Posts Tagged With: Rural Life

Documenting Mosuo Culture: A Modern Mosuo Love Story

A Modern Mosuo Love Story

On the last full day of filming, we interviewed with a couple we have become very close with this month. They are ethnically Mosuo from villages outside of Lige who got married just last November. They bashfully sat down for the interview. The wife was shy and awkward in front of the camera. She kept a little distance from her husband and kept looking away to the side. The husband who is more extroverted put his arm around her shoulders and jokingly said, “Hey, we’re married aren’t we?” He pulled her closer to him. We laughed as he lovingly bullied his wife. When we thought the two were comfortable enough, we began the interview. We started with their love story:

The wife, Namu, came from LJZ, the village we had visited weeks previous. It’s far away and very remote. For the village, it is common for young women to come to Lugu Lake in their teenage years to do parttime work. Namu came to Lige village in her teens (around 16 or 17?) and worked in a BBQ shop next to CR, her now husband. She would help clean his shop everyday. Through these daily interactions, they gradually fell in love. During that year, Namu moved to Lijiang for a better paying job. Ci’er bought her a cellphone so to often check on her. However, it turned out that Namu got sick that entire month, as well as broke her phone.

Namu all of a sudden stopped telling the story and looked away. A tear trickled down her cheek. CR continued the story:

While suddenly being out of contact, Ci’er became worried. Without any way of telling her, he took the long ride down to Lijiang to find Namu sad and homesick. She was so happy to see him. He drove her back to Lugu Lake. From then on, they have been together in Lugu Lake.

Namu cried because she was so touched by CR’s concern and love for her. They decided to get married. This wasn’t because they didn’t want to have a “walking marriage” relationship, but because they wanted to stay together. Their villages are so distant from each other that it would be impossible to visit at night. Marriage was the best option.

Namu’s family was very traditional and at first did not want her to get married. This would mean she would not come back and lead the household as the matriarch. When CR visited, he was not warmly welcomed. However, he worked hard to build a good relationship with her family. Even though it would be difficult, he wanted nothing else but to marry Namu.

Namu was so touched by the story again that she began tearing up. CR’s eyes were also brimming with tears. Namu got up and walked outside to compose herself. Her husband continued the story:

“After many visits, they finally agreed and let us marry. They even like me now. We got married last year in my village. Now we have a baby on the way!”

Namu soon came back and sat down. CR looked at her round stomach and smiled. We asked if they have anything they want to say to the baby:

“What would we say?” Namu replied.

“What do you want to tell the baby before s/he enters this world?”

Namu looked down at her stomach, rubbing it gently. She didn’t know what to say in Mandarin, but whispered something gently in the Mosuo language. CR also spoke Mosuo towards her stomach. After looking at her stomach, they smiled at each other and then us.

Cut.

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

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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.

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Little Mosuo Girl Playing in the Marsh

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Motorbiking Back to Lige Village

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Documenting Mosuo Culture: Praying Rituals, Tourism and the Effects on Youth

I woke up by getting a phone call from one of the National Geographic guys. He asked if I wanted to join them in watching the elder from yesterday pray to the Daba gods. I did. So, I groggily got up, got dressed, and joined two of the filmmakers for breakfast. The other team member was sick in bed. The four of us agreed we had a cycle of sickness that switched each couple of days between us. I met them at the Lige peninsula for breakfast and waited for the elder to finish her round of boat rowing. She would light the pine needles after the morning shift. While we waited, we joked about things that I don’t remember, but I do recall that I laughed endlessly with these guys. Morning, afternoon, night continuous laughter.

We noticed the morning boats were moving towards the shore from the peninsula. We paid the bill and walked over to the lake shore to meet her. We approached her when she was dropping off some tourists after the sunrise boat ride. In the midst of parking the boat, a male tourists asked if she could fill an entire liter water bottle with pure Lugu Lake water. She filled it up and gave it to the man. She started tying up the boat as tourists closed in on her to take pictures. She was wearing traditional Mosuo garb and gave off a look as if she was as hard as nails–which she most likely is. She politely paused for the photos. When they were done, she grabbed the wooden oars and walked to her house to drop them off. We tagged along. Her granddaughter followed her and played with the rubble along the way. Her granddaughter is a little ball of energy that can find fun and interest in anything–including the trash and rubble that collects along the streets.

