Although Tibetan herdsmen already have affordable housing, grazing forces them to migrate within a certain range. Some families still retain the custom of migrating according to the seasons. There are still scattered yurts deep in the Naqu grassland.
This afternoon, in the heart of the grassland, the burning clouds dye the sky into fascinating colors. Ze Yitong’s mother finally herds the sheep back. A black spot shows up in the distance. It must be Ze Yitong’s mother Dun Zhu.
“Nana, nana, look! Mom is back!” Ze Yitong has the blush of people living on plateaus. An old lady with small pigtails opens the door curtain made of wool and gets out of the yurt.
Because of her age, Ze Yitong’s nana has poor eyesight. She squints and looks into the distance for a long while, but she still doesn’t recognize the woman herding the sheep back on the horse. Only when the woman comes closer, does she realize that it is Ze Yitong’s mother.
“Dun Zhu, you come back late today!”
The woman doesn’t get off the horse as usual. She waves to her daughter.
“Ze Yitong, come and help me.”
Ze Yitong runs over and sees another person laying powerlessly on her mother’s back. If it were not for the horsewhip binding them together, the person would have fallen down long before.
Herdsmen’s staple food is milk and meat. Although Ze Yitong is very young, she has great strength, even her nana who seems to be very weak is very sturdy.
After helping her mom put the person on the horse down on the ground, Ze Yitong finds out that it is a beautiful woman. Her skin is more delicate than milk. She has black hair and is in a dirty white dress. Ze Yitong puts the woman’s hair apart and sees that the woman frowns with her eyes closed. It seems that she is suffering from great pain in her sleep.
“Mom, who is she?” Ze Yitong notices that the woman has nothing besides her neat clothes and the small pearl on her wrist.
Dun Zhu is busy rushing the sheep into the sheepfold and doesn’t have much time to answer Ze Yitong’s question, “I found her by the lake. Maybe she was robbed. Nothing on her can confirm her identity.”
The woman has a slender skeleton and fair skin, which is not the typical look of a Tibetan. Dun Zhu shakes her head. This female tourist was so bold and got into the Naqu grassland alone. Dun Zhu hopes that she is not harmed although she lost all of her belongings.
Seeing her mom is busy, Ze Yitong slaps to call out a big dog that helps herd the cattle and sheep.
With the help of the dog, the little girl finally drags the unconscious woman back into the yurt.
Her nana is cooking dinner, so Ze Yitong takes up the responsibilities of a hostess and cleans up the dirt on the woman.
What is this dress made of? It looks beautiful and mud can’t stick on it.
Ze Yitong covers the woman with a blanket after seeing her clothes are thin, then runs out to help her mom.
When Ze Yitong returns to the yurt, the woman is still not awake. Her nana is making “fragrant mutton”. The delicious “fragrant mutton” makes Ze Yitong’s mouth water just by thinking of it. Nana only makes such delicious food when Dun Zhu is at home. She says that Dun Zhu is the backbone of their family, so she must make sure that Dun Zhu eats well.
To make the “fragrant mutton”, you need to boil potatoes to medium well and cut them into small pieces after peeling and drying. Nana has already finished these preparations. She is now cutting the Chinese onion. After the oil in the pan smokes, nana fries the Chinese onion for a short while and pounds it into pieces in a stone container.
Then, she puts cold water into curry powder and blends them into a paste. Then the paste is put into the boiling oil to make the oily curry. Like the Chinese onion, the oily curry will be used in the future steps.
The mutton is chopped into pieces and fried with Tibetan butter. After that, it is stewed in the pot.
After putting the mutton in the pot, nana goes to make buttered tea, leaving Ze Yitong to check on the mouth-watering mutton. The “fragrant mutton” is very difficult to cook. Ze Yitong hasn’t had it for two or three months and misses it a lot, so she refuses to leave the pot.
The yurt is gradually filled with the smell of the cooked mutton. Dun Zhu opens the wool door curtain and comes in. Nana pours her a bowl of the buttered tea. Dun Zhu feels much relaxed after taking a sip of the delicious tea and looks at the woman she saved. She finds that the woman has an abnormal blush on her face.
“She is having a fever.” Dun Zhu doesn’t know how long this woman lied unconsciously by the lake. It must be the cold water that gives her the fever. They still have some brown sugar at home. Dun Zhu asks Ze Yitong to make some ginger tea with the brown sugar for the woman.
Ze Yitong jumps over and touches the woman’s forehead. It is burning hot. Although Ze Yitong doesn’t want to leave the pot of mutton, she has to go and make the ginger tea.
After seeing the mutton has been cooked thoroughly, nana puts potatoes, oily curry, salt, ginger, fennel, cloves, pepper, Tibetan nutmegs and other ingredients into the pot. She blends the stew with a small stick. The fragrant mutton will be ready to serve right after all of the ingredients are cooked.
All three in the yurt are busy, and Ze Yitong quickly helps the rescued woman drink down the ginger tea.
The woman’s fever doesn’t go away for the whole night, which makes the fragrant mutton less tasty for Ze Yitong. They only have three women in their family while Dun Zhu is the only one who works. Ze Yitong’s nana rushes Dun Zhu to sleep because she still needs to graze tomorrow. Then, nana and Ze Yitong take turns to take care of the rescued woman.
Ze Yitong stays next to the woman until it is after midnight. Teenagers like her sleep for a long time. Ze Yitong falls asleep before dawn, but she vaguely feels her nana trying to wake her up.
