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You've got mail


Neither the roaring Lancang River nor mudslides and mountain gales have kept the 'messenger in red?from delivering letters in remote parts of Yunnan province. Sun Li reports.

As a postal worker in her mountain-locked hometown in southwestern China, Nyima Lamo never imagined she would one day end up in Bern, Switzerland. Early in May, Nyima spoke on behalf of more than 840,000 Chinese mail service staff at the annual meeting of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) in the Swiss capital. She received a standing ovation from representatives of more than 70 countries.

The 35-year-old Tibetan works in Deqen county, Diqing Tibet autonomous prefecture, Yunan province, where the altitude ranges from 1,000 to 4,500 meters above sea level.

"Most villagers in this underdeveloped region still rely heavily on letters to connect with the outside world," Nyima says. "Despite the difficulties I knew I would encounter, I chose to become a postal worker in 1999 as I see delivering mail as a sacred duty."

The terrible road conditions in these areas mean Nyima has to trek on foot across deep valleys and snow-capped mountains to reach the letters to the villagers.

Her postal route covers 350 kilometers. A round trip can take more than a week, with the mailbags weighing at least 15 kilograms.

According to Nyima, the most hazardous part is crossing the Lancang River, whose ferocious currents have claimed many innocent lives, including that of her younger brother.

To arrive at the three villages on the opposite side, she needs to slide along an overhead zip line.

"The post office director showed me how to slide along it many times, but I still lost my strength the first time I linked the hook up to the rope," Nyima recalls.

"My breathing became increasingly labored, my legs were trembling badly and my mind went blank," she continues.

"The director gave me a push and the next thing I knew is I was hanging in the air, with the wind whistling about my ears and the waves surging below me."

Although she is now adept at using the line, Nyima admits she still feels a mix of "tension and thrill" when sliding along the steel cable.

When it rains, the rainwater affects the brakes, often causing her to bump hard against the cliff on the other side to stop, Nyima says.

"A fall into the river means certain death. I know I must bring letters to those eagerly awaiting them, so I am extremely careful."

As the terrain influences the local climate, it is common for Nyima to meet four seasons on her postal route in a single day.

"One minute you are walking under the scorching sun, and the next you find yourself stuck in snowdrifts," Nyima says, adding she often packs three sheets of plastic, along with her letters and food.