Monthly Archives: January 2013

Exploring Kunming: Bike Ride to Daguan Park & Dianchi Lake

I took advantage of the weekend and relaxed by watching A LOT of Battlestar Galactica. My friends have gotten me addicted to the show. I cannot stop! I hit a point in the afternoon where I felt like a lazy slob–lying in bed, eyes dazed and emotionless while looking at the computer screen (all I needed were Dorito chips and the imagery would be perfect). So, I got out of bed, changed, and started to bike towards the West part of the city. I wanted to find Dianchi Lake. I’ve seen it many times while busing and hiking up the Western Hills. It’s a large body of water that lines Kunming western edge. It shouldn’t be that hard to find, right?

Somehow, I missed it, and biked for two hours aimlessly through the poorer suburbs. The first batch of suburbs I went through were going being demolished and being turned into brand new apartment complexes. The residents that once lived in the 2-3 story cement buildings will most likely never be able to afford a room in these new complexes. That’s currently a social issue in China: finding an affordable home. There are more luxurious apartment buildings being built than the demand for them. As apartment prices rise, the difficultly of living for average Chinese rise too.

For instance, as of now, Hangzhou city in Zhejiang Province is the most expensive city to live in China. The price per square meter to buy an apartment in the city center is 42,668.77 ¥ (which equals out to ~$6857). So, if a recently married Chinese college graduate is looking for a cheap place to live with his wife, they would most likely look for a small ~60m studio. The price for such an apartment would be around 2,560,094¥ (equals out to ~$411,420). If a family was looking for an apartment in the city, they would look for around 250m 2-3 bedroom apartment. The price for such an apartment would be around 10,667,060¥ (equals out to around $1,714,250). To rent a one-bedroom apartment in the city center would be around 4,172.22 ¥ (equals out to ~$670). Information taken from here. I hope my math is correct! [edit: my friend who lives in Hangzhou mentioned that there is affordable living in the city and that my numbers may only apply to more ritzy standards. Thanks for the comment!]. Kunming is much more affordable than Hangzhou, but every year its housing prices rise. I already hear Kunming residents complaining about the cost of living.

After scouring the suburbs and asking random people for directions, I finally found Dianchi Lake.

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Man Fishing Alongside Dianchi Lake –I wouldn’t eat the fish!

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My Bike and Smelly Dianchi Lake

Dianchi Lake is renowned for its pollution. It has become so serious that people should no longer drink the water, swim in it, and, I think, even fish in it. Are there still one-headed fish that survived the contamination? The lake is now being cleaned, but the waters still exude a subtle stench. It’s pretty to look at though. From the lake, I followed a path that bordered an amusement park. I noticed two old men watching a roller coaster prepare to catapult its riders down towards the ground. I watched too.

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Watching the Roller Coaster Ride

After following the path, I hit a road again and started biking. Fortunately, I biked right to the entrance of Daguan Park. I was told by my friends before it was worth a visit. Coincidentally, I biked right to it! I payed 20¥ and walked around. My legs were tired from biking. It was nice to take it easy and look at the lake and flowers.

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Inside Daguan Park

I found a bench and sat down. I looked out at the smelly lake and gazed at the Western Hills. I sat there for a while. Usually, when I’m by myself, more Chinese people approach me and say “hal-lo.” I smile and politely respond back. Sometimes the conversations are very short: “Hal-lo,” “Hello.” Or they can lead to longer conversations that slowly change back to Chinese. This time there were no long conversations, just cute little Chinese kids who blushed and ran away after saying “Gud day, how er yu?”

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View of the Western Hill From the Bench

After walking around the entire park (including roller coaster I had past earlier), I exited the area and biked back home. I made dinner that night. I was starving and was home first. I made pineapple fried rice and Teriyaki Tofu. My other roommate helped make cabbage soup, vegetable hearts, and brought home Dai minority food. Every night we normally eat together. Good day.

