Monthly Archives: March 2013

Exploring Lijiang and Suhe Ancient Cities: A Comparative Analysis on Popular Tourism Locations–with Lugu Lake Area as Example

I decided to spend two days and one night in Lijiang this time around before returning back home to Kunming. I have a good friend that works in a guest house in the ancient city, so I used his hotel as a home base. I arrived in Lijiang at around 5pm after the 4-5 hour bus ride from Lugu Lake. I explored the ancient city by first dropping off something at a friend’s restaurant and then looking for my friend’s guest house. Lijiang Ancient City could be called the exact opposite…a decade before an earthquake destroyed much of the city, which was then rebuilt into a cosmopolitan outdoor mall encased in traditional Chinese architecture.
Revamped Ancient City
What Lijiang was before, which I never witnessed, is no longer. It is now a place filled with hostels, guesthouses, hotels, shops, street vendors, and crowds upon crowds of tourists. Lijiang was established as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999, which I find somewhat ironic. It seems like enacting that did the exact opposite of its intentions–preserve. Even the people who live in Lijiang and work in the ancient city agree. The culture has been “broken,” and not maintained well.
Main Gate into Ancient City–UNESCO World Heritage Site
Then the next question is: How do you preserve a culture in the first place? That’s where my research comes in. I think the simplest answer is to not develop tourism and invite tourists to the area. Isolation is preservation’s best solution. But, in this time of age, that is not entirely acceptable. Tourism also builds an area’s standard of living, improves the education system, and opens new opportunities for the local population. These benefits are often desired by the local population.
While talking to my Mosuo friend in Lige, Lugu Lake, he said: “when tourism comes in, it destroys the culture. That’s what Chinese tourism is…it takes something beautiful and exploits it, destroys it.” Though what he said is extreme, there is truth in it. I think Lijiang is a perfect example–It’s arguable to say that Lugu Lake is on its way to becoming the next example, especially after the completion of the airport.
Lijiang is a commercialized tourism spot. It’s primary purpose is for the visitors to buy, buy, buy. They also have the opportunity to “study” Naxi traditional culture, but the tour guides bring them to newly renovated or fake Naxi cultural relics in the ancient town. To see Naxi culture nowadays, one must leave Lijiang. The ancient city is for the commercial tourist. One that prefers comfort. The same can be said for Suhe, which is about a 20-30 minutes car ride away from Lijiang Ancient City.
Suhe Ancient City
Though Lugu Lake is becoming more and more commercialized each year with shops, hotels, and restaurants, the distance and rough transportation has slowed rapid tourism development. The signs of commercial tourism is evident in Lugu Lake though. Money is becoming more important than it ever was before–making a lot of money is now a part of many locals’ life goals. I witnessed this when I wanted to use a bathroom in a museum, but the people said, quite rudely, that I needed to pay the door fee–28 yuan–first. This happens all around the lake now, and the locals are aware of it too.
Why does this happen in the first place? I think it breathes from the Chinese tourism system. The Chinese tourism development patterns primarily emphasize on commercialization and profit, instead of considering cultural preservation to fit into the process. Therefore this profit-driving force becomes the center in tourism development, which then inflicts the mindset of the local population. In addition to this, locals often don’t have a say in tourism matters, instead the local government is given the most authority. This becomes an issue because the minorities are usually underrepresented in their own local governments, most positions are hosted by the Han majority. Thus, making money becomes contentious between local businesses and outside investors. An example of this happened just recently in Lugu Lake where a Han outside investor and his wife were hospitalized due to locals getting angry over being cheated by signing a 17-year long contract. The Mosuo are new to business and are not familiar with the harsh realities that it brings. Violence is not the answer though.
Going to Lijiang and seeing a place that lives off making money makes me wonder when Lugu Lake will turn into something like this…5 years?
Suhe Commercialized Ancient City
Also, coming back from remote LJZ to Lijiang gives me the feeling that I’m in two completely different countries. No electricity, no phone signal, no restaurants, no Internet, no shops, just kind people, their farms and animals, and their homes. I find LJZ more worthwhile than Lijiang. I meet with locals, live in their homes, eat with them, and participate in their everyday lives. But somehow, Lijiang is a popular tourist spot. I think this lights on the difference between Chinese and Western tourists. This form of tourism has been widely accepted by the Chinese population because its the only form of tourism they have encountered…they view these cosmopolitan tourism spots as the best form of travel. Tourism in China is still a fairly new phenomenon beginning in the mid-1980’s. There hasn’t been much time for the majority of Chinese tourists to experience different forms of tourism (ecotourism, volunteer tourism, backpacking, etc.) (I’m of course generalizing, not all Chinese tourists are like this, but it’s a common trend among domestic travelers.)
Are there places like this in the U.S? Las Vegas? Branson, MI? Would you say the majority of American tourist are the same way?
A friend I made on my last trip told me that “I’m doing tourism right.” He meant that I went off the beaten track to experience the culture. “Us Chinese do it wrong,” he said. Is there really a right way to do tourism?
Lugu Lake and Lijiang tourism are still considerably different from each other at the moment. Lijiang is more inviting to tourists from all economic classes, while Lugu Lake is more inviting to the hikers, backpackers, and adventurous upper-class. Unfortunately, Lugu Lake will be just another cosmopolitan tourist spot in the coming years. Many say that it has already reached that point, but I disagree. The locals are still present in the area and tourism is still developing; however more and more outside investors are coming in each year. What I find unique among the outside investors in Lugu Lake, at least from what I observed, is that most of the non-Mosuo become part of the Mosuo community when they move there. This comes from building close relationships with the local people. Of course, there are outsiders who keep to themselves or differentiate themselves from the locals, but the community is small, and overall, close-knit.
Tourism destroys the authenticity of a culture, at least that it what most people argue. From the cases of Lijiang, Suhe, and Lugu Lake, it does seem like it does, at least in the case that authenticity means the opposite of cultural commercialization. Are there examples of tourism being beneficial towards cultural preservation? I’ve only read a few examples…I hope to find good cases during my Fulbright grant.
Lunch in Suhe Ancient City — Hawaiian Pizza and Banana Milkshake
(Though it’s too bad the culture has become commoditized, it’s sure nice to eat some tasty western food in middle of nowhere China! Thank you globalization.)
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Leaving LJZ: Motorbiking, Hitchhiking, Trekking, National Geographic, and Philosophical Discussion


Unfortunately, I woke up sick this morning. I ate an apple with its skin on it yesterday, which was most likely the culprit. I didn’t want to eat it for that reason, but the family I was visiting insisted that I ate it. So, I did out of politeness to later find myself in this ill position. I decided to persevere and still planned on leaving that morning. I ate fried dough and drank yak butter tea with the family for breakfast in the dim living area. It hit 7:30am, which was when the motorbiker would come pick me up. He didn’t come. Supposedly the bus would drop by the stop at around 8:00am. It was almost 8am when Sonna, the older brother, came from his partner’s home. He immediately went to find the driver. I sat with the family again to settle my stomach. Soon after he ran back and told me to grab my things.

I thanked the family and left with Sonna. While walking to the town center, he put 50yuan into my pocket to pay the driver with. I rejected and said I could pay but he wouldn’t allow it. When we were about the approach the motorbike driver, he said to take it and to remember him and the good times I had at the village. I told him I’d of course remember him and that I’d be back soon. I hopped onto the bike and grabbed onto the driver’s shoulders, a Mosuo man in his late 20’s, I said goodbye and we were off.

