As the only ethnic Tibetan high-speed train driver in China, 40-year-old Losong Tsering was elated when he sat in the driver's cabin on the Lanzhou-Xining section of the Lanzhou-Xinjiang high-speed railway for the first time in 2017.
He was born in a mountainous village in Chamdo city, Tibet autonomous region, and knew little about trains during his childhood. Trips to the city of Chamdo, Tibet's third-largest, were rare.
But in 1985, the central government started sending Tibetan primary and middle school students from rural areas to study at high schools in inland cities, paying for meals, accommodation and tuition fees.
That program made all the difference. After primary school, Losong Tsering was able to study in Wuhan, Hubei province, stepping out of Chamdo for the first time.
It was exciting to travel, but after four days going by airplane, train and bus, he began to understand just how isolated his hometown was from the outside world and how more convenient transportation links were needed.
He studied hard to gain admission to the Railway Mechanical School in Kunming, Yunnan province, in 2000. Three years later, after graduation, he went to work for the railway network in Xining, Qinghai province.
"At first, I drove trains powered by diesel engines," he said. "That was in 2010, and it was noisy and smelly. The cabins were extremely crowded.
Five years later, I gained a license to operate an electric locomotive equipped with a comfortable cabin. It had a refrigerator, a microwave oven, a heater and an air conditioner."
From his seat in the electric locomotive, he caught occasional glimpses of a high-speed train as it dashed by from Xining to Lanzhou, Gansu province. He was stunned by its speed, and he was determined to get a license to drive high-speed trains.
There were basic operations to learn, but proficiency in Mandarin is also required for communication with the command center during a trip. Growing up in a remote rural area of Tibet made that a particular challenge for Losong Tsering.
To improve his language skills, he insisted on reading newspapers aloud after work every day, and he asked his wife to point out his poor pronunciation.
And there was another problem: Smoking is banned on all high-speed trains. Even though he had been a heavy smoker for 16 years, Losong Tsering quickly kicked thehabit. Nothing would stop him from realizing his dream.
In 2017, Losong Tsering became the only Tibetan high-speed train engineer in the country.
"I felt proud of myself for earning a license to operate such an amazing train, and proud of my country for developing the infrastructure so rapidly," he said.
"If it were not for the government's favorable education policies, I would have had no chance to become a train driver, let alone on a high-speed train.
I would probably still be looking after yaks and sheep or cultivating barley like the older generation."
During his studies in Wuhan, Losong Tsering's father traveled to a post office in Chamdo once a year to send him money.
It was the only opportunity they had to speak by phone. With Losong Tsering's salary rising, his parents were able to build a two-story house in 2006.
"In 2013, a signal tower was set up in my village, and I bought a mobile phone for my parents. Now we can talk anytime," he said.
Losong Tsering is looking forward to the construction of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway, which will pass Chamdo. Then he will be able to take the high-speed train straight to his hometown.