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Doing Fieldwork in China: Chapter 6 — “‘An Open Lhasa Welcomes You’: Disciplining the Researcher in Tibet”

Doing Fieldwork in China, edited by Maria Heimer and Stig Thogersen. Chapter 6:  “‘An Open Lhasa Welcomes You’: Disciplining the Research in Tibet” by Emily T. Yeh

I like the first quote in this chapter:

‘An open Lhasa welcomes you.’

‘An open Tibet celebrates the 50th anniversay of the peaceful liberation of Tibet.’

‘An open Tibet welcomes you.’ –Street banners, Lhasa, summer 2001

My Thoughts:

For aspiring Tibetologists or China researchers planning on working in sensitive areas (Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, other places), this chapter is for you. Yeh is also an American Chinese. She discusses her perceived identity in the community and how her assistants manipulated her identity during interviews for different reasons.

Yeh first introduces “the politics of fear,” a scare tactic commonly utilized by the Chinese government in sensitive areas around the country to control its population, and even anthropologists. She became so engrossed into the local community, that she subconsciously got affected by the fear of always being listened to (on the phone or in public) and being watched (by undercover police, etc.) that her local friends also believed. “I found myself constantly under self-surveillance,” she writes. This “politics of fear” is a common trend that the anthropologist should be aware of before entering their desired fieldwork site. Locals may not be willing to talk to you in fear of being watched, especially if you are known to be American or at least “look” American (aka white).

Yeh also goes into detail about how her Chinese heritage was able to unintentionally “conceal” her in the crowd. Her friends and informants would bring this up and oftentimes try to assist her in getting fake IDs or allowing her to illegally stay in their homes because “no one would know,” they would say. Even her official affiliation would not mention she was American in paperwork and just use her Chinese and Tibetan name. When conducting interviews, her assistant would lie that she was actually a distant Tibetan relative, so to make the interviewee more comfortable and (blissfully) ignorant of their interviewer’s connection to the United States. Yeh did not find his ethically accurate to lie about her identity, especially when conducting research, but many of her assistants would argue it was for the best of her informants, who would get in trouble with the government if it was known they spoke with an American researcher.

There’s a lot of red tape when conducting fieldwork in sensitive areas. Yeh’s Chinese heritage was able to assist in bypassing some of this red tape, but for the non-Asian researcher, this would be a completely different story.

In Lugu Lake, I am different. I have blue eyes, light-brown hair, pale skin, and 5’8”. Wherever I go, people stare, whisper, and laugh. I am treated different because I am viewed as an outsider. At least, Lugu Lake isn’t considered a “politically sensitive” area. I also am fairly fluent in Chinese (and learning the Mosuo language), so that it’s easier for me to gain respect with the local people. Though I do face difficulties for being psychically different from the local population, I think the researcher that has the most difficulties in building rapport within a community is Chinese Americans who do not speak Mandarin fluently. Native Chinese somehow connect Asian Americans who do not speak fluent Mandarin with someone forgetting their history and heritage. They also sometimes rudely treat them as stupid.

It’s a phenomenon that I fortunately have never experienced, but I bet there are blog posts or other writings on how to deal with this challenge.

Yeh’s chapter focuses on the idea that sometimes the researcher has no control over how their identity will be read and interpreted. For her, she didn’t know if her interviewees would acknowledge her American citizenship with her assistant’s obscure introductions. And if they did realize she was American, who would they interpret that in responding to her questions? For me, my main issues is being taken seriously. I’m still fairly young and I am a woman, which may get in the way of being respected by high male officials. It is out of my control how a cadre or local will identity me, but it is in my control to gain their respect through daily interaction.

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Doing Fieldwork in China: Chapter 5 — “In the Footsteps of the Communist Party: Dilemmas and Strategies

Doing Fieldwork in China, edited by Maria Heimer and Stig Thogersen. Chapter 5:  “In the Footsteps of the Communist Party: Dilemmas and Strategies” by Mette Halskov Hansen

My Thoughts:

In China, researchers (and anthropologists) face a number of challenges that are not often encountered in other parts of the world. Obstacles such as, “political restrictions on research topics, limited access to data, closed areas, and control of researchers’ movements,” which force the China researcher to move outside of the box of Malinowski’s traditional method of “participant observation.”