It was already 8, but we continued, hoping the bus hadn’t gone by yet. The sun hadn’t risen yet, so the mountains were shaded in a blue-green tone. We zigzagged around mountain trails and rode through streams for 20-30 minutes. I bounced and slid on the bike as we bumped along uneven dirt road. I saw the Yi minority village with the bus stop (a pile of lumber painted white) in the distance. We passed Mosuo and Yi children walking to elementary school as we crossed a thick stream. They still had a long walk to go before reaching the nearest town with a school.



The motorbike driver dropped me off at the pile of lumber bus stop. I gave him Sonna’s wrinkly 50 yuan and thanked him for helping me out. He said it wasn’t a problem, but I knew he was very busy and it was a big hassle to help me out. He left soon after. I was left at the remote bus stop lumber pile with a local smoking a cigarette staring at me. He told us the bus hadn’t come yet.


Motorbiker Heading Back to LJZ

I waited for thirty minutes. The children caught up and stopped at the house next to the stop to buy some candy. They walked with sticks of sugar candy and looked at me curiously. “Why is there a foreigner here?” As they passed, I noticed a whirl of dirt and a vehicle in the distance. It wasn’t the bus, but a SUV. I was picking my nails as it passed when it suddenly stopped. They opened the window and waved their hands to have me come over. I asked in Chinese where they were going. They said Lugu Lake and then asked if I needed a ride. I asked for how much? Free. I thought over my options, hitchhike with strangers or wait for the bus? I went into the car.


Kids Grabbing Treats Before Class

The two men were Han from Sichuan who were doing part time work with a gas company in the area. They were going to Lugu Lake to drop off gas. They were fascinated that I spoke Chinese and we kept up lively conversation for most of the trip.

They talked about how they don’t like where they work because there are too many Yi people. I asked why they don’t like the Yi. “They aren’t civilized people–they don’t go to school, don’t speak Mandarin, and are superstitious. They don’t treat people well and cheat others.” I personally enjoy being with ethnic minorities more than with Han because they are usually more inviting, gracious, and overall very kind people. I seem to find Han men (especially ones from the middle or upper classes) have superiority issues, they think they are better than the “poor, backwards” ethnic minorities. These two men, primarily the driver, was an example of this demographic (of course, this is a generalization and all Han men are not like this).

The driver also asked me, “Do you think China is great or is America great?” I get this question often and I find it such a strange question. They know I’m American, but they phrase the question so that I have to pick one over the other. Just to flatter the driver, I said China is great, but usually I say they are both great. I wanted to be on his good side.

We drove fast and took a road that trailed the mountain range and gradually climbed over it to the Lugu Lake valley. The scenery was amazing. We made it to the lake in no time. I asked to be dropped off early and thanked them for the ride. I started to hike to Lige, which I thought wasn’t that far away.


Returning to Lugu Lake

At a halfway point, I stopped at Small Luoshui to use the bathroom and rest. My stomach was still feeling a bit uneasy. I stopped at a house that proclaimed to be the home of a famous Mosuo woman, Yang ErcheNamu. When I asked to use their bathroom, they said I had to pay a fee. How much? 28yuan. What?! They wouldn’t let me in unless I paid the door fee. I was so disappointed to face Chinese reality so bluntly–the desire to make money in any possible way. Money overrides kindness. The people were also really rude. I was disheartened and explored more of Small Luoshui for a bathroom. I stopped at the youth hostel and rested.

I got to know the boss, a young man from Xi’an and his parents, and talked for a while. He even let me take a shower and eat with them. This brightened my spirits. He also mentioned when I planned to live in Lugu Lake, I could work at his hostel and do research. I thanked him and said I would consider it.

One of the tourists joined me on my hike back to Lige. We hiked on small dirt paths along the lake. The scenery was also spectacular. We took a wrong turn and hiked to the edge of a peninsula. We saw Lige on the other side of the peninsula in the opposite direction. We rested to soak in the blueness of the lake and the green forests before heading back. We found a small path that led to our destination. We were there in no time, well the hike was about 2 hours in total.


Hiking with my Friend

We went to the hostel where I caught up with some friends who work there. I ate fruit covered in yogurt with them…so good. While talking with them, some overly-friendly tourists stopped by to say “hi.” One said, “hi!” to me. I thought it was just another Chinese tourist practicing their English, so I said hello back. She then asked what my name was, which is usually the next question, which she said with surprisingly good pronunciation. It took me a moment to realize they were American–American-born Chinese! I felt pretty dumb.

The two girls were with three American guys, two other Chinese Americans and an Indian American. They had been in the Lugu Lake area for two weeks filming a documentary about Mosuo culture for National Geographic. When I told them I just got back from LJZ, their eyes widened. They wanted to go there but didn’t know how and no one seemed willing to help them. I mentioned that a traditional festival was approaching in the next week that I wanted to go to, and they asked if they could join–help a National Geographic crew? Sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime experience to me!

We exchanged numbered and decided to get dinner later. I rested for the day, hung out with the hostel workers, drew in my sketchbook, and read the news. It was nice to reconnect to a culture I’m more familiar with again.

I met with the National Geographic crew for dinner and got to know them better. They were all fairly young. One of the American Chinese guys received a National Geographic scholarship–Young Adventurers Award–to film a documentary about Mosuo culture. The other Asian American worked for for a movie/advertising company in Beijing. The three others, two Asian American girls and the Indian American worked in LA. One of the girls had a concentration in religious studies, media, and journalism, and the other was a illustrator. The American Indian was an Olympic swimmer who studied media in college. What an eclectic group!

We got along well and figured out our trip to LJZ. I planned to leave for Lijiang the next day and then go to Kunming, but I’d be back before the festival. We paid for dinner and headed to one of the BBQ places that I’m familiar with. I introduced the group to many people from LJZ and got to practice my Mosuo with them. My friend, YE, came in later in the night. He’s normally in a happy mood, but he looked down. I tried to brighten him up, but he was actually still happy, just too tired to show much emotion. He had been working on building his own BBQ shop all day. He said he did a lot of pondering that day, which he shared with us:

He explained about what it was like before tourism came to Lugu Lake when he was young. The people didn’t rely on money to live, but relied on love between family, neighbors, and partners to live their lives. He said it was a happy time, a simpler time. Back then they didn’t have much, but they had each other, which made life fun and worthwhile. Nowadays, money has become more important than anything, which has changed the people–“dirtied their hearts.” He said, ” Please go to the villages in remote areas to understand who I really am, or who I was. The people there are dirty. Their hands, feet, faces are all dirty…but their hearts are pure. My heart has been dirtied living here, now I’m only half pure.” I was so moved by his honesty. He wishes to live a simpler life, just like before, but continues to lives around touristy Lugu Lake. He hopes to move out to the country and live like before, so to stop learning about what’s out in the world and to stop desiring. He said, “desire is what is destroying Lugu Lake. People care more about money and their desires than their neighbors, and that is terrifying.” He doesn’t wish for fame when he dies, he only wishes that people remember him as a “good person.”

We walked back home pensive in thought about what he said. It was the most powerful thing I’ve heard someone say in Lugu Lake. I’m proud to call YE my friend. He is an amazing man.

