Monthly Archives: February 2013

Last Day In the Remote Mosuo Village: Work and a Stroll Around the Village

That morning, Molly and I both felt a bit better, so after breakfast, we joined PM and Lidy to help build another house. We mixed dirt, soaked the dirt, shoveled it into baskets, and put it in the wooden contraption to compact it into a sturdy wall. We did this until second breakfast. After second breakfast, Molly and I felt a little queazy, so we headed back to the host’s home and took a long nap.

I woke up in the late afternoon and felt much better. I heard we were having a big dinner at the house, but that wouldn’t be for couple of hours. I also was told the young boy “knows all the pretty places” in the area. I asked if he’d mind taking me on a walk and showing me the village. We was super excited and also brought his new butterfly toy. It had a pole and a butterfly on the bottom with wheels. While walking, you would put it in front of you and roll it. The wings moved while it rolled. We set off down the hill to the fields.

We passed locals as they returned from their work shepherding their cattle and sheep back home. Most were young children who led the animals back home.

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Returning the Cattle and the Little Rascal

We walked through fields and then headed back up to the village:

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Path Through the Dried-Up Stream

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We got back to home with time to spare for dinner, so I drew in the courtyard as guests slowly started trickling in. Each would look over my shoulder and see what I was drawing–the courtyard. They were impressed. Lidy and PM came back from working on the house. We all entered the living area and joined the festivities.

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Having a Good Time with Host Family and Locals

This is the inside of the living area. The picture above is of the lower hearth, the picture below is of the upper hearth. The room is lit by a hanging metal basket with dry wood on fire. Since we are considered as respected guests, we ate with the men first. After dinner, the women came in and ate. We hung out with them till the late hours.

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Respected Daba Priest Under Mao on Upper Hearth

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PM and Lidy with their Friends

It was a good way to end the stay. The four of us would return to Lugu Lake where we’d catch a bus and head back to Lijiang. Lidy needed to go back home in Guangdong and Molly and I needed to get back to Kunming. I would be leaving for Taiwan in a couple days for the Fulbright Mid-Year Conference.

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Living in Remote Mosuo Village: Building Homes and Slowly Understanding Local Culture

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The Town of LJZ–Host Family’s House on the Right

The next morning, I felt a lot better, but my stomach still felt like a squished up raisin. I felt like I was not going to eat anything today or even for the rest of the week. I walked downstairs to the main living where I found the family, Lidy, and PM eating breakfast. I sat on a mat next to Lidy and faked eating rice. Molly felt sick to her stomach today, so she didn’t join us. After breakfast, PM and Lidy were at a loss. They didn’t know who to visit or what to do. Their goal for this visit to LJZ was to collect local songs–the two of them would be considered ethnomusicologists. They decided to meet with an old friend up the dirt road. I walked with them, when all of a sudden they stopped in surprise. The house next door had been half demolished. They walked in and asked what happened. The family told them the earthquake from the year previous destroyed parts of the house, and they finally had time to rebuild. They were rebuilding the main living area, but the two stories of rooms were still intact.

We asked if we could help them out and they agreed. Sometimes the families are too polite to allow guests to help with construction, but fortunately they were okay with it! We hiked up our sleeves and began shoveling dirt into baskets, soaking the dirt with water, collecting stones, and compacting the dirt in a wooden contraption that made walls:

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Compacting Dirt into the Beginning of a Wall

We did this for the rest of the afternoon with breaks between where we ate second breakfast, lunch, and second lunch…I felt like I was in the Shire! Too bad I could barely eat any of it. During the lunch breaks, I would observe PM talk with the locals. At one point, she was talking with a revered Daba priest, who lived in the household. She was asking him if there are any songs about building a house. In the next moment, the Daba priest started singing a song Lidy and PM had never heard before. The song is sung when the house is almost done. It is often when the men compact the dirt with the tools pictured above. I do not have the lyrics, but he helped us translate the meaning. It was about pounding the dirt and pulling out the earthworms from the earth…     ~A lay lay, A lay lay~

We clapped after the performance and soon found ourselves back outside doing work again. We worked until it began to get dark. Someone mentioned that there was smoke in the distance. We looked up to the sky and saw a stream of black smoke rising behind the nearby mountain. The fire looked close. We asked what locals do about fires, but they said not to worry. Whenever there is a fire, the population that lives in that vicinity takes care of it. Since the fire was behind the mountain range, it wasn’t LJZ locals’ problem. However, the Yi minority live on that side, so it is their responsibility to extinguish it. It still made PM and me a bit uneasy. What if the fire spread over the mountain?

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We finished the first layer of foundation and then headed out to another home for supper. Before going to the home, I checked on Molly. She was not interested in going. I gave her some more water and hurried to dinner. It is impolite to come late. Before leaving, I took this shot of our host’s home:

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Host Family’s Home–Courtyard and Main Living Area

To the left that is not pictured is the home’s temple. In and around Lugu Lake, locals believe in both Tibetan Buddhism and the Daba religion. The temple was a Tibetan Buddhist shrine. To the right that is not pictured are the second story rooms that PM, Lidy, Molly, and I were staying in. I walked downstairs and found one of the daughters. While she was asking where I was going, one of the elder sisters called out to her child and Lidy (who was also at the home). We found the elder sister outside of the front door looking up to the sky in fright. She hesitantly pointed at the orange moon. She had never seen an orange moon before and told Lidy that maybe it would be best not to leave the home tonight. The elder sister thought the changing in the moon was very ominous. Their society circles around the moon and lunar calendar. Their lives and the moon are in cycle.

