On the Tibetan Plateau - Ciliwudui is the director of the power plant in Yangla Township, Deqin Branch of Diqing Power Supply Bureau, Yunnan Power Grid Corporation.
In 2004, as a native Tibetan, Ciliwudui volunteered to leave the relatively comfortable Deqin County for Yangla Township in order to improve life for about 1,00 households sparsely dotting a land of 1,000-odd square kilometers.
During the following 15 years, Ciliwudui has been working diligently to light up the Tibetan township on this beautiful plateau.
He truly has a “golden heart”.
Steady electrical power has made a huge difference to life in this remote region.
Thanks to his devotion, Yangla has been kept safe from equipment failure, seen its electricity grid upgraded and all households equipped with smart energy meters and automatic meter reading devices for low voltage.
Ciliwudui corrects a tilted electric pole supporting 220 kV power lines in Jiagong Village.
This year, Yangla is the last township in Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture to construct traffic roads. Since Yangla became “electrified” and reachable by automobile, it has been developing rapidly. This is Jiagong Village of Yangla in May 2019.
Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, is a sparsely populated land located at the border of Sichuan Province, Yunan Province and the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and Ciliwudui’s home. He likes briskly playing folk songs with the traditional Tibetan instrument called Yangla xianzi.
In 2004, he offered to give up the comfortable conditions in Deqin County just to light up Yangla with electricity and for the past 15 years he has been working hard just for one hope: to lift his people out of poverty and bring them a better life.
Dedicating His Youth to His Mountainous Home
To Ciliwudui, it didn’t seem a hard decision to make, leaving Deqin for Yangla, the so-called North Pole in Yunnan, but it meant arduous treks across the mountains, and through the torrents on the frigid and remote plateau.
In 2004, he was in charge of the billing center of Deqin’s Power Company. Yet he “still longed for the mountains and rivers back at home and wanted to bring energy to his people by himself.”
This man, then in his thirties, made up his mind to work in one of the world’s most difficult places.
With little luggage, Ciliwudui arrived at Yangla alone, after travelling one day by bus crossing more than 100 kilometers. At that time, Yangla had only had roads constructed for the previous three years. “Before that, Ciliwudui’s trip could have taken 7 days on horse or on foot,” said one local resident.
The natives remember as if it were yesterday how they dug a road out of ravines of over fifty-degree slopes just to have a better life. To cultivate more land, they had to dismantle excavators into components outside the mountains, carry them into the town and then reassemble them.
To gain access to electrical power, they had to carry small generators on their back or on horses to the town.
Ciliwudui got off the train to find an impoverished landscape. Electrical power was barely accessible during daytime hours and the small hydro plant could barely energize a lightbulb.
“Life in Yangla was hard, but it was even harder for Ciliwudui,” said Zeng Yongkang, a local resident. Indeed, working on the mountainous highland 3,000 meters above sea level to improve power supply has been no easy task.
Ciliwudui, however, has never daunted.
“I never felt miserable, nor have I ever wanted to quit. I always felt energetic and positive,” said Ciliwudui loudly in the only office of Yangla’s power plant.
His wife, Quzong, sat beside him patted on his arm and smiled shyly.
They had only been married for two years when they came to the high plateau, but Quzong supported her husband without hesitation. “I knew how difficult it was when there was basically no power. So we hope to bring everybody power as soon as possible,” she said.
Today there are 515 electric poles in Yangla, with power lines of 10kV extending over 170 kilometers. Standing in Jiagong Village where the township government is located, one can easily be awed by the lofty mountains. Yet also amazed looking at the utility poles reaching as far as the eye can see.
Last year, Yangla was lifted out of poverty. Among the indicators of improved livelihood in administrative villages, electrification is a must.
“Every household now electrified,” said Liqingnongbu, Secretary of Yangla’s Communist Party Committee.
“Those who work here have to leave their fate to be decided by the falling rocks overhead and the chasms underfoot,” were jokes shared about this precarious environment. Perhaps that’s why Yangla can’t attract people to work there.
“I have been working here for nine years. Apart from those designated by the government, no one else had ever chosen to work here,” said Liqingnognbu.
Except for Liqignnong and Ciliwudui, none have chosen to devote their lives to this remote region filled with solitude and adversity.