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Living in LJZ: Finishing Daba Art Project, Hiking, Learning Songs and Folktales

I had strange dreams that woke me up through the night. One that really shook me was where I was surprised to be visited by a good friend from Pittsburgh. I was so happy to see him that I gave him a big, big hug. We talked for a bit and went outside. We were in a beautiful mountainous area where the town was on the mountainside. The ground suddenly shook violently. I looked to the peaks and saw snow and rocks tumbling to the ground. My friend from Minnesota appeared, screaming, “Avalanche!” It was too late to run away. I started to fall to the ground with the friend. I looked to my Minnesotan friend as he stared straight at me. He said, “We’re going to die.” I didn’t have enough time to think over death before splattering into the ground. I immediately woke up with my heart racing. I didn’t think too much about the death I experienced in my dream, but how disappointed I was to not have that splendid, fictional time with my good friend. This is my brain telling me I’m homesick. I miss being with people similar to my culture and share the same language.

I rocked back and forth in dream-states until I gave up and got up. It was a rough night. I brushed my dirty hair and then put it into a half ponytail. I walked down to the dim living area for breakfast, which consisted of fried dough and rice porridge. I ate a bit of chocolate that I bought in Lugu Lake afterwards…it’s my formula for calming my stomach after eating something I’m not accustomed to. I then immediately started to draw. I finished the outlines of the entire Daba tablet set before lunch.


Daba Tablets

For lunch, we had fried wosong and vegetable soup again. After lunch, I went out for a hike. I talked with a Mosuo man the other day while working on the house about hiking around the village. When I asked if he had hiked the mountain I climbed on the first day of my visit, he responded, “what mountain have I not hiked?” He had hiked all the mountains in his youth (there are a lot of them!). He is 24 now. He recommended I hiked the “rocky” one. He pointed it out in the distance. It was close to where I had joined the kids to shepherd pigs the day before. I decided to hike it.

I walked to the fields where villagers were grazing their cows, horses, and pigs. I saw familiar faces and said a quick hello before starting up the mountain. I didn’t know the exact way up the mountain, so I just followed random trails that went up. I soon realized that I was following sheep tracks (noticed from their piles of feces), which became more and more difficult to follow. I was climbing with my hands and feet at a few points. I finally found a flat trail to find my bearings. I followed it for a while, while also steadily climbing up the mountainside. I continued on another trail and finally found a great view. I didn’t reach the top (I should have asked if there was a trail to the top), but I enjoyed my ludicrous approach. I sat and looked out to the scenery–green mountains, blue skies, white puffy clouds, and small LJZ.


View from the Mountain–LJZ


Singing was never much of a hobby of mine, but as of recent it has been my way of calming my soul and making me feel more at home. I belted out all the songs I remembered: “Dream” by Priscilla Ahn, “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, “Elephant Love Medley,” in Moulin Rouge, and “Yellow” by Coldplay. I sang and enjoyed the view for a while. When the wind started to kick in and go through my clothes, I started to go back down the mountain to warm up. I was a bit nervous about going down, since it was a steep climb, but I found a safer path to walk. I still had to slide down a bit of the way so to avoid injury…I got a lot of pine needles, dirt, and leaves in my clothes and hair. I hit the main path soon afterwards and rejoined the kids who were still shepherding animals.


Dried Out Fields


Grazing Horses by the Creek

I joined them as they moved locations. I sat with them and sang English songs for their enjoyment. They taught me a Mosuo/Mongolian song, which I plan to diligently practice. If you ever bump into me, ask me to sing it, I’d love to! I taught them how to sing “Mary had a little lamb.” They were so happy to learn it. I then gave one of the girls my camera. I told her she could take whatever pictures she wanted:


Playing Around with the Camera


Photo with their Cows

After taking pictures, I excused myself and headed back to the village. I had a few questions to ask about leaving the next day. When I arrived in the village, I helped out at the house again, waiting for their break, so that I could ask them about tomorrow’s transportation options. Turned out that there wouldn’t be a truck going directly to Yongning because the driver was in Xichang, Sichuan getting a driver’s license (Wait. He didn’t have a license before?). They told me to find the older brother, who wasn’t there (he was helping out at another family’s house), he would know what to do.

I went to the house they pointed me towards and found him helping his partner with toiling their field and planting potatoes. I waited in the courtyard as they finished up. I practiced the new song I learned. When they came back from work, they invited me inside. Sonna said that this house, his own house, and all the houses in the village are “his.” Everyone is like family here. He has also helped with building many of them.

We discussed the transportation options. Turned out most people are busy with work and it would be hard to find someone that would motorbike me to a bus stop 20-30 minutes away. He said he would help me ask, and if no one could drive me, he would hike with me to the bus stop (which I would not allow). The bus only comes by once and it would be around 8 in the morning. The hike would take two hours, which I could do myself. I knew the way back.

After talking that over, tourism in the area coincidentally came up. Turns out he is going to receive his official tour guide permit soon for tourists that come by for a 8-day hike to a distant town. He’s done it many times before, but this permit it for formality and compliance with government tourism rules. I instantly became interested because this is my original Fulbright research project coming to light. I want to do a comparative analysis on tourism development in a developed area (Lugu Lake) and a not so developed area (LJZ) and examine how it impacts cultural heritage and how tourism is used to promote cultural preservation. He explained how from May to August there are tourists that constantly come to the area for the hike. If I can, I would like LJZ to become a primarily fieldwork site for my Fulbright research! It’s funny how coincidences happen this way. If it wasn’t for PM, the French anthropologist, I would have never found this place.

The older brother joined me walking back to his home, he would eat with us. The uncle was in the living area and was delighted to see me. I told him I finished one of the tablet sets. I quickly grabbed it from my room and showed it to him. He was impressed with the outlines, but he wished they were all done. He asked if I could finish the entire bunch in Kunming. I thought about it…it would be a lot of work, but his old set is getting ratty, which makes doing Daba rituals difficult. He needed a new set. I said I would. He was so grateful. Now I have a set of paper tablets and a camera memory full of these ancient-style Daba drawings. That’s some interesting homework I’ve got to do. I hope to finish the set by May or June.

The older brother set out to find someone with a motorbike, while I joined the family inside for dinner. The living area was lit with a hanging metal bowl filled with dry wood pieces on fire. I sat on the lower hearth on a dirty mat beside the Daba altar, opposite to the grandmother who was mumbling prayers while looking in the fire. I sang to them the Mosuo song I learned, which they found delightful. They also said I sang it correctly! We were eating fried cabbage and pork radish soup when the older brother came back with good news–he found a motorbike driver! I thanked him profusely as he set himself up on the upper hearth and began eating. We talked more about tourism in the area and then moved to folklore…

I indirectly brought up ethnic tensions between the neighboring ethnic groups in the area. I asked if there was any folklore about it. I mentioned that PM told me a story about a large fire that provoked these contentious relations. He told me that we live in a peaceful society now, but there are still some bad relations with the neighboring ethnic groups. The story that I brought up with a fire supposedly happened a long, long time ago…in ancient times. He had a difficult time telling me the tale because he thought “it’s bad sounding.” He emphasized more on today’s peaceful society, but didn’t bring to light the modern day tensions that still exist in the area. I stopped asking because it made him feel uncomfortable. We then changed the conversation to a happier note (talkings bout how wonderful the village and the people are) and then called it a night.

I gave the family some money for letting me stay at their place and wished them a good night. I packed my things and prepared for bed…it would be an early morning tomorrow.