We waited outside the front door when the grandmother came out of the house gate with a handful of pine needles. We followed her to the shrine located off the Lige shore and filmed her as she prayed. She first put the needles into the kiln-shaped shrine, burned them, and prayed by chanting and walking around the shrine three times. We followed suite.

IMG_1497Filming Praying Ritual

After praying, she immediately shuffled through the rocky beach to her boat rowing friends and sat down. We sat with her and joined into the conversation with the camera off. The women talked about how tourism in the area has helped improve their lives. They make money now. They can buy things and travel. One woman said she utilized the money to travel to Tibet or other spiritual Buddhist areas to pray with his family. The discussion was fun as they joked with each other. Then a group of Shanghainese tourists swooped in with their Canon cameras–“the parade of canons”–and took pictures of the women.

One Han woman said, “Wow! Look at the light from behind her–the grandmother–this is a prize winner!” One of the boat rowers was agitated by the tourists. Everyday they are treated as if they are objects to be taken pictured of and lack autonomy of choice. She said, “Get away! We don’t like it when you do this.”

The Shanghainese smiled and said, “Well, why can they take photos of you and we can’t?” (At that point, Daniel was filming) The woman responded defiantly, “Because they are Mosuo and that is a Mosuo camera.” Since we showed interest in getting to know them, they respected us like their neighbors. The Shanghainese fake laughed. They then took a few more moments before they were satisfied with their photos. We asked the local women what they thought of the tourists.

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Shanghai Tourists

“They are so annoying! They have such ‘sweet mouths,’ always just getting what they want without caring about us. We Mosuo like the talk to strangers, but they don’t. They only talk if they want something.” It was tense to watch the tourists and the locals interaction, but I’m glad I witnessed it.

After talking for over an hour, we excused ourselves to check on our friend, but planned on visiting them for lunch. We soon picked up some juice and walked over into the marshland where the local boat rowers set up a fire. The granddaughter was back, causing a hilarious ruckus among the older folk. We sat next to them as they set down fatty pork (or “mummified pork”) and vegetable soup for us to eat. They broke old cattail branches and used them as chopsticks. We ate as the grandchild would stare at us with ghost impressions.

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Our Lunch–Used Cattail Chopsticks to Eat “Mummified Pork” Soup

After eating, I played with the grandchild by making funny faces and pretending to be a monster. I picked her up, pretending to take her away. She playfully screamed for her mother, which I responded with, “Your mother can’t save you now!” The mom laughed as I terrorized her adorable daughter.

We parted ways to visit the local theater. We heard there would be auditions, which we wanted to check out. We met up with a friend that was going to audition. He’s a local in his mid-twenties from a little village outside of Lugu Lake. He’s very handsome, good at singing and dancing from previous work experience performing in Fujian and Kunming. He only graduated from the third grade. We followed him to rehearsal.

All the dancers came one by one into the performance hall. They were handing out applications to the newbies. Our friend had to have someone fill the application for him because he didn’t know how to write or read.  He was the first one up. He had a stage presence about him with his perfect white smile and good looks. He sang a Mosuo song and danced for the crowd and received a loud applause and cheers. He was definitely the best of the bunch. The auditions turned into a practice for both the performers and the auditioners. We left soon after.

We met up with our friend who auditioned a couple hours later to get dinner at his house. He got a part in the show! We jumped into his friend’s van with a few other people and set off to his hometown, Zhudi, a nearby village. We drove down a dirt path till we hit his home, which was under construction. We walked through his front yard over rubble and piles of sand into the recently finished main hall. His grandmother sat by the lower hearth as we filed in. We light-heartedly chatted with our friend and the two guests staying at his home. The night became more interesting during dinner…

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House Under Construction to be a Nice Guest House

His two buddies became more and more intoxicated during dinner. They shared with us how they knew each other and their brotherhood bond, explaining that the three of them and three other local boys were “blood brothers.” When they were younger, they poured droplets of their blood into a wine glass and shared it to portray their solidarity and love for each other. Another thing they mentioned is that in this area “to be a man” one must go to jail at least once. They joked of their experiences with glory and dignity. One had to persuade the jailer not to cut his hair by bribing him with his family’s meat supply–“how will you eat meat?”

