Posts Tagged With: Lugu Lake

Exploring Lugu Lake: Stroll Around Yongning and a Stormy Hike to LJZ

I slept in till 9:30am and called the LJZ driver at 10am asking if he was leaving that afternoon. I had a hard time understanding him, but it sounded like he wasn’t going back that day. Since I was uncertain, I still decided to go to Yongning to check out my options. A private driver drove me there. He was a Black Yi who lived in the Yi village on the other side of Gemu Mountain. I was sleepy, but kept up conversation about the Yi and other minorities that live in the area. When we passed a village, he would say the name of it and which ethnic minority it hosted. I appreciated his willingness to teach me about the area. We reached Yongning within 30 minutes. I thanked him for the ride and got off.

I walked up a busy street of shops, minority vendors, and Mosuo women carrying large baskets of crops on their backs. I found a truck that looked similar to the one I took before with PM and Lidy. I asked the people around if the truck was leaving for LJZ that day. The men who were working on a nearby car were uncertain, but said there would be a bus leaving for Wujiao in the afternoon. I could get off early and hike the rest of the way. They also mentioned they knew someone with a motor bike that would take me there for free! I thought either was fine, and went back to the market to get some lunch and buy vegetables for the LJZ family.

While buying cabbage and qicai, I ran into some Lige friends at the market. They were buying vegetables for their barbecue shops. I asked about my two transportation options. They said the hike wouldn’t be that far and motorbike should overall be safe. While one of the guys wished me a safe trip, he noticed some LJZ residents pass by. He mentioned it right when they passed us, which caught their attention. I asked how there were getting back…they said either by truck or bus. We swapped numbers so we could meet up there. I thanked my Lige friend for introducing us. I’m fortunate to have people that care about me here.

I bought vegetables and grabbed some noodles for lunch. I still had a couple hours to kill, so I left the vegetables in the shop and walked around. I passed the men who were working on a car earlier playing pool. I waved, which prompted them to invite me to play a game. I made sure to point out that I’m not very good. Last time I was here, PM told me that women don’t play pool here. I looked around and saw that there weren’t any woman at all at the tables. I often try not to stand out, since I stand out already, but it’s hard to pass up a good game of pool! I grabbed a stick and played one-on-one with one of the men.

I started off poorly, but after getting in my first ball, I kept getting better. The guy seemed to get over excited and shoot the ball off the table, which brought more of his balls out of the pockets and onto the table. A crowd began to form around us, mainly watching the strange white girl playing pool. At the end, I was winning. I only had to put the 8-Ball and then win! The man began to get embarrassed and nervous, which upset his game. I then got the 8-Ball in and won the game! The crowd made an “aaaw” sound (think more old Chinese man saying it, then a girl looking at a cute puppy saying it). I got a picture with my adversary. He was a good sport! I decided it was time to find the bus. I grabbed my veggies and headed to the bus area.

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The Winner is the that White Girl–in Yongning, Yunnan

I ran into the LJZ men, two people older and one being younger, who told me I still had an hour or so. They let me leave my stuff at their friend’s shop. While they went to the market to eat, I went in the opposite direction to the local temple. I ran into two older men that were going to the temple, who then showed me the way. We cut through fields and finally entered the sanctuary. It was small, but very pretty. The earthquake from the year previous destroyed many parts of the temple, but the local people were able to reconstruct it within the year. Very impressive!

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Stroll with Local Mosuo Elders to the Temple

I walked in and out of the many different parts of the temple and then entered the main hall. One of the older men taught me how to enter a Tibetan temple correctly. I walked to the left (clockwise), lit a candle, placed the candle on the front table, then walked clockwise along the glass (the back wall that has all the god statues) where I would show my respects. I thanked him for his kindness, sat with him and his friends for a bit before heading back to the bus.

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Inside the Main Hall

I got to the bus in the knick of time. The LJZ men said that we would get off the bus before Wujiao and hike the rest of the way to the village. I was fine with it and joined them for the ride. The bus was crammed with people, bags, supplies, and chickens in boxes. I went in and out of sleep for the duration of the ride…

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Bus to Wujiao–Bags of Food, Boxes of Chickens, and a Backpack

When we passed an Yi village, which I had recognized from the time before, I got off with the guys. We then began our hike to LJZ. We crossed a river, passed multiple villages, and walked along a dirt road for a period of time before we took a long rest. The younger Mosuo man ran off to buy beverages for his buddies and came back with milk for me. I thought that was very kind. They talked amongst themselves while I observed the scenery. Mosuo women worked in the fields or carried their children along the road. They would laugh when they’d see me and say something to the guys. I just smiled and waved.

After the rest, we continued on our way to LJZ. I noticed in the distance dark clouds were rolling in. I mentioned to the guys that it may rain. They laughed it off and said it doesn’t rain this time of the year. About 20 minutes later, a heavy layer of rain fell on us, as well as lightning and thunder booming in all directions. We kept our pace and hoped for the storm to pass quickly. I pretended not to be afraid of the storm, but I was frightened because we were the tallest objects in the flat field at the time. I crossed my fingers the mountains would deter the lightning.

