Buddhist nuns lead modern, rich lives

A pizza place in Yunnan province's Shangri-La county is the favourite dining spot of Tashi Yungdrung, a Buddhist nun.

Like many young people in the cities, the 29-year-old Tibetan woman enjoys sharing her life by posting pictures of fruit pizza and friends on WeChat, a mobile messaging app.

Tashi was 16 when she first donned the magenta robe of Tharpaling Nunnery, the only Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in Yunnan. There she began her lessons, just 20 kilometers from her hometown, in a village of the Dechen Tibetan autonomous prefecture.

More than 100 nuns from Yunnan and Sichuan provinces and the Tibet autonomous region practice Buddhism at the nunnery. Some of them, including Tashi Yungdrung, study scriptures, while others study Tibetan grammar.

They get up and chant at a hall at about 6 am every day. They then take courses in the morning and debate Buddhist scriptures, a special form of practicing Tibetan Buddhism, from afternoon until night.

A nun named Drolma said they have a day off every 10 days, just like living in school. The summer vacation starts in June or July, while the winter vacation starts in December on the Tibetan calendar.

Tashi Yungdrung said people are wrong if they think a nun's life is boring and isolated from the outside world.

She and her peers have moved to their new dormitory, which is decorated with Buddhist classics, with little dolls on each of their bedsides.

She likes to visit the nunnery's library with computers and printers when she has time, cook in the refrigerator-equipped kitchens, or just scan the news on her cell phone at the dormitory.

The local government recently began to offer an annual subsidy of 3,000 yuan (S$659) to every nun in an effort to improve their lives.

In order to increase the income of the nunnery and enrich their lives, nuns are encouraged to learn skills such as Tibetan medicine and tailoring.

Five years ago, the 300-year-old nunnery was dilapidated, with cracking walls and decaying components.

"Whenever it rained, the roof leaked. We had to repair the roof, though we are women," Drolma said.

With the help of the local government and society, the main hall has been strengthened, new dormitories and kitchens have been built, and the road linking the nunnery with the outside world has been improved.

Tashi Yungdrung has just started a 25-day summer vacation after taking exams, returning to her home.

She arrived at home with the money she saved, and she shared on WeChat a video clip of her mother cutting grass.

"We don't have homework to do during vacation. I will pick mushrooms on the mountain to provide some help for my parents," Tashi Yungdrung said.

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