Sunday, May 27, 2007

Adventures in Lanping

I don't know what it is with me lately, I'm never in the mood to blog. I guess I just seem to be suffering from a powerful burnout (which is improved by the bright spots that are anthropological field work but is still mightily present) that touches everything from my work motivation to my blog (which, at least theoretically, I'm doing for fun and posterity, right?) In any case I'll make an effort.

So back to Lanping (which is now between a week and a half and three weeks in the past.) The trip from Lijiang to Lanping was supposed to take 4 hours, but about half an hour in we came upon what turned out to be a minor accident (and by accident I mean a single truck with one wheel off the road). But that single renegade wheel meant wall-to-wall traffic for at least 3 miles around. Our bus was stopped in a fairly idyllic stretch of farmland, surrounded by rolling mountains, for more than a full hour, possibly closer to an hour-and-a-half. That's what you get when you try to fit three lanes of traffic in one to one-and-a-half lanes of space, though. China, when will you learn?

Tania and I initially had planned to stay with our friend Jackson (Chinese name: Chun Yong) in Lanping, but May 1st is a major holiday in China (they call it Wu Yi Jie, literally "Five One holiday") and like everyone else in the country his family had friends coming in. Jackson, who is a truly good person and a fantastically loyal friend but who is a smidge overprotective, was convinced that if we were to live in a hotel by ourselves we would be harassed by the police or worse. Things got worse when we went to a multicultural performance celebrating the Wu Yi holiday --complete with lots of different dancing minorities (Bai, Pumi, and Lisu namely) as well as a bad skit by some high school students and a FANTASTIC breakdancing act with teenage Chinese boys in white suits. Walking in, we drew a lot of attention, which made us feel strange but wasn't anything we hadn't experienced before. We were ushered to the second row, behind all the important Communist politicians, but Jackson told us we should leave before the last act because "maybe some people will touch you or say bad things to you." As if we hadn't ever been in an audience with Chinese people before... Tania got pretty annoyed by the end of the first couple days, but I had a nice talk with him and he lightened up eventually. And it was certainly only because he wanted to look after us well.

Chinese people, though... really. It's all very well intentioned, but the constant worrying and the absolute positivity that, given that one is a foreigner, one can therefore do nothing on one's own, it can really get infuriating. Also, Chinese people and food are very odd. The entire nation is obsessed with thinness, almost worse than the US (because so many Chinese people are naturally thin anyway.) And yet, it's considered bad form if the host doesn't continually put food in his guests' bowl, and it's even worse not to clean one's own bowl completely. This means, usually, stuffing oneself inordinately in order not to offend anyone. I think the first Jewish mother took lessons from a Chinese person.

(Incidentally, while we're on the subject of Wu Yi Jie, I forgot to mention in my Lijiang entry that the last night before I left there was a huge pop concert outside my hotel. I was walking home from an internet cafe and came upon it, a big stage set up in a plaza in front of an enormous statue of Chairman Mao. The statue was all crazy and backlit, and there was some famous popstar performing, with a throng of shrieking fans around it. I stood in the throng for awhile soaking it in, but I had come at the end of the concert so really I just got a little microcosm of Chinese popular culture.)

Anyway. Lanping. Right.

I spent a little more than a week in Lanping altogether. Tania and I lived together in a government-run hotel, really too expensive for its own good but the only one where Jackson felt we were safe. During the days we went around and did interviews, often with Jackson's Christian friends (Tania's ISP topic is Christianity and Jackson is a Christian himself.) I hadn't really established a topic and was trying desperately to find a translator to take with me elsewhere in Nujiang Valley, so I tagged along. It was all quite interesting, as we interviewed people of Bai and Lisu nationality who had recently converted. The line between religion and culture and the subsequent ways many of them left their former identities behind was fascinating. I did what I could with the opportunity, framing the information for myself in terms of stories, the one thing I did know I wanted to study.

We met a few friends through these interviews-- Julie and Linda (both their English names) were about our age, maybe a few years older, had graduated from college and recently converted. They were both very sweet and could speak some English. Jackson also introduced us to his own friends, who took to us quite strongly. Before the week was out we had a legitimate group of Chinese friends who would call us to go have dinner, come for a visit, go for a walk, or go to tea houses after dinner. It was a really cool experience to see what that might be like, living in a place with a group of friends just like America.