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Everyday Life: Taking a Break around Green Lake

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGreen Lake–Lotus Flowers Abloom (photo taken in Fall 2010)

These past couple of weeks, I have delved into new reading materials (primarily ethnographic fieldwork manuals), one being Chuan-Kang Shih’s “Quest for Harmony: The Moso Traditions of Sexual Union and Family Life.” I am trying to finish these books before February, which is when I plan to travel to Lugu Lake, my fieldwork site, for the first time. These books are thick and dense. After spending one afternoon reading Shih’s book, I decided to give my mind a break and walk around Green Lake. It’s a scenic, relaxing part of town with a large man-made lake where the older Kunming population often congregate.

I was expecting a quiet walk, but instead found myself in a madding crowd of mostly older Chinese taking up the entire sidewalk going about their way. I noticed many were lining along the fence, looking at something. I squeezed through to see and saw the fence lined with “seeking relationship” advertisements. I observed a few: 1) 71 year-old man looking for a partner, 2) 36 year-old man looking for a wife, 3) 29 year old woman looking for a husband, etc. From what I saw, the majority of people looking at the ads were primarily mothers, but there were some old men looking at ads too. I was pushed along and ran into some kind of event. I saw a sign that read: “茶花节《三十六计》(Tea Flower Festival “36 Plans”). The event was based off a popular “finding love” television show. I watched from the audience as a group of awkward men and women paraded the stage doing random challenges that the host organized.

All of a sudden, an older Chinese man approached me and said, “Do you speak Chinese?” I said yes and he continued: “Are you participating in this event?” I quickly responded that I was not finding a date and was just going on a walk. He was intrigued that I spoke the language and continued our conversation. We talked about studying abroad. He mentioned how the Chinese education system is not as good as it was before and how many of “us” Chinese want to send their kids/grandkids abroad to study. I started pulling in a crowd of curious Chinese who noticed a foreigner speaking Mandarin. I decided it’s my time to go and politely excused myself.

I continued walking through the busy crowd, hoping to find a new place to read. Suddenly, another older man taps me on the shoulder and says: “Mind if I walk with you? I noticed you were speaking Mandarin back there.” I consented and we started a new conversation. He was short, wore large-rimmed sunglasses, and looked about 60 years-old. I asked what he did in Kunming. He first wanted me to guess–I guessed “teacher.” He said that was close and then gave me a round-about answer of what he does. In the end, I didn’t fully understand his job. He began to rub me the wrong way. He then said: “This is the first time I’ve ever talked to a foreigner. Even better, you’re a beauty (meinv).” That made me feel even more uncomfortable. I laughed it off and said I was happy to be the first foreigner he had ever talked to.

At one point on the walk, we passed a group of policemen. He suddenly got really close to me and whispered: “What do you think of them?” I glanced at the policemen and replied: “They are really helpful. Whenever I need help or get lost, I look for a policeman.” He nodded and replied: “You know, if you need any help you can call me too. I want to become friends with you.” I nod and look up at the spinning fans that hung above the sidewalk. I didn’t want to respond. He then continued, “I think you have mistaken what I just said as a joke. If you have any problems, you can always give me a call. Let’s be friends. Let’s exchange numbers.” This is when my language abilities got in the way: How do I politely refuse in Mandarin?

With a lack of better vocabulary, I bluntly said, “We just met. I would rather not give you my number.” We finally reached one of the entrance gates to Green Lake where I can leave. He seemed distraught and offended that I didn’t want to give him my number. “Why? Is it my age? My job? Why don’t you want to be connected? I feel like our meeting is auspicious. It means something to me.” He then confessed that he was a police officer. Why didn’t he say that in the first place? I was still skeptical of his occupation. I tried to explain my reasoning for not giving him my number as politely as possible, but he wouldn’t stop. This was the first time I had ever met someone so involved in getting my information. In the end, he conceded, but as a last resort, he offered me his phone number. I grudgingly took it. We shook hands as a farewell…He grasped on a little too long and when we let go, he stroked his pointer finger along my palm. I quickly said goodbye and went on my way.

I finally escaped. I made it to the Confucius Temple Park and continued reading my research materials. What an uncomfortable encounter!

