Posts Tagged With: Hiking

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!


The View


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.


Locals Caught in the Rain


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 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.


Guan Yin Pavilion (观音阁) on Third Ring Road


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.


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.


Posing Behind the Main Buddha Hall


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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Documenting Mosuo Culture: Visiting Zeibo Village to Interview an Experienced Anthropologist


Tourist Looking Out to the Lake

Prologue to the visit to Zeibo:

This last week, we’ve filmed multiple varying characters around the village: from outside investors, BBQ owners to little Mosuo children. While getting lunch with the town’s richest, most economically powerful man, “Bald Lu”, I received a call from an expert Mosuo ethnographer. I emailed Dr. Shih over two months ago asking for advice before coming to Lugu Lake and then emailed him last month when I heard from my professor he was in Kunming. I was not expecting him to actually call me!

After talking with Bald Lu, we immediately set off to meet Dr. Shih in Luoshui, the main tourist hub around the lake. We rented a van and crammed the team, a journalist, myself, and the equipment into it. We met at a youth hostel on the lakeside. When I went inside, he greeted us with a big smile. He was a shorter man, wore thick black glasses and a North Face fleece jacket with a striped dress shirt underneath. We sat ourselves next to him and his friends. He asked about us: how they got the National Geographic sponsorship, how I became interested in the Mosuo, etc. We asked him about his 20+ year experience doing fieldwork in Lugu Lake. He thinks the lake is changing substantially with the influence of globalization and tourism.

We had to split ways that day, but we planned to meet in a couple days. In the days that passed, we stayed stationed in Lige interviewing locals and participating in everyday life. One afternoon, we followed an adorable Mosuo girl, filming how she spends her days in a modern Mosuo society. We also interviewed local store owners and BBQ shop owners. The team is trying to portray “the crossroads” the Mosuo of Lige have encountered through the introduction of tourism and modernization in contrast to their traditional lifestyle. Tourism inspires development in different facets: economic and cultural. The Mosuo of Lige are facing this transition from traditional way of living—large matrilineal households, “walking marriage,” agricultural economic system, etc.—to modern/Hanified society—male dominated household, nuclear families, and a money-based economic system.


Little Mosuo Girl Playing in the Marsh


Having Fun While Filming a Time Lapse—Aliens have Landed

Culture is always in transition, but tourism speeds up this process. The Mosuo locals have accepted and embraced this new modern lifestyle, so it cannot necessarily be criticized by scholars for “destroying” the culture…it’s a culture in transition, just like any other culture which has encountered a new, dominant force in history. National Geographic wants to catch this transition on film to make its viewers understand this culture intersecting this crossroads of tradition and modernity.


Cross-cultural Exchange—Teaching Indian Dance to Local Performers (and Me!) 

The Visit:

A few days later, we joined a local friend to take a trip to Yongning, a small city outside of the lake. He would drop us off at Zeibo, where Dr. Shih was residing for his fieldwork trip. After the short trip to Yongning, our friend took us on a roundabout ride around the valley basin. We passed the base of Mt. Gemu while drudging along bumpy, dirt paths. The path straight to Zeibo village was closed off for construction, so that’s why we went off the beaten track. I laughed with the driver as we bounced up and down the entire way.

We finally made it to the village. It was nestled at the bottom of Lion Mountain (which is the other side of Mt. Gemu, or maybe another name for Mt. Gemu?) and between miles upon miles of flat farmland in the valley. We called the professor who soon met up with us. We followed him as he showed us the way to the Mosuo home he was staying in. We sat and chatted in a spacious courtyard. From the courtyard, you could look up and see a magnificent view of the mountain. The ground was arranged with different plants and flowers, as well as shaded by a hundred year-old pear tree. Its long branches and thick leaves kept us cool from the sun. It was a very comfortable environment.