In the Mainland, there’s “officially approved fieldwork” and then there’s the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach that’s sometimes a necessary option:

Officially approved fieldwork means that you acquired a letter of introduction or affiliation with a university, organization, or cadre that allows you to do fieldwork, especially in rural areas. This is necessary if you plan to interact with the area’s local government and plan to connect with locals who would require proof of such paperwork.

Then there’s the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach, where the researcher ignores all ties with the local government and just dives into the local community. For me, I considered my preparation to fieldwork as not official research, but rather just getting my bearings of the place. When, in all honesty, I still treated it as informal fieldwork. I still took daily field notes, had informal interviews with locals, and traveled to remote areas to better understand Mosuo culture and tourism in the area. If I did bring unwanted attention, I would have explained that I was either, “getting to know the area (了解地方)” or “I’m a tourist (我是游客).” For the first half of my research, I used the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to build rapport with the community.

Why did I chose this approach in the beginning? It was because my university insisted that I found an assistant (陪同) before visiting Lugu Lake. I agreed that I would like an assistant, but the university office wanted me to find one immediately. At the time, I did not know anyone and did not want a stranger following me around. So, I decided to go without asking a couple of times to get to know the community and area. Now that people have gotten to know me by myself, I feel more comfortable having an assistant tag along. I worried that if I brought along an assistant before, then that would have made a larger difference gap between me and the locals. I feel like they would have treated me more formally, when I just wanted to be friends with them. I would have been seen as just another anthropologist. Now I am friends with many in the area who treat me more like a local, than a tourist.

Hansen mentions when he was in the field, he had to combine official and unofficial fieldwork into his research design. This is definitely prevalent among most China researchers (including myself!). Now I’m at the halfway point of my Fulbright research grant and am currently waiting on getting official approval from my university to do fieldwork in Lugu Lake. I also have an assistant, who was a friend I made while taking graduate courses at Yunnan Nationalities University.

Hansen’s notes on his experience with assistants:

Working with officially appointing local assistants in China I have experiences the great advantages of immediately access to a local ‘informant’ and contact, while at the same time having to struggle with the potentially serious implications of working with some body who could inform on the interviewees (and on me, although with much less serious consequences). 

Most important when finding an assistant (陪同) is patience. Take your times and find someone who you enjoy being around and fully supports your research.

In the end, China researchers always have to keep in mind that they must follow in the footsteps of the Communist Party (at least on the exterior) to gain official acceptance from the higher ups. This includes: writing proposals that gloss over sensitive issues and paint the party in a positive light, conducting formal interviews that are politically accurate to get uncontroversial information (and then conducting informal interviews in private to hear what they locals really have to say), and writing two different papers for China journals (uncontroversial article) and foreign journals (what we would consider isn’t controversial, but the Chinese government would.)

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Doing Fieldwork in China: Chapter 4 – “Field Sites. Research Design, and Type of Findings”

Doing Fieldwork in China, edited by Maria Heimer and Stig Thogersen. Chapter 4: “Field Sites, Research Design and Type of Findings,” by Maria Heimer

My Thoughts:

Chapter 4 “focuses on the role of selection of field sites plays in the the fieldwork process, and its relation to the case study method and to research design.” Most researchers write proposals to receive grants or funding to go out into the field. Each proposal holds all different kinds of research method designs that the researcher believes will fit well into acquiring end results. There is no “right” research design, but there is a common trend of methods among social scientists. The author looks at three main research design methods that researchers in China most often utilize in the field:

  1. one-field-site approach = staying in one place for an extended period of time to conduct research on one topic (this is very useful for ethnographic research)
    • “When you study one case in depth with an established truth firmly in mind, however, the fieldworker needs to have a good idea what he or she is going to find at the outset, skipping the exploratory stage.”
  2. all-of-China-field-site approach = studying all across China for an extended period of time to conduct research on one topic (this focuses on breadth, instead of depth.)
    • This approach is “suitable for macro-analysis but it is less appropriate for conducting the micro-analysis that will help us to understand [cultural] mechanisms.”
  3. one-case multi-field-site approach = focusing on one topic but visiting multiple field sites (in close vicinity) to acquire more comparisons (this is very useful for ethnographic research as well)
    • “Authors can gain a deeper knowledge of one phenomenon by probing for similarities, while downplaying variations across place (or across regime types). Having said that, such comparisons can be helpful for identifying the essential characteristics of a phenomenon under study.”