IMG_1158Hike to LJZ–The Storm Clouds Rolling in

The storm passed after an hour and then LJZ became visible in the distance. Before we knew it (meaning around 2-3 hours), we were in the village splitting ways to seek our homes. I hoped that the family that hosted me the time before would be okay with me visiting again. I followed familiar trails and finally found the beautiful home once again. I opened the main gate and walked into the courtyard. One of the daughters saw me first and giggled. She ran back to tell her Aunt I was here. I did not have any way of telling them I was coming, so it was unexpected. They were very welcoming and let me into their home. I came in right when there were eating dinner. I ate radish pig soup with rice. I then showed the kids my new drawings and asked them if they could draw for me. Each took there turn as they drew in my sketchbook. It was cool to see what they drew:

1) the younger daughter drew a field of diverse flowers with her in the middle holding one. She also drew clouds (which I taught her), mountains, and a two-story Mosuo home.
2) the youngest brother lost his patience and left his page with clouds and an unfinished house.
3) the oldest sister drew herself wearing a skirt for the “coming of age” ceremony she celebrated this past spring festival.

In Mosuo culture, when a child hits the age of 13, that is when they have their coming of age ceremony. It is 13 because the number represents the end of the first zodiac cycle in their lives and the beginning of a new one. I watched as she drew herself wearing the skirt and wearing lots of flowers on her shirt, hair, and feet. She was excited and proud to draw the event.

The uncle observed us drawing and asked if I could help him do something. I said sure. He scurried away to grab something. He came back a few minutes later with a tote bag. He walked over to me, I was on the lower hearth, and he showed me old paper tablet paintings. He said his grandfather drew them and that they were over 100 years old. They were wearing and tearing at this point. He asked if I could help redraw them. I looked at the beautiful art and said I could try. I asked what they were for. He explained how when the Daba priests perform ceremonies, they hang these up. So, the drawings related to Daba religion–the tablets were ritual art. I also noticed some were of Lamas praying with Tibetan written on them. The Mosuo’s religious life is a combination of the local religion and Tibetan Buddhism.

He thanked me and told me he’d tell me more the next day. I went to bed soon afterwards. I was placed in the same room as before, but this time I’ll be by myself without a twin sister, PM, and Lidy. I’ll be alone for this field trip. I’m a bit nervous, but look forward to the experience. This is what I’ll be doing for the rest of the year…so I have to get used to it.

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Performing Mosuo Culture: Museum Tour and Flower Room Ballad Performance

I took the same bus as before from Lijiang to Lugu Lake. I sat next to someone who also was going to Lugu Lake alone, so we became friendly on the ride there. From what he was wearing and his discussion of topics, he gave off a “rich” vibe. I went in and out of sleep, listening to folk music on the way there. Before I knew it, we arrived. I split ways with my Han friend and told him I’d meet him in Lige later. I first wanted to check out the Mosuo Cultural Museum, and what I believed was also the research center. I payed 50yuan for a tour of the museum, which turned out to be a traditional home, turned-into museum. A young Mosuo boy started the tour and explained his culture with many generalizations:

It first began with a demonstration of how men climb up house walls to the girl’s room. He said, “every man does this, and this is how it is done.” He then climbs the wall like Spiderman and opens the window to the “flower room,” the young girl’s room. “Our society does not have marriage, instead we have relationships where men visit their partners at night. Everyone does walking marriage.”

I personally know that’s not true because I have Mosuo friends who are married. Also, I’ve been visited before in the remote village, and the men didn’t climb any walls because there weren’t any windows (at least for my case). They just came through the front door and walked up to my door. When I mentioned the use of cellphones in Lugu Lake and how that may affect this tradition, the boy just said, “we still do this exactly (climb walls).”

I felt like what he was saying was rehearsed to fulfill my expectations and not to teach me. What are the expectations that he assumed I had? From my previous research, I can guess that he thought my expectations were:
1) Mosuo are a romantic people–sexualized
2) Mosuo don’t have marriage in their society
3) Mosuo have large matrilineal/matriarchal families and women are most powerful

The boy tour guide wanted to make sure these expectations were met, whereas in reality, Mosuo society is more complex than these common expectations.

A young Mosuo girl then continued the tour to show me the living hall, where the family eats meals and the elders and children sleep. I talked with an older man in the living room that kept on telling funny stories about Dr. Joseph Rock. He was the first westerner to live and do research with the Mosuo, which was in the 1920s. He’s still remembered around the lake. Supposedly, Jospeh Rock brought a large chunk of soap with him to clean himself and his clothes…the soap lasted the entire time around Lugu Lake, which was more than two decades.