I realize I haven’t explained my housing accommodations. The house I stayed in is a traditional home that was recently built in the last half decade. It is made out of dirt walls and wood and has no electricity. The inside is decorated with painted patterns and beautiful wooden carpentry.There is no bathroom, except for the public outhouse in the middle of town, which is for doing “number twos.” The family uses their backyard as the bathroom, no walls, no planks, just mother nature. I stay in a “flower room” with two beds. I spend my nights reading, journaling with candlelight and listening to music. I sleep with lots of blankets because it gets cold at night. There are no windows because they didn’t know how to incorporate them when building the house, but nowadays Mosuo homes have small windows made into the dirt walls. The brother explained that their building practices are developing. I saw the men making windows when I helped with construction.

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Living in Remote Mosuo Village: Obstacles with Fieldwork and Building Relationships

I woke up in the morning determined to finish a Daba pictograph set (two paper tablets connected to each other, both sides). I went downstairs for breakfast, which consisted of fried dough and a bowl of vegetable soup, and talked with the ten year-old son. He planned to shepherd the pigs again. We moved upstairs so that I could begin drawing. I copied down a complicated drawing of a soldier holding a banner spear, shield, and a sword. I wonder what war the soldier is fighting? These were made more than a 100 years ago, so these pieces of art may be depicting that time period or folklore of the past. The uncle leaves early in the morning to graze the cows, so I have no way of asking. I’ll try to ask tomorrow before I leave to go back to Lugu Lake.


Self Portrait–Drawing Daba Ritual Art

After the son left with the pigs, I drew into the afternoon. It was very relaxing, but I became a bit restless. It suddenly started to rain. I decided to put the things away so they wouldn’t get wet and went downstairs to warm up by the fire in the living room. I was alone in the living area. Two of the older sisters were burning trash in the backyard. As I warmed up, loneliness started to hit me. In this household, only the child and uncle speak Mandarin (not native speakers, but enough to minimally communicate). So, when they are gone, I have no one to talk with. The sisters are really nice and are very patient when I try to speak with them in the Mosuo language, but it gets tiring after a while.

I warmed up and moved my art to the living area. The hole in the ceiling shone light right where I drew. It was still raining and cold, but the fire kept me warm. I drew till lunch, which the older sister made. She made fried wosong (my favorite! I bought it from the vendor the other day) with pork and vegetable soup. I devoured it all. They even mentioned my appetite and laughed. I don’t normally eat that much rice and food, but it all really hit the spot. I really appreciate that she notices I love eating vegetables…every meal has lots of greens nows (the ones I bought in Yongning). When we finished lunch, the sisters and grandmother went off to do their duties. I stayed in the living area until I decided I didn’t want to draw anymore.

I hung out with the older sister as she weaved using multiple types of tools. She first organized the different types of yarns with a triangular pole tool and spun them into a pattern. She then moved the patterned-together yarn onto a handheld weaving tool. She used different wooden sliders to move the pieces of yarn into each other as a tight, together product. The nephew who helped me hike to LJZ came by and talked with the family. The two sisters and him talked for a while in the Mosuo language. I was feeling a bit antsy and decided to go help the neighbors build their house. When I walked by, no one was there. Maybe they we’re eating or taking a break? I didn’t want to enter when no one was outside, so I just continued walking.

I walked through the town center, which included the elementary school and the guesthouse, and kept going down the street. People kept looking at me in surprise, but would smile and laugh when I’d wave. It’s tough to have no one to talk to and to be so different looking in a small village. That was starting to hit me. I left the village edge and hiked up a random path to a plateau that had a small shrine. I sat beneath the pines and looked out at LJZ. How am I supposed to learn about their culture and do fieldwork in a place where I don’t speak the language? Also, the people who can speak Mandarin are men, which I can’t speak with normally in the daytime. It is sort of a taboo to freely talk with the opposite sex in the day. All of these worries starting to circle around in my mind. I also wished I had a friend…there are no women my age in the village, at least that I’m aware of, and the men my age are out of the question for cultural reasons.


View from Shrine


Self Portrait–Hiding in the Woods to Recuperate (Haven’t Showered for a Week)

I sang to myself and watched the villagers go about their day. Singing has become my way of calming myself down and relaxing. I noticed that the neighbors were back working on the house in the distance. I slowly made my way back to the house and walked into the site.

The men on the wall smiled and laughed when they saw me (seems like everyone does that when they see me). I joined Sonna’s group and started filling buckets with wet dirt. At first I felt a bit useless because there were a lot of people helping that day. But after some time I fit myself into the system. While the men on the wall were compacting the dirt, one of the sons of the family started talking to me. I recognized him from my previous visit. I was so happy to talk with someone! We had simple conversation, but it was something. At one point, we were joking with each other. He made me accidentally spit out water I was drinking because I was laughing too hard. My day turned around completely because of him. I needed a good laugh. I don’t think he even realized how much I needed to talk to someone, especially my age.

We took a break an hour afterwards. I was placed with the men again. I kept to myself as they talked with each other in the Mosuo language, but the son starts asking me questions about America and my hometown. I suddenly remembered I brought along photos of my family and hometown. I excused myself to grab them quickly. When I handed the envelope to the men, they immediately immersed themselves in the photos. I was happy to make them interested in me! They joked that they wanted to join me back home. I said I’d be willing to show them around if they ever get the chance.

Exchanging the photos with them made the group feel more comfortable with talking to me. After that, working in the construction site was more enjoyable. When the sun set, I was ushered into the family’s home to eat dinner. I was once again in a room full of men, but this time they started conversation with me. I taught them how to say, “Cheers!” and they kept asking how to say things in English: hello, delicious, gross, good morning, good afternoon, good evening, good night, and banana. The room was filled with laughter. I even sang for them at one point. They wanted to hear an English song. This dinner was more enjoyable than the previous one for sure.

After eating pork soup with radish pieces and corn meal, it was time to head back home. I walked back with the older brother, Sonna, and headed to my room. I’ve been journaling every night before going to bed. It seems to be keeping me sane. Sonna leaves the house soon after to go to his partner’s home–he’s in a walking marriage relationship.

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Doing Fieldwork in LJZ: Shepherding Pigs, Building Houses, Encountering Uncommon Vendors–Everyday Life in the Village


Leading the Pigs to the Fields

I woke up this morning with an upset stomach, but nothing compared to my previous visit. I went downstairs to eat breakfast, which included fried dough with yak butter tea. The son was chilling in the living area, sitting next to me on the upper hearth. I asked him what he had planned for the day. He replied, “I’m shepherding the pigs…” his eyes suddenly became wide, “do you want to join me?” I was a bit cautious because my stomach was upset, but I really wanted to join him. I agreed and grabbed a few things (sketchbook, fieldwork journal, camera, pen, and water).

We went to the animal stall to call out the pigs. I felt dumb, I didn’t know how to begin with shepherding, but the son helped me through the process. He got the group together and motioned me where to walk. I was  in the front of the herd. We walked along a dirt path that passed the house and went to the fields in the west. We planned to meet four other family’s pigs in the field.

I got the hang of guiding the pig quickly. We found the families halfway to our destination. We walked together to a valley with two streams and no exit for the pigs except for where we entered. In total, there were two old women and eight to ten children (ages ranged from 5-14). The elders and children usually have this responsibility because shepherding doesn’t exert that much energy. When we reached the valley, we set up camp by a stone wall next to the stream.

The son brought up to the other children that I could draw. They immediately asked to see my work and then wanted me to draw for them. I’m glad I brought my sketchbook! Drawing is such a great way to communicate and share with each other. I drew the children and me in the valley together, and then I passed the sketchbook to one of the kids. I love watching them draw, especially to see what they imagine before putting it on paper.