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Exploring Yunnan: Our Adventure Returning Back to Jinghong

The day before, I mentioned to Xinmeng that Sam and I needed to be back in Jinghong, capital of Xishuang Banna, by the next day. I thought it wouldn’t be an issue. There should be enough buses going back to the capital, right? Well, she got wide eyed and said: “There’s only one bus, it goes to Menghai, and it leaves at 8:00am. The village is a 2-3 hour hike from here!” She said we had two options: 1) leaving right then and make it to Bada (the village with the one bus) right at sunset, or 2) she can try to put together two motorbikes to Bada before sunrise. Sam wouldn’t be healthy enough to hike 3 hours that night…so there was only one option: motorbike. Her husband and his brother volunteered for the job. I thanked them and the family profusely. They already have hard lives as it is. They work all day in the fields, take care of two babies, and host visitors and now they will be taking me and my sick friend early in the morning to Bada. Before going to bed, I paid for our visit and added extra gas money for the motorbike ride. I went to bed and set my clock for 5:45am. The sun would rise at around 8:00am.

I groggily woke up and silenced my alarm. I shook Sam awake, packed up our things, and met Xinmeng’s husband and his brother outside. It was dark and the stars were still out. The Milk Way had already faded though. I hopped onto the back of the husband’s motorbike and held onto his shoulders. I looked at Sam as he held onto the brother’s waist and said: “This is going to be an adventure!”

Then we were off. The head lamps were our only form of light as we bumped along the uneven dirt road. I looked up at the stars and saw the big dipper in the middle of the sky, upright, not pouring into the horizon. The space station brightly flew through its handle and hurdled down behind the mountains. After 20 minutes, we crossed to the other side of the mountain range. The crescent moon emerged from behind the tea plantation hills and shone above Venus. I told the husband, “what a beautiful moon!” He quickly glanced at it and didn’t take much notice. He’s probably seen it many times before. As the moon and Venus set, the sun began to rise. The landscape started to show color: the greens of the tea plantations and forests became visible and the pink of the blossomed trees also made an appearance.

I was in awe of the scenery when the husband started conversation: “How is your friend?”

“He’s doing much better. He just needed a day of rest.”

“That’s good to hear. Are you two married?”

“Ah! No! We have known each other since middle school.”

“Are you together? Is he your boyfriend?”

“No, he is not. We are just good friends”

“HUH? Then why did you two share the same room?”

“To save money.”

The husband was so astonished to hear that we shared a room. To him a man and a woman sharing a room has only one significance, which you can probably guess for yourself. I laughed it off and said that it’s a bit different from where we’re from. Friends can share rooms, even beds, without anything to worry about. He asked more questions about my culture and I asked him about his life in Thailand and meeting his wife. The two of them both had fond memories of Thailand. It seemed like they preferred it more than here.

Forty-five minutes into the trip, my hands began to lose feeling from the brisk cold wind. The entire motorbike was bumping along a makeshift cobblestone road. I couldn’t tell if I was shivering anymore or if the bumping was in rhythm with my body. I noticed we had passed a sign saying we were approaching Bada. We were almost there! I looked out at the horizon, the sun was almost up. We had to make it to the village soon. We were chasing the sunrise!

Before entering the village, the husband asked if I needed to use the bathroom. He said the bathrooms are dirty and far away, so it would be best to do business in the mountains. I said I was fine and we continued down the path to Bada. We made it just in time to have a bowl of noodles and buy snacks. I treated the husband and brother to breakfast, thanked them for everything, and went on the bus.

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Women Selling Goods Early in the Morning in Bada

Before we knew it, we were off again. I watched the sunrise as it hovered over the mountainous terrain and lit up the colorful scenery. I looked out the window and watched the tea plantations and mountains pass, as well as breathed in fresh air. The older man next to me (who kept staring at me) was smoking something strong that didn’t even smell of a cigarette. He wrapped something into a blunt and smoked it. We were in the golden triangle…so who knew what he was smoking! I breathed in the mountain air, watched the Dr. Seuss-like striped mountains pass, and was slowly lulled to sleep.

