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.

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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.

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View from the Mountain–LJZ
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Self-Portrait

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.

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Dried Out Fields

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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:

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Playing Around with the Camera

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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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