I told Lidy that the moon was orange because of the smoke from the fire. The smoke was distorting the moon, changing it into another color. The daughter translated that to her mother, who still felt unnerved, but allowed us to leave for dinner. We raced down to the lower edge of the village to the other home. The matriarch ushered us in and showed us where to sit, at the lower hearth, with a roomful of men. PM, Lidy, and I were the only women sitting in the living area, besides the sisters who were making the food. Since we were considered as primarily “guests” and not “women,” we ate with the men.  The women and children would eat the leftovers afterwards. However, a grandmother (a highly respected figure in the household) entered the room and sat next to me. She overrode the “women and children” category. I wish I understood Mosuo language because she was making the entire room laugh. At one point, I asked what he name was:

She said, “Namu.”

I responded, “that’s a really pretty name!” She was a bit confused with my response and laughed. I guess what I said cannot be translated well into the Mosuo language. They don’t say things like that…so she decided to play with my response.

“Well then, you can have it!” (Someone was translating her words for me)

A man called from the upper hearth: “But you are not a living Buddha, you cannot just give out names, Grandmother Namu!” He and everybody was laughing at the grandmother’s ridiculousness.

“Well, for this very moment, I’m Living Buddha Namu, and I bequeath you the name, Namu.” The entire room was exploding with laughter. I was laughing too because the grandmother was acting very dramatic. I thanked Namu Living Buddha for the name.

My first name in the Mosuo language now is Namu. I do not have a last name yet. 

Most of the men in the village speak Mandarin. This is because they had worked in cities in their youth. We chatted with them and each other for the duration of dinner. I do not remember exactly what we talked about, but I do remember the men being very keen in answering any of our questions. They are all so friendly! The young men sat in the back of the room and chatted with themselves, except for when they would look over at us and giggle. I had a feeling we would have visitors again tonight.

When the men finished eating, they said their goodbyes and headed back to either their natal homes or their partner’s homes. In this culture, men stay in their female partner’s home at night and come back to their natal home in the morning. In their natal homes, they most likely have their own room, but it may be next to the pig pen or not very well maintained. The women, however, are given the better rooms, so that they can receive visitors. When the men left, the remaining women and children came in and ate with us. It felt like a weight was lifted from their shoulders because the room was suddenly filled with the chatter and laughter of women and children. We chatted with them for the rest of the night. When we thought it was getting a tad late, we thanked the family for the feast and headed back home around 10pm.

Before going to bed, I asked PM and Lidy if men visit Molly and I tonight, would it be okay if I brought them to their room and chatted with them? Molly was not feeling up to dealing with visitors that night. They said it would be fine. Later, while I was writing in my journal, I heard footsteps in the courtyard and then heard the creaking of the wooden stairs. They came back. The brick was knocked over once more. I turned over to find four young men again. They seemed a bit more courageous with the help of some beers. They said their hellos and asked if they could sit down. They mentioned they wanted to see the twins. I translated for Molly, who was hiding under her covers saying “Mu ni, Mu ni (No way, No way).” But, Molly said it was okay to give them a quick look and then popped her head out of the covers. I walked over and showed them how we looked very similar. The boys were in awe, they had never seen twins before! After that, I escorted them to PM and Lidy’s room, where we continued conversation for more than an hour. It was fun to talk with them with PM…she likes to joke around. In the end, of course we didn’t “walk marriage,” so we politely rejected the boy’s requests. They were perfectly okay with the rejection and left. They seemed to have enjoyed the conversation and I did too.

I talked with Lidy and PM a little longer about their experiences in the field and then headed back to bed. I have chosen an interesting culture to study!

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In Remote Mosuo Village: Learning About Mosuo Culture Through Food Poisoning and Cures

I won’t go into too much detail about how sick I was…but it was a tireless night of food poisoning, primarily with my body retching everything out of my stomach. After 4a.m., my body finally felt complacent enough to give me some shut eye. The next morning, I could barely move from how tired I was. Molly took care of me (somehow she didn’t get sick…yet!) and helped out in the fields with the family. I, on the other hand, shriveled up in my bed and felt like dying.

Later in the morning, I was suddenly woken up by PM. She was holding bark in her hand. The family had told her that this bark was gifted to them from the living Buddha and that it had medicinal, spiritual powers. She asked if I would eat it. I nearly vomited just thinking about it. She understood and broke a chunk off and put it in my pocket, pretending that I ate some of it. She then left. I closed my eyes just to be disturbed again from my slumber by her. She brought a fireplace tool which was holding burning coals that smelt of something awful. The family told her that a powder was also gifted to them from the living Buddha and that smelling it in burning coals would make me feel better. PM did not fully believe in the powers of these gifts, but she was doing this to respect the host family’s wishes. I smelt it…it was a combination of smoke, ginger, and something that I could not tell. She then gave me the spiritual bark, which the family gifted to me. I guess this is one way of experiencing local culture: getting sick! When she left, I finally got some shut eye.

