The Bride of the Three Virtues

The Bride of the Three Virtues

This article was published on the well known Tibetan blog Choemey (Butter Lamp). The piece, published under a penname, concerns social change and shifting family dynamics inside Tibet.

The Bride of the Three Virtues

By Namkha

My internet friends may laugh when they first see the title of today’s article. Possibly they haven’t seen this title before. This is a new prize that is becoming popular in Tibetan areas. It reminds me of the time when I worked hard to become a young pioneer at the primary school, and worked hard to become a “student of the three virtues.” The student of the three virtues must be: 1. A good student; 2. Have good discipline; 3. Have good hygiene. The student must have these three virtues.

In the twenty-first century, from this idea of “the student of the three virtues” spread this idea of “the bride of the three virtues” in the snowland, a place devoted to love and compassion and karma. I laughed when I first heard of this, but I also wanted to think on this idea and ask some questions about it.
I asked questions of the girl who was discussing this issue with me. She said, “It in’t about identifying some prize winners as a result of improvement of thoughts and economy. Both in nomadic and farming areas, elderly parents experience a lot of sufferings.” Later I clearly understood the meaning of “the bride of the three virtues.”

Listen to what she had to say after this. At this point she took a long breath and said, “These days for both nomads and farmers, economic problems have been slightly relieved by the caterpillar fungus. Sons and brides, leaving their children with their elderly parents, go to the county and prefecture towns to hang out. The elderly parents not only take care of the children, but also do house chores and herd the livestock. They don’t come home from the city for a few days. Husbands carelessly waste a few day drinking and playing mahjong. Some brides, disregarding the suffering of the children and the elderly parents, play mahjong and look for lovers.”

Here she stopped speaking. Then she continued in a sad and quiet voice, “Last winter I went home for the New Year. As you know the weather in the nomadic areas is quite cold. I was born on the grassland. In the winter, most of the nomads settle in the town or near it. In many nomadic communities, they don’t have plumbing at home, so they have to carry water in from outside. In winter the place where they draw water is covered with ice, so it is very slippperly. One day, I think just before noon, an elderly man from the community came to my house. He said they needed me to go with him to the town.

He said, ‘The old grandma (Name) fell on the ice and broke her leg when she went to fetch water this morning. In fact, the full bucket of water spilled over her, and she nearly died. Fortunately, a bride (Name) from another family noticed and saved her. Otherwise, she would have frozen to death.’

This elderly couple have a son and two daughters. The two daughter married into another community. The son is the youngest among them. He is about 35 years old. He is a civil servant in the county. He has an attractive wife, a woman who is very proud of her beautiful skin. The result of leaving their son with the elderly 75-year old mother ripened that morning. The reason the old man wanted me with them was that they wanted someone who can speak Chinese when the grandma was treated at the hospital.

My father asked where the son and the bride were, but the the old man said they had gone to the main town for shopping seven or eight days ago. Honestly, the distance between that town and our county town is about one and half hours. Even if they had gone on a motorcycle, they could have reached home in a day. Moreover, there were many cars going back and forth between the county and town.

When I hurried there, the old grandma was in a car, covered in a warm blanket. The driver was the son of the old grandma’s younger brother. He was also angry and abusing the the old grandma’s son and bride, ‘The couple’s behavior is always the same. They don’t take care of the parents. They bought an apartment in the county town and they live there.’

‘They only visit a few times during the New Year and the holidays. I talked to them a few times. Now the parents are old. If you two stay in county town without caring for the parents, it is hard for them even to get water. Maybe you should take the parents to town to live with you. The son indicated that I should not give him advice.’

‘Since then I dare not say anything, because I know they wouldn’t listen to an illiterate person like me. However, on the one hand, she is my father’s younger sister. On the another hand, his parents are old. It is hard for me to bear it in my heart, every time when I see them.’ As the driver, with some anger, shared the couple’ story, we arrived in the main town. We quickly found the hospital and brought the old grandma inside.

