A year on top of the world

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2005, 12:00am

A Hong Kong student is preparing to set out for western Tibet where he will work as a volunteer to gain an insight into life there.

Lam Tung-wan, 24, graduated from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics in July this year.

He has joined a volunteer programme initiated by the China Communist Youth League that calls for university students to go to work in undeveloped areas in the west of China, including Yunnan, Qinghai and Tibet.

Lam will be the first Hong Kong student to take part in the scheme.

As an economics student, he will work for the next year with the Development and Reform Commission in Lhasa, capital of Tibet Autonomous Region .

'I simply wish to see the people there and how they live,' Lam said.

Known as the 'roof of the world', Tibet is located on a plateau with an average elevation of 4,900 metres above sea level. Lhasa is at 3,700 meters above sea level.

'All I know about the place comes from films and newspapers - it should be a beautiful place with a rather undeveloped economy,' Lam said.

Although college friends who had been to Tibet had told Lam a lot about the harsh climate and conditions there, he said this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gain a deep understanding of a place totally strange to him.

'My classmates are really amazed by my decision. They wondered why a Hong Kong student would want to go there,' Lam said.

'I was brought up in Hong Kong, and studied in Shanghai. The cities are the most prosperous places in China. It may lead me to take it for granted that the whole world is like this, which is not true. I expect this trip will change the way I think.'

Before flying to Lhasa, Lam will attend a preparatory training course with 10 college friends at his university next week.

For now, he is collecting information about Tibet on the internet at home and jogging each day to get physically fit in preparation for living at altitude.

'Health is actually my major concern, as I've never been to a place that high,' Lam said.

Doctors had told him that everyone needed time to adapt to the altitude during the first week after arrival.

'The doctor told me the feeling there is like having a 1,500-metre run every day,' he said.

Working as a volunteer, Lam Tung-wan will not earn a salary. Instead he will receive an allowance of 800 yuan (HK$ 755) per month.

Yet the Hong Kong-born student does not mind.

'The living expense there is quite low, and we will enjoy free board and lodging, so I should be able to make ends meet if I am not expecting to live like a king,' he said.

Unlike some of his peers in Hong Kong who make salary their prime concern when looking for jobs, Lam is in no rush to make lots of money.

'Hong Kong people are used to making too much money, which is understandable because of the high living expense.

'I was one of them but my opinion has changed since I've met friends from different places across the country,' he said.

While other young people are working for money, Lam hopes to broaden his horizons by experiencing new things during the year to come.

'Students in Hong Kong like to know the world through books and the internet. But I think even reading 100 books about Tibet is not as good as staying there for a year,' he said.