I slept for the entire morning and most of the afternoon. I finally found some strength to get up. I walked out of the door and looked down to the courtyard to find the family, PM, Molly, and Lidy in the courtyard trying on traditional Mosuo garb. When I came down, they asked if I wanted to try it on. I agreed and weakly put it on. When taking pictures, I smiled the best I could…it was hard.

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Traditional Mosuo Garb

How do I look? The dress was quite heavy.  I went back to my bed and slept some more. The family members kept visiting me during my naps, asking if I wanted to eat anything. I had to reject all their requests. My body was cleansing its entire system and did not want to eat anything. I woke up in the late afternoon to go to the bathroom. When I came back from the backyard (which was our toilet, no walls, no stalls, just the grass and dirt in the backyard), the grandma was weaving rope in the corner. When she saw me, she beckoned me over in Mosuo language. I walked over to find a pile of wedding candy next to her. She handed me one. It was the first thing that looked appetizing. I immediately put the sugary goodness in my mouth. It really hit the spot. I motioned with my hands that I really liked it (she doesn’t speak Mandarin and I don’t speak Mosuo). She smiled and I went on my way back to my room.

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A-mi–The Grandmother

The next time I woke up, I found a pile of candy next to me. I knew exactly who gave it to me…She was so sweet! Before it got dark, I found PM, Lidy, and Molly watching a family and their neighbors building a house. They asked if we wanted to help them. PM and Lidy jumped to the occasion, whereas Molly and I stayed back. Molly was starting to get sick too. I watched for a bit longer. I noticed that the older Mosuo men and women were congenial with each other, as they talked and laughed. However, the younger men (I did not see any younger women) were shy and did not speak. They would once and a while glance over at us, the foreigners.

There are many taboos in this society that I am only starting to become conscious of: 1) young men don’t talk to young women in the day, 2) women wear long sleeves and long pants, don’t show skin, 3) men don’t sing unless for occasion, 4) discussion of sexual relations/sex is hidden and not spoken of (unless with close friends of the same gender). These are the ones that have come to my attention. When I was in the village, it seemed like everything I did went against social norms. PM would have to approach me and laugh at how I’m being so different (taking off my sweatshirt to only wearing a T-shirt, etc.). If I want to do research here, I will have to change a lot about my behavior. I have to sit like a girl, dress appropriately (long pants and long sleeves), follow customs for women (eat on the lower hearth or eat after the men have eaten, etc.).

Molly and I went back to the house to rest before dinner. I decided that though I still did not want to eat, that I should spend time with the family. They were very worried about me the entire day. For them, when someone is sick, it is a serious matter. Many people die from sickness here. They were so worried that they almost beckoned a local Daba priest to pray for me…that would have been interesting, but I’m glad s/he didn’t come. That would have been a bit embarrassing! Praying for my diarrhea to go away? Is that how it works?

When dinner time came, Molly decided to instead rest in our room. I went down and sat on the lower hearth with Lidy and PM, while the three sisters and the children sat on the upper hearth. The grandmother was behind the lower hearth on a bed resting. The upper and lower hearth both have fire pits with pots, the upper pot was for food, while the lower pot was for boiling water. They handed us bowls of rice and gave us a selection of meats and soup. I swallowed down a little soup broth, but that was all I could muster. I listened to PM and Lidy speak in Mosuo to the sisters (they do not speak Mandarin). My primary form of communication was with the children, who spoke a little Mandarin. At one point in the night, I showed the children my drawings. They were so excited and for the rest of dinner, they were asking me to draw about everything (cow, pig, grandmother, cat, dog, etc.). They were telling me to draw things that are a part of their everyday lives. It was cool to see what comes to their mind…how far do their imaginations go? The children included two girls and a boy. The boy is such a rascal!

After dinner, we all headed back to our rooms. Before entering mine, PM mentioned that we may have “visitors” tonight. I thought she was joking and laughed it off. I went to sleep to only be woken up at around 12am by our door opening (the brick that was holding our door closed was knocked over). I groggily got up and turned on my headlamp to find four young Mosuo men in our room. They sheepishly said “hello” and asked if they could sit down and chat. Molly and I were both sick, so I had to politely ask them to leave due to our illness. In the end, I said “come another day.” They were very understanding and left. Before falling back to sleep, I thought how if four men entered my room without my consent in the U.S., I would have screamed and called the police, but here I told them to come back another day. This form of relationships is very different from what I’m accustomed to on the Western hemisphere! I really hoped they would come back. In the day, I have no way of talking to them, but at night…that taboo is lifted.