We ate rice cakes and munched on sunflower seeds while waiting for lunch. We planned to interview him after the meal. While chatting, I asked Dr. Shih for advice that would be useful for an aspiring anthropologist. He said:

“It’s important that I figure out what my career goals are first: professor, educator, government, UN?. Anthropology is a huge commitment, so one must get their goals and life in order before devoting their entire life to this line of work.” I agreed. Am I ready for such a commitment?

While eating lunch, he brought up how the Mosuo traditional culture is “disappearing,” and that it is a terrible phenomenon. I didn’t know how to feel about that. Like I mentioned before, culture is always in transition. To say it’s horrible that a traditional culture is assimilating into modern Han society is only one way of viewing change. I think this perspective is narrow and does not help the development of a community. In the end, it’s up to the community to decide whether cultural change is positive, negative, or both. It is not up to the anthropologist, but the anthropologist can assist if the community wants to promote cultural preservation or heritage methods.

Even though my research focuses on cultural preservation techniques, I’m not treating tourism as a bearer of bad news. I don’t feel comfortable saying something is necessarily good or bad in this society because I’m not technically a part of it…I’m an outsider with a biased, Western mindset. I need to base my thoughts on the locals reactions before throwing my perspective into any conclusions. Maybe Dr. Shih has these opinions from his informants?

After the interview, he and his local informant of over 20 years showed us around the village. They walked us to the Tibetan temple that sat at the top of the village along the mountain side. It was beautiful. I casually walked behind the group as the team filmed the professor and his informant.


Following the Anthropologist to the Local Tibetan Buddhist Temple

After following Dr. Shih, we decided to head out because sunset was soon approaching. We planned on hiking back. We said our goodbyes and walked down the road to Zhudi. However, our friend began to feel ill, so we started looking for some form of transportation for him. We saw a vegetable seller in the distance with a large truck. I immediately ran over before he left to ask if we could hitch a ride. He said he wasn’t going to the Lugu lake area, but the locals became interested in me and my friends. When I told them our friend was sick, two local men were gracious enough to get their motorbikes and drive us back–three people per bike.


Hiking Back to Lige Village–Equipment in Hand

I squished in the middle of the driver and one of the guys, while holding onto the camera. We drove off up the mountain range, bending left and right up the windy  road. We overlooked the valley at the top of the mountain and saw the entire valley shining with plastic and growing crops. We soon crossed the mountain range to find a dried up lake. The driver said it dried up only last year, a drought has plagued the Lugu Lake area for years now. After talking with the motorbike driver, for most of the trip, I silently looked out at the scenery that we passed while whizzing along the bumpy paths. Mount Gemu’s looming shadow shaded our ride for most of the trip. I felt at peace. We arrived at Lige village right when the sun set behind the mountains. We thanked the drivers and gave the two some money (even though they didn’t want it). It was a good day.


Motorbiking Back to Lige Village

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Documenting Mosuo Culture: Morning Hike and BBQ Opening Party

I woke up surprisingly early this morning. I silently changed into my outdoor clothes and took a walk. My walk then turned into a hike up the hills behind Lige. I scoured up narrow paths from old paths left by goats in the past. I climbed with my hands and feet up steep sandy hills and under overgrown paths until I just gave up following paths and raced up to the top of the hill. I reached the tip and was greeted with the risen sun over blue Lugu Lake. I found a burnt log to sit on and enjoyed the scenery. I belted out American and Chinese songs over the small town of Lige and the calm lake.

I continued up the hill following manmade paths to the peak of the mountain. I reached the top to find an aged shrine made of piled rocks with burnt pine needles and moss covering it. I looked at it more closely and noticed the shrine looked a bit like a fish. The pile was arched like a head coming out of the water, while gradually smaller piles of rocks trailed behind it like a long fin. Was this the mythical fish creature the Mosuo genesis story brought up? I had a hard time leaving the spiritual place. I bowed in respect to the shrine before slowly hiking down the other side of the mountain.

(I later asked around and it turned out this place was a shrine where local families burn and bury the bones of the deceased. A local told me that the peaks of mountains around Lige have these kinds of shrines.)