The conversation suddenly took a sullen turn when they recollected the death of one of their blood brothers. The year before, they went out as usual to Yongning to sing karaoke and drink. After a night filled with fun, they all drunkenly drove motorbikes back home. Though they all got back safely, their blood brother never came back. They searched for their friend and found him dead on the street from a car accident. Their anguish was impossible to describe…

Since the blood brother died outside of his home, it was taboo to carry his body to the funeral ceremony, but his buddies would not stand it. They carried him against the cultural customs. During the funeral, the Daba priest warned the friends of the deceased blood brother’s unsettled spirit. The priest told them not to leave their house for an entire month to avoid joining him to the spirit world. One of the friends explained that entire month he never left his home, but his friend would visit him every night in his dreams. The dead blood brother would invite the dreamer to join him and play. The dreamer declined every time, telling him to go his own way and he his own.

However, that month one of the other blood brothers never did woke up after a night of drunken fun. The Daba priest said the blood brother took him to the spirit world. After that month, the spirit never revisited his dreams. The story gave me the chills.

Their experience highlights the life of a modern local boy growing up in a tourism developed area. Drinking, gambling, and paying for prostitutes is a large issue among young men in such areas. These families are making more money then they have ever had, but they don’t know how to spend it…these practices thus increase. The sad story of their friend is one example of tourism’s negative impact on society–the growing laziness and instability among youth.

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Collaborating with Documentary Team: The Life of Youth & Strange Encounters

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Local Looking off to the Mountains

Today was the day of the bonfire party. The lamas would soon finish reciting the scriptures and the locals planned to celebrate. I woke up warm that morning, compared to the first night where I tossed and turned out of sleep due to shivering. I remembered today was the day of the party and felt very excited, but I still had the entire day ahead of me. I got up and met with the team in the living area for breakfast. What did they have planned? We ate steamed dough and boiled eggs.

The son, Sonna, mentioned he had nothing planned that day, so the team asked if they could interview him. I tagged along as the boy led us to where he buried his previous dog. The team wanted to juxtapose his cruelty cutting a dead baby goat in half and his regret towards losing his past dog. We hiked to the grave. It was on top of a hill that overlooked his home–we had the interview there. We asked more about his dog and then moved onto his life and aspirations. He talked about his friends in the village and how they have fun. One example he told us was he jumped into a man-made pond specifically for growing fish and stole one with his bare hands. Him and his friends ran off laughing the entire way.

He’s aware that his actions are not “good,” and exemplify what a “bad kid” (坏孩子) would do. I could see he felt guilty, but did not show any interest in changing his behavior. He reminded me of the many “bad boys” I have met or babysat in my life and how they are very similar to little Sonna. He will grow into a better man and hopefully will not regret the decisions he made in his youth.

He shared with us that he is unsure about his future. One reason for his uncertainty is because he isn’t going to school anymore. He said it’s because he doesn’t like it. He explained that at school you get hit all the time by either teachers during class or by classmates stealing your lunch. He hated it, so he left. He is 14 now, just living in “the now,” not caring about the future. His parents are a bit worried for him, but have not forced him out of the direction he has chosen for his life. It is not uncommon to find villagers who are illiterate in the Chinese countryside. Sonna will most likely become part of that statistic.

Literacy in China–Are the State Statistics Reliable?

China’s Long — but Uneven — March to Literacy

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Sonna’s Mother Washing Clothes in the Brown Stream

I’m happy to attend these interviews because I get a different perspective of the locals and their culture. The team normally asked the people questions that I either didn’t think of or didn’t feel comfortable asking. I feel like each visit to the Lugu Lake area, I become more aware of Mosuo culture through experience and building friendships.