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Exploring Lugu Lake: Sunrise, Talking about the Middle East, and Going to a Remote Village

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Lugu Lake at Sunrise

The entire room of four bunks woke up to the banging of symbols and drums at five in the morning. We were sharing a room with the French anthropologist, PM, and a Chinese girl in her twenties. The drums and symbols would come in intervals of around three minutes…just like the snooze on an alarm clock. But, this alarm clock could not be turned off. I rolled around multiple times until I gave up falling back asleep and got up. From underneath her sheets, PM told us this was a New Year’s ritual. The monks came all the way from the temple to bless each household in the area. The intervals were the monks walking to the next household. Molly (who had waken up too) and I both thought it was pretty cool to hear their system of entering the New Year. However, the Chinese girl on PM’s top bunk was not having it. She was whining and crying, saying how they could be making such a racket so early in the morning. PM explained to her it was a ceremony, but she didn’t care. She wanted to go back to sleep.

This is a small example of the difference between Western and Chinese tourists. Chinese tourists often seek comfort when they travel. So, even though this Chinese girl was experiencing a unique introduction to Mosuo culture, she didn’t care. It didn’t even cross her mind. I think Western backpackers would instead wake up and investigate–like what Molly and I did!

We got dressed and walked out onto the dark cobblestone street. I saw that the mountain range in the distance had a thin layer of gold peaking through. The sun would rise soon. The monks had moved away from the hostel and were hidden in the alleyways. We could still hear the clanging of drums and symbols as it bounced off the houses and mountains. We then moved towards the lakeshore and awaited the sun rise.

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Tourists Taking a Boat to the Middle of the Lake 

We could have paid 10yuan to take a boat with the other tourists to the middle of the lake, but we just relaxed on the shore. It was a beautiful sight…

Afterwards, we joined an Algerian for some breakfast. We talked about being foreigners in China. He lived in Beijing pursuing a Ph.D at one of the universities. We then brought up stereotypes. Molly and I joked around with our American identities as we throw in obnoxious accents while talking to him. He laughed and talked about how people don’t normally have a fundamental understanding of Islam in China, or even in the US. Bouncing of this, Molly brought up a funny story that I thought I would share:

When I was in elementary school, there was a girl named Rukia. One day at lunch, I sat next to her and started devouring my lunch. I noticed she didn’t have anything in front of her, so I thought I would share my sandwich and applesauce. But, Rukia said she couldn’t eat because it was a special holiday. I was flabbergasted and responded, “There’s a holiday where you DON’T EAT?! What kind of holiday is that?” She explained to be the meaning of Ramadan. I thought it was cool, and also she got out of lunch early to go to recess…so I did it with her for the rest of the week!

The Algerian thought that was really funny. He then brought up the tensions in the Middle East and the influence of the “Arab Spring.” He also talked about North Africa’s and Middle East’s relationship with Israel. I do not normally have the opportunity to talk to people from this part of the world, so I thought it was great to listen to his side of the issue. He was a very friendly man, I would never imagine him being cold, or impolite to anyone. But, he said that he would not be friendly with an Israeli. Algeria and Israel’s relationship is very contentious, which showed in his response. I thought about what he said and realized that I do not have any of those kinds of feelings towards a country’s people. No matter where someone is from, or what they believe, I would treat them the same. So, hearing this from someone so friendly and understanding, was eye-opening. That kind of feeling of animosity is something I do not understand.

I grew up in a country where the media promoted hatred between “us” (the US) and the “Muslim World,” but that never affected me. I wonder how Algerian media represents Israel? What led to such contentious relations to the point that the Algerian man can’t even talk to an Israeli? This may be something I’ll need to investigate after studying Chinese culture. The Middle East and North Africa is a part of the world I am not familiar with at all. Next language on my list: Arabic!

It was time to meet PM at the hostel. We said our goodbyes, shared numbers, and went on our ways. PM invited us to join her and her good friend/informant, Lidy, to a remote village that was 3-4 hours away from Lugu Lake. We joined them and their friend, who owned a car, to the neighboring small city, Yongning, where we would catch a truck to the village. We had a couple of hours to spare, so we walked around the market and talked with locals. Afterwards, we sat in the sun, waiting and waiting for the truck to come. He finally did and we were off to the remote village of LJZ.

We bumped along a dirt road for 3 hours, stopping at places where he dropped off supplies to other villages. At one point, we stopped at an Yi village. I hopped off to find a nice grassy area to go to the bathroom and then walked around the village. I ran into older Yi women who were wearing large black headdresses. The headdresses are so eye-catching…large, black fabric creates circle behind their heads. Their black garb matches with the headdress, which adds to the aesthetic. It’s really a beautiful outfit.

I did a full circle around the village until I reached the truck again. That was our last stop until the final destination, LJZ. We finally made it to the village right before sunset. PM and Lidy led us to the house we would be staying in…it was beautiful: two stories with a courtyard in the middle! The family had just finished dinner and ushered us in. We ate dried pork and fish in a soup, potatoes, and rice. We were then escorted to our rooms where Molly and I fell asleep like babies…it was a long day!

It wouldn’t be until later in the night when I’d realize eating the pork and fish soup was a bad choice…

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Exploring Yunnan: Driving Around Lugu Lake and the Magical Bonfire Party

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The Group in Front of Lige

We woke up early that morning to set off and enjoy the day. We drove around and stopped whenever we felt like it. This was a great group to go with. I became closest with the driver, who is the man to the left of me in the picture.