Stick to the End
“A power plant has been established in Yangla and Director Ciliwudui is in charge. Please let him know when you have difficulties in electricity,” was the mantra shared in 2004 by the then leaders of the township government and Ciliwudui as they traveled to every neighborhood to inform the local villagers.
Since the villagers didn’t know exactly what the power plant would do, Ciliwudui patiently explained and listened to their concerns. He heard many complaining about infirm wooden poles, insufficient power and electrical power cords.
Then he set out to address these issues one by one. For more than one year, Ciliwudui had been the only one working in the power plant and clearly could use some additional strong hands at his side.
Yangla is thinly populated, with the furthest neighborhood 70-odd kilometers to Jiagong. Given that the road had not been built yet, Ciliwudui had to climb several mountains to seek help, risking dangerous encounters with wolves and bears.
Luckily he had found help!
Budu used to work in a power plant; Hesonglin had been a postman for more than a decade delivering letters to residents living in the mountains. They were both diligent, resilient and familiar with the environment here and since then, the two have become colleagues and friends of Ciliwudui.
“When there was work to do, I paid 15 yuan to each of them per day,” said Ciliwudui. At first, he paid his two partners from his own salary while scrimping and saving. As far as he is concerned, he could manage with shortage of food and other necessities as long as the work was done.
Every neighborhood had only one telephone and inadequate telecommunications facilities led to high costs of calls.
Don’t even think about using the Internet!
Yet to restore power, Ciliwudui had to make a lot of calls through the public telephone to keep himself updated and arrange for repair work. “I had to grasp every second to resume delivery of power for my people,” he said.
He also shared some funny stories. Since the villagers used to rely on a small power plant, many hadn’t got adapted to using energy meters and paying their electricity bills.
“Many paid their bills with eggs and poultry.” Although Ciliwudui had explained a lot, it hasn’t made much difference and he had to pay some bills out of his own pocket.
The residents’ trust and friendship could not be won overnight. Finally, Ciliwudui’s persistent efforts paid off. Once a passing truck got caught in some electrical wires and was about to tear down a power pole.
“Had it not been Director Ciliwudui who at once hurried to the site, the pole would have hit our home,” said Cicheng, a local resident living along the road.
The natives remember what Ciliwudui has done for them with comments such as: “We often saw him return home very late.” “We all had his number and whenever we called, he would be there for us.” “He is devoted to his work. He’s a man with a sense of responsibility and integrity.”
“There are many villagers who don’t know me, but everybody knows Director Ciliwudui,” said Liqingnongbu.
Tibu, deputy secretary of Jiagong Village also said, “when he first arrived at Yangla, Ciliwudui alone acted like a troop.”
The Yangla spirits of “diligence, resilience, teamwork and dedication” have been passed down and carried out by Ciliwudui who was born and raised here and has given back to his local communities.
Rays of Hope
On November 3, 2018, the overflowing water of the Jinsha River crested a barrier lake formed in the near Baige Village which flooded and cut off Yangla, destroying T-pylons supporting 110 kV power lines. At this critical juncture, Ciliwudui and his colleagues worked on the front lines to investigate, coordinate and repair the damage.
In a race against time to resume power, they had to put their long-term projects aside and make choice on the fly.
First, they had managed to restore power before Chinese New Year by establishing temporary 10 kV overhead power lines. By the end of this April, they had accomplished the post-disaster restoration and reconstruction.
“I promised to set my people free from outage when I came here,” Ciliwudui has never forgotten his commitment.
This vow motivated a group of people and changed the life in Yangla Township.
Given that several employees in the power plant were aged and had not worked in electricity before, they had to learn to meet the needs of development and services. “Ciliwudui taught us patiently like his own kids. As long as he is here, we feel reassured because he has our back,” said Budu.
“We are brothers. For 15 years we have never quarreled,” added Hesonglin.
Their friendship is formed from years of collaboration and shared dedication. They devoted their youth to Yangla and the furthest place Cililwudui has been to is Hainan Province in Southern China. It was his only trip, the rest of his time he has devoted to his hometown.
Today Yangla is very different. “Now we cannot live without electricity. Every house has power,” said Zeng, a local resident, adding that electronic applications such as threshing machines, milling machines “were unimaginable before.”
