Posts Tagged With: Tourism

Exploring Lijiang and Suhe Ancient Cities: A Comparative Analysis on Popular Tourism Locations–with Lugu Lake Area as Example

I decided to spend two days and one night in Lijiang this time around before returning back home to Kunming. I have a good friend that works in a guest house in the ancient city, so I used his hotel as a home base. I arrived in Lijiang at around 5pm after the 4-5 hour bus ride from Lugu Lake. I explored the ancient city by first dropping off something at a friend’s restaurant and then looking for my friend’s guest house. Lijiang Ancient City could be called the exact opposite…a decade before an earthquake destroyed much of the city, which was then rebuilt into a cosmopolitan outdoor mall encased in traditional Chinese architecture.
Revamped Ancient City
What Lijiang was before, which I never witnessed, is no longer. It is now a place filled with hostels, guesthouses, hotels, shops, street vendors, and crowds upon crowds of tourists. Lijiang was established as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999, which I find somewhat ironic. It seems like enacting that did the exact opposite of its intentions–preserve. Even the people who live in Lijiang and work in the ancient city agree. The culture has been “broken,” and not maintained well.
Main Gate into Ancient City–UNESCO World Heritage Site
Then the next question is: How do you preserve a culture in the first place? That’s where my research comes in. I think the simplest answer is to not develop tourism and invite tourists to the area. Isolation is preservation’s best solution. But, in this time of age, that is not entirely acceptable. Tourism also builds an area’s standard of living, improves the education system, and opens new opportunities for the local population. These benefits are often desired by the local population.
While talking to my Mosuo friend in Lige, Lugu Lake, he said: “when tourism comes in, it destroys the culture. That’s what Chinese tourism is…it takes something beautiful and exploits it, destroys it.” Though what he said is extreme, there is truth in it. I think Lijiang is a perfect example–It’s arguable to say that Lugu Lake is on its way to becoming the next example, especially after the completion of the airport.
Lijiang is a commercialized tourism spot. It’s primary purpose is for the visitors to buy, buy, buy. They also have the opportunity to “study” Naxi traditional culture, but the tour guides bring them to newly renovated or fake Naxi cultural relics in the ancient town. To see Naxi culture nowadays, one must leave Lijiang. The ancient city is for the commercial tourist. One that prefers comfort. The same can be said for Suhe, which is about a 20-30 minutes car ride away from Lijiang Ancient City.
Suhe Ancient City
Though Lugu Lake is becoming more and more commercialized each year with shops, hotels, and restaurants, the distance and rough transportation has slowed rapid tourism development. The signs of commercial tourism is evident in Lugu Lake though. Money is becoming more important than it ever was before–making a lot of money is now a part of many locals’ life goals. I witnessed this when I wanted to use a bathroom in a museum, but the people said, quite rudely, that I needed to pay the door fee–28 yuan–first. This happens all around the lake now, and the locals are aware of it too.
Why does this happen in the first place? I think it breathes from the Chinese tourism system. The Chinese tourism development patterns primarily emphasize on commercialization and profit, instead of considering cultural preservation to fit into the process. Therefore this profit-driving force becomes the center in tourism development, which then inflicts the mindset of the local population. In addition to this, locals often don’t have a say in tourism matters, instead the local government is given the most authority. This becomes an issue because the minorities are usually underrepresented in their own local governments, most positions are hosted by the Han majority. Thus, making money becomes contentious between local businesses and outside investors. An example of this happened just recently in Lugu Lake where a Han outside investor and his wife were hospitalized due to locals getting angry over being cheated by signing a 17-year long contract. The Mosuo are new to business and are not familiar with the harsh realities that it brings. Violence is not the answer though.
Going to Lijiang and seeing a place that lives off making money makes me wonder when Lugu Lake will turn into something like this…5 years?
Suhe Commercialized Ancient City
Also, coming back from remote LJZ to Lijiang gives me the feeling that I’m in two completely different countries. No electricity, no phone signal, no restaurants, no Internet, no shops, just kind people, their farms and animals, and their homes. I find LJZ more worthwhile than Lijiang. I meet with locals, live in their homes, eat with them, and participate in their everyday lives. But somehow, Lijiang is a popular tourist spot. I think this lights on the difference between Chinese and Western tourists. This form of tourism has been widely accepted by the Chinese population because its the only form of tourism they have encountered…they view these cosmopolitan tourism spots as the best form of travel. Tourism in China is still a fairly new phenomenon beginning in the mid-1980’s. There hasn’t been much time for the majority of Chinese tourists to experience different forms of tourism (ecotourism, volunteer tourism, backpacking, etc.) (I’m of course generalizing, not all Chinese tourists are like this, but it’s a common trend among domestic travelers.)
Are there places like this in the U.S? Las Vegas? Branson, MI? Would you say the majority of American tourist are the same way?
A friend I made on my last trip told me that “I’m doing tourism right.” He meant that I went off the beaten track to experience the culture. “Us Chinese do it wrong,” he said. Is there really a right way to do tourism?
Lugu Lake and Lijiang tourism are still considerably different from each other at the moment. Lijiang is more inviting to tourists from all economic classes, while Lugu Lake is more inviting to the hikers, backpackers, and adventurous upper-class. Unfortunately, Lugu Lake will be just another cosmopolitan tourist spot in the coming years. Many say that it has already reached that point, but I disagree. The locals are still present in the area and tourism is still developing; however more and more outside investors are coming in each year. What I find unique among the outside investors in Lugu Lake, at least from what I observed, is that most of the non-Mosuo become part of the Mosuo community when they move there. This comes from building close relationships with the local people. Of course, there are outsiders who keep to themselves or differentiate themselves from the locals, but the community is small, and overall, close-knit.
Tourism destroys the authenticity of a culture, at least that it what most people argue. From the cases of Lijiang, Suhe, and Lugu Lake, it does seem like it does, at least in the case that authenticity means the opposite of cultural commercialization. Are there examples of tourism being beneficial towards cultural preservation? I’ve only read a few examples…I hope to find good cases during my Fulbright grant.
Lunch in Suhe Ancient City — Hawaiian Pizza and Banana Milkshake
(Though it’s too bad the culture has become commoditized, it’s sure nice to eat some tasty western food in middle of nowhere China! Thank you globalization.)
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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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