After a while, I noticed the children moved to a wooden shed in the distance. I excused myself to the grandmothers and walked up the hill to the shed. I found the kids playing in the deserted place. I pulled out my camera, which made them very excited. They wanted their picture taken! The son loves taking pictures, so he helped take a couple shots with me and the children. We played games, like something similar to duck, duck, grey duck (or goose), and then adventured into the mountains. The children held my hand as they frolicked through the hills. We circled round the valley, crossed the streams, washed our faces and hands in the water, and climbed some more. When we locked hands, it turned into a game. The person in the front would run fast to make the rest of the line rush behind him/her. The girls would scream in delight and I would make an awkward squeak…I was afraid I would fall! I’m not as nimble as them.


Shepherding Kings and Queens–The LJZ Children

(My favorite part of this picture is the boy at the bottom who looks disinterested and doesn’t know how to do a piece sign. So cute! Aren’t the girls the most adorable things ever?)


Playing Local Duck, Duck, Grey Duck  (Photo Taken by Host Family’s Son)

We returned back to the camp to eat some boiled potatoes for lunch. A 14 year-old joined us. We had conversation for the rest of the time I was there. She knows Lidy and PM. We talked about them and then I moved the conversation about her. She first asked, “Do you think LJZ is fun?” I said, of course! I enjoy it here because everyone is nice. She responded, “I don’t think there is anything fun here.” she explained how she stopped going to school after the fourth grade because she had to take care of her family, primarily her grandmother. She shepherds pigs everyday and takes care of her grandmother. Her older sisters are out of town working. She wants to work when she is 15, so next year. She doesn’t know what she’ll do yet.

The children called for us to go back to camp to eat porridge. After that, I joined the 14 year-old back to the village. She had to make lunch for her grandmother and I promised the other night that I would help with building a family’s house. We shepherded the pigs back to the path and split ways at the village.

I returned home to drop a few things off. The young man who helped me hike to LJZ was there visiting the family again. I showed him my drawings and the paper tablet I copied for the uncle. He was impressed! I then went to the neighboring house to help with construction.


Inside the Construction Site–Shovels, Plows, Levies, and Pounding Stick

I threw myself in and started shoveling wet dirt into buckets that would be levied up to the men on the wall. I worked for more than an hour before it was time to take a break. While I sipped peach juice and ate a dumpling, a loud speaker suddenly was heard in the distance. I asked what it was. The older brother of the host family, Sonna, said it was a vendor selling vegetables. He doesn’t normally come. I asked him how to say, “do you want to buy vegetables with me?” in the Mosuo language. I wanted to ask my host mom. When he did, I raced to the house to inform them of the vendor. The son and his mother (who visits everyday) came with me. When we arrived, the truck was surrounded by villagers.


Happiness–Uncommon Vendor Sells Vegetables During the Dry Season

We bought lots of greens. I payed for it all, it was least I could do for the family for letting me stay in their home. The sellers included two men, a Han and a Mongolian. I talked with the Han man for a while. He mentioned it was his first time coming to this village and that it would be his last. He said, “it’s too remote and poor.” I explained that I like it for its people, which he agreed. “People from remote areas are incredibly hospitable.” I agreed with him.

After buying the veggies, we walked back to the house. I dropped the greens in their storage room (which had lots of dead, flat pigs, which they preserve for its fatty meat…I think that’s what got me sick last time). I then returned to the home next door to work on the wall. I worked for another hour until the family called it a night. I joined them in their home to drink soda and tea. I sat with the men again. This time they were more talkative, which was relieving.

I excused myself early, since I told my host family I would eat with them. I wasn’t expecting such a hesitant response from the family. They kept insisting me to stay and even asked the older brother, Sonna, to convince me to stay. He said that the family wouldn’t care if I didn’t eat with them. I felt a bit embarrassed, since I already said goodbye to the people in the living room. I insisted on going back, which they allowed after some coaxing.

When I got back, the family had already eaten, and didn’t expect me to come back for dinner. I felt more embarrassed, I should have stayed at the other home! But the host mom started frying vegetables in a clay pot over a fire pit and boiling soup, saying it wasn’t a problem at all. In the end, I’m glad I came back because I had a dinner-full of vegetables and learned more of the Mosuo language. They taught me how to count! Their number system only goes up to 113. The uncle explained to me why, but the answer got lost in translation. What I got out of it is that someone in the past decided that 113 would be their max number. (However, I learned later in Lugu Lake that the number system does go over 113. Maybe it’s a local custom or maybe they don’t normally need to count beyond that number?)

I talked with the family and bit longer and then headed to bed at 9pm. This day started off a bit hard with the food poisoning, but it ended on a good note. I felt like I did a lot and learned a lot. In the morning, I was thinking about when I would go back to Lijiang to catch a train, but now I feel more comfortable living here. I need to stay strong! I will find my place in this society if I keep optimistic and friendly.

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Doing Fieldwork in LJZ: Redrawing Ancient Daba Art and Hiking in the Mountains

I woke up the next morning and hung out with the children. They would leave that afternoon for school for the rest of the week. It’s sad to say, but I was going to really miss them. They are the only ones in the house that speak Mandarin, which means they are my main form of communication. While I helped the older daughter hang clothes, the young Mosuo man who hiked with me to LJZ came by. Turns out he is part of the same family! The family is split into two houses because their household became too large with more than 30 people. The young man lives in the original home.

The uncle and young man asked me to come back inside. The Uncle pulled out the art again and asked if I could copy them exactly onto a special type of paper. The young man helped translate for me. I agreed to help. The uncle then set up a table, sitting cloth, and the 100 year-old art next to the house temple on the second floor. I thanked him and started drawing, first in my sketchbook. The kids would come by and watch. The mother also came by to take a look.


Preparing for Copying on New Tablets

After a couple hours, I finished the first tablet. Lunch was ready when I finished, so I went down to eat some vegetable soup (YUM!) and fried potato. After that I decided to go on a hike around the village. I was getting a bit restless sitting and drawing. I asked the youngest brother which way I should take. He showed me a path behind the house. I trekked along a path and went up the hill behind the village to a shrine that’s wrapped with prayer flags.


Main Daba Shrine


LJZ Beyond the Prayer Flags

I continued up the hill into the mountains. I wanted see what was behind the hills…I hiked and hiked and hiked. I got some good shots of LJZ. At one point, I thought I was near the top, but found myself in a clearing…in the middle of a hike near the top of the mountains? It was a bit eery. The place seemed to been untouched for years, except for the path that cut between it. I hiked a bit more around the area and then gave up trying to find a peak. I slowly started trekking back, enjoying the scenery, listening to the birds and bugs, and smelling flowers and the tall pine.


The Small Village of LJZ


Eerie Clearing

(Who cut the wood this high in the mountains? How long ago was it? Maybe the neighboring Yi villages cut down these trees a long time ago…the live on the mountains.)


View of the Scenery

It took me an hour to get back, maybe in total a 3-4 hour hike. I went through the village to get back to my host’s house. I found a guesthouse and an area where they make their own electricity. The tourism industry in LJZ seems to be in its early stages. I wonder when high season is?

I got back to the house before dinner. I went back to the drawing table. Soon after, the uncle walked up, he had just finished grazing the house’s cows, to see my work. He was ecstatic! With his approval, I inked the drawings on the new paper tablets. I was happy he liked my work!