We attracted friends on the street, too, just by virtue of being there. One woman we interviewed quoted a statistic that said that between 2001 and 2007 4,000 foreigners came to Lanping. Although Liuku dwarfs this number in terms of the rarity of foreigners, we were still something of a curiousity in Lanping. Once, while trying to find a highlighter for Tania, the stationary store shopkeeper struck up a conversation with us, and we ended up going to her family's restaurant in a village outside Lanping for dinner one night. Another time, a man driving a serious, serious SUV (this SUV would beat you up as soon as look at you) stopped and asked in accented but flawless English, "Excuse me, but where are you from? I haven't seen foreigners here in many years."

His name was Adam and he was what they call a "hua yi" here-- an emmigrant to the US. He had lived in California for 8 years in Silicon Valley making a living before returning to Lanping to get into the zinc mining business, which is one of the best in the world. He told us that he plans to work in Nujiang for several more years and then go back to the US to retire. We ended up going out to dinner with him one night, which was really interesting. He had all sorts of things to say about the Chinese upper crust and China in comparison to America ("Americans are much more straightforward and honest," for example.) It was also, in a way, a little bit like having dinner with a Mafia Don. For those of you out there who hate networking, never come to China: the principle of "guanxi" (literally "relationships") is the only way to get anything done here. You get jobs through guanxi, make friends, get around beauracracy, meet potential mates, get yourself out of trouble with the law, do well in the stock market, get good health care. It's all about cultivating relationships. And Adam was pretty much the ultimate source of it: he offered to find me a Pumi translator (an offer I didn't end up taking him up on, although I may this summer), told us he'd love to introduce us to his friends, and told Tania that she shouldn't worry about the police in Lanping because he was "good friends" with them and if we ever found trouble we should just call him. (Christianity is a hotbutton issue, as prosletyzing, or however you spell that, is illegal and they assume any Westerners talking about Christianity are trying to convert people.)

Lanping itself was quite beautiful. The city is nestled amid hills that hump higher and higher into peaks and eventually climb southward to merge with the Nujiang area mountains. It's not even really in a valley, per se, just kind of plopped on a couple of big slopes. There's a park in the middle, quite pleasant, with a little pond, several fountains, and a row of tea houses in the interior. We spent a lot of time there relaxing and talking to our new friends, asking them questions, watching the townspeople dance in the square in the evening-- everyone seemed to know the traditional dances. On days when we weren't interviewing, we went on adventures. One day we went to an ancient temple outside of town; another day, we took a 2-hour ride south to Yingpan, a dusty town by the Lancang (also known as Mekong) River. It was really interesting to see the river approximately 24 hours by bus away from the place I saw it last: in Xishuangbanna with Diana. Rivers are amazing that way-- simple but profound. Our trip to Yingpan was infuriating in a way, because the computer teacher we had befriended in Lanping was decidedly un-Chinese in his insistence that we first go to a water power project he had invested in some 45 minutes outside town. But in the end I got a few connections out of it and some information about Lisu culture. Plus, the town was just interesting to look at.

Another day, Tania, Jackson, and I, along with our new Lanping friends Julie and Linda, decided to go on a picnic. We bought an enormous amount of junk food and took a taxi to a park they new, but the park had changed and where there had once been a lake there was a mossy, smelly expanse. Instead, we redirected the taxi to the nearby river/stream, and located a likely-looking site across it. We proceeded to strip to our barefeet and make our way across the river. At first it looked like we could go from rock to rock, but the current proved a little treacherous and we had to make a few watery detours. Our picnic was great, very peaceful in a little clearing with the sound of water not far off. We played a few Chinese card games (one simple one is called "shei she xiaotou" or "Who is the thief?") and ate plentiful junk food, and then Linda and Julie went off to collect the plentiful wild vegetable that grew around. Chinese people are like that. On the way back, we had an equally tricky time getting across the river and I actually slipped on a mossy rock and fell in, saving my camera but soaking my pants from the butt down. We all thought it was quite hilarious, and now I can say I've fallen in a Chinese river. Hopefully I won't get water worms or anything like that.

On the last night before I left for Liuku, all of our new friends gathered in a teahouse near the park, drank juice, tea and beer; ate watermelon and sunflower seeds; and played cards, as Bai custom dictates. Tania and I taught our friends the American card game known as "B.S." (with a not so nice actual name,) which was neatly translated as "bu shi" ("not so.") We had a great time playing and screwing around until late at night. It was a lovely way to see me off into the next part of my adventure: Liuku.