It turns out that the rescued woman has been awake. Nana is touching her forehead.
“My name is Ze Yitong, and my mother said that my name stands for olive. What about you?” Ze Yitong goes to schools and speaks Mandarin of Huaxia.
The woman frowns, “My name? ……I can’t remember.”
The woman’s voice is clear and moving. She speaks in standard mandarin, which makes Ze Yitong like her voice, but how could she forget her name?
Did the fever harm her brain?
“Anar, hurry up, bring the heated milk!” Ze Yitong calls out the woman who was saved by her mom a week ago. Because she forgot her name and didn’t have her ID, she begged Ze Yitong’s family to temporarily let her stay at their home. Ze Yitong gave her the name Anar for their convenience to call her.
Anar means pomegranate. Although she doesn’t remember who she is, Ze Yitong finds that she knows a lot and has great strength. She is diligent as well. Ze Yitong’s nana and mom both like her very much.
Anar is like a new family member to them. She has been slowly assimilating into Ze Yitong’s family during the past week.
For the convenience of work, Anar braids her long thick black hair into two braids in front of her chest. After seeing Anar’s face, Ze Yitong says that she is more beautiful than pomegranate flowers.
Anar is holding a big pot of hot yak milk.
Following Ze Yitong’s instructions, she pours the milk into a four-foot-high wooden bucket. Ze Yitong says that the bucket is a tool for making Tibetan butter and is called “Xue Dong”.
A cow produces 2 or 2.5 kilograms of milk a day, and 50 kilograms of milk can only extract 2.5 or 3 kilograms of Tibetan butter. This is hard work, but herdsmen need Tibetan butter every day. Ze Yitong’s nana is quite old and her mom needs to graze. It is usually Ze Yitong’s work to extract butter, but now the job is taken over by Anar.
After pouring the steaming yak milk into the barrel, Anar begins to beat it up and down so that the oil and water in the milk would separate after she beats for hundreds of times.
The hard labor makes Anar’s sweat rolls down her nose. Her small face looks like a jewel shining in the sun of the grassland.
A layer of ivory fat-like substance slowly floats up to the surface of the milk in the bucket. Ze Yitong scoops it up and pours it into a leather bag. After cooling down, it will turn into the butter that every Tibetan needs.
The two cooperate and make 2 or 2.5 kilograms of Tibetan butter, which is enough to eat for a while, so Anar packs the tools.
Ze Yitong finds that Anar is very smart. When she first went to milk the sheep, she would be kicked. Now she is like a herder girl who grew up on the grassland and is good at everything.
“It’s still early. Shall we pick up some wild vegetables?” Anar puts the tools aside and takes out a bag while smiling at Ze Yitong.
Ze Yitong licks her mouth. Her face is full of joy. The pastoral area is not like the cities in Tibet. People here mainly eat highland barley, glutinous rice cake and meat. They don’t even have rice, let alone vegetables. However, since Anar came, Ze Yitong and her family always have two delicious dishes made of wild vegetables at meals.
Anar knows a lot and cooks very well. Ze Yitong is not willing to let her go.
Looking at Ze Yitong and Anar’s backs, nana laughs in front of the yurt. Anar is not just a hard-working girl. Since she came, the lonely Ze Yitong has someone for company, so her entire family loves Anar.
Besides the waterfowl lives by the clear lake, a wild vegetable called “water celery” grows there in summer. Ze Yitong thought it was aquatic weeds, but Anar picked it up and boiled it at home. The wild vegetable is very refreshing when blending with salt and Tibetan butter.
The two picks a bag of water celery by the lake. Anar looks at the big fish in the clear lake and sighs.
She vaguely remembers that she can cook fish well, but the true Tibetans do not eat fish because they have the tradition of water burial. She dares not mention this to Ze Yitong and goes back with her once they pick enough water celery.
Since it is still early, the two play on the grassland for a while. It is still May. There are flowers everywhere on the grassland at this time of the year. Anar picks some wildflowers, knits them into a garland, and ties it on Ze Yitong’s hair. She also braids Ze Yitong’s hair together with flowers. Ze Yitong giggles and goes to see her reflection in the lake.
Anar is a perfect girl. She only has one shortcoming, extremely high requirements for cleanliness. Anar asks Ze Yitong to wash her hair and take a bath every three days. Ze Yitong sighs. It seems that perfect people also have their imperfections.
The sun is setting. Ze Yitong’s mom Dun Zhu has herded the cattle and sheep back. Ze Yitong takes off the garland and yells at her. She runs on the grassland like a healthy little deer.
At dinner that day, Anar’s wild vegetables dressed with sauce is eaten up again.
Anar eats the sour water celery with glutinous rice cake. When she feels thirsty, she takes a sip of the buttered tea.
She feels that life here is very different from her life in the past, but she tries so many times and still can’t remember who she was or what kind of life she had back then.
In the middle of the night, she suddenly wakes up because of the low temperature. Ze Yitong is sleeping next to her. Anar had a dream that reminds her she came to Naqu grassland to find something.
She can’t go home until she finds that thing.
But what exactly is she looking for? Anar touches the large pearl on her wrist. This pearl gives her inexplicable peace of mind. Perhaps, her identity can be confirmed by it.
It is very cold at night on the grassland. Anar tucks herself in her blanket and falls asleep again.