Afterwards, the team went to film scenic areas while I returned back to the home to wait for the father. He mentioned that he would circle the village with the lamas for the festival. I wanted to tag along. As I waited, a Mosuo women around my age dropped by to say “hello.” I chatted with her as the team arrived. I soon realized the father had already left without telling me. The girl invited us over to her home where we had tea, sulima alcohol, and talked about her life. She mentioned she was married with a child, but as the interview continued, we realized her husband was actually a previous “walking marriage” partner. I was perplexed why she felt ashamed for participating in the “walking marriage” culture to the point that she would lie about it. A villager told us she has had two others afterwards. She is seen as being “loose” by the locals.

We thought her life in the village was tragic. She is very open-minded and modern because she had left the village before to perform as an ethnic dancer in Lijiang. Through this experience, she has a different mindset from the other women in the village. One of the team members explained it that she is a “prisoner of her own destiny.” I personally thought of Xianglin’s wife from Lu Xun’s story, “A New Years Sacrifice:”

This story circles around a woman that has no name, except for being addressed as Xianglin’s wife. Her husband, Xianglin, died due to sickness. She moved to another village as a servant and found happiness in her work. She was then captured by her mother-and-law to be forced into a second marriage. She did not consent because marrying a second husband would go against the traditional custom of respecting the previous marriage. She was forced into a second marriage and later bore a son. No one knows if she was happy or not in this marriage, but one day she arrived to the same home pale and shaken.

Her second husband died of sickness and her child was eaten by a wolf. She was kicked out of her house by her mother-in-law and found her only refuge to be the previous home where she was a servant. The household and the entire village discriminated against her for going against tradition–marrying a second time. She slowly went insane and died as a homeless beggar in the dead of winter years and years later. Lu Xun wrote this [autobiographical?] tale to highlight the backwardness of tradition and the cruelty of man. 

The villagers discriminate against the young woman in LJZ because she has had many walking marriages for her age. She lives in a remote village where the society is engrained with traditional customs and social norms…going against them places you as an “outsider”—an individual versus the madding crowd. When talking to her more, I noticed that she was emotionally unstable. She knows she doesn’t belong, but has no way of leaving. She has no formal education and has a two year-old daughter. I couldn’t help but feel bad for her.

When we left, I said I would meet her at the party that night. I walked with some team members to the house that would host the party that night, as well as accommodated the lamas during that week. When we arrived, we visited the second story to look at the house temple. As we looked around, all of a sudden, a long line of villagers walked through the main gate, carrying large scrolls in their arms. The locals not carrying the scrolls lined up alongside the scroll bearers. They bowed as the bearers tapped the scrolls on each of their heads. When they reached the second story, they tapped it on our heads too. They had just finished trekking around the village. Trekking around the village with the scrolls signified bringing peace and good fortune to the town. Tapping the scrolls on our heads signified that we had read the sutra, which would give us good fortune.

I returned back to the guest house to grab a quick dinner and then visited the modern Mosuo woman to grab an ethnic outfit for the party. She dressed me in a traditional Mosuo outfit with a pink overcoat, homemade waist scarf, and long white skirt with an embroidered designs. The wife of the guest house lended me her headdress. The young woman and I went together with the team to the house.

The bonfire was in the middle of the courtyard. The party hadn’t started yet. All the young boys were chatting around the flames, laughing at each other. Most of the women and young girls were sitting along the walls, looking into the middle of the courtyard. I also stood to the side and waited for the party to start.

As we waited, the young woman asked me about love. I was a little caught off guard, love? She asked: Have I ever had been in love before? What are my country’s boys like? Do I like Chinese men? Do foreign men take care of women and buy things for them? These questions have been rolling through her mind it seems. At one point in her life, she had the chance to date a Spanish man, but declined. I think she regrets that decision. We chatted about these topics for a bit until we were interrupted by the ringing of a flute. The bonfire party had begun.