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View from Bus

I woke up in urban Menghai. We took a bus to Jinghong and spent the rest of the day there. We saw a nationalistic Jackie Chan film called “十二生肖 (12 Zodiac)” and ate a lot of Western food. I was glad to finally give Sam something substantial to eat! We left for Kunming that night by plane. It was hard to imagine that we were in Manmai that morning when I got on the plane. What a day.

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Exploring Yunnan: Day in Manmai Bulong Village

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Map of Xishuang Banna and our Travels (map taken from this website)

I woke up the next morning to find Sam sick as a dog. I think drinking the shot and a half of rice wine was the culprit. Our plans to hike through the rainforest to the neighboring village were on hold. After taking care of him and putting him back to bed, I then went upstairs to find the family going about their daily lives (playing with the baby, preparing to go out to the tea plantations, etc). Xinmeng’s mother cooked us breakfast, which I ate by myself. Breakfast included thin fried fish with sesame seeds and noodles with processed ham.

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I ate quickly and then walked out to the open part of the second story. The village was situated on the side of a mountain, so the view was amazing:

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Drying Clothes with Scenic View

After talking with Xinmeng, I decided to get to know the village of Manmai and Bulong culture. First of all, here is a Wikipedia article about the Bulong (or Blang) people of China. They are one of the 56 recognized ethnic minority groups in China with a population of over 90,000 people. They primarily live in Yunnan province. While I was walking through the village, the sound of construction and children laughing filled the air. It seemed like every able-bodied person in Manmai was helping their neighbors build or renovate houses. I wondered where the villagers got the money.

I happened upon a young monk shoveling sand into a watery mixture of cement. I asked him what he was doing. He was surprised that I spoke Mandarin and was a little flustered. He spoke in broken Chinese: “Building my house, it is this one.” He pointed at a house that was in the middle of being built. The foundation and structure had been made, but they had yet to make walls. His friend came over with a shovel and they began to talk and laugh in the local dialect. I did not want to get in the way of their work, so I waved goodbye and went on my way. I then almost ran into two little boys screaming down the street as they avoided water being splashed on them by the group of girls who were on the second story of a bungalow (house with stilts) with a bucket.

IMG_1875Girls Bullying the Little Boys by Splashing Water

I begged for mercy and quickly passed by. Their parents, it seemed, were helping build the house next door. I could hear the girls giggling as I continued down the path. I was happy to see such a lively community and to be a part of it, even as a stranger. As I reached the edge of town (which didn’t take long), I found the local Buddhist temple. I climbed up the steps and saw two men: one was a very old monk and the other was a middle-aged man holding a mat. He laid the mat onto the floor and helped the old monk lie down. He wanted to sun bathe. I meandered around the pavilion, avoiding them to give them space, and observed the southeastern style architecture.

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Manmai Buddhist Temple

Suddenly, the middle-aged man tapped my shoulder and mumbled something to me. He beckoned me to follow him. He opened the temple doors and showed me a room with walls covered with stories. I followed him in and looked at the colorful pictures and characters. He then brought me to the front of the Buddha statue. Inside the temple was an assortment of colorful cloths hanging from the ceiling that contrasted against the golden Buddha. The man left me be. I followed the stories on the wall, trying to decipher their meanings. I did not understand the language that went with each picture. It looked like Sanskrit. When the man returned, I asked him what language it was and what the stories were about. He explained in broken Mandarin that the story wasn’t about Buddha, but someone else important in Buddhism scriptures. I did not really understand what he was saying, but he read the stories to me in the different language. It was soothing. I left the main hall and entered a bright red hallway that led back outside.

I went back to the house and checked on Sam. He was still sleeping. I then went hiking up the mountain that the village rested on and explored the tea plantations up there. I then moved down to the bottom of the village and skimmed the rainforest. I did not enter it, fearing that I would lose my way.