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Dr. Joseph Rock in Mosuo Garb–A Badass 

The next portion was a hall of pictures taken by Joseph Rock back in the 1920’s. He lived during a time when Mosuo society was stratified with the upper class, middle class, and slaves. Whenever he was pictured, he wore the upper class outfits. He took pictures of the data priests, who had large headdresses and often looked intimidating in the photos as they chanted spells and did ceremonies. He also had shots of festivals and everyday life.

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Mosuo Women in Traditional Garb in Early 1900s (Photo by Dr. Joseph Rock)

The next section showed modern day Lugu Lake through photos and real-life items, like grabs and tools. The Mosuo girl described the importance of the museum items…most of what she said I understood, but I’m still learning! At the end was a traditional medicine and gift shop. I was hoping to find a research center or a curator in the process, but to no avail. At least, I was able to observe how the Mosuo perform their culture to a tourist.

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Mosuo Cultural Museum Main Courtyard

I then shared a car with four other visitors to Lige. I was a bit nervous that no one would remember me from before…but thank goodness I was wrong! I was immediately welcomed by the hostel worker, who gave me a discount! I rested in my room for an hour and then met up with my Han friend for dinner. He was flaunting how he was staying in a room worth 1500yuan a night, which would be around $200. That’s really expensive in China! We bought tickets for the Lige cultural performance–Flower Room Ballad– that night, which was 220 yuan per ticket. That’s also really expensive! My friend treated me to dinner before the performance.

During dinner, he was talking about how this cultural performance is very important in continuing cultural heritage. It’s the best way to learn about old traditions since most of them have “disappeared.” I had opposite opinions. I know this performance hall was constructed by a private investor and has government relations. Though the performers are locals, what they perform is approved from the upper level–a Han perspective. Therefore, this performance is supposed to entertain and excite the audience–primarily Han Chinese–as well as fit into what they believe is Mosuo culture. They make sure the tourists see what they want to see. It’s also an opportunity for the audience to ‘witness’ walking marriage, since it can’t be observed in real life around Lugu Lake. Therefore, this is the audience’s chance to get a glimpse of sex life in Lugu Lake, which is a big reason why they came in the first place. Alas, I didn’t really speak out my mind. I let him do the talking, I was more interested in what he was saying.

He also believed that the airport that will be constructed by this year is going to “break” the environment and the culture. That’s why he came now. I also have mixed feelings on the airport, but I would prefer to have my opinions be from the locals than my biased perspective. After getting to know my friend better, I realized he was a good example of a male, rich Han perspective.

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Lining Up for the Cultural Performance

After I finished eating the tofu dish (he didn’t eat, his hotel owner cooked for him), we joined the line in front of the hall. We were filed in and seated on weaved basket stools. I pulled out my notebook and started taking notes.

Here are a few things that I jotted down:

  1. before the performance they played Mosuo pop songs, which were all in Mandarin
  2. the announcer used a wispy voice to describe Mosuo culture–sounded mystical
  3. performance indirectly described sex life in Lugu Lake–then performed karma sutra positions?

The ticket seller had told us earlier he’d like to treat us to barbecue after the performance. I took up the offer and dragged my friend with me to find him. We joined him to my friend’s barbecue shop. I was happy to know the BBQ boss remembered me. We also ran into another friend, YE, who then joined us at the table. I was so content to know I left a good impression before. We talked about the airport some more, sang songs, and ate barbecued foods. YE performed for everyone and was hilarious. He kept singing to me too, which was fun. I then sang love songs to him back, which added more energy to the crowd.

My friend kept on bringing up money, his expensive hotel, his plane ticket, money money money, which seemed to both the others. I also found it a bit annoying, but I kept silent to see how everyone reacted. One of the barbecue shop owners was very direct in saying how he’s too careless with his money. My friend would defend himself, but it didn’t seem to work. I bet the barbecue owner must get characters like him all the time…I’d get sick of them too!

Afterwards, I moved with YE to another barbecue place where I got to know local Mosuo women and his best friends, who were of the Yi minority. I sang some more and listened to the locals have singing competitions. I noticed one of the singers I was friendly with before was avoiding me. He confessed his love to me the previous visit, which I rejected politely, but it seemed to still affect him. I thought he was joking before. I think he’s 40 years old…why would he think I’d accept to do walking marriage with him? I wonder if this is a problem for female researchers in Lugu Lake?

When it got late, I said my goodbyes and went back to the hostel. I planned to go to the remote village again, LJZ, the next day. I would stay there for a week to observe a ceremony and see the family I stayed with before.

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Last Day In the Remote Mosuo Village: Work and a Stroll Around the Village

That morning, Molly and I both felt a bit better, so after breakfast, we joined PM and Lidy to help build another house. We mixed dirt, soaked the dirt, shoveled it into baskets, and put it in the wooden contraption to compact it into a sturdy wall. We did this until second breakfast. After second breakfast, Molly and I felt a little queazy, so we headed back to the host’s home and took a long nap.