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Preparing for the Bonfire Party

I watched on the side at first. I wanted to see how they danced. The dance was fairly simple: it started with everyone holding hands and stepping 8~ steps to the right and then stepping in and out of the circle twice. This pattern continued. After each round, locals would come by with alcohol for the dancers to drink. After the first round of the bonfire dance, I drank one half cup of sulima alcohol. We continued to dance around the fire and changed up the dance moves. After the second round, I was given a large cup of sulima alcohol. I drank all the way to the bottom of the bowl. I continued to dance, but noticed I was becoming uncoordinated. During the last round, the moves became more complicated, which didn’t help with the tipsy-ness. I was grinning to both ears as I danced with my new friends. For the last dance, we twisted back and forth as we patted the backs of our partners. One of my partners was a Mosuo man, a friend I got to know while helping build his house. Instead of patting my back, he slapped me really hard on the shoulders. It hurt! I slapped him equally hard, but his back must of been made of rock. He smiled and continued wailing on my bruising back. He did it multiple times before the dance ended.

IMG_1463 Bonfire PartyVillagers Celebrating the End of the Festival

Everybody suddenly left after that performance, thus concluding the party. The team packed up their things and then we also headed back home. They planned to take a time lapse shot of the stars late into the night. I wanted to join them. I changed out of my Mosuo garb and found them in the backyard setting up equipment. The stars were fantastic. It took them a while to set the correct settings, but when they perfected the preparation, we all sat and enjoyed the stars.

One of the team members walked off for no apparent reason, which we all didn’t notice until he hadn’t been around for a while. It was going onto 1 o’clock at this point, so the two guys were beginning to worry about him. I didn’t think there was anything to worry about. The village is one of the safest places I know, what would happen? As we waited and chatted, we observed Mosuo men walking along the trails by the house, going to their partners’ homes. We followed with our eyes the trails of light that gleamed from their flashlights and cell phones. One of the lights stopped at an intersection. It paused for a couple seconds and then suddenly the light dashed up the hill to the guest house. The person was running away from something. We heard the scuffling of shoes in the courtyard and the light shined through the gate to the backyard. It was the team member. He said out of breath:

“I’m being followed.” I turned on my headlamp and pointed the light to the gate. Suddenly, a Mosuo man ominously appeared, as if he was a ghost. The light casted long shadows under his eyes and cheek bones. One of the team members held onto his multitool, while the other was ready to grab the house axe. I sat on a bench, covered from head to toe for warmth, still getting over the creepiness of the entire situation. The man then said in a drunken slur: “Give me 2000yuan! I’ll help you walking marriage.”

We all relaxed when we realized it was just a drunk. We had him sit down and tried to get him back to his senses. He kept insisting on helping our friend find a partner for money. One of the team members laughed and lied, “He doesn’t want to do a walking marriage, he’s gay!” This confused him, yet also calmed him down. He then started realizing how crazy this entire situation was and began making fun of himself in a drunken stupor. He then shone the light on me and was aghast to see yellow hair falling over my blue eyes. At that point, my scarf was covering my face. He pulled down the scarf and said, “What a beautiful girl!” He stroked my face. I edged away. He then got up and grabbed my hand and said, “well, if he doesn’t want to walking marriage, then I’ll walk with her.” He began to drag me off my seat to his home. The guy who had walked off was sitting next to me and immediately held onto my coat.

One of the Chinese Americans then quickly replied, “she doesn’t want to have a walking marriage either!” They stopped him and sat him down, but he didn’t listen to what they were saying. He then got up and started tugging me again. Then one of the guys sat him down one last time and looked at him with the most serious face. “Brother,” he said. “Do you know what AIDS is?” The man was surprised by the thought. “I’m not saying she has it, but you gotta be careful around those foreign types.” This stopped him. I was holding down my laughter, which the man thought was tears. He shone the light at my face, which I then covered. Soon afterwards, two of the guys finally persuaded him to walk him home.

The friend who walked off and I were left alone in the pitch dark, except for the starlight that reflected from the muddy fish pond. He was embarrassed, silently shaking his head. I covered up my laughter, not trying to wake up the family. The two came back and we finished the time lapse. We then called it a night.