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Locals Going About their Day

When it was nearing dinner time, I hiked up back to the house. I asked Sam what he would like to eat. He said that he can’t eat anything except for fruit. I went upstairs and met up with Xinmeng. She spent the entire afternoon in the fields and was resting. I asked if there was anywhere in the village to buy fruit. She said that luckily someone from Menghai had come to the village today to sell goods, one being oranges. She was kind enough to show me the way. She held her baby in a long cloth wrapped around her shoulders and waist as we walked to the seller. I ask about her life:

She was born in this village the same year as me, 1990. Back then this village was much poorer. She finished up to the third year of middle school and then at age 14 moved to Thailand as a migrant worker. She worked there for many years. She loved being in Thailand. The work was simple and the pay was better than in the village.  She also met her husband during her stay. They got married there. However, she moved back to the village when she became pregnant. That was a year ago. She said the village had changed a lot since she left. The government is giving locals money (up to 10,000 yuan) to renovate their homes and improve their standard of living. She mentioned that the reason for this development was not for tourism, but rather for the betterment of the people’s lives. Her family had renovated their house 4 years before, but then the government only gave them 2000 yuan. She is now living with her husband, mother, father, brother, brother’s wife, and two little babies.

While we were walking to the fruit seller, she said hello to everyone we passed. She knew everyone in the village and they knew her. The community was close-knit and friendly. We finally got to the fruit seller. While I was buying oranges, she bought a bowl of rice noodles and talked with the people sitting in the circle eating. I was happy she brought me to the fruit seller because I saw a more intimate perspective of the village. When I walked by myself, everyone treated me like an outsider. Not in a bad way. But, when I walked with her, the village seemed more personal and welcoming.

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Sunset from Xinmeng’s Balcony

We walked back and gave Sam oranges to eat. I ate with the family, talked, and watched television with them till it was very late. I became friends with Xinmeng. We were finalizing plans about how to get back to Jinghong the next day…turned out Sam and I would need to take motorbikes before sunrise to get to town on time…

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Exploring Yunnan: Traveling to Manmai Bulong Village

Sam and I caught a bus to Menghai at around 9:00am and arrived around 10:30am. The next bus to Bada was at 2:30pm, so we had time to kill and explored the small town. We ventured through a small market where a nice woman gave us a free taste of sweet rice wine porridge. It was tasty, but also very strong. We thanked her and slowly ate it while we continued on our way. In these small towns, there is normally a center where there is a large mall and supermarket, but when you leave the center and move to the edges, you run into random farmland between apartment complexes. Since this once was country, the city was built around it. It’s normally lost behind the 3-4 story buildings, but when you explore the alleyways (like what we did), you normally stumble upon them.

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Pond Next to Urban Countryside

From urban scape to farmland: behind us in this photo was an unorganized set of farmland with corn and rice paddies. We walked along the thin dirt path and crossed a makeshift bridge (three thick pieces of wood and one plank in the middle) to get to the other side of the village. The sun was beating down on us. It was so much warmer than Kunming. We found shady sanctuary at a Buddhist temple.

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Menghai Buddhist Temple

We sat next to a golden shrine and listened to the screaming of children in the neighboring elementary school. I looked for a bathroom to change into shorts and also to use it…what I found was a cement wall and a pile of bricks. That will do! We meandered around the village until 2:30pm was around the corner. We got on the bus and I immediately conked out…I woke up to this scenery:

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Scaling the Mountains on Bus

I always seem to forget Chinese countryside can be so beautiful. I noticed we had been traveling for about two hours out of the total of three. I thought I would ask around the bus (in total 10-12 people) for anyone who knew how to get to Manmai. I asked a few, but they shook their hands, mumbling that they don’t speak Mandarin. A 16 year-old Hani minority boy piped up and said he knew the way. I sat next to him. He wore fashionable clothing (black pants, striped button-up, black hat) and had a small guitar next to him. He went to Menghai to hang out with some friends and was heading back home to Mangwa, a village a bit north of Manmai. He explained that we could get off the bus early and hike two hours to the village. We had about 3-4 hours till sunset. I double checked with Sam to make sure he’s okay trusting his directions. Before we had time to really negotiate, the boy yelled at the driver to stop. He pointed at a dirt road and said hike down it for two hours and you’ll hit Manmai. Before we knew it, we were off the bus and all alone among mountains of tea plantations.