I thought the other side of the mountain would have a path to the main road. I almost hit the bottom only to find 12 feet tall walls of dirt getting in the way of my descent. I crawled through brush hoping to find a way down, but there was no option except for a rocky patch I could climb down. I attempted to go down at first, but was too afraid. I called for help when some bikers passed. One of the men helped etch some footholds for me and guided my feet into the holes. I was so grateful! I made it to the 6 foot mark and then jumped into a pile of sand near the street. I was seriously afraid I would injure myself without their help, so I was really thankful!

We said our goodbyes and started walking along the main road back to Lige village. I coincidentally bumped into the Nat Geo crew on the main road buying nuts and shared with them my adventure. I was still a bit shaken from the event.

We headed back to begin interviews with the barbecue owners. They would be opening up their shop that night to their friends, then the official opening would be the next day. We stayed at the BBQ all day. The interview consisted of asking him of what Lugu Lake was like before tourism, how he felt opening this shop, and what his plans were after making money. He planned on buying land in the countryside and leading a simple life after making enough money and enjoying the world.

As night approached, locals began to come in groups. The crew recorded as I talked with the guests and owners on the side. More people starting piling in, the place was getting louder and smokier. The performers from the “Flower Room Ballad” performance came in and started playing music and singing. The restaurant was getting drunker and drunker by the hour. It soon began roaring with laughter, music, and people having a good time. I was getting drunk from the atmosphere. Our friends who opened this place were happy as they drank and sang with friends.

Our friend, YE, one of the owners, mentioned to us before that making money leads to more trouble in the future. He is in an odd between in his desires–he wants to live in the countryside, but still desires to know what’s beyond the lake. In this very moment in his life, he has taken a step forward in developing his life towards fortune. It may lead to more desire and trouble in the future, but at least tonight was a happy moment in his life. No need to worry about the future just yet. Let’s enjoy tonight.


My Friends and their New BBQ Joint

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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’s 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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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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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.


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.


View from the Mountain–LJZ


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.


Dried Out Fields


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:


Playing Around with the Camera


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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Doing Fieldwork in LJZ: Redrawing Ancient Daba Art and Hiking in the Mountains

I woke up the next morning and hung out with the children. They would leave that afternoon for school for the rest of the week. It’s sad to say, but I was going to really miss them. They are the only ones in the house that speak Mandarin, which means they are my main form of communication. While I helped the older daughter hang clothes, the young Mosuo man who hiked with me to LJZ came by. Turns out he is part of the same family! The family is split into two houses because their household became too large with more than 30 people. The young man lives in the original home.

The uncle and young man asked me to come back inside. The Uncle pulled out the art again and asked if I could copy them exactly onto a special type of paper. The young man helped translate for me. I agreed to help. The uncle then set up a table, sitting cloth, and the 100 year-old art next to the house temple on the second floor. I thanked him and started drawing, first in my sketchbook. The kids would come by and watch. The mother also came by to take a look.


Preparing for Copying on New Tablets

After a couple hours, I finished the first tablet. Lunch was ready when I finished, so I went down to eat some vegetable soup (YUM!) and fried potato. After that I decided to go on a hike around the village. I was getting a bit restless sitting and drawing. I asked the youngest brother which way I should take. He showed me a path behind the house. I trekked along a path and went up the hill behind the village to a shrine that’s wrapped with prayer flags.


Main Daba Shrine


LJZ Beyond the Prayer Flags

I continued up the hill into the mountains. I wanted see what was behind the hills…I hiked and hiked and hiked. I got some good shots of LJZ. At one point, I thought I was near the top, but found myself in a clearing…in the middle of a hike near the top of the mountains? It was a bit eery. The place seemed to been untouched for years, except for the path that cut between it. I hiked a bit more around the area and then gave up trying to find a peak. I slowly started trekking back, enjoying the scenery, listening to the birds and bugs, and smelling flowers and the tall pine.


The Small Village of LJZ


Eerie Clearing

(Who cut the wood this high in the mountains? How long ago was it? Maybe the neighboring Yi villages cut down these trees a long time ago…the live on the mountains.)