Lige and Lugu Lake


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.


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.


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.


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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Exploring Yunnan: Excursion to “Almost” Southeast Asia–Xishuang Banna

In order to save time, Sam and I got plane tickets to Jinghong, the capital of Xishuang Banna, and arrived at around 10:00am. We step out of the airport and smell humid air and then hear the gaggle of taxi drivers out front yelling at us “fee-ty! fee-ty!” They wanted us to pay 50yuan for a drive to Jinghong’s center. I asked if they could turn on the machine, but they said: “kaibuliao, it cannot be turned on.” Basically, the driver wanted to swindle us out of our money. A trip to downtown would be around $10-15yuan, but since we are foreigners and have “no way” to get to downtown, they decide to utilize this opportunity to get more money. This behavior among taxi drivers (street vendors, anywhere one can haggle) is widespread throughout China. It finally began to wear me down at this point. Month after month it’s always the same. It’s not that the money is an issue, but it’s how these people treat us that really affects me. They don’t see us as equals, as human beings, but rather as overflowing money bags. Also, it’s almost as if something is missing in their moral character…cheating, swindling, tricking are all awful things to do to your common wo/man. If this is seen as bad behavior, then why is it so widespread? Maybe it is due to poverty. One will do a lot for money.

I persuade Sam to join me find a public bus. We walk onto a large street that is lined with fruit sellers that sought shade underneath the the banyan and palm trees. We ask them for the closest bus stop. The man speaks poor mandarin, but points to the other side of the road and said to wait on the corner. We wait for 10 minutes and finally got on a bus. We paid 5yuan. We got off the bus and found ourselves in a humid, forested city. Are we really still in China?



Sam and I walk down the street, found the city center where locals were practicing for a culture competition that night, and found a quaint restaurant next to it. We ate while listening to the music. At this point, Sam and I had no plans whatsoever. Our next goal was to find Meimei Cafe and figure out our next day’s agenda. After asking around, we found ourselves at the foreigner street and at the cafe. We drink the most delicious lemonade and look through packets of travel advice. The owner of the cafe approached our table and gave us some suggestions. He recommended a Bulong village near the border of Myanmar. He mentioned that it isn’t the easiest place to get to, but worth the trip. Sam and I decide to go the next morning!