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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.

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Sunrise 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Remote Mosuo Village: Obstacles with Fieldwork and Building Relationships

I woke up in the morning determined to finish a Daba pictograph set (two paper tablets connected to each other, both sides). I went downstairs for breakfast, which consisted of fried dough and a bowl of vegetable soup, and talked with the ten year-old son. He planned to shepherd the pigs again. We moved upstairs so that I could begin drawing. I copied down a complicated drawing of a soldier holding a banner spear, shield, and a sword. I wonder what war the soldier is fighting? These were made more than a 100 years ago, so these pieces of art may be depicting that time period or folklore of the past. The uncle leaves early in the morning to graze the cows, so I have no way of asking. I’ll try to ask tomorrow before I leave to go back to Lugu Lake.

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Self Portrait–Drawing Daba Ritual Art

After the son left with the pigs, I drew into the afternoon. It was very relaxing, but I became a bit restless. It suddenly started to rain. I decided to put the things away so they wouldn’t get wet and went downstairs to warm up by the fire in the living room. I was alone in the living area. Two of the older sisters were burning trash in the backyard. As I warmed up, loneliness started to hit me. In this household, only the child and uncle speak Mandarin (not native speakers, but enough to minimally communicate). So, when they are gone, I have no one to talk with. The sisters are really nice and are very patient when I try to speak with them in the Mosuo language, but it gets tiring after a while.

I warmed up and moved my art to the living area. The hole in the ceiling shone light right where I drew. It was still raining and cold, but the fire kept me warm. I drew till lunch, which the older sister made. She made fried wosong (my favorite! I bought it from the vendor the other day) with pork and vegetable soup. I devoured it all. They even mentioned my appetite and laughed. I don’t normally eat that much rice and food, but it all really hit the spot. I really appreciate that she notices I love eating vegetables…every meal has lots of greens nows (the ones I bought in Yongning). When we finished lunch, the sisters and grandmother went off to do their duties. I stayed in the living area until I decided I didn’t want to draw anymore.

I hung out with the older sister as she weaved using multiple types of tools. She first organized the different types of yarns with a triangular pole tool and spun them into a pattern. She then moved the patterned-together yarn onto a handheld weaving tool. She used different wooden sliders to move the pieces of yarn into each other as a tight, together product. The nephew who helped me hike to LJZ came by and talked with the family. The two sisters and him talked for a while in the Mosuo language. I was feeling a bit antsy and decided to go help the neighbors build their house. When I walked by, no one was there. Maybe they we’re eating or taking a break? I didn’t want to enter when no one was outside, so I just continued walking.

I walked through the town center, which included the elementary school and the guesthouse, and kept going down the street. People kept looking at me in surprise, but would smile and laugh when I’d wave. It’s tough to have no one to talk to and to be so different looking in a small village. That was starting to hit me. I left the village edge and hiked up a random path to a plateau that had a small shrine. I sat beneath the pines and looked out at LJZ. How am I supposed to learn about their culture and do fieldwork in a place where I don’t speak the language? Also, the people who can speak Mandarin are men, which I can’t speak with normally in the daytime. It is sort of a taboo to freely talk with the opposite sex in the day. All of these worries starting to circle around in my mind. I also wished I had a friend…there are no women my age in the village, at least that I’m aware of, and the men my age are out of the question for cultural reasons.

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View from Shrine

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Self Portrait–Hiding in the Woods to Recuperate (Haven’t Showered for a Week)

I sang to myself and watched the villagers go about their day. Singing has become my way of calming myself down and relaxing. I noticed that the neighbors were back working on the house in the distance. I slowly made my way back to the house and walked into the site.

The men on the wall smiled and laughed when they saw me (seems like everyone does that when they see me). I joined Sonna’s group and started filling buckets with wet dirt. At first I felt a bit useless because there were a lot of people helping that day. But after some time I fit myself into the system. While the men on the wall were compacting the dirt, one of the sons of the family started talking to me. I recognized him from my previous visit. I was so happy to talk with someone! We had simple conversation, but it was something. At one point, we were joking with each other. He made me accidentally spit out water I was drinking because I was laughing too hard. My day turned around completely because of him. I needed a good laugh. I don’t think he even realized how much I needed to talk to someone, especially my age.