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Tilted Shelter in a Tea Plantation

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Sam and I Hiking to Manmai

We walked…and walked…and walked. At some points we hiked to the top of tea plantations, but since sunset was approaching, we kept to the path. We sang Disney songs, talked, and gazed at the scenery. It was a beautiful hike. We fortunately made it to the village right at sun down. We climbed up a hill to a shrine and watched the sunset from there: IMG_1856

Sunset Over a Wave of Mountains

It was dark when we entered the village. I asked around for a place to sleep. Most of the people didn’t understand Mandarin, so I resorted to body language. I put my hands together and imitated myself sleeping. She recognized what I meant and pointed down the hill. We continued through the dark path. I could make out bungalow homes (houses on stilts), but besides that it was too dark to see. We approached a home and ran into a smiling, middle-aged woman. I imitated sleeping again to her. She nods, mumbled in the local dialect, and ushered us into her home.  Thankfully her daughter, Xinmeng, who is my age and speaks Mandarin, shows us our room (a large mattress on the ground). Sam and I joked that we can pretend we’re married. Her mother cooks us a meal and Xinmeng’s brother hands us rice wine. It was so strong. It burned my esophagus even after drinking. I took two sips the entire night. Sam, on the other hand, drank a shot and a half. I was surprised!

I talked with the family for a bit and then headed to bed. We had another early morning. We planned to explore the village and then travel through the rainforest to get to another Bulong town.

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Exploring Yunnan: Excursion to “Almost” Southeast Asia–Xishuang Banna

In order to save time, Sam and I got plane tickets to Jinghong, the capital of Xishuang Banna, and arrived at around 10:00am. We step out of the airport and smell humid air and then hear the gaggle of taxi drivers out front yelling at us “fee-ty! fee-ty!” They wanted us to pay 50yuan for a drive to Jinghong’s center. I asked if they could turn on the machine, but they said: “kaibuliao, it cannot be turned on.” Basically, the driver wanted to swindle us out of our money. A trip to downtown would be around $10-15yuan, but since we are foreigners and have “no way” to get to downtown, they decide to utilize this opportunity to get more money. This behavior among taxi drivers (street vendors, anywhere one can haggle) is widespread throughout China. It finally began to wear me down at this point. Month after month it’s always the same. It’s not that the money is an issue, but it’s how these people treat us that really affects me. They don’t see us as equals, as human beings, but rather as overflowing money bags. Also, it’s almost as if something is missing in their moral character…cheating, swindling, tricking are all awful things to do to your common wo/man. If this is seen as bad behavior, then why is it so widespread? Maybe it is due to poverty. One will do a lot for money.

I persuade Sam to join me find a public bus. We walk onto a large street that is lined with fruit sellers that sought shade underneath the the banyan and palm trees. We ask them for the closest bus stop. The man speaks poor mandarin, but points to the other side of the road and said to wait on the corner. We wait for 10 minutes and finally got on a bus. We paid 5yuan. We got off the bus and found ourselves in a humid, forested city. Are we really still in China?

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Jinghong

Sam and I walk down the street, found the city center where locals were practicing for a culture competition that night, and found a quaint restaurant next to it. We ate while listening to the music. At this point, Sam and I had no plans whatsoever. Our next goal was to find Meimei Cafe and figure out our next day’s agenda. After asking around, we found ourselves at the foreigner street and at the cafe. We drink the most delicious lemonade and look through packets of travel advice. The owner of the cafe approached our table and gave us some suggestions. He recommended a Bulong village near the border of Myanmar. He mentioned that it isn’t the easiest place to get to, but worth the trip. Sam and I decide to go the next morning!

From the cafe, we booked two beds at an international hostel (40yuan a night) and then walk to the Mekong River. We cross through a maze of alleyways and steps till we reach the shore. The sun came out! I actually had beads of sweat run down my forehead because it was warm outside! I can’t remember the last time I felt so warm. The Mekong was beautiful and blue:

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Hanging out on the Mekong River

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Kids Swimming in the Mekong

As the sun began to set, we returned back to the foreigner street, had Thai food (couldn’t find a Dai style restaurant in the area), and then we searched the area for delicious desserts. We come across a cafe that has a Spanish-French chef/owner who once was head chef at the Waldorf (is that the hotel name?) in New York. We ate and conversed with him. When he heard our plans about going to the Bulong border town, he was in shock and said “No, no, no, that cannot be done. Too far away and recently there has been issues around the borders of Myanmar.” He persuades us to go on one of his organized trips. Sam and I feel conflicted. The Meimei Cafe owner said “It will be no problem! You can do it.” and this guy said the opposite. Who should we listen to? We excuse ourselves to think things through and watch the performance that we saw the locals practice that afternoon.

