Kate Karko and Tsedup are a young married couple like any other. They have hopes and aspirations and look forward to a long life together. But this marriage is slightly out of the ordinary and spans two continents. Karko is British and Tsedup is Tibetan. In order to literally get the best of their two worlds, the two came to a decision. They would spend summer in the remote grasslands of Maqu County and the rest of the year in London.
Their home in Maqu is located 1 km north of Maqu County seat, which falls under the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Gansu. The area is mainly inhabited by Tibetans and at an average altitude of nearly 4,000 meters, Maqu Grassland is postcard perfect, with the kind of wide open peaceful scenery that, just looking at, takes years off your life. Tibetans have been herding cattle here for hundreds of years and if time hasn't stood still, it's only been given a gentle nudge.
The couple's brick home nests within a compound and includes a big yard. Built in a style that fuses both the best of British and Tibetan, the red walls, Western-style fireplace, couch and tea table coexist harmoniously with a Tibetan-styled brass teakettle, carpet and Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheel.
This summer is the seventh summer the couple have spent in Maqu. Making the journey with them this time is their five-year-old son and Kate's father and younger brother, who have visited previously.
Arriving at the house for the interview, I was welcomed by a smiling Tsedup, dressed casually in T-shirt and jeans, his long hair in a pony tail. Kate, with her fair skin and blue eyes looked stunning dressed in a traditional Tibetan chupa, decorated with local accessories. Their son scampered in and out of the house, a bundle of energy seeming very much at home. Kate's father and younger brother were watching TV in the living room, while Tsedup's parents were busy with chores.
Just how did these two people, seemingly from the opposite ends of the rainbow and weighed down by diverse cultural backgrounds, meet and fall in love? Kate and Tsedup both agree it was just meant to be.
Of the six sons and two daughters Tsedup's parents have, Tsedup is the third child. Tibetans generally follow Tibetan Buddhism and, according to Tibetan tradition, if a family has more than one boy, one will be chosen by the father to become a lama. Being the most intelligent, Tsedup was always his father's choice.
As a boy, Tsedup possessed an active mind and was fond of reading and studying. He had no inclination to devote his life to a lamasery, although he is a Tibetan Buddhist. One of his middle school classmates once commented, "I remembered Tsedup telling me that his dream is to have a look at the end of the world."
In 1989, 18-year-old Tsedup, who was going to graduate from high school the next year, was asked by his father to be a lama after graduation. The young man, who did not know how to resist his father's request, decided to leave home without saying goodbye.
Tsedup's first destination was Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and over 1,000 km away. Since he did not take any money with him, he did odd jobs on route to pay his way. After an exhaustingly long journey, he finally arrived in Lhasa, joining the throngs of other young men keen to seek their fortune. Later, Tsedup made friends with an Indian scholar and went to India at his invitation. While in India, he worked hard to study English while doing part-time jobs to support himself, before getting a lucky break learning to edit and produce a TV series.
In his years in exile, Tsedup had always suffered from nostalgia. One day, he wrote a letter to his father, hoping to be forgiven. When writing back, his father did not mention a word about sending him to a lamasery. He told Tsedup that he had gone to the lamasery to pray for his son every day since Tsedup left home. Upon reading these lines, Tsedup could not help crying. He decided to go back home.
The same year, Kate went traveling to India with her friends. When the two met, it was love at first sight. Tsedup loved everything about this beautiful and smart British girl, while she found him straightforward, knowledgeable and charming. After Kate returned to Britain, they expressed love through mails and after only being gone a month, Kate flew back to India.
Kate's parents were a bit surprised and uncertain when their daughter told them that she was marrying a Tibetan man they had never met before. At the beginning of 1994, Kate's parents flew to India to get to know their future son-in-law. After having a long conversation with Tsedup, they were happy to give this Tibetan their daughter's hand.
Before leaving India, Kate's father told Tsedup that there was nothing in India for the two young people, and suggested Tsedup accompany them back to England.
Soon after their arrival, Tsedup and Kate got married. Kate worked at a magazine as a designer while Tsedup got a job on a short TV series and tried his hand at writing TV sitcoms. He turned his memories about his hometown into a sitcom called A Family of Herdsmen, which was well received when it was broadcast on one of London's local TV stations. After several years' hard work, Tsedup and Kate were in a position where they could afford to buy their own house.
In 1998, after being away from home for nearly 10 years, Tsedup went back to his hometown with his wife and parents-in-law and saw his beloved parents and siblings and Maqu Grassland. He had played this scene in his mind over and over.
Tsedup's parents were excited to meet their daughter-in-law, who they promptly christened Namma, which means "daughter-in-law" in Tibetan. Kate's parents came to love this warmhearted Tibetan family as well as the vast grassland, bustling cattle and hospitable Tibetan herdsmen.
Tsedup and Kate remained in Maqu for half a year. They spent the time traveling around, visiting relatives and watching Tibetan operas. Kate adapted to Tibetan life very quickly, learning the Tibetan language and picking up horse riding skills. They were happy.
The nomadic tales and ancient customs of the Tibetan people have greatly inspired Kate. She decided to write about her experiences and feelings, to let more people know Maqu Grassland, the Tibetan people and west China.
That autumn, Kate left her job at the magazine after returning to Britain and began her career as a freelance writer. Many of her articles about her experiences on Maqu Grassland have been published in British newspapers and magazines.
In 2000, Kate wrote and published NAMMA: A Tibetan Love Story in Britain, a book based on her love story with Tsedup and her experiences in Maqu. On the cover of the book is a picture of Kate dressed in traditional Tibetan clothing and jewelry. The book also contains pictures of her son and self drawn illustrations. As an account of a transnational romance, this 305-page hardcover novel is basically a biography, in which is enclosed both family trees.
Currently, Kate is working on a fantasy fiction for children. She said that she wanted to be as successful as J.K.Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series.
Kate said tales and customs of Tibetan people were a vast pool of wealth. She gets tremendously inspired every time they come back and was grateful to her husband and Maqu for opening up a whole new world.
Tsedup, meanwhile, is now busy with his own creations. He filmed scenes and life in his hometown and dubbed it with authentic sounds from the area. He hopes to have it broadcast as a documentary in Britain. While that is boiling, Tsedup is also working on a TV series, reflecting the life of Tibetan herdsmen in west China.