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Lige and Lugu Lake

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Molly and I Standing in Front of the Lovers and Sisters Trees

We stopped at all the popular tourist spots (sister’s tree, lover’s tree, the walking marriage bridge, and the local temple). At the shrine, we ran into an anthropologist who was waiting for the living Buddha to come and bless the visitors. She became interested in my research and was more than willing to help introduce me to her friends and her own research. We could had talked for hours, but the group of friends wanted to keep going on the ride. She said she would be in Lige the next day, so we would see her then. I was so happy to find an experienced anthropologist in the field! I basically throw myself into this field of study without much extended experience beforehand, so having some sort of guidance in doing fieldwork was a high priority for me. I looked forward to seeing her. We then were off again.

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The View from the Walking Marriage Bridge

The next stop was the Walking Marriage Bridge, which is a lively tourist spot. I do not know the specific story of the bridge, but supposedly this was a place where lovers would meet at night. Now it is mainly preoccupied with Chinese tourists with expensive Nikon cameras and a random pair of foreign twins. Who knows…maybe couples still meet there at night? But, most likely not. Nowadays, locals have cell phones, so meeting in secret at night is not necessary. They can just send texts to each other and meet in the other’s home. Also, marriage has become more common in the area. Research has shown that the majority of the population still participates in walking marriage, but it is not done in the traditional way: such as, a man secretly coming into the woman’s house by window or back door. While in Lige, I did meet a few married Mosuo couples.

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Driving Back to Lige–Mount Gemu Looking Over the Countryside

Lugu Lake is located in a large valley within the Himalayas, so agriculture is convenient. For this reason, food is not an issue for the local population. However, because of the booming tourism industry, the once agriculturally-based economic system is being overridden by tour buses, restaurants, hotels, and barbecue shops. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This change in the economic systems has led to a more stable economy for the local population, which has led to improving schools and living standards. However, this change does influence the continuation of traditions, such as walking marriage, singing, and art (weaving, etc.). These kind of conflicts is one portion of my research that I need to be aware of and think over.

We arrived back to Lige and said goodbye to our new friends. I planned to see the driver back in Lijiang. We went back to the barbecue place for dinner, but during our meal, we left early to see the nightly bonfire party. Molly was feeling a bit queazy, so she stayed on the benches while I planned to dance around with local performers. Lige’s best singer, Anu, was there. We recognized each other from the night before and playfully joked with each other before starting the show.

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Bonfire Party–Singing to a Mosuo Man in a Playful Competition

We first danced around the fire. We held onto each other’s shoulders and hands while we shook ours legs back and forth. After the round of dancing, we then began the Mosuo tradition of duige, singing back and forth (same as what I did the other night). First, the Mosuo women sang to all the tourists. Anu helped lead the tourists in singing popular Chinese love songs back to them. We sang back and forth, until they asked for one male tourist to sing to one Mosuo woman. A cocky, drunk man stumbles in front and belts out of tune a Chinese song, forgetting lyrics in the process. The women were not impressed. They ran up to him, picked him up and put him over the fire, warming his ass. They then set him back down (they do this for this bonfire every night, which I didn’t know). I was a bit uneasy because I wanted to be the next singer–will they do that to me?

Anu called for a woman to sing, then looked straight at me and smiled. I stepped out and awaited for a Mosuo man to sing to me. The men seemed very disinterested in the entire event, so none really were excited to sing. A few of the women kicked one in front of me. I guess they do this bonfire every night…I would find it boring too! The man sang a Mosuo song to me. He then moved back to the fire to warm his hands. First, I said to everyone I would sing an English song. I then asked the man to look back at me for the competition. The women laughed because I was very direct. I would like my partner to be looking at me while I sang! I then sang the first few verses of “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

I am not much of a singer, but I belted the song, trying to stay in key. In the middle of my performance, an older Mosuo woman approached me and sang with me. She didn’t know the song, nor spoke English, but she must have really liked the melody. It was something very different from anything she had heard before. When I sang “Hoooome,” she would too, and then carry on in the Mosuo language. We sang together until I finished. It was a very magical moment. Everyone cheered, which brought me back to real life. I was still enchanted by the women’s voice and how we connected through song. After that, the bonfire party was over. I looked for the older Mosuo woman, but she disappeared. I wanted to know what she was singing…

I’ve decided that I am going to sing as my way of building relationships with the locals, as well as draw and learn the local language. While I’m at the lake, I am keeping myself very available and open-minded. I’m also being more extroverted. I hope I’m building a good reputation there!

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Exploring Yunnan: First Trip to Lugu Lake — “The Kingdom of Women”

The Monkey King, Sun Wukong, ashamed for disappointing his master, yet excited to head back to his home, travelled by somersault cloud to the Bird and Flower Mountain. Upon arriving home, he found his once peaceful, beautiful home infested with demons. The monkeys had been forced to worship the new intruders. Sun Wukong took advantage of his new powers to dispel the evil beasts and once again was given the throne. He contently lived with his monkey brethren for hundreds of years and never shared with his kind who taught him “the Way.” Without him knowing, some gods from Heaven kept wary eyes down to the small island…”Who is this powerful monkey?”