I ate dinner with him, the mother, and the grandmother. I was overall fairly silent because I don’t speak the language, except when I’d asked the uncle how to say somethings in the Mosuo language. After dinner, I decided to visit the house that was being constructed next door to see the host family’s older brother. I walked into the construction site to see men standing on a two-story tall dirt wall, continuing to compact dirt for the next layer. The brother was helping shovel the dirt and hang it onto a levie system that would be lifted to the men on the dirt wall. I was amazed at the intricacy of the construction site!


Men Working on the Wall

I came a bit late, so they were finishing up. I was invited for dinner and ate with the men. I felt a bit awkward being the only woman, as well as being a foreigner in an all Mosuo household. I toasted to people and smiled most of the night. I talked to the man next to me who explained the importance of the shrine I visited that day. He said it is a place for people to light incense and pray. During the Spring Festival, the entire village goes up there to pray for the well being of their families as well as everyone who lives in LJZ. I then ate a second dinner, which consisted of pork, radish soup, cornmeal and Chinese kimchi.

The older brother walked me home. He’s really friendly and willing to answer any of my questions. But when we approached the house, he said that outside he can answer questions, but inside our relationship is more formal. I understood and stopped treating him so friendly.  He got me candles for my room and wished me a goodnight. It was an eventful first day at the village!

I didn’t get done what I came here to do, which is to figure out about ethnic tensions in the area, but I did learn about Daba art and more Mosuo language. I feel like fieldwork is going to be more like this…you learn so much, but not of anything you were expecting!

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Exploring Lugu Lake: Stroll Around Yongning and a Stormy Hike to LJZ

I slept in till 9:30am and called the LJZ driver at 10am asking if he was leaving that afternoon. I had a hard time understanding him, but it sounded like he wasn’t going back that day. Since I was uncertain, I still decided to go to Yongning to check out my options. A private driver drove me there. He was a Black Yi who lived in the Yi village on the other side of Gemu Mountain. I was sleepy, but kept up conversation about the Yi and other minorities that live in the area. When we passed a village, he would say the name of it and which ethnic minority it hosted. I appreciated his willingness to teach me about the area. We reached Yongning within 30 minutes. I thanked him for the ride and got off.

I walked up a busy street of shops, minority vendors, and Mosuo women carrying large baskets of crops on their backs. I found a truck that looked similar to the one I took before with PM and Lidy. I asked the people around if the truck was leaving for LJZ that day. The men who were working on a nearby car were uncertain, but said there would be a bus leaving for Wujiao in the afternoon. I could get off early and hike the rest of the way. They also mentioned they knew someone with a motor bike that would take me there for free! I thought either was fine, and went back to the market to get some lunch and buy vegetables for the LJZ family.

While buying cabbage and qicai, I ran into some Lige friends at the market. They were buying vegetables for their barbecue shops. I asked about my two transportation options. They said the hike wouldn’t be that far and motorbike should overall be safe. While one of the guys wished me a safe trip, he noticed some LJZ residents pass by. He mentioned it right when they passed us, which caught their attention. I asked how there were getting back…they said either by truck or bus. We swapped numbers so we could meet up there. I thanked my Lige friend for introducing us. I’m fortunate to have people that care about me here.

I bought vegetables and grabbed some noodles for lunch. I still had a couple hours to kill, so I left the vegetables in the shop and walked around. I passed the men who were working on a car earlier playing pool. I waved, which prompted them to invite me to play a game. I made sure to point out that I’m not very good. Last time I was here, PM told me that women don’t play pool here. I looked around and saw that there weren’t any woman at all at the tables. I often try not to stand out, since I stand out already, but it’s hard to pass up a good game of pool! I grabbed a stick and played one-on-one with one of the men.

I started off poorly, but after getting in my first ball, I kept getting better. The guy seemed to get over excited and shoot the ball off the table, which brought more of his balls out of the pockets and onto the table. A crowd began to form around us, mainly watching the strange white girl playing pool. At the end, I was winning. I only had to put the 8-Ball and then win! The man began to get embarrassed and nervous, which upset his game. I then got the 8-Ball in and won the game! The crowd made an “aaaw” sound (think more old Chinese man saying it, then a girl looking at a cute puppy saying it). I got a picture with my adversary. He was a good sport! I decided it was time to find the bus. I grabbed my veggies and headed to the bus area.


The Winner is the that White Girl–in Yongning, Yunnan

I ran into the LJZ men, two people older and one being younger, who told me I still had an hour or so. They let me leave my stuff at their friend’s shop. While they went to the market to eat, I went in the opposite direction to the local temple. I ran into two older men that were going to the temple, who then showed me the way. We cut through fields and finally entered the sanctuary. It was small, but very pretty. The earthquake from the year previous destroyed many parts of the temple, but the local people were able to reconstruct it within the year. Very impressive!


Stroll with Local Mosuo Elders to the Temple

I walked in and out of the many different parts of the temple and then entered the main hall. One of the older men taught me how to enter a Tibetan temple correctly. I walked to the left (clockwise), lit a candle, placed the candle on the front table, then walked clockwise along the glass (the back wall that has all the god statues) where I would show my respects. I thanked him for his kindness, sat with him and his friends for a bit before heading back to the bus.


Inside the Main Hall

I got to the bus in the knick of time. The LJZ men said that we would get off the bus before Wujiao and hike the rest of the way to the village. I was fine with it and joined them for the ride. The bus was crammed with people, bags, supplies, and chickens in boxes. I went in and out of sleep for the duration of the ride…


Bus to Wujiao–Bags of Food, Boxes of Chickens, and a Backpack

When we passed an Yi village, which I had recognized from the time before, I got off with the guys. We then began our hike to LJZ. We crossed a river, passed multiple villages, and walked along a dirt road for a period of time before we took a long rest. The younger Mosuo man ran off to buy beverages for his buddies and came back with milk for me. I thought that was very kind. They talked amongst themselves while I observed the scenery. Mosuo women worked in the fields or carried their children along the road. They would laugh when they’d see me and say something to the guys. I just smiled and waved.

After the rest, we continued on our way to LJZ. I noticed in the distance dark clouds were rolling in. I mentioned to the guys that it may rain. They laughed it off and said it doesn’t rain this time of the year. About 20 minutes later, a heavy layer of rain fell on us, as well as lightning and thunder booming in all directions. We kept our pace and hoped for the storm to pass quickly. I pretended not to be afraid of the storm, but I was frightened because we were the tallest objects in the flat field at the time. I crossed my fingers the mountains would deter the lightning.

IMG_1158Hike to LJZ–The Storm Clouds Rolling in

The storm passed after an hour and then LJZ became visible in the distance. Before we knew it (meaning around 2-3 hours), we were in the village splitting ways to seek our homes. I hoped that the family that hosted me the time before would be okay with me visiting again. I followed familiar trails and finally found the beautiful home once again. I opened the main gate and walked into the courtyard. One of the daughters saw me first and giggled. She ran back to tell her Aunt I was here. I did not have any way of telling them I was coming, so it was unexpected. They were very welcoming and let me into their home. I came in right when there were eating dinner. I ate radish pig soup with rice. I then showed the kids my new drawings and asked them if they could draw for me. Each took there turn as they drew in my sketchbook. It was cool to see what they drew:

1) the younger daughter drew a field of diverse flowers with her in the middle holding one. She also drew clouds (which I taught her), mountains, and a two-story Mosuo home.
2) the youngest brother lost his patience and left his page with clouds and an unfinished house.
3) the oldest sister drew herself wearing a skirt for the “coming of age” ceremony she celebrated this past spring festival.