I woke up in the late afternoon and felt much better. I heard we were having a big dinner at the house, but that wouldn’t be for couple of hours. I also was told the young boy “knows all the pretty places” in the area. I asked if he’d mind taking me on a walk and showing me the village. We was super excited and also brought his new butterfly toy. It had a pole and a butterfly on the bottom with wheels. While walking, you would put it in front of you and roll it. The wings moved while it rolled. We set off down the hill to the fields.

We passed locals as they returned from their work shepherding their cattle and sheep back home. Most were young children who led the animals back home.

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Returning the Cattle and the Little Rascal

We walked through fields and then headed back up to the village:

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Path Through the Dried-Up Stream

IMG_0804Dried Up River

We got back to home with time to spare for dinner, so I drew in the courtyard as guests slowly started trickling in. Each would look over my shoulder and see what I was drawing–the courtyard. They were impressed. Lidy and PM came back from working on the house. We all entered the living area and joined the festivities.

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Having a Good Time with Host Family and Locals

This is the inside of the living area. The picture above is of the lower hearth, the picture below is of the upper hearth. The room is lit by a hanging metal basket with dry wood on fire. Since we are considered as respected guests, we ate with the men first. After dinner, the women came in and ate. We hung out with them till the late hours.

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Respected Daba Priest Under Mao on Upper Hearth

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PM and Lidy with their Friends

It was a good way to end the stay. The four of us would return to Lugu Lake where we’d catch a bus and head back to Lijiang. Lidy needed to go back home in Guangdong and Molly and I needed to get back to Kunming. I would be leaving for Taiwan in a couple days for the Fulbright Mid-Year Conference.

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Living in Remote Mosuo Village: Building Homes and Slowly Understanding Local Culture

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The Town of LJZ–Host Family’s House on the Right

The next morning, I felt a lot better, but my stomach still felt like a squished up raisin. I felt like I was not going to eat anything today or even for the rest of the week. I walked downstairs to the main living where I found the family, Lidy, and PM eating breakfast. I sat on a mat next to Lidy and faked eating rice. Molly felt sick to her stomach today, so she didn’t join us. After breakfast, PM and Lidy were at a loss. They didn’t know who to visit or what to do. Their goal for this visit to LJZ was to collect local songs–the two of them would be considered ethnomusicologists. They decided to meet with an old friend up the dirt road. I walked with them, when all of a sudden they stopped in surprise. The house next door had been half demolished. They walked in and asked what happened. The family told them the earthquake from the year previous destroyed parts of the house, and they finally had time to rebuild. They were rebuilding the main living area, but the two stories of rooms were still intact.

We asked if we could help them out and they agreed. Sometimes the families are too polite to allow guests to help with construction, but fortunately they were okay with it! We hiked up our sleeves and began shoveling dirt into baskets, soaking the dirt with water, collecting stones, and compacting the dirt in a wooden contraption that made walls:

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Compacting Dirt into the Beginning of a Wall

We did this for the rest of the afternoon with breaks between where we ate second breakfast, lunch, and second lunch…I felt like I was in the Shire! Too bad I could barely eat any of it. During the lunch breaks, I would observe PM talk with the locals. At one point, she was talking with a revered Daba priest, who lived in the household. She was asking him if there are any songs about building a house. In the next moment, the Daba priest started singing a song Lidy and PM had never heard before. The song is sung when the house is almost done. It is often when the men compact the dirt with the tools pictured above. I do not have the lyrics, but he helped us translate the meaning. It was about pounding the dirt and pulling out the earthworms from the earth…     ~A lay lay, A lay lay~

We clapped after the performance and soon found ourselves back outside doing work again. We worked until it began to get dark. Someone mentioned that there was smoke in the distance. We looked up to the sky and saw a stream of black smoke rising behind the nearby mountain. The fire looked close. We asked what locals do about fires, but they said not to worry. Whenever there is a fire, the population that lives in that vicinity takes care of it. Since the fire was behind the mountain range, it wasn’t LJZ locals’ problem. However, the Yi minority live on that side, so it is their responsibility to extinguish it. It still made PM and me a bit uneasy. What if the fire spread over the mountain?

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We finished the first layer of foundation and then headed out to another home for supper. Before going to the home, I checked on Molly. She was not interested in going. I gave her some more water and hurried to dinner. It is impolite to come late. Before leaving, I took this shot of our host’s home:

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Host Family’s Home–Courtyard and Main Living Area

To the left that is not pictured is the home’s temple. In and around Lugu Lake, locals believe in both Tibetan Buddhism and the Daba religion. The temple was a Tibetan Buddhist shrine. To the right that is not pictured are the second story rooms that PM, Lidy, Molly, and I were staying in. I walked downstairs and found one of the daughters. While she was asking where I was going, one of the elder sisters called out to her child and Lidy (who was also at the home). We found the elder sister outside of the front door looking up to the sky in fright. She hesitantly pointed at the orange moon. She had never seen an orange moon before and told Lidy that maybe it would be best not to leave the home tonight. The elder sister thought the changing in the moon was very ominous. Their society circles around the moon and lunar calendar. Their lives and the moon are in cycle.

