounded by elders.
They smash through the ice to take a ceremonial ladleful of sacred water, and then everyone sings and dances.
It is the most ancient of rituals in a remote village unspoiled by time—but afterwards, the girls will buy groceries spending digital cash using QR codes and take a break by watching Tiktok videos.
Welcome to China—and more specifically, modern Tibet, known as Xizang in Mandarin.
The glorious incongruity of carefully preserved ancient rituals and the quick conveniences of modern technology tell us a lot about progress in China. People here are working hard to maintain the best practices of the past, while also trying to take advantage of the best ways forward. And, in general, they are doing a pretty good job.
AN APPLE PROJECT
The offbeat story of the village in the clouds will reach a wider audience thanks to Apple, the US tech company that makes 95 per cent of its world-changing smartphones in China.
It sponsored a filmmaking expedition to travel to this village, called Tuiwa, in Tibet.
Young filmmakers climbed steep mountains to an altitude of 5,070 meters above sea level to reach the small settlement, one of the highest villages in the world. (Tuiwa is almost a kilometer higher than Bolivia’s El Alto, considered the highest city in the world at about 4,150 meters.)
This report continues further down — but if you want to get a feel of Tuiwa village when the snow melts, check out the videos recorded by Little Chinese Everywhere, one of our favorite YouTube channels.
From Apple’s point of view, the publicity value was clear. It would be very difficult to carry traditional movie cameras and sound equipment to this village in the sky.
But you don’t need to. Just take an Apple iPhone switched to cinematic mode.
It also gives an opportunity to young Chinese filmmakers to do something different. “Young creatives are the most connected and mobile generation,” said Apple executive Greg Joswiak. You just give them the tools and let them loose.
PERSPECTIVE OF THE LOCALS
To celebrate Losar, or Tibetan New Year, the villagers gathered at dawn on top of a frozen mountaintop lake called Puma Yumco, and two young girls took the central role in the ritual.
“They cut through the ice to scoop the first ladle of its holy water, while praying for good fortune in the coming year,” said Fang Aiqing of the China Daily. “Then, they joined hands, forming a circle to sing and dance.”
The result of the joint movie-making exercise was a five-minute report called Before the Snow Melts. Recognizing the need to see things from the perspective of the locals, they asked one of the young Tibetan woman, Pema Yangjen, to narrate it.
During the dance, the girl “was at one with the mountain, lake and the wilderness, with flocks of sheep nearby, and eagles soaring overhead,” wrote Fang.
While Pema Yangjen said she was delighted to live in such an unspoiled natural place, she longs to travel one day to see great cities such as Shigatse in Tibet and Shanghai on the east coast of the country.
The village, meanwhile, is so undeveloped that it does not yet have running water. But it does have an internet signal and a Douyin (the original Tiktok) habit. Villagers plan to use the internet to try to boost tourism in the area.
Images at top are handouts from organizer.