In Mosuo culture, when a child hits the age of 13, that is when they have their coming of age ceremony. It is 13 because the number represents the end of the first zodiac cycle in their lives and the beginning of a new one. I watched as she drew herself wearing the skirt and wearing lots of flowers on her shirt, hair, and feet. She was excited and proud to draw the event.

The uncle observed us drawing and asked if I could help him do something. I said sure. He scurried away to grab something. He came back a few minutes later with a tote bag. He walked over to me, I was on the lower hearth, and he showed me old paper tablet paintings. He said his grandfather drew them and that they were over 100 years old. They were wearing and tearing at this point. He asked if I could help redraw them. I looked at the beautiful art and said I could try. I asked what they were for. He explained how when the Daba priests perform ceremonies, they hang these up. So, the drawings related to Daba religion–the tablets were ritual art. I also noticed some were of Lamas praying with Tibetan written on them. The Mosuo’s religious life is a combination of the local religion and Tibetan Buddhism.

He thanked me and told me he’d tell me more the next day. I went to bed soon afterwards. I was placed in the same room as before, but this time I’ll be by myself without a twin sister, PM, and Lidy. I’ll be alone for this field trip. I’m a bit nervous, but look forward to the experience. This is what I’ll be doing for the rest of the year…so I have to get used to it.

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Performing Mosuo Culture: Museum Tour and Flower Room Ballad Performance

I took the same bus as before from Lijiang to Lugu Lake. I sat next to someone who also was going to Lugu Lake alone, so we became friendly on the ride there. From what he was wearing and his discussion of topics, he gave off a “rich” vibe. I went in and out of sleep, listening to folk music on the way there. Before I knew it, we arrived. I split ways with my Han friend and told him I’d meet him in Lige later. I first wanted to check out the Mosuo Cultural Museum, and what I believed was also the research center. I payed 50yuan for a tour of the museum, which turned out to be a traditional home, turned-into museum. A young Mosuo boy started the tour and explained his culture with many generalizations:

It first began with a demonstration of how men climb up house walls to the girl’s room. He said, “every man does this, and this is how it is done.” He then climbs the wall like Spiderman and opens the window to the “flower room,” the young girl’s room. “Our society does not have marriage, instead we have relationships where men visit their partners at night. Everyone does walking marriage.”

I personally know that’s not true because I have Mosuo friends who are married. Also, I’ve been visited before in the remote village, and the men didn’t climb any walls because there weren’t any windows (at least for my case). They just came through the front door and walked up to my door. When I mentioned the use of cellphones in Lugu Lake and how that may affect this tradition, the boy just said, “we still do this exactly (climb walls).”

I felt like what he was saying was rehearsed to fulfill my expectations and not to teach me. What are the expectations that he assumed I had? From my previous research, I can guess that he thought my expectations were:
1) Mosuo are a romantic people–sexualized
2) Mosuo don’t have marriage in their society
3) Mosuo have large matrilineal/matriarchal families and women are most powerful

The boy tour guide wanted to make sure these expectations were met, whereas in reality, Mosuo society is more complex than these common expectations.

A young Mosuo girl then continued the tour to show me the living hall, where the family eats meals and the elders and children sleep. I talked with an older man in the living room that kept on telling funny stories about Dr. Joseph Rock. He was the first westerner to live and do research with the Mosuo, which was in the 1920s. He’s still remembered around the lake. Supposedly, Jospeh Rock brought a large chunk of soap with him to clean himself and his clothes…the soap lasted the entire time around Lugu Lake, which was more than two decades.


Dr. Joseph Rock in Mosuo Garb–A Badass 

The next portion was a hall of pictures taken by Joseph Rock back in the 1920’s. He lived during a time when Mosuo society was stratified with the upper class, middle class, and slaves. Whenever he was pictured, he wore the upper class outfits. He took pictures of the data priests, who had large headdresses and often looked intimidating in the photos as they chanted spells and did ceremonies. He also had shots of festivals and everyday life.


Mosuo Women in Traditional Garb in Early 1900s (Photo by Dr. Joseph Rock)

The next section showed modern day Lugu Lake through photos and real-life items, like grabs and tools. The Mosuo girl described the importance of the museum items…most of what she said I understood, but I’m still learning! At the end was a traditional medicine and gift shop. I was hoping to find a research center or a curator in the process, but to no avail. At least, I was able to observe how the Mosuo perform their culture to a tourist.


Mosuo Cultural Museum Main Courtyard

I then shared a car with four other visitors to Lige. I was a bit nervous that no one would remember me from before…but thank goodness I was wrong! I was immediately welcomed by the hostel worker, who gave me a discount! I rested in my room for an hour and then met up with my Han friend for dinner. He was flaunting how he was staying in a room worth 1500yuan a night, which would be around $200. That’s really expensive in China! We bought tickets for the Lige cultural performance–Flower Room Ballad– that night, which was 220 yuan per ticket. That’s also really expensive! My friend treated me to dinner before the performance.

During dinner, he was talking about how this cultural performance is very important in continuing cultural heritage. It’s the best way to learn about old traditions since most of them have “disappeared.” I had opposite opinions. I know this performance hall was constructed by a private investor and has government relations. Though the performers are locals, what they perform is approved from the upper level–a Han perspective. Therefore, this performance is supposed to entertain and excite the audience–primarily Han Chinese–as well as fit into what they believe is Mosuo culture. They make sure the tourists see what they want to see. It’s also an opportunity for the audience to ‘witness’ walking marriage, since it can’t be observed in real life around Lugu Lake. Therefore, this is the audience’s chance to get a glimpse of sex life in Lugu Lake, which is a big reason why they came in the first place. Alas, I didn’t really speak out my mind. I let him do the talking, I was more interested in what he was saying.

He also believed that the airport that will be constructed by this year is going to “break” the environment and the culture. That’s why he came now. I also have mixed feelings on the airport, but I would prefer to have my opinions be from the locals than my biased perspective. After getting to know my friend better, I realized he was a good example of a male, rich Han perspective.


Lining Up for the Cultural Performance

After I finished eating the tofu dish (he didn’t eat, his hotel owner cooked for him), we joined the line in front of the hall. We were filed in and seated on weaved basket stools. I pulled out my notebook and started taking notes.

Here are a few things that I jotted down:

  1. before the performance they played Mosuo pop songs, which were all in Mandarin
  2. the announcer used a wispy voice to describe Mosuo culture–sounded mystical
  3. performance indirectly described sex life in Lugu Lake–then performed karma sutra positions?

The ticket seller had told us earlier he’d like to treat us to barbecue after the performance. I took up the offer and dragged my friend with me to find him. We joined him to my friend’s barbecue shop. I was happy to know the BBQ boss remembered me. We also ran into another friend, YE, who then joined us at the table. I was so content to know I left a good impression before. We talked about the airport some more, sang songs, and ate barbecued foods. YE performed for everyone and was hilarious. He kept singing to me too, which was fun. I then sang love songs to him back, which added more energy to the crowd.

My friend kept on bringing up money, his expensive hotel, his plane ticket, money money money, which seemed to both the others. I also found it a bit annoying, but I kept silent to see how everyone reacted. One of the barbecue shop owners was very direct in saying how he’s too careless with his money. My friend would defend himself, but it didn’t seem to work. I bet the barbecue owner must get characters like him all the time…I’d get sick of them too!