Next time: The unexpected roommate and the unicorn.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

March of the Cell Phones

I was pickpocketed today. Sigh. There goes my two week old cell phone. (I left the other one in a cab.) This time really wasn't my fault,though, because I'm fairly sure someone saw me asking people if they could fix the cracked screen and starting following me watching for an opportunity. I went through a street market and poof, by the time I got to the other side it was gone. I felt someone brushing up against me while I was in the crowd of the market and I actually wondered what was going on and if I should say something, but my brain was sort of frozen and I thought maybe I had put it in my bag. But no. There were two other girls with me, and their cell phones weren't stolen, but that's what you get for being a foreigner here.

And then of course we had to spend the whole day bargaining for a new phone. The one I was going to get was kinda ugly but doable and really cheap. But then there was a whole hoopla about not being able to use the SIM card I got (mercifully cheap because I thought to insure it this time) and the whole thing took about 20 hours and I didn't have time to do anything I wanted to today. All in all it was an unfortunate way to end my ISP fieldwork. I head back to Kunming tonight on a sleeper bus (somebody save me) and I am unspeakably excited for foreign food and to stop hearing so many "Hellos!" and having to deal with the constant stares. I'm just not in the mood, and I need a break. Luckily, soon comes Xi'an, Beijing, the Silk Road, and my parents.

New entry soon, while I'm starting my ISP paper and when I'm not feeling quite so jaded and burnt out. Damn culture shock.

On the bright side, I can say I've been pickpocketed now. That sounds cool, right?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

RIP Next year's sanity

A piece of news:

My thesis grant got approved! So I will be officially staying in China through July sometime (that decision will be made now that I have the official okay) with $1620 to help me along. Of course, the down side is now I have to do research wherein I am academically responsible to the entire Anthro community at Wesleyan, I have to actually pick a topic instead of piecing together my paper from the research I happen to have done a la my current ISP topic, and next year I will be One of Those Seniors (holy crap, I'm going to be a senior...) who holds up the line in the library checking out 60 books at a time, who falls asleep in her thesis carrel, and who has an aneurysm in March. Exciting? I guess?

That does mean that my blog will be a continuing record of Chinesetastic adventures through July, so those of you who so desire can continue to stay tuned. (I also, for the record, fully intend to continue this blog during international jaunts in the future.)

To lighten the post a little:

Since I'm not really feeling like updating about Lanping just yet, I will instead share a comic with you from the internet comic Cyanide and Happiness. Not the best one, but the only family-friendly one I could find. (I have been lately indulging my craving for random English-language humor, complete with internet comics and internet animations galore. For the younger minds in my audience, I highly recommend the Teen Girl Squad animations at

Next time there'll be a real post. Promise.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ring Around the Province, Part 6: Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog (And So Was I)

The last chapter of our two-week-plus field trip around the province is rather anticlimactic in some ways and rather dramatic in others. Basically: our last stop was Lijiang, a small city I went to with my parents in 2004 during our three-week trip around China. At that time, Lijiang showed definite signs of impending touristification, but it was still heartstoppingly beautiful and incredibly charming. The huge snow-capped Yulongxueshan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain) loomed against blue sky in the background and the sound of running water from the city-wide canals (the city has had running water for 1200 years) followed us wherever we went. I was positively enchanted, and so were my parents.

The city is the ancient heart of the Naxi (another Chinese minority) kingdom, and in 2004 Naxi people still went about their business-- Naxi women in their distinctive clothes carried baskets through the alleys, danced in the square, or talked over a game of Go; Tibetan traders hawked antiques in the side streets; and basically the city was still a working, living, breathing entity. For a wonderful picture I took of Naxi women in 2004 in Lijiang, see my entry at the very beginning of this blog, in February, entitled "Getting Ready to Get Ready" (if I were more internet adept and/or less lazy, I would provide you with a link.)

Lijiang has... changed a lot in the last four years, to say the least. One of the men they brought in to give us a lecture, the Director of Visitor Somethingorother quoted a number that basically breaks down to 11,000 tourists a day. It is now the most touristed city in all of China-- and you can really, really tell. The throngs of Chinese tourists following a guide, inevitably in faux minority get up, wielding a flag and bullhorn in each hand; the flashy bars and fake minority dancing; the pure volume of people everywhere you go... we were not impressed, and I don't know if I'm using the Royal We there because everyone else was as disgusted as I was.

