Tashi Lhamo live-streams from her home in Qonggyai County, Shannan City in Tibet Autonomous Region, on April 2 (XINHUA)
Life in Tibet Autonomous Region is no longer remote in modern times, especially with the help of the smartphone. In Tibetan Internet celebrity Tashi Lhamo's short videos on Douyin, also known as TikTok, you can spot some amazingly idyllic scenery, breathe in the pure smell of nature, have a taste of butter tea and enjoy a feast with a herding family.
With her bright eyes and cheerful smile, the 30-year-old Tibetan became an online celebrity after a video clip featuring her charming face became popular on Douyin.
Unlike her metropolitan peers who frequent trendy cafes, restaurants and shopping malls to indulge in some selfie time, Tashi Lhamo likes to set her videos in picture-perfect scenes across rural orchards, woods and plantations.
Behind the scenes
Tashi Lhamo was filmed by her husband Tian Hui in her hometown in Qonggyai County, Shannan City in Tibet.
Her latest short video on Douyin was shot in her own backyard. The lens caught her making zanba, a food cooked with traditional Tibetan barley flour and she invited the audience to come on over and have a taste. The five-second video garnered nearly 600,000 "likes."
On the short video platform, she shares snippets of her daily life in the farming and pastoral parts of her hometown, from time to time presenting audiences with local goodies and selling butter plus other village-produced products.
"We have been sharing our short videos across several platforms, and the Tibetan Lhamo account has over 3 million followers," said Tian. "I'm so excited that this number is still rising."
"We shot everything very casually in the beginning. I didn't think about whether it would go viral online," Tian told Beijing Review. The first video shot was of Tashi Lhamo milking a cow. The couple just thought it would be something fun to shoot and then published it. To their surprise, it received over 500,000 views. "We didn't expect such a simple video to be liked by so many people," Tian said.
Being "sweet, genuine and pure," in her fans' words, Tashi Lhamo stands out among the online influencer crowd because of her effortlessness manner, the traditional Tibetan costumes she wears, the idyllic lifestyle she leads and the breathtaking views of her hometown in her videos.
For Tian and Tashi Lhamo, each and every question they receive from fans is amazing. "Can you eat vegetables in Tibet?" "How often do you bathe?" "How much dowry do you need to marry a Tibetan girl?" "Do you all ride horses to school?" It shows people are just very curious about true Tibetan life in this day and age.
"The sincerity of Tashi Lhamo and the beauty of Qonggyai County soothe our anxious minds," reads one comment below a video on Douyin. This is also Tian's reason for opting to stay in Tibet. Before coming to Tibet in 2008, Tian worked at a garage. Falling in love with Tashi Lhamo and the idyllic life here made him stay put.
When Tian first came here, the city was very small, and much of its surface was buried in crops. Nowadays, there are highrises and a lot of traffic. "Almost every household today owns a car. The quality of life has improved a lot," Tian told Beijing Review. "Vegetables and fruits are widely available, and a broadband network has been set up in Tashi Lhamo's hometown."
Tashi Lhamo's show in the limelight soon gained her popularity among netizens including locals, some of whom would even recognize her on the street. Since then, Tashi Lhamo has become a regular live-streamer to help local villagers promote their goods such as butter, zanba and traditional herbs. She frequently visits different villages to check if there is new merchandise for her to work with.
"It seems to be an easy job to talk to the audience and sell things in front of a camera, but it actually takes a lot of effort to keep improving," Tian said.
"Through Tashi Lhamo's videos, Tibet is no longer far, far away," reads another comment on Douyin. Covering an area of more than 1.2 million square km, Tibet fascinates national and international tourists alike with its breathtaking scenery, including the Himalayas and the region's northern prairies. "We are going to open a homestay, because many fans of Tashi Lhamo's want to come to Tibet to experience life here, and will probably buy some local produce when they visit," Tian said.
More and more travel websites have published articles introducing travel routes to Qonggyai, hotels to stay in and places to visit there. Meanwhile, tourism is benefiting residents, boosting local industries and increasing local incomes.
"The landscape on the plateau and the unique appeal of the border region can make anyone and everyone's day," one of Tashi Lhamo's Douyin fans, whose screen name is Fantastic Baby, told Beijing Review. Always ready to go with their genuine smiles and open mind, the local community sincerely aspires to turn one's visit to Tibet into a great joy.
The year 2020 was the time for Tibetan online celebrities like Tashi Lhamo to step out onto the stage and shine. As hosts, they interact directly with their followers, forging a bond by really taking the viewers into their daily life. The lifestyles in Tibet's rustic areas, such as those of Tashi Lhamo's hometown, have been passed down from generation to generation and with the explanations from those Internet celebrities, life there almost "intuitively" unfolds itself before the eyes of netizens from all over the country.
Moreover, this tidal wave of online celebrities also allows more people to see a vibrant Tibet. Art galleries, gymnasiums, literary bookstores, and coffee shops... These places where young people in other parts of the country often go in their spare time have also emerged in various Tibetan cities in recent years and are presented on social networking platforms. Urban life on the snow-covered plateau is becoming increasingly colorful, indeed.
Meanwhile, the Internet has also made Tibet's image become more and more multi-dimensional. In addition to the beautiful scenery that tourists expect, Tibet through the lenses of online celebrities is more modern and fashionable, a far cry from the "old Tibet" in people's stereotyped preconceptions.
Furthermore, data cited by Xinhua News Agency show that in 2020, Tibet initiated more than 2,000 live e-commerce broadcasts, with 60 million viewers and sales exceeding 30 million yuan ($4.66 million). The Internet celebrity economy is becoming a driving force for Tibet to boost its consumption and vitalize the countryside.
"We hope more people can see the beauty of Tibet through our live-streams," Tian concluded. "Tibet today is different from the past!" Tashi Lhamo chimed in with a smile. BR
(Print Edition Title: The Idyllic Life on the Plateau)
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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