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Representing the Fulbright with Pigtails and a Goofy Grin — in Lugu Lake

From Lijiang, Molly and I took a 6 hour bus through the winding Himalayas. We finally crossed over the last mountain range and approached a crystal blue lake. The water is really as blue as the tourism websites make it out to be! We were dropped off at Big Luoshui with the rest of the tourists. I was told by an anthropologist who also studies the Mosuo that we should visit the small town, Lige. I asked around to see how far it was by foot–the bus driver said about two hours. Molly and I decided we can do one more hike before calling it a day. We walked along the lake, stopping at a dock in the middle of the hike to enjoy the water (pictured above). We came on such a beautiful day.

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Mount Gemu — the Mother Goddess

Along the trail, we were walking towards Mount Gemu, a spiritual mountain that is involved with much Mosuo folklore. Supposedly, Mount Gemu is the Mother Goddess of the area and is in “walking marriage” relationships with other geological parts of the lake. “Walking marriages” are relationships where there is no contractual form of partnership, rather a couple meets at night to see one another for romantic reasons. The male partner returns to his natal home the next morning, but will return to his lover’s household most likely the next night and thereafter. These relationships are very much committal  especially into old age. The small town of Lige is perched alongside Mount Gemu by the lake. It was a nice walk to the town.

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Lige

We arrived at Lige before sunset, just enough time to find an open room in a nice hostel. We went during the Spring Festival, so lots of hotels and hostels were filled to the brim with people. We were lucky to find a place and strike a deal with a nice boss to get a discount. Lige is one of the most touristy places around the lake, so the buildings were all recently renovated and owned by outsiders. The hostel we stayed at was owned by Han Chinese from Guangdong Province. After filling out registration forms at the hostel, we then went out for some dinner. We found a happening barbecue place and ordered some chicken and potatoes. We planned to cook them ourselves, but then a neighboring table beckoned us to come over. For the rest of the night, we were going back and forth with tables. We got to know Chinese tourists, the shop’s boss, his brother and fellow monks, and the town’s best singer.

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Hanging with the Boss, his brother, and the other Monks 

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Hanging with Lige’s Best Singer (next to me in the hat) and some Chinese Tourists

That night, I got to know a Han Chinese that works in Lijiang. He brought his car with him and asked if Molly and I would be interested in driving around the lake with him and his friends. I agreed whole heartedly. Later on, my new friends asked Lige’s best singer, Anu-seno, if he could sing for us. He said only if I would duige with him, which is more or less a singing competition where the two parties sing back to one another. He began with “Duimian de Nvhai Kanguolai” (Young Lady Look Over Here). Thank goodness I know that song’s melody!

He started:

对面的女孩看过来,看过来,看过来/这里的表演很精彩/请不要假装不理不睬

Translation: Young lady look over here, look over here, look over here/this performance is wonderful/please do not fake not being interested!

I responded with lyrics I made up:

对面的男孩看过来,看过来,看过来/虽然我看起来有一点奇怪/我其实很可爱!

Translation: Young man look over here, look over here, look over here/although I look a little strange/I’m actually quite cute!

The singer was not expecting me to be able to sing in Chinese, neither did my friends, so everything cheered for me. The singer laughed, but also didn’t want to lose just yet. He continued with a popular song about the moon representing his love for me. I then responded with a popular Chinese song about how he exists in my heart. We went on and on until I ran out of Chinese pop songs and started singing English ones. In the end, I got the crowd cheering for me, but really no one won or lost, it was all for fun.

I decided it was getting late, so I headed back to the hostel to meet with Molly–she had left early. I planned to meet my new friends the next morning to drive around the lake.

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Exploring Yunnan: Day Trip in Shangri-la (Zhongdian)

The Monkey King entered the temple and learned from the master, the immortal, for many decades. When the master saw his potential, he taught the king in secret to show him the sacred techniques, such as the somersault flying cloud and transformations. The Monkey King, his Buddhist name Sun Wukong, learned very quickly and became proud of his powers. He once showed off to his fellow monks by transforming into everyday objects. The master became enraged and banished from the temple warning him never to tell a soul that he taught him, such an egotistic beast. Though he didn’t tell Sun Wukong, the master felt an ominous presence and future from the monkey, and regretted teaching him the Way. “What have I done?”

After getting breakfast and buying tickets back to Lijiang, I called my friend who gave us ambiguous directions that would take us to the large Buddhist Monastery that is nestled in the mountains outside of the city. We took the number one bus to the last stop, then followed a road that the bus driver pointed out to us where we passed a large stone stuppa. After reaching a fork, we turned right and followed the path into a large field where we saw a white house in the distance. We were to walk behind the house and hike through Tibetan towns before approaching the temple. We were taking this strange route so to avoid the 80yuan door fee.

