Lone Telegrapher Connects Mongolian Desert with Outside

Gao Zizhong, a 40-year-old telegrapher, is highly valued by local herdsmen in the Badain Jaran Desert in the western part of north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region for his prolonged hard work and good service.

For 21 years, Gao has been the only person able to communicate,via his telegraph office, with outside the world's fourth largest desert, which covers 47,000 sq km and is home to herdsmen who havesurvived off grazing and hunting for generations.

Not a single post office or telephone is available in Gao's village, also called Badain Jaran, and to get out of the desert takes at least six hours by car or five days by camel.

Born in Minqin county of northwestern Gansu Province, Gao moved with his family to the village when he was a child. After finishing high school, he became the second lone worker of the village's telegraph office set up by the local government more than 30 years ago.

Gao's office is an adobe house with only two rooms -- one for the kilowatt generator and another for sending and receiving the over 500 annual telegrams.

The local government provides 1,500 yuan (some 180 US dollars) every year for the expenses of running the telegraphy office and 800 yuan a month for the salary of the telegraph operator.

The service is free for local herdsmen to send messages all over the country via the district of Alxa Right Banner's telegraphoffice, and Gao also volunteers as a postman to 38 herdsmen's families scattering on an area of more than 3,000 sq kms.

Every morning and afternoon, Gao calls the Alxa Right Banner central telegraph office by interoffice phone, first receiving andthen sending telegrams.

"The telegraph office had no interoffice phones five years ago.The first time I used it, I was afraid I would not be understood because of my Minqin dialect," Gao said.

To his surprise, the person on the other end was also from Minqin as many migrants from the county have settled in Alxa RightBanner.

"I have been working in cooperation with him for nearly five years," Gao said.

Gao has seen the contents of telegrams change over the years.

"There was only one telegram service a decade ago and they were mainly to do with government meetings, while today there are more than 500 telegrams a year and most are private," Gao noted.

In recent years, quite a number of herdspeople have left the desert for business, or going to study or work. At the same time, the Chinese medicine trade is booming in the Badain Jaran and business-related telegrams account for the most of the business here.

In his spare time, Gao helps his family take care of more than 10 goats, five camels and a mule. He has only a 10-day holiday a year, which he uses to go to town for a haircut.

"Changes are occurring in the desert everyday. When the herdsmen start using mobile telephones, I will retire honorably from my post," Gao said with a smile.

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