TASHI, 10, is bent over a low wooden table, writing out homework in the flowing, Sanskrit-based Tibetan script now legally taught throughout Tibetan areas of China.
Watching him as dusk falls outside in this small village in Tibet is a 28-year-old visiting Tibetan who just a generation ago had to escape China through the perilous mountain passes of Nepal to have the education that Tashi (not his real name) now has by right.
Much has changed for the better for Tibetans since Mao Zedong ordered the People's Liberation Army to "liberate" the poor Himalayan country from the monk-led theocracy that had ruled it for centuries.
The room where Tashi is doing his homework now has electricity and a single energy-saving light bulb that must be tugged every 10 minutes to keep the power on. He has free education.
The family still have to cart water from a spring, and boil it on a stove fuelled by dried animal dung, but their courtyard home is clean and dry and there is a television and DVD player in the guest room - although the satellite reception is patchy.
Foreigners, and especially foreign media, are still banned from Tibetan areas such as this in the nomadic grasslands of Gansu province - more than three months after the biggest protests against Chinese rule in half a century.
With the Olympic torch due in Lhasa on Saturday and less than 50 days to go until the Beijing Olympics begin, thousands of armed police continue to lock down Tibetan areas in western China, fuelling widespread fear, suspicion, resentment and frustration.
In Tongren, eastern Qinghai, more than a dozen monks and locals near the town's 700-year-old Rongwo monastery refuse to talk about the "troubles", shaking their heads and turning away. One old man says: "Why are they saying bad things about the Dalai Lama? He did nothing wrong; it was his students.
"The Government is always saying they are doing things right. If they are, why have they stopped the tourists coming here? It is hurting the town. We used to have so many tourists," he adds, before disappearing.
The monastery, which has about 500 resident monks, is almost deserted - despite this being the first week of a month-long religious holiday. Pilgrims and tourists would normally throng here.
The Great Chanting Hall, the heart of any Tibetan monastery, is padlocked. Inside is a large portrait of the Dalai Lama, the only one to survive the "troubles" because it had been hidden.
Like dozens of other monasteries far from Lhasa, monks here led protests in March and April, calling for the Dalai Lama's return. About 200 monks were arrested. Most were released the next day but some were badly beaten. The monastery has been raided and looted, pictures of the Dalai Lama smashed. Most of the monks are now in the countryside with their families, too scared to return.
"All the Tibetans have the same feelings," a monk says. "But although we feel such great sadness we don't have any people to talk about it because it is dangerous to talk. We have to keep it all inside.
"What they show to the public is what they [the Chinese Government] did for the Tibetans. They don't show how they harass monks and go into the temples and confiscate our phones and computers."
In the past week, the monks who stayed at the monastery have had three days of continuous re-education classes, which involve pledging loyalty to the nation and the Communist Party and criticising the Dalai Lama. The sessions are usually led by a senior monk (some are coerced, but others do it for advancement or out of genuine party loyalty). Party officials, often from out of town, attend to ensure they comply.
In one Tibetan village in Gansu, a 72-year-old former monk with five grandchildren tells of how, during the Cultural Revolution, the Communists forced monks like himself to leave the monasteries and marry. Four generations of the family live together now.
He does not have the vocabulary, he says, to express his mixed feelings towards the Communist Party.
In a refrain we hear repeated by young monks, he says anything good the Chinese Government has done for Tibetans is compensation owed for the devastation during the Cultural Revolution, when thousands were killed and monasteries razed.
Of course he is waiting for the Dalai Lama to return. "I have been waiting 50 years," he says.
In a meadow of blue and white irises in the nomadic grasslands of Gansu, which along with much of the neighbouring province of Qinghai formed the Tibetan kingdom of Amdo before it became part of China, three young monks arrive for an assignation. They have secretly left the Labrang monastery in Xiahe, the biggest and most influential outside of Lhasa, to meet the Herald.
"We will never regret what we have done, even if we die, because what we are doing is for the sake of the Tibetan people," says one, aged 30.
They want the return of the Dalai Lama, the release of the 11th Panchen Lama (kidnapped by the Chinese in 1995) and for Tibet to be governed by Tibetans, he says.
Surprisingly, the monks are unaware of the crucial role the violence of the March 14 Lhasa riots and killing of dozens of people is playing in the Government's narrative of what happened. The violence, says the Government, makes a lie of the Dalai Lama's calls for peaceful protests. The monks seldom watch Chinese television and mistrust everything the Government tells them.
"We don't believe innocent people were killed in Lhasa … it's not true; that's what they have to say," one of the monks says.
This deep distrust and ignorance, on both sides, fuels the crisis. The Government continues to denounce the Dalai Lama as a "splittist" intent on an independent Tibet, even though privately they have conceded he wants only greater autonomy.
"We hate the Government … because they are killing Tibetan people, taking things away from Tibetans by force," one monk says. "We hope [Chinese people] will understand the conditions here and get a true picture of what is happening."
That is unlikely as long as the Government continues to ban media and foreign observers entering these areas.
On a hike through the countryside to another small monastery, the Herald meets a family of four from the Tibetan autonomous county of Maqu, where there were more violent riots against Chinese rule. The family, who are on a pilgrimage to the monastery, say about 1000 monks and other local people were arrested after the protests. Most have since been freed, but some were so badly beaten they died then or later from injuries or illness.
The family say about 100 people are still detained in Maqu, but their whereabouts is unknown. They say some have been sentenced to life imprisonment, some to a few years and some are due to be executed.
In Garze prefecture in Sichuan, away from the earthquake devastation, about 80 Tibetan nuns have been arrested after weeks of protests that were easily snuffed out because of the heavy security presence.
Amnesty International yesterday urged China to explain what has happened to people detained during the March crackdown, saying at least 1000 remain in detention.
No one is expecting any let-up until after the Olympics.