We took a break an hour afterwards. I was placed with the men again. I kept to myself as they talked with each other in the Mosuo language, but the son starts asking me questions about America and my hometown. I suddenly remembered I brought along photos of my family and hometown. I excused myself to grab them quickly. When I handed the envelope to the men, they immediately immersed themselves in the photos. I was happy to make them interested in me! They joked that they wanted to join me back home. I said I’d be willing to show them around if they ever get the chance.

Exchanging the photos with them made the group feel more comfortable with talking to me. After that, working in the construction site was more enjoyable. When the sun set, I was ushered into the family’s home to eat dinner. I was once again in a room full of men, but this time they started conversation with me. I taught them how to say, “Cheers!” and they kept asking how to say things in English: hello, delicious, gross, good morning, good afternoon, good evening, good night, and banana. The room was filled with laughter. I even sang for them at one point. They wanted to hear an English song. This dinner was more enjoyable than the previous one for sure.

After eating pork soup with radish pieces and corn meal, it was time to head back home. I walked back with the older brother, Sonna, and headed to my room. I’ve been journaling every night before going to bed. It seems to be keeping me sane. Sonna leaves the house soon after to go to his partner’s home–he’s in a walking marriage relationship.

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Doing Fieldwork in LJZ: Shepherding Pigs, Building Houses, Encountering Uncommon Vendors–Everyday Life in the Village

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Leading the Pigs to the Fields

I woke up this morning with an upset stomach, but nothing compared to my previous visit. I went downstairs to eat breakfast, which included fried dough with yak butter tea. The son was chilling in the living area, sitting next to me on the upper hearth. I asked him what he had planned for the day. He replied, “I’m shepherding the pigs…” his eyes suddenly became wide, “do you want to join me?” I was a bit cautious because my stomach was upset, but I really wanted to join him. I agreed and grabbed a few things (sketchbook, fieldwork journal, camera, pen, and water).

We went to the animal stall to call out the pigs. I felt dumb, I didn’t know how to begin with shepherding, but the son helped me through the process. He got the group together and motioned me where to walk. I was  in the front of the herd. We walked along a dirt path that passed the house and went to the fields in the west. We planned to meet four other family’s pigs in the field.

I got the hang of guiding the pig quickly. We found the families halfway to our destination. We walked together to a valley with two streams and no exit for the pigs except for where we entered. In total, there were two old women and eight to ten children (ages ranged from 5-14). The elders and children usually have this responsibility because shepherding doesn’t exert that much energy. When we reached the valley, we set up camp by a stone wall next to the stream.

The son brought up to the other children that I could draw. They immediately asked to see my work and then wanted me to draw for them. I’m glad I brought my sketchbook! Drawing is such a great way to communicate and share with each other. I drew the children and me in the valley together, and then I passed the sketchbook to one of the kids. I love watching them draw, especially to see what they imagine before putting it on paper.

After a while, I noticed the children moved to a wooden shed in the distance. I excused myself to the grandmothers and walked up the hill to the shed. I found the kids playing in the deserted place. I pulled out my camera, which made them very excited. They wanted their picture taken! The son loves taking pictures, so he helped take a couple shots with me and the children. We played games, like something similar to duck, duck, grey duck (or goose), and then adventured into the mountains. The children held my hand as they frolicked through the hills. We circled round the valley, crossed the streams, washed our faces and hands in the water, and climbed some more. When we locked hands, it turned into a game. The person in the front would run fast to make the rest of the line rush behind him/her. The girls would scream in delight and I would make an awkward squeak…I was afraid I would fall! I’m not as nimble as them.

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Shepherding Kings and Queens–The LJZ Children

(My favorite part of this picture is the boy at the bottom who looks disinterested and doesn’t know how to do a piece sign. So cute! Aren’t the girls the most adorable things ever?)

