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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