The author does not try to hide her favoritism for the third kind of research design–“one-case-multi-field-site approach.” Fortunately for me, that’s the approach I am using for my research! In order to get a deeper understanding of my research topic, I’m conducting a comparative analysis on the development of tourism around the Lugu Lake area. That means, I investigate the touristy towns alongside the lake and adventure out to the remote villages that receive backpackers to add breadth to my observations, but also add depth as I find the similarities and differences between the two different kinds of locations.

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Touristy Lugu Lake

During my last visit, I was fortunate enough to catch a double rainbow over the Lige Peninsula! I was only able to capture one though.

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Remote Mosuo Village–Backpacker Central

When defending my Bachelor of Philosophy thesis at the University of Pittsburgh, one of the reviewers emphasized on the importance of conducting comparative research. The use of cultural comparisons is integral in growing the breadth and depth of knowledge that is shared among world of Anthropology [and beyond!]. He wanted me to compare my thesis (focusing on how the Mosuo are portrayed in the Chinese media) with other groups in South East Asia or Indonesia. At the time, I did not have the time or  expertise to successfully add that to my senior thesis, but he pas persuaded me to focus on the importance of comparisons for my current and future research.

I agree with Maria Heimer and my reviewer that when writing out your proposal, try to incorporate comparative analysis methods into your research deign. This comparative analysis can be like my current project (investigating different villages in the Lugu Lake area) or like my good PhD friend at the University of Pittsburgh (traveling to Taiwan, China, and Brazil to observe the process of commoditizing precious stones).

Of course, whenever you write your proposal, always go over it with your advisor. This blog is just from the perspective of an amateur anthropologist. If you have any questions though, always feel free to leave a comment or send me a message.

A last bit a advice, after formal or informal interviews, always be sure to cross-check your results. Don’t just trust the one person you talked to, even if it fits well into your proposed topic, you need to make sure other people in your field site share the same opinions.

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Doing Fieldwork in China: Chapter 3 “Fieldwork as Coping and Learning”

Chapter 3: “Fieldwork as Coping and Learning” by Elin Saether

This chapter is about the process a young researcher goes through when being introduced into the world of fieldwork. He mentions “most students who decide to work on a topic related to China will try to locate China scholars locally, nationally, and maybe also internationally. The first approach is often an email where the student presents the project and asks for advice. This can be seen as the first meeting with the insider/outsider dichotomy.” I admit I did this exact thing when I moved to Kunming, Yunnan Province, China. I was planning on doing my first fieldwork trip, but I was nervous because I did not know anyone at Lugu Lake. I emailed top Mosuo experts and got a couple replies back. Most giving similar advice:

  • Recommended a town to start off at—Lige or Luoshui Village
  • Not interested in sharing informants, but supportive that you will find your own (broadening knowledge about the place)
  • “Good luck!”

To be honest, I hit the ground running, but at least I had a destination in mind, Lige Village. When I visited the town, I tried to keep myself very available and friendly, talking with as many people as I could. This came to an advantage because I coincidentally befriended the informant of an anthropologist. Because she liked me, the anthropologist trusted me to join them to do fieldwork in a remote village.

Upon entering the field, the “insider/outsider” dichotomy suddenly shifted from me vs. Mosuo experts, to me vs. locals. I was not one bit a part of their society. With my pale skin, blue eyes, and light brown hair, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Though I was so physically different from them, I took advantage of my language abilities to connect with them on personal levels and immediately started studying the Mosuo language. Even though I was aware I would always be an outsider in Lugu Lake, I wanted to at least lessen the gap and build a positive reputation. This feeling of being different is hard to cope with at first, but the moment the locals start treating you like a friend or someone that lives in the community; somehow you forget all that hard work. It was worth it:

I remember the documentary team and I were filming boat rowers on one of the beaches of Lugu Lake when a gaggle of Shanghai tourists fluttered by with their flashing Canon cameras. They pointed their lens in different angles to capture the local women. A Mosuo woman spoke up: “Leave! We don’t like it when you do this.” One of the Shanghai women gave a fake smile, “Oh, then why can they [us] film you and we can’t?” Without any hesitation, she responded, “because they are Mosuo and they are using a Mosuo camera!”

