80-year-old craftsman leads "beautification" of Potala Palace

Since October 17, the Potala Palace in Lhasa, southwest China's Tibet has been undergoing its annual "painting season", when the entire palace will be covered in fresh white, red, and yellow, just like a total "beautification" process.

This "beautification" event has been going on for more than 300 years, while the Potala Palace itself is an ancient building more than 1,300 years old. As the highest palace in the world, the annual whitewash will help prevent it from erosion of rains and hails.

Nearly 400 volunteers from Lhasa are undertaking the job of transporting paint materials, but the most demanding painting tasks of craft and technical requirements are taken by staff from the Maintenance Department of the Potala Palace Management Office. They tie long ropes around their waists and hang in the air like "Spidermen", painting the outer walls of the Potala Palace by splashing the paint against the building.

These "Spidermen" working high above the ground have limited vision and range of motion while in the air, but they listen to the voice of a person below who guides them to go right or left, throw the paint lighter or heavier, till finally each surface of the palace walls has an even and smooth coating of paint.

Following the sound of the voice, a thin elderly man is seen standing on platform not far away. He is focused on each movement of the "Spidermen" above, and from time to time he raises the loudspeaker in his hands to call out to them, disregarding the paint that drips down on his arms and body.

The elderly man is named Phuntsok. He is 82 years old, and he used to be the head of the Potala Palace Management Office. Though he retired in 1996, he still volunteers to participate in the "beautification" of the palace each year.

During these painting days at the Potala Palace, Phuntsok arrives before 8:00 a.m. and before the workers have started, to check the tools that are going to be used that day. At the end of each day, he again patrols each site and is the last one to go home.

Phuntsok says that he has a destiny with the Potala Palace. In 1980, as a construction worker in Lhasa, he was contracted to work temporarily to help out at the Potala Palace. One month of "help" turned into three, and three months ended up lasting until his retirement. Therefore, the Potala Palace needs him, and he cannot do without the Potala Palace.

Phuntsok proudly stated that he has participated in two of the Potala Palace's recent large-scale restorations. He knows which area needed what kind of repairs, when it was repaired, and what tools were used. All of this is memorized in his mind, more accurate than a drawing.