A word about Chinese tourists: people talk about the Ugly American, and those people are very much in the right, but not every American visitor to another country is neccessarily Ugly. There seems to be at least a spectrum going on. But Chinese tourists that I have encountered, while many times extremely friendly and charming, are, in their natural habitat, nothing short of obnoxious. Loud talking on cell phones, inappropriate picture taking, spitting or blowing of noses everywhere, more incredibly inappropriate picture taking, getting drunk off of bai jiu and staggering around. Basically: blah. Also, I suppose it didn't help that my first trip to Lijiang featured pristine, gorgeous springlike winter weather, whereas our stay this time around was mostly rainy or overcast.

I did try Lijiang v. 2.0 out a little bit, honestly. Tania, Mike, and I went out to eat a few times together at the grossly overpriced cafe-type places in the gorgeous old city. Every time we were faced with bizarre approximations of western food, however-- the first time I ordered some chocolate cake for desert and was given, basically, sweet white bread with something kind of like nutella on top; the second time, Mike ordered cereal with fruit and was giving some strange grits-like concoction that tasted like it had lemonade in it. Odd, and we paid way too much for it. One of our meals featured bored looking women in Mosuo (another minority here costume parading around the room in some approximation of dancing. We just ignored them. We did get to see a Dongba ceremony (an ancient animistic religion Naxi people practice which uses the only true remaining ideographic-- that means symbolic, a la heiroglyphics-- written language in the world) at a park near the city. It was really cool to see, although it was hard to tell how much had been fabricated for tourists. Actually, that's kind of Lijiang in a nutshell right there. I did have a cool adventure with John and Kailey where we met a Mosuo girl who led us around Lijiang's new portion looking for an affordable restaurant and then insisted on paying for us before she went back to work, but other than that...

Anyway, whatever I might have seen of Lijiang was cut off abruptly when, after ironically the only decent meal I had in the old city (incredible Tibetan soup and an oreo milkshake, although thinking about it now makes me queasy), I was set upon by a positively vicious case of food poisoning. I think it was the milkshake (never trust dairy products in China), but regardless of the cause I was what my trip-mate Chris termed "bullfrogging" (the nice way to say it is... working both ends, sometimes simultaneously) for a full 14 hours. Tania was incredibly understanding and sweet in looking after me, and my mother kept in cell phone contact hourly (cell technology is fantastic) but it was not so much a pleasant experience. I ultimately because so dehydrated, unable to drink anything, that I fainted for a few seconds.

The next morning I went to the hospital with Ashley, who had a similar affliction, and got a rehydrating IV for a very reasonable Y110 (about $16.) We were so lucky to find two beds together in a room-- Chinese hospitals are... I don't even know if I have a word to describe it. All the beauracracy of the Communist Party but when you're probably sick and unable to navigate it, with too little space so that people have to take IVs on benches or in waiting rooms, and with very little regard for hygiene (we insisted on one-time-use needles, naturally.) On the plus side, the hospital was the one place I really got to see Naxi culture in action, with old women coming in for treatments from the countryside.

Ashley, Lisa, and I stayed an additional day in our hotel in Lijiang trying to recuperate before beginning our ISP. And then, filled with anxiety and still not feeling exactly myself, I set off on my month-long adventure, starting with a 4 hour (that turned into 7-hour) van trip to Lanping, Nujiang Prefecture.

(To be continued next time...)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Rain, rain go away

We interrupt the chronological flow of your regularly scheduled travel/study abroad blog so that I can moan and complain a little bit about the current state of affairs. Basically: I'm in Liuku right now and it's raining a lot. Which is pretty typical for this time of year, we're entering monsoon season, but it's gunking up the works of my plans-- I was supposed to go up Nujiang Valley today to go to the last of three sites for my research project, but about 2/3 of the people I ask say it's too dangerous (and when we went to an area elsewhere in the valley while it was raining there were, indeed, fallen rocks in the road-- yikes.) The girl that was supposed to be my translator has dropped out because her school won't let her go somewhere that dangerous. And really, the rain is just getting to me. Muddy and wet all the time makes Alissa a dull girl-- I want to see some scenery! Some sunshine! If the monsoon lasts all summer, I'm afraid I'm going to get something akin to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