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Shangri-la in the Distance

The group I walked with (including four Germans, a Korean, and one identical twin) were very patient as I made them trek with me all around the Shangri-la countryside. Shangri-la is supposedly the “Paradise of the Orient,” at least that is what Western folklore has engrained into my eurocentric mind. The Chinese government destined the small town of Zhongdian to be created into Shangri-la in 2001 for touristic purposes. For more than ten years, this place has been “Heaven on aEarth,” but it seemed like any other tourist town within the ancient city, and like any other town in the countryside. It was nice to get out of the touristy part of the city and see what average Zhongdian citizens do each day. For instance, we were invited to a Tibetan birthday party when we entered one of the Tibetan towns. I saw more Tibetans outside of Shangri-la than in the main city.

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“One of these things are not like the other, one of these things do not belong…”

Everyone was very inviting and asked us to sit at one of the tables. They gave us a tray of cookies and dumplings and then many glasses of yak butter tea. We were all pretty bashful for crashing the party, but everyone seemed pretty excited to have so many foreigners at the party. They then invited us into the home, which was beautifully decorated with woodcarvings, paintings, and elaborate carpets. I set next to an old man who was wearing traditional Tibetan garb and was missing some teeth. He kept smiling at me and welcoming me to his town. After an hour, we politely excused ourselves. We made a card for the birthday man (he turned 60 years old) and then continued our way to the monastery. We were almost there.

We walked along the wall of the temple and looked for a back door. We passed Tibetan who were walking around the temple clockwise, while we were walking counter-clockwise. We later learned we were walking in the incorrect direction. We hit the top of the steps and got this view:

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Songzanlin Monastery

We found a broken part of the wall and entered through there. We walked up alleyways and alongside crumbling houses before we approached the beautiful monastery. We were about to enter the front of the temple when I saw a little monk shivering in a large, wool blanket. I went up to him and asked him if he studied here and how old he was. He said he was brought here when he was two years old and has studied ever since (he is now 14 years old). He had just finished class and was walking around the temple. I noticed my friends has continued walking forward, so I smiled, thanked him, and told him to stay warm.

I found the group standing in front of the tower monastery. We all slowly walked in, in awe of the tall walls, the beautiful statues, and paintings that lined the walls. We all split apart and walked through the maze of hallways. I went into a center room on the second story and looked into the room of monks (a room we were not allowed into).

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Playing Cards and Chatting with Each Other

We somehow found each other at the top of the temple on the balcony looking out onto Zhongdian and the mountains. A lone monk was looking off into the distance when I came up. When talking to the professor the other night, he said that in this culture, spiritual leaders believe that ravens communicate to them. I noticed that there were many ravens flying in front of the temple…maybe he was watching or listening to them?

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Older Monk

We stayed up there for a while until we realized we had to get back to catch the bus. We walked through the maze of hallways and found ourselves back outside in the brisk weather. We walked to the front gate and took bus three back to the ancient town. Molly, Jason and I said goodbye to the Germans, while the three of us both planned to travel back to Lijiang together. We grabbed dinner and then went on our way to Lijiang.

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Exploring Yunnan: Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge Day #3

Tiger Leaping Gorge => Shangri-la (Zhongdian)

After a couple hundred of years, the Monkey King began to get antsy about his position in life and the prospect of death. He shared his worries with his monkey brothers and sisters who suddenly became aware of the dreary fact. A wiser monkey spoke up and said that those who follow the Way (Buddhism) can become immortal and avoid the eternal wheel of death and reincarnation. The Monkey King was enthralled by the wise monkey’s explanation and decided to go on a journey to find an immortal. He set off the next day. For decades, he sailed across seas and hiked continents until he found a human woodsman that pointed him to a temple that hosted an immortal. When he approached the gate, the immortal was expecting him…
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Dragon Clouds–Morning at Halfway Before the Hike

We woke up to find a stream of thin clouds hovering across the gorge. Molly mentioned that the stream of clouds looked like a head and body of a dragon. Later, when I was watching them float by, I actually saw the dragon too. We got breakfast with the group and then set off to finish the hike. The hike was pretty easy accept for trekking through a waterfall and a heavy stream of water.

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Crossing the Waterfall

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Taking a Break with the Gang

The Chinese family’s little girl, Cece, was the most adorable thing ever. She also loved to draw. I asked if she could draw for me, so she drew a chibi character into my sketchbook. I will cherish it forever. We finally made it to Tina’s Guesthouse where we would take a bus to Shangri-la (Zhongdian). The family and couple were going to Lijiang, but the Korean, Jason, would join us to Shangri-la (Zhongdian). Before taking the bus, Jason, Molly, and I took a hike down to the bottom of the gorge to see the cascading rapids. We only had two hours to do the entire hike, so we ran down the steep canyon in 20 minutes and observed the river.

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River Dividing the Gorge

We heaved our tired selves up the canyon and barely caught the bus to Shangri-la. We said goodbye to the family and the couple and then got on the bus. On the bus ride, we got to know four vunderful Germans who became immediate friends. The ride was incredibly scenic and within an hour we were surrounded my snow fields and white mountain peaks. I could feel the drop in temperature in the bus! After the 3-4 bus ride, we made it to Shangri-la in time to find a hostel and then get some dinner.