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Playing Local Duck, Duck, Grey Duck  (Photo Taken by Host Family’s Son)

We returned back to the camp to eat some boiled potatoes for lunch. A 14 year-old joined us. We had conversation for the rest of the time I was there. She knows Lidy and PM. We talked about them and then I moved the conversation about her. She first asked, “Do you think LJZ is fun?” I said, of course! I enjoy it here because everyone is nice. She responded, “I don’t think there is anything fun here.” she explained how she stopped going to school after the fourth grade because she had to take care of her family, primarily her grandmother. She shepherds pigs everyday and takes care of her grandmother. Her older sisters are out of town working. She wants to work when she is 15, so next year. She doesn’t know what she’ll do yet.

The children called for us to go back to camp to eat porridge. After that, I joined the 14 year-old back to the village. She had to make lunch for her grandmother and I promised the other night that I would help with building a family’s house. We shepherded the pigs back to the path and split ways at the village.

I returned home to drop a few things off. The young man who helped me hike to LJZ was there visiting the family again. I showed him my drawings and the paper tablet I copied for the uncle. He was impressed! I then went to the neighboring house to help with construction.

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Inside the Construction Site–Shovels, Plows, Levies, and Pounding Stick

I threw myself in and started shoveling wet dirt into buckets that would be levied up to the men on the wall. I worked for more than an hour before it was time to take a break. While I sipped peach juice and ate a dumpling, a loud speaker suddenly was heard in the distance. I asked what it was. The older brother of the host family, Sonna, said it was a vendor selling vegetables. He doesn’t normally come. I asked him how to say, “do you want to buy vegetables with me?” in the Mosuo language. I wanted to ask my host mom. When he did, I raced to the house to inform them of the vendor. The son and his mother (who visits everyday) came with me. When we arrived, the truck was surrounded by villagers.

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Happiness–Uncommon Vendor Sells Vegetables During the Dry Season

We bought lots of greens. I payed for it all, it was least I could do for the family for letting me stay in their home. The sellers included two men, a Han and a Mongolian. I talked with the Han man for a while. He mentioned it was his first time coming to this village and that it would be his last. He said, “it’s too remote and poor.” I explained that I like it for its people, which he agreed. “People from remote areas are incredibly hospitable.” I agreed with him.

After buying the veggies, we walked back to the house. I dropped the greens in their storage room (which had lots of dead, flat pigs, which they preserve for its fatty meat…I think that’s what got me sick last time). I then returned to the home next door to work on the wall. I worked for another hour until the family called it a night. I joined them in their home to drink soda and tea. I sat with the men again. This time they were more talkative, which was relieving.

I excused myself early, since I told my host family I would eat with them. I wasn’t expecting such a hesitant response from the family. They kept insisting me to stay and even asked the older brother, Sonna, to convince me to stay. He said that the family wouldn’t care if I didn’t eat with them. I felt a bit embarrassed, since I already said goodbye to the people in the living room. I insisted on going back, which they allowed after some coaxing.

When I got back, the family had already eaten, and didn’t expect me to come back for dinner. I felt more embarrassed, I should have stayed at the other home! But the host mom started frying vegetables in a clay pot over a fire pit and boiling soup, saying it wasn’t a problem at all. In the end, I’m glad I came back because I had a dinner-full of vegetables and learned more of the Mosuo language. They taught me how to count! Their number system only goes up to 113. The uncle explained to me why, but the answer got lost in translation. What I got out of it is that someone in the past decided that 113 would be their max number. (However, I learned later in Lugu Lake that the number system does go over 113. Maybe it’s a local custom or maybe they don’t normally need to count beyond that number?)

I talked with the family and bit longer and then headed to bed at 9pm. This day started off a bit hard with the food poisoning, but it ended on a good note. I felt like I did a lot and learned a lot. In the morning, I was thinking about when I would go back to Lijiang to catch a train, but now I feel more comfortable living here. I need to stay strong! I will find my place in this society if I keep optimistic and friendly.

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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

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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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