Collaborating with Documentary Team–Off to Remote Village

I want to clarify before I go into detail about my experience with the film crew: the team is sponsored by National Geographic to film a documentary about the Mosuo people and are not official employees. National Geographic gave the director an award and funding for the project. When the film is finished, they will submit it to National Geographic for evaluation. We are hoping to make an outstanding film that paints a realistic image of modern Mosuo society! 

The group ate breakfast and then prepared for the bumpy car ride to the remote village, where I would be their “tour guide.” I did not feel very apt to being their guide, but I was the only one in the group to have gone to the countryside. The team packed up bags upon bags of gear. Zhouyang and I waited patiently with our backpacks as they packed. I listened Ricky, Daniel, and Ankur speaking to each other in a language that I didn’t understand–film jargon.

“Where’s the pelican?” “Don’t forget to pack the dead cat!”  

Before going directly to the village, we first headed to Yongning to first pick up some vegetables for the family guesthouse we would be staying at. The Chinese Americans took care of the groceries while the different looking ones–the white girl (me) and tall Indian guy–walked around the neighborhood. They didn’t want the sellers to jack up the prices. He talked about his travels around the world while he trained and competed as an Olympic swimmer. During the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, he represented India. While he explained his previous life as a competitive swimmer, Molly called me from Japan. I was happy to hear from her and her travels to Nagoya! I talked with my twin and walked with my new friend through the back alleys of Yongning for a while. It was a nice way to pass the time–strolling with  locals, stray pigs, and observing scenic views of the farm fields and distant mountains.

I said my goodbyes to my wonderful twin sister and then we met up with the crew. We finally began our car ride to the remote village. We bumped along familiar roads that I barely remembered from the bus rides and truck rides to the village. We asked locals and slowly, but surely got closer to the village. The dry paths now had thick streams and some areas looked different with blossoms, but we finally made it to the Yi village and bus stop that I remembered clearly from before. The road to the village was incredibly hard to get through with our small bread car. The road now had a constant, thick stream, and the road had steep drops, but somehow the bread car persevered. I then saw it…I saw the village in the distance, just like it always appeared, nestled between three mountain ranges and in a narrow valley.

We traversed through windy roads and avoided hordes of pigs with their shepherds before stopping at the lone guest house. We would stay with them instead of the family I knew through PM, the French anthropologist.

We got out of the car, talked with the guest house owners, and took a walk around the village. We hiked up to the fields to look down at the village and it’s surrounding scenery. The National Geographic crew were in awe of the beautiful place. I was happy they appreciated the beauty of the place past its impoverished exterior. We hiked back down to the guest house to talk with the guest house owners again. After drinking some tea and alcohol, we moved to the previous home I stayed with to say “hello.” We only stayed for a little while, but they were happy to see that I came back.

We then spent the rest of the night at the guest house playing with a puppy, helping make dinner, and getting to know the family. The household is the one of the very few with a married couple in the village. The wife is Han and the husband is Mosuo. I remembered reading about them in a book about the village. They were much younger in the photos, so I did not recognize them. They were excited to hear that I read that book. They then talked about how their wedding was received by the villagers over 10 years ago. Back then, the locals were embarrassed to see the couple together, since it was not part of the culture to have partners show intimacy in the day time. The husband said, “the villagers were embarrassed for him.” Marriage was and still is a foreign concept to the village. However, now the villagers have gotten used to the couple and treat the Han wife as if she is Mosuo. You wouldn’t even know she was Han until hearing her fluent Mandarin.

We drank, ate a delicious meal, and sang songs the rest of the night. Before heading to bed, we observed the stars. The night sky was incredible. The street was lit up by the starlight. We gazed in awe for a while…we called it a night, I knew I’d see the stars again tomorrow.

The lamas are visiting for the week. They are reading the entire Tibetan Buddhist scriptures, which takes many days. After they finish reciting, then the townspeople  will carry the documents around the village. This trek signifies that the blessings of the scriptures will touch all the households. In the end, there will be a bonfire party to celebrate. I’m excited to see and participate in it! National Geographic is looking forward to recording it for their documentary.

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