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Tibetans prepare for new year

AFTER hanging hada, a white silk scarf considered as a blessing, on the door frame, Degyi Drolkar paced excitedly through her new, 198-square-meter home in Gongka Township near Lhasa as she decorated for the Tibetan New Year, which falls on Wednesday.

She also hung the portraits of current and former Chinese leaders, including Chairman Mao Zedong, in prominent positions on a wall.

She looked forward to spending a happy and warm Tibetan New Year with her family in her new house. "Never have I imagined owning such a big house," the 36-year-old said.

"My family used to squeeze into a small room, which was dark and humid, and now my three sons can have their own room," she said.

Degyi also never imagined paying only 6,000 yuan (US$878) for a new home. Thanks to a housing program for low-income rural families, Degyi's family and 24 other households in Gongka will celebrate Tibetan New Year in their new homes.

She also got a set of furniture valued at 8,000 yuan from the township government for free.

The program was launched in 2006. In 2008, the regional government earmarked 680 million yuan to help about 57,800 farmers and herdsmen households improve their living conditions, according to the Construction Department of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The government expects to resettle all farmers and herdsmen into safe and affordable houses within two years.

While rural Tibetans like Degyi and her neighbors decorated their new houses, urban residents were busy shopping before the festival.

Kelsang, a grandmother, in Zetang Town, 150 kilometers southeast of the regional capital Lhasa, was preparing to buy "enough" things for the new year after receiving government subsidies.

"My husband and I used to depend on our children for special purchases for the new year, but this year we can depend on the government," she said.

The regional government distributed an 800-yuan coupon to each qualified low-income urban resident and retirees from state-owned enterprises.

"We have 1,600 yuan to spend," Kelsang said. "It's more than enough for the new year."

As the most important Tibetan festival draws near, many in the region were also planning to travel.


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