View of the Scenery

It took me an hour to get back, maybe in total a 3-4 hour hike. I went through the village to get back to my host’s house. I found a guesthouse and an area where they make their own electricity. The tourism industry in LJZ seems to be in its early stages. I wonder when high season is?

I got back to the house before dinner. I went back to the drawing table. Soon after, the uncle walked up, he had just finished grazing the house’s cows, to see my work. He was ecstatic! With his approval, I inked the drawings on the new paper tablets. I was happy he liked my work!

I ate dinner with him, the mother, and the grandmother. I was overall fairly silent because I don’t speak the language, except when I’d asked the uncle how to say somethings in the Mosuo language. After dinner, I decided to visit the house that was being constructed next door to see the host family’s older brother. I walked into the construction site to see men standing on a two-story tall dirt wall, continuing to compact dirt for the next layer. The brother was helping shovel the dirt and hang it onto a levie system that would be lifted to the men on the dirt wall. I was amazed at the intricacy of the construction site!


Men Working on the Wall

I came a bit late, so they were finishing up. I was invited for dinner and ate with the men. I felt a bit awkward being the only woman, as well as being a foreigner in an all Mosuo household. I toasted to people and smiled most of the night. I talked to the man next to me who explained the importance of the shrine I visited that day. He said it is a place for people to light incense and pray. During the Spring Festival, the entire village goes up there to pray for the well being of their families as well as everyone who lives in LJZ. I then ate a second dinner, which consisted of pork, radish soup, cornmeal and Chinese kimchi.

The older brother walked me home. He’s really friendly and willing to answer any of my questions. But when we approached the house, he said that outside he can answer questions, but inside our relationship is more formal. I understood and stopped treating him so friendly.  He got me candles for my room and wished me a goodnight. It was an eventful first day at the village!

I didn’t get done what I came here to do, which is to figure out about ethnic tensions in the area, but I did learn about Daba art and more Mosuo language. I feel like fieldwork is going to be more like this…you learn so much, but not of anything you were expecting!

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Wishing You a Merry Holidays from Kunming

At around noon, a group of friends and I set off by bus to the Western Hills outside of Kunming. We got off at the wrong stop and found ourselves in a suburb (which in China is considered poor and undeveloped). We asked around as to how to get on the hiking trails, and the villagers directed us down the street. As we walked along the gutter, we stumbled upon what looked like a temple. We decided to take a quick look before adventuring on the hiking trails. It turned out to be a memorial for a Chinese geographer-徐霞客 (Xu Xiake: 1587-1641). It was a peaceful household turned-into museum. In the other section of the place, the courtyard was surrounded by four separate rooms, with multiple fall-colored trees. There was a fruit tree bearing large, yellow fruits. We politely asked the police guard to help us get one. He said, “Why do you want to eat that? They are too sour, not sweet like a pomelo, and less sour than a lemon.” We helped us pull two off the branches anyways. With much effort, I pulled the thick skin off the core, which turned out to be very small. It was like the guard said, not sweet and not as sour as a lemon. I thought it tasted okay.


Entering the Courtyard of the Memorial

The guard led us to a set of stairs that would bring us to the path (and avoid paying the entrance fee!) We said goodbye and headed up the mountain. We first stopped at the Magnolia garden and took a break. Ryan, Phillip, and I decided to take advantage of the “fengshui” and did Taichi. Our CET Harbin gym teacher would be so proud! We had a crowd of older men and women gaze at us curiously and humorously as we messed up the moves. I plan to continue practicing!


Performing Taichi in the Magnolia Garden

Afterwards, we continued our way up. We went off the beaten track and took a steeper route up the mountain. When we reached the top, unfortunately the view was blocked off with trees. But, that didn’t stop my friend:


Ryan Climbing to See the View

The hike was fun and a good workout. I kept forgetting it was Christmas because it was nothing like Christmas–no snow and no family. I am very lucky to have had friends in Kunming during this time of year, or else I would feel very homesick. I am so thankful!