Afterwards, I moved with YE to another barbecue place where I got to know local Mosuo women and his best friends, who were of the Yi minority. I sang some more and listened to the locals have singing competitions. I noticed one of the singers I was friendly with before was avoiding me. He confessed his love to me the previous visit, which I rejected politely, but it seemed to still affect him. I thought he was joking before. I think he’s 40 years old…why would he think I’d accept to do walking marriage with him? I wonder if this is a problem for female researchers in Lugu Lake?

When it got late, I said my goodbyes and went back to the hostel. I planned to go to the remote village again, LJZ, the next day. I would stay there for a week to observe a ceremony and see the family I stayed with before.

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Standing up to “the Man:” Discussing Controversial Topics in Public

While waiting for the train to head out, a girl asked if I could switch seats with her. She wanted to sit with her friend. I agreed, a little grumpily, but in the end, I’m glad I switched. I sat next to a really fun, eclectic group of Chinese. At first, we had simple conversation, but as we became more comfortable with each other, our conversation became much deeper. There were three couples: Xiao Gang & Yingying, Xiao Chen & Xiao He, and an artist and his girlfriend (prostitute?). While hitting the later hours, Xiao Gang, a funny guy that spoke in a lot of idioms, asked me what I thought of Chinese men. I said that Chinese guys, at least the ones that I come across the most, are often interested in money, in buying cars and houses…more or less superficial things. They are also very traditional, in that they want to find a wife and expect her to follow gender social norms: cook, have a kid, be dependent on them. Of course, I’m generalizing and not all Chinese guys are like this, but he did ask a question where I would need to generalize.

My response brought up a conversation about social issues in China, like high housing rates and the pressure of getting married. They asked if in America women care about a man’s background and his money situation before getting married. I said it depends on the person, but I personally don’t consider money as a big factor in finding a significant other. This then somehow led to a conversation about politics. Xiao He took away from my response that the American government is much more developed than China’s. I said “how so?”

“Because we aren’t free to say our opinions here. That is why our government is backwards.”

What he said made everyone a bit uneasy, since you shouldn’t say anything like that in public, like an open train car compartment surrounded by over one hundred Chinese. They were talking about how it’s best to be in a locked, private room to talk about such things. However, his response incited more discussion on the corruption and inadequacies in the Chinese government.

“Kelin (my Chinese name), did you know that there are 10,000 ‘sensitive words (敏感字)’ on the Chinese Internet? If you write them, you will be monitored, or your post will be deleted, or you can’t even type the word out at all,” Xiao Gang said. I was aware of this, but not of the specific number. When I visited a friend in Shangri-la, he told me never to write the word Tibet or send an email about Tibet to anyone who lives there. The police would capture them for questioning or even arrest them for years in order to avoid any conspiracy.

As we continued the controversial conversation, Xiao He’s wife said half joking and half serious, “if we keep conversing this topic we will be kidnapped when we get off the train.” She said this multiple times with a hesitant laugh through the night. Xiao He kept on telling her to stop mentioning it, so to stop scaring me, but I wasn’t scared. Even though I also felt a bit uneasy talking about the faults in the Chinese government in such a public place, I found the conversation worthwhile. Also, I think they would be in more danger than me. I was more nervous for them. It’s strange that they even have to say things like that…but it does actually happen. People do get kidnapped and aren’t seen for years. They are normally placed in labor camps and have very little rights. How awful it must be to be hesitant when speaking your mind, and to even be scared for you life if you speak a little out of line about the government.

Xiao Gang works in the media industry and brought up how 99% (or somewhere in the 90s) of newspaper articles or reports are all twinkled down from the “top,” in this case the government. Everything is copied from the top and spread to the masses. There’s no creativity in the media, and if there is, then the article will most likely be banned. He said that the “Southern Weekend” is the best, most reliable paper out there. I’ll need to check it out! The leader of the paper had his work banned because he didn’t follow what the government wanted him to write.

The group would change the topic once in a while to avoid talking about sensitive topics, but they kept coming back to politics. I think it was nice for them to find a group of open-minded, like-minded individuals in one compartment in a train. I think I also added to their interest. Having me there to talk with about my country, a place very different from their own, was a unique experience for them. It’s too bad they were too nervous to go deeper into the discussion.

This conversation in the train is a good example of how people live in China. A certain way of thinking is engrained in the Chinese populous, and if one tracks away from that mindset, the person is aware of the danger that comes with it. Therefore, people are afraid. To be more specific, they are afraid of their government. Nietzsche would be proud. Of course, if you don’t step out of bounds, then there is nothing to worry about…but that means you have to follow and believe everything the government tells you is fact without second guessing. Or you can pretend too. Is that freedom?

My Chinese friends in the train with me viewed this kind of control as unhealthy for their society. I wonder if this perspective is becoming more prevalent? At the moment, it seems like fear between the Chinese government and its people is reciprocal. One side fears instability and revolt, while the other side fears detention. This fear among the populous is not widespread, I’ve met many Chinese who love their country and their government. But, there is a growing minority that’s becoming more skeptical. The Internet and its anonymity has become a tool for this generation to spread their opinions, even with the obstacle of the Great Fire Wall of China. I think this generation has the potential in making a difference in the next couple of decades…

This is probably the most controversial posts I’ve written yet. I’m really happy to have had enlightening conversation with the group of travelers. This kind of conversation is uncommon, especially among strangers, so I thought I would share this with my followers/family.

After arriving at the train station, we took a picture of all of us and then split ways. We did not get kidnapped after all! I then took a bus to Lugu Lake and will be staying the night in Lige.

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Exploring Kunming: Zhaozong Water Grotto

For my good friend’s birthday celebration, we took a trip to the Zhaozong Water Grotto (招宗水库), which is west of the city. I met up with them at the birthday girl’s house and then set off to the neighboring market to pick up some picnic snacks. The market was off of Dianmian Avenue in a small alley that led to Jiaoling Road. My friend picked up drinks and some grilled bread (粑粑), while I picked up some sweet bread, specifically peanut grilled bread (花生粑粑) and sesame grilled bread (芝麻粑粑). When you are in Kunming, I recommend buying some street “baba (粑粑).” It’s a local snack that’s very popular in Yunnan Province.


The Bustling Market

Half of our friends biked to the grotto, while the birthday girl, a couple of friends, and I took a cab with the food. The location of the grotto is a bit isolated, so after some ambiguous directions (that my friend told me to say), we finally found the place. We walked behind a few buildings and walked up a flight of stone steps and saw the grotto. Our biking friends had already arrived! We walked around and set out stuff down. It was time to swim!


Relaxing at the Grotto

I looked around and saw a lot of older Chinese men swimming across the grotto exercising. There were also a lot of naked people changing in or out of swimming suits. It was a very relaxed, natural environment. We jumped in and swam for a bit. I avoided the weeds that were growing along the lake bottom (supposedly a couple people drowned last year because they got caught in the weeds). We stayed at the Grotto for a couple hours before having to leave to go to a birthday dinner at Cacao Mexican Restaurant.

I definitely want to go back and swim again before going back to Lugu Lake! I highly recommend visiting the place. It’s a bit hard to find a taxi to go back to the city from there, so you can take a local bus that will take you closer to the center of Kunming (second ring road). You can get off and then find a taxi from there.

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