I told Lidy that the moon was orange because of the smoke from the fire. The smoke was distorting the moon, changing it into another color. The daughter translated that to her mother, who still felt unnerved, but allowed us to leave for dinner. We raced down to the lower edge of the village to the other home. The matriarch ushered us in and showed us where to sit, at the lower hearth, with a roomful of men. PM, Lidy, and I were the only women sitting in the living area, besides the sisters who were making the food. Since we were considered as primarily “guests” and not “women,” we ate with the men.  The women and children would eat the leftovers afterwards. However, a grandmother (a highly respected figure in the household) entered the room and sat next to me. She overrode the “women and children” category. I wish I understood Mosuo language because she was making the entire room laugh. At one point, I asked what he name was:

She said, “Namu.”

I responded, “that’s a really pretty name!” She was a bit confused with my response and laughed. I guess what I said cannot be translated well into the Mosuo language. They don’t say things like that…so she decided to play with my response.

“Well then, you can have it!” (Someone was translating her words for me)

A man called from the upper hearth: “But you are not a living Buddha, you cannot just give out names, Grandmother Namu!” He and everybody was laughing at the grandmother’s ridiculousness.

“Well, for this very moment, I’m Living Buddha Namu, and I bequeath you the name, Namu.” The entire room was exploding with laughter. I was laughing too because the grandmother was acting very dramatic. I thanked Namu Living Buddha for the name.

My first name in the Mosuo language now is Namu. I do not have a last name yet. 

Most of the men in the village speak Mandarin. This is because they had worked in cities in their youth. We chatted with them and each other for the duration of dinner. I do not remember exactly what we talked about, but I do remember the men being very keen in answering any of our questions. They are all so friendly! The young men sat in the back of the room and chatted with themselves, except for when they would look over at us and giggle. I had a feeling we would have visitors again tonight.

When the men finished eating, they said their goodbyes and headed back to either their natal homes or their partner’s homes. In this culture, men stay in their female partner’s home at night and come back to their natal home in the morning. In their natal homes, they most likely have their own room, but it may be next to the pig pen or not very well maintained. The women, however, are given the better rooms, so that they can receive visitors. When the men left, the remaining women and children came in and ate with us. It felt like a weight was lifted from their shoulders because the room was suddenly filled with the chatter and laughter of women and children. We chatted with them for the rest of the night. When we thought it was getting a tad late, we thanked the family for the feast and headed back home around 10pm.

Before going to bed, I asked PM and Lidy if men visit Molly and I tonight, would it be okay if I brought them to their room and chatted with them? Molly was not feeling up to dealing with visitors that night. They said it would be fine. Later, while I was writing in my journal, I heard footsteps in the courtyard and then heard the creaking of the wooden stairs. They came back. The brick was knocked over once more. I turned over to find four young men again. They seemed a bit more courageous with the help of some beers. They said their hellos and asked if they could sit down. They mentioned they wanted to see the twins. I translated for Molly, who was hiding under her covers saying “Mu ni, Mu ni (No way, No way).” But, Molly said it was okay to give them a quick look and then popped her head out of the covers. I walked over and showed them how we looked very similar. The boys were in awe, they had never seen twins before! After that, I escorted them to PM and Lidy’s room, where we continued conversation for more than an hour. It was fun to talk with them with PM…she likes to joke around. In the end, of course we didn’t “walk marriage,” so we politely rejected the boy’s requests. They were perfectly okay with the rejection and left. They seemed to have enjoyed the conversation and I did too.

I talked with Lidy and PM a little longer about their experiences in the field and then headed back to bed. I have chosen an interesting culture to study!

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In Remote Mosuo Village: Learning About Mosuo Culture Through Food Poisoning and Cures

I won’t go into too much detail about how sick I was…but it was a tireless night of food poisoning, primarily with my body retching everything out of my stomach. After 4a.m., my body finally felt complacent enough to give me some shut eye. The next morning, I could barely move from how tired I was. Molly took care of me (somehow she didn’t get sick…yet!) and helped out in the fields with the family. I, on the other hand, shriveled up in my bed and felt like dying.

Later in the morning, I was suddenly woken up by PM. She was holding bark in her hand. The family had told her that this bark was gifted to them from the living Buddha and that it had medicinal, spiritual powers. She asked if I would eat it. I nearly vomited just thinking about it. She understood and broke a chunk off and put it in my pocket, pretending that I ate some of it. She then left. I closed my eyes just to be disturbed again from my slumber by her. She brought a fireplace tool which was holding burning coals that smelt of something awful. The family told her that a powder was also gifted to them from the living Buddha and that smelling it in burning coals would make me feel better. PM did not fully believe in the powers of these gifts, but she was doing this to respect the host family’s wishes. I smelt it…it was a combination of smoke, ginger, and something that I could not tell. She then gave me the spiritual bark, which the family gifted to me. I guess this is one way of experiencing local culture: getting sick! When she left, I finally got some shut eye.