This is a beautiful place with the gorgeous Nu River running through it, but it's hard to enjoy when I'm lost in a sea of Chinese food, Chinese language, endless rain, and culture shock. I'll admit it, I'm missing America right now. Every day in a country as different as China can't be a picnic, right? I just hope I can snap myself out of it, because this is such a great opportunity.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Ring Around the Province, Part 5: Kham is Calm

After Sideng/Shaxi came Zhongdian, probably my favorite part of our whole two-week-plus field trip. As I mentioned in my giddy mini-update while I was actually there, Zhongdian/Gyelthang (it's officially changed its name to Shangrila or, in pinyin, Xiangelila, after the eden discussed in the famous book Lost Horizons, but I refuse to call it that. Such pandering to the tourist industry...) is Tibet without actually being in Tibet (which is referred to here as the TAR or Tibetan Autonomous Region.) The ancient Kham kingdom (one of three large regions in ethnic Tibetan territory) extends about 100 km south of Zhongdian, and ethnic Kham people predominate-- that's where the pun from the title comes from, it should be attributed to Ashley-- (at least 50% of the population), along with Han majority and the Lisu and Yi minorities. It certainly felt like Tibet to me-- iron grey skies, a touch of altitude sickness (just a little nausea and being insanely quick to get out of breath), yaks everywhere, big effing snow-capped mountains.

When we arrived in Zhongdian, I think most of us were kind of disappointed. The grey skies didn't do anything to help the plain-Chinese-city streets look cleaner. But gradually I started to see the differences-- the scores of Tibetan women walking the streets in traditional dress, the Tibetan script on the store signs, the prayer
flags hanging from windows or on top of roofs a la weathervanes. The town's Old Section has been thoroughly touristified (they tried to sell me a hair ornament for Y25 that my friend in Lanping later bought me for Y5) but is still incredibly charming. On the first night the program treated us to Indian/Nepalese food, which was incredible (just as I remember the Nepalese food in Shanghai being, and as the
Nepalese food in Dublin was). All of us ate until we felt we were going to burst. Some workers from Khampa Caravan, the local travel agency/general helper-outers taught us something about Tibetan history and Zhongdian's own story. All of them were part of a new generation of Tibetans who are sent to India to study and who, therefore, speak Mandarin, English, Tibetan, and sometimes also Hindi. Hen lihai, as we would say here, (very formidable, basically). They were also all inordinately attractive, if not by general standards, at least in that they were all extremely interesting-looking. The girls in the group drooled accordingly. One of the Khampa Caravan men sang us a gorgeous Hindi/Tibetan song, and in return Ashley got up and started doing some of the Tibetan dance she knows. At the end she had all of the Khampa Caravan crew plus most of the restaurant staff also dancing, or trying to. She was better than a lot of them.

I just loved exploring Zhongdian. It felt very much the a frontier town to me, with all kinds of people coming together-- Tibetan nainais (grandmas) with their turbans, aprons, myriad layers; a couple of Bai businesswomen; a few Yi people I caught sight of; Han tourists; people from Thailand or India; the odd Westerner, all together in the dusty streets, with the occasional view of the rolling hills and towering mountains behind. I almost felt like there should be tumbleweeds. There were a few Western-style cafes (Noah Cafe had the best porridge with bananas ever)but really the heart of the town was Tibetan through and through, with Tibetan pop music (kind of a mix of China, India, and something unplaceable) blaring everywhere, adding to the ambiance.