In the hospital, I tried to comfort the grandma and touched her hand, but there was no warmth in her hand. She said, ‘My fate is very sad. I have no reason not to die” and tears fell down from her eyes. Her husband, the old grandpa, had also come to the hospital with their 5 year-old grandson. The grandma asked, ‘Why did you come here? There is no one at home. Who is taking care of the livestock?’ He said a neighbor’s name and said that he would take care of the livestock.

What we needed then was a person to take care of the old grandma in the hospital, so we had to look for the son and the bride. The driver said, ‘The son must be at the mahjong place, but the bride may be at the apartment’ and went in the direction of the apartment. After a moment, he came back and said, ‘The wife is not in the apartment. It is impossible to guess where she is. I called him many times but his phone was turned off.’ That is true that he called many times while driving. The doctor said, ‘Her (grandma’s) leg is broken and it takes a while to reattach the bone. As she is in her old age, it is hard to recover as easily as a youth, but there is no need to worry.’

The old man who came to call me said, ‘It is certain that we will need a woman in the hospital to take care of the grandma and to help her to the bathroom. We can call the two daughters’ families and clearly explain the situation.’ I strongly agreed with this idea. I had wondered about how well the son’s bride might care for the grandma. At that moment, the grandma’s nephew said, ‘Let’s go eat.’

The old grandpa stayed in the hospital, and we took the grandson with us. One the way to the restaurant, the driver asked someone where we could find the son and the bride. Someone said he didn’t know about the son but said the wife was in a restaurant and gave us the name. When we arrived there, she was enjoying a meal with some civil servants from the county and her face was full of smiles. Once she saw us, she looked a bit uneasy.

I knew the driver was very angry. His face had become very red. However, he controlled his anger and explained what had happened to the grandma. He also said they had been looking for her and her husband.

She said she didn’t know where her husband was. She left her son and walked out of the restaurant. It seems we were all aware that the 70 year-old grandma wouldn’t die this time, so everyone felt very relieved. Everyone said they were hungry now. After everyone ate something they liked, we took some food for the elderly couple and went to the hospital. The bride was on a phone call with someone. After about an hour, the son appeared. His two eyes were very red. To us it looked like he was very tired. Once his father saw him he got very angry.

The father was so angry he couldn’t even speak. The dishonest son started to say, ‘I went to the prefecture town to run some errands for my bureau. My phone battery died.’ Pointing his finger at his wife, he said, ‘I told you to go back to the town. You told me you would go that afternoon.’ At that, the wife also became angry and said, ‘If it’s ok for you to look for Chinese prostitutes and wander the streets like a homeless dog, why can’t I look for lovers?’ They pulled out all their dirty secrets in front of the parents. I was embarrassed and didn’t know what to say, so I went to ask the doctor about the patient’s condition.

Such things have happened and are happening in both the nomad and farming areas. Actually, there are many cases of parents being abandoned by sons and brides. Because of this, to ensure that the son and the bride would take care of the parents, they established this prize for “the bride of the three virtues” in every village. There are three criteria for “a bride of the three virtues:” 1. She must take good care of the parents; 2. She must have a good relationship with the villagers and neighbors; 3. She must be a good worker.

The brides who meet these three criteria are awarded with jewelry and material for felt and silk clothes. No matter how much we Tibetans talk about love and compassion and karma, now we have to pay money to purchase care for our parents. In order to gain the prize and the reputation of being virtuous, many brides compete. If parents are taken good care of afterwards, it is great but truly this is uncertain.”

At this point, she laughed and said, “So this is how things are like in my hometown.”
Really, when I first heard the name of “the bride of the three virtues,” I broke into laughter. In a hopeless situation however, it is a good idea. I asked her again, “Are there are any such cases of people treating parents like this in your current home of Xining?” She said, “I haven’t seen this nowadays, but this may happen during holidays. I haven’t seen it like before but I have heard about it. A Tibetan government employee brought her mother to Xining for a few days. No one knew where he was, but everyone says his wife left the mother outside for the whole night, so the mother froze to death. That was during winter. I have seen the wife, but I don’t know her.”
Now our stories were finished. My internet friends may trust in her words. I apologize for not giving you the location and people’s names. I haven’t asked my friend’s permission to write down our conversation, so I also apologize to her.

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(Translated by Rabsa)