I slept for the entire morning and most of the afternoon. I finally found some strength to get up. I walked out of the door and looked down to the courtyard to find the family, PM, Molly, and Lidy in the courtyard trying on traditional Mosuo garb. When I came down, they asked if I wanted to try it on. I agreed and weakly put it on. When taking pictures, I smiled the best I could…it was hard.

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Traditional Mosuo Garb

How do I look? The dress was quite heavy.  I went back to my bed and slept some more. The family members kept visiting me during my naps, asking if I wanted to eat anything. I had to reject all their requests. My body was cleansing its entire system and did not want to eat anything. I woke up in the late afternoon to go to the bathroom. When I came back from the backyard (which was our toilet, no walls, no stalls, just the grass and dirt in the backyard), the grandma was weaving rope in the corner. When she saw me, she beckoned me over in Mosuo language. I walked over to find a pile of wedding candy next to her. She handed me one. It was the first thing that looked appetizing. I immediately put the sugary goodness in my mouth. It really hit the spot. I motioned with my hands that I really liked it (she doesn’t speak Mandarin and I don’t speak Mosuo). She smiled and I went on my way back to my room.

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A-mi–The Grandmother

The next time I woke up, I found a pile of candy next to me. I knew exactly who gave it to me…She was so sweet! Before it got dark, I found PM, Lidy, and Molly watching a family and their neighbors building a house. They asked if we wanted to help them. PM and Lidy jumped to the occasion, whereas Molly and I stayed back. Molly was starting to get sick too. I watched for a bit longer. I noticed that the older Mosuo men and women were congenial with each other, as they talked and laughed. However, the younger men (I did not see any younger women) were shy and did not speak. They would once and a while glance over at us, the foreigners.

There are many taboos in this society that I am only starting to become conscious of: 1) young men don’t talk to young women in the day, 2) women wear long sleeves and long pants, don’t show skin, 3) men don’t sing unless for occasion, 4) discussion of sexual relations/sex is hidden and not spoken of (unless with close friends of the same gender). These are the ones that have come to my attention. When I was in the village, it seemed like everything I did went against social norms. PM would have to approach me and laugh at how I’m being so different (taking off my sweatshirt to only wearing a T-shirt, etc.). If I want to do research here, I will have to change a lot about my behavior. I have to sit like a girl, dress appropriately (long pants and long sleeves), follow customs for women (eat on the lower hearth or eat after the men have eaten, etc.).

Molly and I went back to the house to rest before dinner. I decided that though I still did not want to eat, that I should spend time with the family. They were very worried about me the entire day. For them, when someone is sick, it is a serious matter. Many people die from sickness here. They were so worried that they almost beckoned a local Daba priest to pray for me…that would have been interesting, but I’m glad s/he didn’t come. That would have been a bit embarrassing! Praying for my diarrhea to go away? Is that how it works?

When dinner time came, Molly decided to instead rest in our room. I went down and sat on the lower hearth with Lidy and PM, while the three sisters and the children sat on the upper hearth. The grandmother was behind the lower hearth on a bed resting. The upper and lower hearth both have fire pits with pots, the upper pot was for food, while the lower pot was for boiling water. They handed us bowls of rice and gave us a selection of meats and soup. I swallowed down a little soup broth, but that was all I could muster. I listened to PM and Lidy speak in Mosuo to the sisters (they do not speak Mandarin). My primary form of communication was with the children, who spoke a little Mandarin. At one point in the night, I showed the children my drawings. They were so excited and for the rest of dinner, they were asking me to draw about everything (cow, pig, grandmother, cat, dog, etc.). They were telling me to draw things that are a part of their everyday lives. It was cool to see what comes to their mind…how far do their imaginations go? The children included two girls and a boy. The boy is such a rascal!

After dinner, we all headed back to our rooms. Before entering mine, PM mentioned that we may have “visitors” tonight. I thought she was joking and laughed it off. I went to sleep to only be woken up at around 12am by our door opening (the brick that was holding our door closed was knocked over). I groggily got up and turned on my headlamp to find four young Mosuo men in our room. They sheepishly said “hello” and asked if they could sit down and chat. Molly and I were both sick, so I had to politely ask them to leave due to our illness. In the end, I said “come another day.” They were very understanding and left. Before falling back to sleep, I thought how if four men entered my room without my consent in the U.S., I would have screamed and called the police, but here I told them to come back another day. This form of relationships is very different from what I’m accustomed to on the Western hemisphere! I really hoped they would come back. In the day, I have no way of talking to them, but at night…that taboo is lifted.