Cicheng’s family has opened hotels and restaurants here. Electricity costs 700-800 yuan a month when the business is good. “At first we were somewhat skeptical about the power plant, but now we pay our bills monthly voluntarily,” echoed many family members.
It is estimated that more than 80% households here offered to pay for electricity upfront and there is no such practice of dine-and-dash. This shows the villagers’ trust in not only Ciliwudui, but also in China Southern Power Grid, which provides the backbone to this growing electrical unit.
People in Yangla are most grateful to the Party for two things: road construction and electrification which have injected life to this area.
“Now we want to send our two kids to universities whatever it will take,” said Ciliwudui, who with his wife understand that their kids have more hope in the future.
When Ciliwudui travels up the mountains to fix varied malfunctions amid rustling luxuriant highland barley, those who had been weeding, stood up to have a pleasant chat with him.
If those who love their home work hand in hand, the future would be more promising.
Fighting Disaster with Commitment
At 2 a.m. in the early hours of November 14, 2018, the torrential floods of Jinsha River from the barrier lake in the nearby Baige Village hit a record capacity, suspending telecommunications, roads, and utility.
Floodwaters surged into Deqin County and cut off electricity in Yangla.
Since electricity had become indispensable in stirring buttered tea, milling and cooking, without power the villagers couldn’t even cook.
Ciliwudui needed to first resume power supply.
With his staff by his side, he visited and comforted the fellow residents by keeping them updated about the repair work while he traveled to meet with the Yangla’s governmental workers located dozens of kilometers away to ask for their support.
Finally, this direct interaction worked and local miners agreed to use diesel fuel to generate power for the villagers – for just two short hours per day.
“Meeting the customers’ demands is our priority. It was not until my people had hot food to eat that I was half relieved,” said Ciliwudui.
However, bigger challenges ensued.
Power couldn’t be restored completely unless the failure of T-pylons supporting 110kV power lines was addressed. However, these T-pylons were over the cliff some 3,000 meters above sea level along the Jinsha River. It was near impossible to deliver construction materials to the sites quickly because the road and the T-pylons were separated by steep slopes of 30-45 degrees. To make things even worse, collapses and damaged roads were everywhere along the route.
“The only solution was top use makeshift power lines,” said Ciliwudui who directed the new construction. It was the rainy, snowy and freezing winter on the plateau, and he got frostbite on his face, lips and hands. Treading the muddy or snowy road, he occupied himself monitoring and tackling problems back and forth between two construction sites.
According to Ciliwudui, the biggest problem was the availability of construction sites in two groups of Maoding Village. The temporary pylons erected on the two sites needed to be connected straight with power lines. However, unless the villagers living in the two sites agreed, the construction couldn’t take place in the neighborhood.
These villagers used to depend on small hydro plants and knew little about how China Southern Power Grid worked. After several failures to persuade them, Ciliwudui had had to ask for his remote relatives to settle the problem.
From November 14 to 26 December 2018, Ciliwudui worked day and night on the front lines to resume power before the Spring Festival. “During that period, I often saw our team members return home at 1 or 2 a.m. They worked really hard,” said Zeng, a resident living beside the power plant in Jiagong Village.
On 26 April, 2019, the 110kV T-pylons were finished, rectified, inspected and approved. Two days later they were put into operation. That marked the accomplishment of the 24.55-million-yuan post-disaster reconstruction and the recovery from the deluge deriving from Baige barrier lake.
“The recovery would not have been possible without the effort of Ciliwudui and all those who endeavored to resume power,” said Liqingbunong.
Frugality and Solitude
According to many local residents, before Ciliwudui came, Yangla was only equipped with a small hydro plant and wooden poles with jumbled wires. The power was unstable and “only available for 5-6 hours per day.” When there were Tibetan celebrations where the locals usually danced all night, the villagers had to ask the staff in the plant for more power.
It was in such conditions that Ciliwudui brought his people adequate power supply with unparalleled perseverance and persistence.
Ciliwudui is a true pioneer.
He started to replace the wooden poles and look for help. Year after year, overcoming geographical barriers, he had formed a team of seven to supply power.
During the evening hours, Zhuyaka Mountain is magnificent, with beautiful vistas of a thousand illuminated households.
Such fascinating scenery is much credited to Ciliwudui, who has powered Yangla through years of endeavor with fervor, stamina and dedication.