From the cafe, we booked two beds at an international hostel (40yuan a night) and then walk to the Mekong River. We cross through a maze of alleyways and steps till we reach the shore. The sun came out! I actually had beads of sweat run down my forehead because it was warm outside! I can’t remember the last time I felt so warm. The Mekong was beautiful and blue:


Hanging out on the Mekong River


Kids Swimming in the Mekong

As the sun began to set, we returned back to the foreigner street, had Thai food (couldn’t find a Dai style restaurant in the area), and then we searched the area for delicious desserts. We come across a cafe that has a Spanish-French chef/owner who once was head chef at the Waldorf (is that the hotel name?) in New York. We ate and conversed with him. When he heard our plans about going to the Bulong border town, he was in shock and said “No, no, no, that cannot be done. Too far away and recently there has been issues around the borders of Myanmar.” He persuades us to go on one of his organized trips. Sam and I feel conflicted. The Meimei Cafe owner said “It will be no problem! You can do it.” and this guy said the opposite. Who should we listen to? We excuse ourselves to think things through and watch the performance that we saw the locals practice that afternoon.

The performance commemorated 60th anniversary of the establishment of Xishuang Banna. The performances ranged from dances, kongfu, to comedy skits. Each performance was judged (by who, I don’t know). My guess is the the judges were from the local government, most likely Han Chinese. Sam and I were the only foreigners in the crowd, besides us, the audience were locals from or outside Jinghong.


Dai Ethnic Minority Dance (the winning routine)


The End of the Show

It was refreshing to see a performance that was aimed for the community and not tourists. However, I wished I was able to learn a bit more of this performance. What are the power dynamics: who leads this event? Who are the judges? Who decides which parts of Dai culture can be performed? Who is the intended audience: Is this for the local community? Visiting officials? Tourists? History of the Event: Is this a local event turned into big-time performance? Is this a new event (the announcer mentioned this is the second year for this performance, but was it a much smaller scale before?) I’ll have to keep such questions in mind when I begin fieldwork in Lugu Lake. The politics within a community is complex and needs to be understood through many different frames.

Sam and I headed back to the hostel. We planned to wake up early to begin our travels to Southwest Xishuang Banna.

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Exploring Harbin: Confucian Temple and Ethnic Minority Museum

View from the Main Temple

A group of my classmates and I woke up early on Sunday morning to visit Harbin’s Confucian Temple. It is the largest Confucian temple in North Eastern China and pretty to boot! The temples are primarily made out of wood, which have been painted with a combination of reds, blues, greens, and yellows. The roof tiles range from a golden glaze (which are placed atop the most significant buildings) and brown-black normal coloring. The area was dotted with tall bristled trees, short bushy trees, and lawns of flat grass. It was a silent morning. A haze of pollution clouded the temple like mist.

Tree of Wishes and Ambitions

Doorway to Main Garden

I only have a fundamental understanding of Confucianism, so my explanation will be a mix of my knowledge and Wikipedia. Confucianism derives from the teachings of Confucius (551-479 B.C.). His teachings have a number of principles, but the three fundamental bases are: ren (仁-humanism),yi (义-righteous/justice), and li (礼-propriety/etiquette). Humanism is at the core of his teachings. His principles’ goal is to build a common person into a respectable, moral human being , or junzi- nobleman. His other teachings include filial piety to one’s family and to society. During the Mao Era, Confucius’ teachings were looked down upon because it advocated an “unequal” stratified society. After the Mao Era, his teachings have become popular once again and are now a part of every Chinese student’s curriculum.

As far as I know, the temples are no longer used for study, but as a remembrance of Confucius’ teachings and admiration for the temple’s architecture. While we visited, traditional Chinese music was playing from mysterious loud speakers, making the environment “soothing” and “Confucian-esque.” This is a common strategy for tourism sites–setting the mood by music. Does the music hurt or add to the atmosphere?

Intricate Paintings Painted on Gate’s Walls (looking up at a bird)

Glazed Gate

The temple also had a Heilongjiang Ethnic Minority Museum within one of its temples. I thought the combination of the two (Confucian Temple and Minority Museum) was unexpected, but they do share the same purpose: cultural preservation. They just harness two aspects of culture–religion and local customs & identity. I will most likely go back to the museum to analyze the display’s design and language. I was not expecting to find research here! What a beautiful place…

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