I felt proud that we had earned the trust of some of the villagers, to the point that they treated us like “insiders” and not “outsiders.” This was accomplished by interacting with these woman many times a week, playing with their children, and simply just being visible in the community. When you befriend someone, be sure to keep up with it. Say “hello,” “have you eaten yet?” and join them to eat or to drink at a bar. It’s all a part of the process. Who knows, maybe that one person you befriended will become your most trusted informant and best friend?

How do you start fieldwork? For everyone it is different. My tactic was to build rapport with the local community and learn the language before diving into the theoretical aspect of my research. I can say I was really fortunate in befriending the French anthropologist who introduced me to fieldwork in the Lugu Lake area and then joining a documentary team sponsored by National Geographic. Because of these two coincidences, they helped me build a foundation for my place in their society, as well for my research design. From these experiences, I have built strong relationships with the people of Lige village, which is integral in the next phase of my research that I will be conducting in July 2013.

The author makes a good point to say, “during fieldwork, the learning process is often hidden, which means it is difficult to identify progress.” I agree with this statement. Fieldwork is an accumulation of different methods: observations, interviews, “tacit learning,” and learning through failures. With these methods, it’s normally difficult to recognize what you have gained in knowledge or progress each day. I mean, you do not get any physical evidence of your achievement, like a recorded tape with the day’s interviews. Instead, you have sights, smells, interactions, feelings all jumbled up in your memory. This is why writing at least every night about observations and conversations is important because even if you did not notice anything interesting in these encounters, at least in the future you can analyze your notes to find deeper meaning. Also be perceptive of newspapers, the news, what you hear people saying on the streets, restaurants, and bars. All of these minor interactions also can contribute to your research. Even though your research may have a very focused topic, but recognizing big news and social issues in the major society can help give you a much broader understanding of how its affecting the community you’re studying (i.e. modernity, globalization, politics, etc.)

Fieldwork, especially in the beginning, is a coping and learning process, but each step you make, it begins to make sense and you get better at it. A good first step is to look for guidance among your peers, advisors, and experts in the field. This will take away the mental block that’s tearing away at your confidence. This will take you away from the “dipping your toes in first” technique to just “diving” right into the new waters that is Anthropology.

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“Doing Fieldwork in China”–Chapter 2: Discovery, Research (Redesign) and Theory

“Discovery, Research (Redesign) and Theory Building” by Kevin J. O’Brien
My Thoughts:

Kevin O’Brien brings up the importance of serendipitous meetings or unexpected turn of events while in the field. He believes being flexible (like forming a research design or conducting interviews, etc.) is imperative in making an in-depth, well thought out product at the end of one’s research. Many researchers go in with a rigid project design with a well-constructed theory to base their future results on…but sometimes that well thought out plan can backfire. Though it may at first feel like you have failed, in actuality, this also brings about a whole new set of opportunities. Your informants may not be interested or even know much about your previous topic, but they seem very enthusiastic to answer about something else important within their society. Explore that, and who knows, maybe it will connect to the previous project design?

I have encountered a handful of serendipitous events during my four trips to Lugu Lake:

The first being meeting a French anthropologist, PM, who took me under her wing and introduced me to a remote Mosuo village that still continues traditional customs, like matrilineal families and “walking marriage.” Through her, I learned more about conducting fieldwork and traditional Mosuo culture. During that stay, a local told us there would be a village celebration in a month after the building of a house. They invited us to the event.

A month later, I visited the same remote village by myself, only to find out that the house had already been built and that I had missed the event. I was disappointed, but decided to stay in the remote area to study the Mosuo language and understand more about their traditional culture. During that time, I often played with the kids in the home. They loved to watch me draw, so I would draw whatever they asked. One night the uncle, a local priest, noticed my drawing abilities. He mumbled something in the local dialect and suddenly walked out of the living area. He brought back a bag that contained over 100 year old religious tablets that were painted by his grandfather. They were falling apart as he handed them to me. He asked if I could redraw them for him on new tablets.

This opened up an unexpected turn in my research aim. I did not expect to utilize my artistic abilities to learn about Daba religious culture and the history of the small village. I accepted. That night I also learned that Tibetan Buddhist monks would come to the village in 11 days to read scriptures to bless all the villagers. At the end of the reading, there would be a bonfire party celebration. However, I had already decided I’d be back in Kunming to take classes.