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Exploring Lugu Lake: Sunrise, Talking about the Middle East, and Going to a Remote Village

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Lugu Lake at Sunrise

The entire room of four bunks woke up to the banging of symbols and drums at five in the morning. We were sharing a room with the French anthropologist, PM, and a Chinese girl in her twenties. The drums and symbols would come in intervals of around three minutes…just like the snooze on an alarm clock. But, this alarm clock could not be turned off. I rolled around multiple times until I gave up falling back asleep and got up. From underneath her sheets, PM told us this was a New Year’s ritual. The monks came all the way from the temple to bless each household in the area. The intervals were the monks walking to the next household. Molly (who had waken up too) and I both thought it was pretty cool to hear their system of entering the New Year. However, the Chinese girl on PM’s top bunk was not having it. She was whining and crying, saying how they could be making such a racket so early in the morning. PM explained to her it was a ceremony, but she didn’t care. She wanted to go back to sleep.

This is a small example of the difference between Western and Chinese tourists. Chinese tourists often seek comfort when they travel. So, even though this Chinese girl was experiencing a unique introduction to Mosuo culture, she didn’t care. It didn’t even cross her mind. I think Western backpackers would instead wake up and investigate–like what Molly and I did!

We got dressed and walked out onto the dark cobblestone street. I saw that the mountain range in the distance had a thin layer of gold peaking through. The sun would rise soon. The monks had moved away from the hostel and were hidden in the alleyways. We could still hear the clanging of drums and symbols as it bounced off the houses and mountains. We then moved towards the lakeshore and awaited the sun rise.

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Tourists Taking a Boat to the Middle of the Lake 

We could have paid 10yuan to take a boat with the other tourists to the middle of the lake, but we just relaxed on the shore. It was a beautiful sight…

Afterwards, we joined an Algerian for some breakfast. We talked about being foreigners in China. He lived in Beijing pursuing a Ph.D at one of the universities. We then brought up stereotypes. Molly and I joked around with our American identities as we throw in obnoxious accents while talking to him. He laughed and talked about how people don’t normally have a fundamental understanding of Islam in China, or even in the US. Bouncing of this, Molly brought up a funny story that I thought I would share:

When I was in elementary school, there was a girl named Rukia. One day at lunch, I sat next to her and started devouring my lunch. I noticed she didn’t have anything in front of her, so I thought I would share my sandwich and applesauce. But, Rukia said she couldn’t eat because it was a special holiday. I was flabbergasted and responded, “There’s a holiday where you DON’T EAT?! What kind of holiday is that?” She explained to be the meaning of Ramadan. I thought it was cool, and also she got out of lunch early to go to recess…so I did it with her for the rest of the week!

The Algerian thought that was really funny. He then brought up the tensions in the Middle East and the influence of the “Arab Spring.” He also talked about North Africa’s and Middle East’s relationship with Israel. I do not normally have the opportunity to talk to people from this part of the world, so I thought it was great to listen to his side of the issue. He was a very friendly man, I would never imagine him being cold, or impolite to anyone. But, he said that he would not be friendly with an Israeli. Algeria and Israel’s relationship is very contentious, which showed in his response. I thought about what he said and realized that I do not have any of those kinds of feelings towards a country’s people. No matter where someone is from, or what they believe, I would treat them the same. So, hearing this from someone so friendly and understanding, was eye-opening. That kind of feeling of animosity is something I do not understand.

I grew up in a country where the media promoted hatred between “us” (the US) and the “Muslim World,” but that never affected me. I wonder how Algerian media represents Israel? What led to such contentious relations to the point that the Algerian man can’t even talk to an Israeli? This may be something I’ll need to investigate after studying Chinese culture. The Middle East and North Africa is a part of the world I am not familiar with at all. Next language on my list: Arabic!

It was time to meet PM at the hostel. We said our goodbyes, shared numbers, and went on our ways. PM invited us to join her and her good friend/informant, Lidy, to a remote village that was 3-4 hours away from Lugu Lake. We joined them and their friend, who owned a car, to the neighboring small city, Yongning, where we would catch a truck to the village. We had a couple of hours to spare, so we walked around the market and talked with locals. Afterwards, we sat in the sun, waiting and waiting for the truck to come. He finally did and we were off to the remote village of LJZ.

We bumped along a dirt road for 3 hours, stopping at places where he dropped off supplies to other villages. At one point, we stopped at an Yi village. I hopped off to find a nice grassy area to go to the bathroom and then walked around the village. I ran into older Yi women who were wearing large black headdresses. The headdresses are so eye-catching…large, black fabric creates circle behind their heads. Their black garb matches with the headdress, which adds to the aesthetic. It’s really a beautiful outfit.

I did a full circle around the village until I reached the truck again. That was our last stop until the final destination, LJZ. We finally made it to the village right before sunset. PM and Lidy led us to the house we would be staying in…it was beautiful: two stories with a courtyard in the middle! The family had just finished dinner and ushered us in. We ate dried pork and fish in a soup, potatoes, and rice. We were then escorted to our rooms where Molly and I fell asleep like babies…it was a long day!

