Collaborating with Documentary Team: The Arrival

Zhou Yang, my friend and driver for the trip, and I traversed through the Himalayas, driving over mountain range over mountain range, to Lugu Lake. This is my fifth time driving on this road. So, I’ve become vaguely familiar with the poor mountain towns we pass, as well as the spectacular scenery that takes up the entire ride. It’s impossible to fall asleep because the roads are winding at every cliff edge. In all honesty, I’m too afraid to close my eyes. As we drove on the top of one of the mountain ranges, I observed the Yi minority villages that were perched on the top of towering mountains. It’sĀ mesmerizing to see the tilled fields and wooden homes with smoking chimneys settled in such high, seemingly unreachable places. Though the views must be spectacular up there near the sky, I felt a bit relieved that the people I study live in a valley!

After five and a half hours, we made it to the lake. The weather was perfect, sunny with some puffy clouds. We drove down the final mountainside, finally reaching the lakeshore. As we moved along to Lige village, I noticed Lugu Lake’s water changed into different shades of blues and greens. The water turns into a spectrum of cool, soothing colors. After one last peninsula, we saw the village of Lige. After finishing off some windy roads, we made it to our final destination.

We parked the car off a cobblestone road by the big performance hall. The village was bustling with tourists and cramped with vehicles as always. We signed into the youth hostel where we’d meet the team. I took a dorm bed, while Zhou Yang would stay with the guys in their room. We waited for a bit but the crew wasn’t around, so my friend and I went on a walk. Soon after, we bumped into a local friend on the main street who told us our “foreign buddies” were in the back, filming him and his friends. They were in the process of constructing a brand-spanking new BBQ shop. Zhou Yang and I soon found them filming YE and his friend, CR, painting the shop and building the main door. Ricky saw us approaching and took me aside to hush me, so not to ruin the scene. He guided me to the side of the complex to talk to me about the documentary’s aims and goals. After hearing it, I was gun-ho for the project! They filmed for the rest of the afternoon.

That night, we ate dinner together with a German mother and daughter who were taking a break from smoggy Beijing. I became immediate friends with the daughter. While we ate, she taught me how to say a few things in German, which I seemed to always pronounce awfully. I have met so many people from Germany in China this time around…maybe I should study German next? After dinner, we admired the stars while walking back to the hostel. I said goodnight to the team and Zhou Yang before heading to the dorm. We would be leaving for the remote village in two days.I promised the team the week before I would take them there, which also fit well with my research goals — to observe a local festival.

The next morning after breakfast, ZY and I took a hike to the Camel Peninsula, which was about an hour hike from Lige. I walked through it once before when trekking from Dazui to Lige, but never finished the hike to the end. The hike had beautiful scenery.


Zhou Yang and Camelback Peninsula

We reached the end and rested on the “nose” of the camel. I felt like I was in the middle of the lake, surrounded by all sides with crystal blue water, except for behind. We relaxed and slowly dozed off…



I woke up from someone shouting. I got up and saw rain pouring in the distance. It was fast approaching us. Zhou Yang also was awake and aware of the rainstorm. We ran up the “camel’s head” to find a group of tourists wearing life vests. They had taken a boat to the peninsula. They were the ones that shouted me awake. We asked if we could join them on the boat back to Lige to avoid the rain. They said that would be alright, so we followed them down a cliff to the harbored pig trough boat. Two local rowers were waiting for us. We hopped on and set off in the opposite direction of the approaching rain.


Escaping the Rainstorm

This was my first time taking a boat on the lake. It was fun rowing away from a downpour. I looked behind us most of the boat ride and watched the clouds dissipate and rain lessen. I guess we wouldn’t be hit by rain, but it was still a close call. We reached Lige in less than 30 minutes. We got off and walked back to the hostel to find the film crew.

We had dinner together that night. We ate sweet and sour lake fish, cabbage, and fried potato cakes. We bought a second fish because it was so delicious! The crew is hilarious to be around and have really interesting stories. Two are stationed in LA, so they have exciting tales about running into celebrities or ambitious friends who get themselves in interesting situations. We chatted most of the night. We headed to bed early to prepare for the next day–road trip to a rural Mosuo village. We already planned to stay in the village for four days. They would film village life and its people, as well as a local religious festival.

The adventure begins tomorrow…

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