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|Thursday, April 26, 2001, updated at 09:03(GMT+8)|
Lama Firemen Guard Potala PalaceIn addition to reading Buddhist sutra and doing religious services, Lama Cidan Wangdui patrols around the monastery everyday to find any hidden danger that may lead to a catastrophic blaze.
He is one of the six trained firemen selected from 60-strong lamas living in the Potala Palace, the residence of the Dalai Lama since the seventh century in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, southwest China.
The Potala, which was put on the UNESCO list of World Heritage in 1994, is one of the most famous Tibetan Buddhist lamaseries and home to numerous valuable relics.
The palace set up its fire department after an electrical short circuit sparked a fire in 1984 which devastated one of the halls and burned to ashes many rare Buddhist books.
"If such a fire occurs again, we firemen will be committing a severe crime," said the 31-year old lama.
According to the lama, the Potala has set up security and fire departments and the security and fire guards patrol the palace twice a day. There is also a night guard to look over security issues.
In 1994, the palace invested 4.7 million yuan to install an electronic round-the-clock monitoring system. Moreover, the monastery has purchased advanced firefighting equipment.
In 1997, the standing committee of the regional people's congress promulgated a local law on the protection of the Potala. According to the law, the number of lamps in the palace is restricted, while the use of gasoline and liquid gas are totally banned.
The Potala is vulnerable to fire with its wooden-earth structure and the presence of large amounts of silk- and cotton- fabrics, the lama said. "We can manage it, anyway," he added.
But what makes these lama-firemen most worried are the tourists. "Visitors always throw cigarette stubs everywhere," he said, " sometimes we have to yell at them to stop it."
To assist and train the lama-firemen, the city's fire brigade has sent a squad of professional firefighters to the Potala.
The lamas' monthly salary is about 300-500 yuan, plus an annual allowance of 2,000 yuan. They also get five yuan as subsidy for each of the night shifts.
"I like to be a fireman, though it is a hard job," said Cidan Wangdui, whose parents live in a faraway county in the Xigaze Prefecture.
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