It wouldn’t be until later in the night when I’d realize eating the pork and fish soup was a bad choice…

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Exploring Yunnan: Driving Around Lugu Lake and the Magical Bonfire Party

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The Group in Front of Lige

We woke up early that morning to set off and enjoy the day. We drove around and stopped whenever we felt like it. This was a great group to go with. I became closest with the driver, who is the man to the left of me in the picture.

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Lige and Lugu Lake

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Molly and I Standing in Front of the Lovers and Sisters Trees

We stopped at all the popular tourist spots (sister’s tree, lover’s tree, the walking marriage bridge, and the local temple). At the shrine, we ran into an anthropologist who was waiting for the living Buddha to come and bless the visitors. She became interested in my research and was more than willing to help introduce me to her friends and her own research. We could had talked for hours, but the group of friends wanted to keep going on the ride. She said she would be in Lige the next day, so we would see her then. I was so happy to find an experienced anthropologist in the field! I basically throw myself into this field of study without much extended experience beforehand, so having some sort of guidance in doing fieldwork was a high priority for me. I looked forward to seeing her. We then were off again.

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The View from the Walking Marriage Bridge

The next stop was the Walking Marriage Bridge, which is a lively tourist spot. I do not know the specific story of the bridge, but supposedly this was a place where lovers would meet at night. Now it is mainly preoccupied with Chinese tourists with expensive Nikon cameras and a random pair of foreign twins. Who knows…maybe couples still meet there at night? But, most likely not. Nowadays, locals have cell phones, so meeting in secret at night is not necessary. They can just send texts to each other and meet in the other’s home. Also, marriage has become more common in the area. Research has shown that the majority of the population still participates in walking marriage, but it is not done in the traditional way: such as, a man secretly coming into the woman’s house by window or back door. While in Lige, I did meet a few married Mosuo couples.

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Driving Back to Lige–Mount Gemu Looking Over the Countryside

Lugu Lake is located in a large valley within the Himalayas, so agriculture is convenient. For this reason, food is not an issue for the local population. However, because of the booming tourism industry, the once agriculturally-based economic system is being overridden by tour buses, restaurants, hotels, and barbecue shops. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This change in the economic systems has led to a more stable economy for the local population, which has led to improving schools and living standards. However, this change does influence the continuation of traditions, such as walking marriage, singing, and art (weaving, etc.). These kind of conflicts is one portion of my research that I need to be aware of and think over.

We arrived back to Lige and said goodbye to our new friends. I planned to see the driver back in Lijiang. We went back to the barbecue place for dinner, but during our meal, we left early to see the nightly bonfire party. Molly was feeling a bit queazy, so she stayed on the benches while I planned to dance around with local performers. Lige’s best singer, Anu, was there. We recognized each other from the night before and playfully joked with each other before starting the show.

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Bonfire Party–Singing to a Mosuo Man in a Playful Competition

We first danced around the fire. We held onto each other’s shoulders and hands while we shook ours legs back and forth. After the round of dancing, we then began the Mosuo tradition of duige, singing back and forth (same as what I did the other night). First, the Mosuo women sang to all the tourists. Anu helped lead the tourists in singing popular Chinese love songs back to them. We sang back and forth, until they asked for one male tourist to sing to one Mosuo woman. A cocky, drunk man stumbles in front and belts out of tune a Chinese song, forgetting lyrics in the process. The women were not impressed. They ran up to him, picked him up and put him over the fire, warming his ass. They then set him back down (they do this for this bonfire every night, which I didn’t know). I was a bit uneasy because I wanted to be the next singer–will they do that to me?

Anu called for a woman to sing, then looked straight at me and smiled. I stepped out and awaited for a Mosuo man to sing to me. The men seemed very disinterested in the entire event, so none really were excited to sing. A few of the women kicked one in front of me. I guess they do this bonfire every night…I would find it boring too! The man sang a Mosuo song to me. He then moved back to the fire to warm his hands. First, I said to everyone I would sing an English song. I then asked the man to look back at me for the competition. The women laughed because I was very direct. I would like my partner to be looking at me while I sang! I then sang the first few verses of “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

I am not much of a singer, but I belted the song, trying to stay in key. In the middle of my performance, an older Mosuo woman approached me and sang with me. She didn’t know the song, nor spoke English, but she must have really liked the melody. It was something very different from anything she had heard before. When I sang “Hoooome,” she would too, and then carry on in the Mosuo language. We sang together until I finished. It was a very magical moment. Everyone cheered, which brought me back to real life. I was still enchanted by the women’s voice and how we connected through song. After that, the bonfire party was over. I looked for the older Mosuo woman, but she disappeared. I wanted to know what she was singing…

I’ve decided that I am going to sing as my way of building relationships with the locals, as well as draw and learn the local language. While I’m at the lake, I am keeping myself very available and open-minded. I’m also being more extroverted. I hope I’m building a good reputation there!

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