View of Kunming from the Western Hills

We hiked back down to pick up a bus back to the city. We ate pizza that night to celebrate the holiday and stayed up late talking. I had an enjoyable Christmas…but I of course missed my family. This is my first year away from home during the holidays. I hope everyone had a happy holiday and look forward to the coming TWO new years (Western and Eastern). Merry Christmas!

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Weekend Excursion: Yagou Ravine

This weekend, CET organized a trip to Yagou Ravine, a park an hour away from the city. We took a bus from Harbin and made a stop at what looked like a quarry. We walked along a sandy path that passed people cutting into the rocky hills with large machinery, jumped over a ditch by a deserted house, and hiked up a path to a hidden pavilion. In this isolated spot was a etching in a side of a rock wall dating back to the Jin Era (1115-1234 A.D). This era was constructed by the Nuzhen people, who are now referred as the Machurian minority. The stone had two etchings: 1) one of a women sitting, and 2) a man striking downward with a sword..

Rock Etching of a Man Striking the Ground with a Short Sword

After observing the ancient artwork, we walked back to the bus to begin our 3-4 hour hike. We were dropped off at the beginning of the trail, that was lined with a large lake. The scenery was covered with mist–or pollution, I couldn’t tell.

Island of Bare Trees

The trail curved into a forested area. We crossed over an icy part of the lake by bridge and entered a historical site. We were in a section of the pine forest that was dotted with old Japanese bunkers from one of the 20th century wars. I inspected one of them and found its floor covered with trash.

Looking into one of the Bunkers

We continued on our hike. The smell of pine was refreshing. We climbed up one of the hills and looked out to scenery of rolling tree-covered hills and plains of yellow grass. In the distance was a tower which was our last rest stop. We hiked for another hour…talking, singing, whistling, enjoying nature, telling stories and then finally arrived at the fire watch tower.

Final Rest Stop

The tower was frail and old. It drifted back and forth with the wind. Because of its lack of integrity, only three people were allowed to go up at a time. I joined two guys and climbed up to the top. While I was climbing up the stairs, the Chinese roommate among the two, kept on worrying about my safety–telling me to slow down, to be careful, make sure that I’m not scared. It got on my nerves, since he wasn’t worrying about my male classmate and assumed, since I’m a girl, I must be easily frightened. I understood that his concerns were well-intentioned, but the feminist in me began to swell.

I let his concerns slide and reassured him that I was perfectly fine, and that I was not afraid of heights. He was surprised. At the top, the scenery was spectacular.

Red, Greens, and Yellows

The two guys were getting ready to head back down, while I was still taking pictures. The Chinese roommate told me, “Colleen, how about you get in the middle so that I can protect you.” That was the last straw. With all of my strength, I tried to sound as polite as possible: “I don’t want your protection, I can take care of myself, you go down first, I’ll follow behind.” He understood and from then on, he was surprised at how courageous I and the rest of my American females classmates were. For instance, I joined my male classmates as they hiked along the rocks that lined the top of the hill (the picture above shows the line of rocks). The Chinese roommate was impressed. His way of thinking is arguably influenced by the Chinese traditional way of treating the opposite sex: girls are weak and need a man to protect them, etc. I’m not insinuating that I can do ANYTHING myself, but climbing stairs is not situation in which I need someone to protect me.

That small moment really opened my eyes to male-female relations in China. In America, the word “protection” is not used often in that context. If a man in America told me, “I want to protect you.” I would feel awkward and perplexed. Protect me from what? Dragons? In China, that’s not the case. I apologize for the rant…now back to my day!

At the Edge of the Rock Ledge with Tower Behind me

I sat at the edge of the rocky trail until I heard my resident teacher call out to everybody that we were leaving. I teeter-tottered and climbed along the rocks to get back to the group. We then descended back to ground-level and walked along harvested farmland till we reached the bus. Somehow a classmate and I squeezed in a medley of Bohemian Rhapsody before getting on the bus and setting off back to Harbin.

Blown over Corn

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