The performance commemorated 60th anniversary of the establishment of Xishuang Banna. The performances ranged from dances, kongfu, to comedy skits. Each performance was judged (by who, I don’t know). My guess is the the judges were from the local government, most likely Han Chinese. Sam and I were the only foreigners in the crowd, besides us, the audience were locals from or outside Jinghong.

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Dai Ethnic Minority Dance (the winning routine)

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The End of the Show

It was refreshing to see a performance that was aimed for the community and not tourists. However, I wished I was able to learn a bit more of this performance. What are the power dynamics: who leads this event? Who are the judges? Who decides which parts of Dai culture can be performed? Who is the intended audience: Is this for the local community? Visiting officials? Tourists? History of the Event: Is this a local event turned into big-time performance? Is this a new event (the announcer mentioned this is the second year for this performance, but was it a much smaller scale before?) I’ll have to keep such questions in mind when I begin fieldwork in Lugu Lake. The politics within a community is complex and needs to be understood through many different frames.

Sam and I headed back to the hostel. We planned to wake up early to begin our travels to Southwest Xishuang Banna.

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Exploring Kunming: Confucian Temple and Old Kunming

My friend Sam visited me from Japan for the week. On the first night we went to a Tibetan restaurant for a welcoming feast (yum!). The next day, I showed him around town: the Yuantong Buddhist Temple, dumpling restaurant (best in town!), and then we decided to go to Kunming’s Confucian Temple, which I had never been to and had no idea where it was. I asked random passerbys on the street, rode two buses, and walked close to the city center. A kind, old Chinese man, who we met on the second bus, showed us the way. We followed him as he hobbled through the busy bird and flower district alleyways. Birds chirped, bunnies rattled cages, maggots squirmed in large woven baskets, and the old man gruffly talked to me with a strong Kunming accent: “Ne suo han hua suo de hen hoe, hen hoe (you speak very well, very well.)” He was over 80, graduated from Yunnan University in the 1950s, and was a teacher at Kunming Xiamen University. We arrived at the front entrance to the district. He points us into the general direction and says farewell.

On the way to the temple, I played with puppies that were being sold on the street. We also stopped at a memorial that commemorated the forces who fought against Japan during World War II. We then passed the cross between Old Kunming and “New” Old Kunming.

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Which side is the “real” Old Kunming?

The development of “Ancient Cities (gucheng)” has become quite widespread in China for tourism incentives. This “ancient city” (on the left) is an example. The architecture is traditional, or at least what most people think “traditional” Chinese architecture looks like. I would guess this is based off centuries old buildings. The side on the right is one of the few existing old parts of the city (the bird and flower district is basically Old Kunming). When I say old, maybe over 100-200 years old. This is because most architecture in the past was made out of wood, hence most of it wears and rots away within many centuries. The Great Wall survived with its thick layers of stone and bones. I found the dichotomy within this photo to be evident and interesting. The battle versus old and “Old.”

In front of “Old” Kunming was the Confucian temple.

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The Confucian Temple: Now an Open Park and Garden

The door was open for the community. We entered to find crowds of retired men and women playing cards, chess, and music. Beneath the pictured pavilion (seen above) was a horde of older men playing mahjong. Table after table had men flicking their tiles into the middle and picking up a new tile, hoping for the lucky one. Sam and I found a bench overlooking this lively environment. I think I found a new reading spot.

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Cannons Crossing the River: Playing Chinese Chess

When exiting the park, we found a crowd circling around something. I always get tricked into thinking there’s a fight. But every single time, it’s two men actually playing Chess. I’m hoping to learn how to play and join in one of these epic board game events.