When I went back to Lugu Lake from the village, I then ran into a group of filmmakers sponsored by National Geographic who wanted to go to the same remote village. They asked if I wanted to help them and join their crew. I’m not much for believing in fate, but I did feel this meeting to be serendipitous to the point that I accepted. When would I ever have another chance to join a film crew also interested in modern Mosuo society and associated with National Geographic? I joined them a week later to that festival and spent an entire month with them filming around the lake.

Through these coincidental events, I have a clearer understanding of what my research aim is, what I want to write (ethnographic articles), and have built close relationships with the local people. When I begin in-depth research in July, I now have a well-established  group of informants, as well as close friends. Like O’Brien mentioned in his chapter, when conducting research, make your fieldwork visits as flexible as possible because these uncanny encounters and random circumstances can improve your research.

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“Doing Fieldwork in China”–Chapter 1: My Thoughts on the Introduction

I’m currently reading “Doing Fieldwork in China,” edited by Maria Heimer and Stig Thogersen. Even though I’ve already thrown myself into the field, I still have a lot of reading, learning, and experiencing to do before calling myself an expert. I decided to read this book to get a broader understanding of how expert researchers manage to conduct fieldwork on the Mainland. For each chapter, I’m going to write my own response and relate it to my own experiences.

This book was written by experienced China researchers, this blog will be from the perspective of an amateur anthropologist:

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Doing Fieldwork in China–“Introduction” by Stig Thogerson and Maria Heimer

My Thoughts:

The introduction gave a brief summary of the history of foreigners conducting fieldwork in China. Before the CCP was established, there was a vivacious social science community conducting fieldwork on “finding ways to convert the Chinese population [to Christianity],” “living conditions in Beijing,” “comprehensive field study in Hebei,” and “measuring the bodies and skulls of east Asian ethnic groups.” The topics seem outdated when we compare it to contemporary studies. However, “racial stereotypes and generalizations,” as well as Eurocentric research goals were common practice during this era.

When the CCP was established, fieldwork became nearly non-existent on the mainland, except among the refugee communities in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and United States. Only until after the Mao period did fieldwork reenter Chinese society–however, this time it came with ambiguous restrictions that are still present today. This is where the modern China researcher comes in.

The introduction brings up two important themes that are highlighted in the book:

1) The Presence of the Party-State
The presence of the party is self-imposing while conducting fieldwork in the countryside, especially when it touches on a sensitive topic, like ethnic tourism, ecological justice, water resources, or ethnic tensions, etc. For me, I tried to stay under the radar of the local government at first to build close relationships with the local community and rich outside investors around Lugu Lake. I wanted to develop “guanxi” in the area, which I hoped to later utilize when contacting the local government. For me, this strategy was successful because I was able to meet the local tourism bureau members at a fancy dinner, hosted by the town’s richest man and now my close friend. The members were enthusiastic to hear about my research after my friend introduced me in a positive light.

2) Collaboration
This theme highlights building a close relationship with a local who will assist you with translation and/or research. My university required me to find an assistant immediately before I could conduct fieldwork in Lugu Lake. I treated this as an obstacle. I want to first form a close and trusting relationship with someone before sharing my research. This requirement could mean I would need to trust a stranger to join me, as well as need to pay this assistant everywhere I go. This problem occurred right before the Spring Festival break. I once again slid under the radar and just started going to the field by myself to familiarize myself with the area. I’m still keeping my eyes out for someone I trust to collaborate with. I already have a few locals who are willing to teach me the language and help me translate.
An experienced China researcher I met mentioned that my university required that I find an “assistant” because they wanted to keep a close eye on me and my research–basically, to make sure it fits in line with the party’s interests. I’m not sure what’s true, but I thought it was an interesting comment.

I’m looking forward to reading the next chapters! To those experienced, not experienced, or currently learning, like me, I’d really appreciate reading your own perspectives and experiences doing fieldwork around the world. Let’s share the obstacles we’ve encountered and triumphs we have conquered while doing research.

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China’s Ultimate Frisbee Community: The Shanghai Open 2013

I’ve been playing Ultimate Frisbee in China ever since I moved to Kunming and learned about the pick-up group here. Only a few weeks into playing with them, one of the leaders asked if I wanted to join him and his team to a tournament in the future. I had never participated in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament before, so I was a bit nervous, but also excited to be invited. Months later the Shanghai Open finally happened! Five people from Kunming, including me, would be a part of the team, as well as other players around Southern China (Chengdu, Wuhan, Tianjin, Hong Kong, etc.). We are called the “Southern Spirits.”