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Shangri-La Ancient City

I found a small restaurant that sold Tibetan food (which was surprisingly hard to find) and then ordered for the group. I was the most familiar with Tibetan cuisine. Afterwards, I met with a fellow Fulbrighter’s previous mentor in a bar. We talked about his life, research, and my own research and ambitions. He was great to talk to. His life was fascinating! He lived with nomads for a couple weeks in Tibet when he was younger and decided from that point on that he wanted to study Chinese culture. I plan to visit Shangri-la once again before he goes back to University and to meet his little son.

I went back to the hostel and got ready for bed. We planned to wake up early the next day to go see the monastery and then buy tickets back to Lijiang.

[I apologize if it feels like I am speed telling my experiences…I will add more to the posts when I get back from Taiwan]

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Exploring Yunnan: Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge Day #2

A monkey was born from a holy rock in a flowery mountain. He grew up with the other monkeys and beasts happily playing in the forests and streams. One day the monkeys wanted to see where the origin of the stream came from and followed the water till they reached a waterfall. The holy monkey howled whoever is courageous enough to jump into the waterfall, see the origin, and can come out alive will be the king of monkeys! The others agreed, so he jumped in and found a spiritual home of stone creation where the monkeys could all live happily. He jumped out to tell the others of his findings and declared himself the Monkey King.

Molly and I set off late in the morning and casually hiked to Halfway House. We heard it was a great place to stay and wanted to check it out. It was only a two-hour hike from our hostel, so we took our time and ran into some people on the way.

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Rainy Morning in the Gorge

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Clouds Over the Peaks

We got to know a Chinese couple, Chinese family, and a Korean. We both hiked to Halfway and decided to stay and hang out with each other. We all got a bunk room together. When I put all of my things away in the room, I walked to the bathroom and saw this:

IMG_0431“We Came, We Saw, We Shat with a View”

We joined the father of the family and the boyfriend of the couple down into the fields below Halfway House.

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Halfway House from the Fields

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Sunset Seen from the Fields

That night, we ate dinner with the group and then stayed up late drinking beer and baijiu. We played Chinese, Korean, and American drinking games and had a blast. I didn’t get drunk from the alcohol, but from the fun atmosphere.

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Exploring Yunnan: Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge Day #1

Dali => Lijiang => Tiger Leaping Gorge (hutiaoxia)

We arrived in the Lijiang Bus Station at 9:00pm, bought tickets for the next morning to Tiger Leaping Gorge, and went to a hostel some foreigners had recommended to us that night. We met up with two French men who were also going to the gorge the next day. We made plans to meet in the morning and set out together. We stayed in the North Gate International Youth Hostel, which turned out to be a really cool place. It was an old-style Chinese mansion with three stories of staircases that led to different courtyards and balconies. We were at the most top room which had six bunk beds.

While I was in my bunk, I pulled out my kindle to read “Journey to the West.” I am reading the English version of the original tale, which means its long and repetitive, but relevant to my trip. In the “Journey to the West,” the monk and his gang of comrades reach the Kingdom of Women (which is now the nickname of Lugu Lake, my fieldwork site). I want to read the original epic to fully understand their adventure to the lake and their encounters…but that means reading the entire 1,000+ page book. So, in these posts about my travels, I might throw in what I learn about the Monkey King and his adventures.

We woke up the next morning to meet ze’ French guys, ate rice noodles for breakfast, and then before we knew it were on the bus to Tiger Leaping Gorge. We zigzagged along mountainous roads, stopped at toilet stops next to cliffs where we were in cement squat bathrooms a foot away from the edge, and bumped along uneven roads. We finally made it and immediately started our trek.

Let me begin to say that Tiger Leaping Gorge was my favorite part of our trip…the pictures will show you why:

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Village in the Gorge

We hiked with our 10-15 pound bags along the trail for a total of 6.5 hours. We started out hiking with ze’ French dudes for the first two hours and then split ways afterwards because they hiked with a faster pace than Molly and I. The two of us decided we wanted to hike the trail for three days, instead of the common two-day hike, so we took our time and enjoyed the scenery. On the trail we passed many hostels and villages and would follow the fainted red arrows that told us the correct path to take.

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Resting on Rock Formations

It was breath-taking looking at these peaks.

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Taking a Break after 28 Bends

This was after Molly and I hiked the 28 Bends, the most difficult part of the trail. We were very, very exhausted, especially since we did not eat lunch beforehand. It was a great feeling to get to the top.

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[Insert Angelic Music Here]

After the 28 Bends, it was pretty smooth sailing from then on. We reached the Tea Horse in the late afternoon and decided to rest. We ate like queens that night, since we didn’t eat anything besides rice noodles and granola bars the entire day.

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View of Sunset from Tea Horse

We had a very insightful conversation with a ex-game developer that night. Molly and I reminisced about the good ole’ days of playing Dark Age of Camelot in our parent’s basement and leading raids when we were only 12 years old. It was great to talk to someone that understands the field and even knows the developers of DaoC! Also, talking about mmorpgs made me realize how much I miss videogames and computer games…I’ll have a lot of catching up to do when I am back in the states.

We slept well that night and decided to wake up late the next morning for the next day’s hike.

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