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My New Home

I finally found a permanent place to live! I lived in a hostel for less than a week before finding a temporary room for rent with a New Zealand women and British man. The apartment was really nice and had a fantastic view! I lived like laowai royalty for about two weeks. While I stayed there, each day I looked for more housing. I visited an apartment in a new complex down the street. The landlord was friendly and all the roommates were also welcoming. They showed me the open room. It was spacious with necessary furniture included. It also had it’s own bathroom! I decided to lease it.

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My Bed and a Glance at the Bathroom

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 Watching a Television Show with my Roommates in the Living Room

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View of the Kitchen and Dining Table

Sorry for the dark photos! I took them when it was nearing sunset.

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Celebrating New Years Away from Home: A Night of Music and Chinese Lesbians

After reading up on fieldwork methods that afternoon, I met with friends for dinner at a popular foreigner bar. We made new friends (one from Britain and the other from New Zealand) and both set off to Camel Bar for their New Years party. New Years is normally a holiday where I hang out with my family, and not a night where I go out on the town. I thought I would give this kind of celebrating a shot. We get to Camel Bar just in the nick of time (around 11:45pm). The band introduces the New Year by playing rock and bluegrass. The confetti feels like it fills the air, always falling. Couples kiss, bright lights twinkle, the floor is vibrating from the base, the group next to me throw their glasses into the air and cheer for the New Year: “gan bei!” “cheers!” I start to miss home. I remember this time last year my twin sister and I were playing the new Zelda game and beat it that night (I know, we are beyond cool). That was a good introduction to the new year, at least for me. Celebrating this time of the year with strangers feels a bit strange. I look into the crowd trying to find my friends. They are in the middle, listening to the music. I find them and wish them a happy new year.

My new British friend bought me a white Russian and from then on the night was filled with conversation. I listened about their adventures traveling for the past month, they were intrigued by my research, and I laughed at my friend’s jokes. I felt a bit better. The two people I was talking to decided to go dance. I stayed behind because I wanted to stay off my foot. I injured my toe the other day. While I relaxed on a bar stool, I noticed my friend flirting it up with two Chinese girls. I silently rooted for him and continued sipping at my white Russian. Suddenly, he looked back at me and said: “Hey, she thinks you’re cute.” I nearly spit out my drink. A young, pretty Chinese woman approaches me and says in Chinese: “Hello, I think you’re cute. My name is M.” She mentions that she finds my research interesting. My friend was playing the wingman for me…not sure if he even knew. My night took an unexpected turn.

I get to know more about her. She works for the subway development company that’s currently establishing Kunming’s first subway system. She says it’s busy and has long hours, but it’s good pay. We talked for about 20 minutes, then my British friend returned and persuaded me to join them dancing. I asked if M wanted to dance, but she simply smiled and refused. “We’ll talk later,” she said. After joining them on the dance floor, my friends decide to move to the party district, Kundu. I joined them, since it was closer to my apartment. I was getting tired and wanted to head back.

What I wasn’t expecting was that M was driving us. She showed us her car, a brand new, white SUV. We were surprised, what a nice car for someone so young! She must be rich. M’s friend escorts me to the front seat, but I said I can sit in the back. My friend with longer legs should be in the front. But she didn’t want to hear it, seemed like M really wanted to sit next to me. My friend whispers into my ear, “Looks like you’re the favorite.” I comfortably sit in the front seat and look back to find my two friends, a 40 year-old french man (where did he come from?), and M’s friend crammed in the back.

I have light conversation with M and then we arrive at the party district. It is alive with drunken Chinese filtering in and out of the club entrances. The club front walls were beaming with lights and busting out loud beats. I was too tired to even think about going into one of those. I politely excuse myself to flag a taxi. I heard later that M and her friend left soon after.

That was my first experience being hit on by a Chinese lesbian. I was very flattered, but also felt a bit bad on two accounts: one, not being attracted to her, and two, unintentionally “cock-blocking” my friend. In the end, Near Years Eve turned into a very eventful night. I enjoyed it.

Happy New Year everybody!

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