The month before, my team and I trained (though I was absent because of fieldwork purposes) for Shanghai. We wanted to be good. Our team won B Pool last year, and we wanted to win it again!

The day came to head out to Shanghai. I was so excited…I had never gone to the “New York” of China before! Upon arriving, I joined another Kunming Fulbrighter, Jake, as we found other teammates and went out to eat traditional xiaolongbao at a famous restaurant (that I of course can’t remember). You would put the small  soup dumpling in a spoon, tear a sliver of the skin to let the tasty juices out, drink the soup and then eat the meat dumpling. It was so good!

We then went next door to where the Communist Party had their first national meeting. The museum was not too bad for being a highly propagandaed exhibition in honor of the CCP. They showed a lot of the intellectual community that created the philosophies and community that became the new government. The exhibit had rows of old magazines, newspapers, books, journals, and pictures of China back in the 1920’s-30’s. Some of the pictures looked similar to those you see of old New York…China was developing just as fast as the western countries during that time. That changed when the CCP halted the intellectual and economic development of the country with reforms and discrimination against the educated community. If the Nationalist Party had won, would China really be what Taiwan is now? Hard to say. A China led by Chiang Kai-shek would also be disturbing…look into Taiwan’s modern history and you will see that Chiang Kai-shek was a very tyrannical leader.

Afterwards, we ate some delicious western food at a Belgium bar and then took a cab to our hotel all the way in Pudong (a district separate from the city). We would play tomorrow!

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Day #1: Women’s and Men’s Tournament

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Men’s Tournament–Tianjin Speed Wins!

Since there were not enough women, we just played a round robin, easy-going three-game series. While, on the other hand, the men were going at it next door. The last game was pretty intense and Tianjin Speed, an all Chinese national team, won!

Day #2: First Day of Mixed Tournament–Pool Selection

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Representing Souther Spirits!

Since most of my teammates met that first day, our chemistry was not very good for our first few games. We lost two, but won the last one. We stayed in B Pool. Wooh!

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Go Mother Duck! (Erin was our coach for the weekend)

That night, there was a tournament party, themed “Sexy Zoo.” I bought a bear pajama suit, not very sexy, as my other (male) teammates dressed up as a sexy tiger, rooster, and leopard. It was a good time! My calves were killing me though from the two days of intense playing. There were few girls on our team, so I played A LOT.

Day #3: Semi-Finals and Finals–Who will win the bracket?

From the past two days, my Frisbee skills got better exponentially. I began to master all the different kind of strategies (ho stack, vert stack, zone offense and defense). I was also having a lot of fun too! We lost all (?) the games this day, but it didn’t really put me down. It was all for fun anyway. I got to make some cool friends on my team and learn a lot about ultimate. I want to participate in another tournament in the future. I am addicted!

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Kunming Southern Spirits Unite!

We watched finals afterward. It was Huwa (Shanghai A Team) versus Chairman XiaongMao (All-star team). I was cheering for XiongMao because two of the girls were from Kunming. It was a really, really close game. In the end, Huwa won. What a great weekend!

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Exploring Yunnan: Weekend Trip to the “Redlands (红土地),” Dongchuan, Yunnan Day #2

Justin and I woke up early in the morning to eat breakfast and see our friends off before starting our trek to a village about 20 kilometers north (I forgot the name of it). We walked along local dirt paths most of the way. It was a much better experience on foot than in the van the other day. We could take our time and also mostly avoid the main road. Though we got lost a couple of times, we always somehow found the one road that went to the village we were going to. I highly recommend hiking through the hills…what a trek!

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The View

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Locals Tilling the Hilly Land

During the middle of our hike, it started to downpour. Fortunately, at that point, we were on the main road. Soon after we flagged down a car and asked if we could hitch a ride wherever they were going. Turned out we caught a ride with a group of migrant workers from Jilin Province who were working on the wind turbines in the area. We chatted about their work and what they think of the “Redlands.” They said they are already used to the scenery that it’s not too special. However, they were kind to take us to a famous viewing point on the way where we took pictures. Though they had said they were used to the scenery, I noticed that the group still gazed out at the hilly fields and distant mountains. There’s still something special in the landscape for them.

