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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