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Locals Caught in the Rain

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The View with the Migrant Workers

The migrant workers dropped us off at their work site and pointed us in the right direction north. We thanked them and went on our way. We hiked for another hour or two before it started to downpour once again. We hid under tall trees in a village with local woman. She began talking with us in a thick Yunnan accent, but I could overall understand what she was saying: “Nimen ke nadiya de ren? (Where are you from?).” A van reared around the corner about to drive through the village until the older woman yelled in the local dialect at the driver. He stopped for her, but the woman then persuaded him to allow us in his car too. He warmly allowed us in, making it the second time that day we hitchhiked! 

The driver dropped off the woman first. She waved goodbye and darted to her home to avoid the rain. We drove for another 10-20 minutes until we hit our final destination. We gave the driver 20 kuai (he didn’t ask for much, which was nice of him) and exited the car. We found ourselves in a hillside town surrounded by mountains. As we searched for a hotel, a swarm of children suddenly filled the streets. They had just finished classes. Many were walking back home to their neighboring villages or hopping on tour buses (turned into a school bus in the day time). After searching for a while, we finally found a hotel below the village. We hiked around the hills and got some dinner afterwards (unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera!). We stayed the night and took the early bus out back to Kunming the next morning.

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Exploring Yunnan: Weekend Trip to the “Redlands (红土地)” Dongchuan, Yunnan

My friend and I took a 5-6 hour bus from the Kunming North Bus Station (北部汽车客运站). It was a long ride, but it was worth it when we arrived at the “Redlands,” which were an hour or so west from Dongchuan. We befriended some Chinese tourists on the bus. When we arrived, we decided to split a van and drive around the area. For the day, the van was around 200 yuan (if I remember correctly) in total which we split between the five of us. We found a hotel, ate lunch, and then met up to take the van. We were with a professional Chinese photographer, who kept on telling us the Redlands is “a photographer’s paradise.” Supposedly, the photographers who first found this place kept the location a secret a decade or more ago. However, somehow the location has been leaked, which had led to tourism to enter the society. So far, from my observations, the tourism industry is facilitated by the local people.

I will make these next two posts a photo essay of my stay. Because words can’t really describe how beautiful this place was:

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The Redlands in the Afternoon

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Approaching Sunset

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The End of the Day

I took so many pictures…it’s hard not to! I only chose a selection. After the sunset, we went back to the hotel to get some dinner with our new friends. They planned to leave the next day. My friend and I still planned on hiking through the Redlands the next day. We would then take a bus back to Kunming the day after.

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Exploring Kunming: Biking to the Bamboo Temple

For my day off, my friend and I decided to bike to the Bamboo Temple(筇竹寺), which is located west of the city, north of West Mountain (西山). We headed west and hit the third ring road. We started biking down south and on the way passed another temple, Guanyin Pavilion (观音阁). It was a temple dedicated to the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin. We took a break to check it out.

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Guan Yin Pavilion (观音阁) on Third Ring Road

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Buddha Hall

After walking around the small temple, we continued biking down the third ring road until we found a small road that seemed to climb the mountain on the right. This must be the windy road up to the Bamboo Temple! We biked and hiked up for an hour or so before we finally reached it. We paid a small fee to enter the facilities. The Bamboo Temple is famous for being placed within a bamboo forest, as well as for its 500 unique clay statues. Each has its own unique face, posture, expression, everything. It’s incredible! Unfortunately, the room was closed when we got there, so I did not get any good pictures.

You can look up more information about the Bamboo Temple’s history here.

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Behind the Temple

I also forget to take pictures of the main entrance way and temple of the Bamboo Temple, but my friend and I explored behind the temple where we found a long hallway of lanterns alongside man-made ponds. It was isolated and relaxing. It was nice to escape the stress of the city and have some peace and quiet.

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Posing Behind the Main Buddha Hall

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All Natural-The Bamboo Temple

While we walking around, we met a 97 year-old man walking about in tip-top shape. He sparked conversation with us and told us more about the temple. He even knew how to speak some English! We were amazed by his vivacity and sharpness at such an old age. Think back on it, I wish I had learned more about this curious old man. I’ll just have to visit the temple again and hope he’s there.

If you have an open morning/early afternoon, I highly recommend biking or hiking up to the Bamboo Temple. You can get some exercise and enjoy some traditional Chinese culture.

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