One day we went to a large lamasery/Tibetan Buddhist temple out about 20 minutes from town. It's modeled after the Potala Palace in Lhasa, where the Dali Lama once lived, and is pretty spectacular. First we went and met a living buddha, which means a person who has reached nirvana but opted to be reincarnated to help others. He blessed us, touching our heads in turn, and gave us each a manifestation of that blessing, a braided thread of red, yellow, and black with knots in it. We were to wear it for three days and then do anything we liked-- keep it, pass the blessing on to someone else, bury it, anything except throw it away. It was a powerful experience. I don't know how many people in the program actually believe in Buddhism actively, but I saw that in the coming days almost everyone continued to wear their threads.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the temple complex, and the only word I can really use to describe it is intoxicating. I'm not even sure why. The atmosphere, the sound of beating prayer gongs, the clouds of prayer flags fluttering in the breeze, monks everywhere, incense and dark, close rooms filled with altars and prayer rugs. Tania and I walked all the way to the end of the complex to the smallest temple, dedicated to a Tibetan Buddhist demon/god of death (it's unclear whether this temple was to worship or protect against said demon.) It was smaller, more cluttered, more colorful, and less crowded than the other temples in the complex, and there were no sightseers at all there, only some older Tibetan women come to pray. Outside the temple was a stupa (which can only be described as a sort of white wooden mini-temple with a steeple, but you can't go inside) festooned with strings and strings of prayerflags. I climbed inside the tangle of flags and stood in a nest of colorful cloth, with the flat, green/gray Tibetan landscape peeking through. It was utterly peaceful and in some nameless way, alien.

The next day we went to a similar temple, but smaller and way out in the Zhongdian countryside. The roads there are... rough, to say the least. At one point we actually had to avoid an especially rough patch by driving through the spongy dead grassland that makes up so much of the Tibetan landscape. Yaks and alpine pigs scattered in our wake. From the end of the road it was about a 20 minute hike to the tiny Lamasery in the woods, lined with homemade prayer flags blurry with henna from snow and rain, and with rocks carved painstakingly with sutras in Tibetan script, said to help one's karma and with the balance of good and evil in the universe. The lamasery was again an oasis of strange, pristine calm. I spent a good hour exploring the outlying portions which were, in places, basically just a forest of prayer flags on a mountain flank.

We spent a good amount of time in Zhongdian and did a number of things-- learning about current Tibetan Buddhism from a reincarnated lama; going to a hot springs where Tibetan women come to bathe and where I soaked with Sophie, Tania, Keera, and Ali in a private room for a couple hours; went souvenir shopping with Kailey and John and bought a beautiful Indian cloth hanging and a couple of necklaces. But what I will really take away from that experience is that preternatural calm and the breeze on the empty Tibetan hills.

Next time: Lijiang, the unfortunately put but apt term "bullfrog" and why I had to get an IV, and the beginning of my ISP adventures.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ring Around the Province, Part 4: The Fat of the Land

So. Finally an update.
When we left off, I was having flaming alcohol rubbed on my ankle. Life in Shaxi (we were there about 4 or 5 days) didn't get much more exciting than that, but it was very interesting. As mentioned, I stayed in a really nice inn, the guest of the inn proprieters, two retired Bai people. My Bai host dad used to be a doctor, trained in both Western and Traditional Chinese medicine, and he looks very much the man's man, with one day-post shave stubble, strong chin, constant cigarette smoking, and obsession with the NBA (everyone loves to watch American basketball here. I expected that when I said I was from Boston people would connect that with Harvard, but it's mostly been with the Celtics. They're so jealous when I tell them my dad used to take me to Celtics games.) My Bai host mom was tall and solidly build, with a deep and vital voice and the longest hair I've ever seen (I only saw it when she brushed it out, she usually kept it in a bun.) Apparently it's a Bai tradition for women not to cut their hair. They both spoke with strong accents, but we managed to communicate. I didn't develop a super close relationship with them as some other people did with their families, but we had a nice relationship, and at the end the woman insisted on giving me a pair of embroidered shoes. Apparently it's a tradition to send off a guest with a gift.

My Bai host mom also took pleasure in pointing out how "pang" (basically "fat") I was in various places (she liked my butt especially). In fact, in Sideng almost everyone I encountered enjoyed discussing my largess. It was hard to stomach, certainly, but those sorts of comments do not have the same connotations as they do in the US. They can be compliments (with the meaning of "your parents sure take care of you") or even just greetings. Being of different stature than almost everyone in China has not been easy, but in Sideng it was the most difficult for me, because I was constantly meeting new people whose first words were about my size. Regardless of their positive or negative intent, it was something I had to get used to.

We spent our time in Shaxi exploring, learning about the Tea and Horse Caravan, which came through Sideng for hundreds of years. One morning we were supposed to help out in the fields, but my family was too rich to have fields. Instead, I went with John's host father. He taught us how to hoe the clods of earth, but after fifteen minutes and plenty of picture taking he informed us that we were finished. We were puzzled because we both could have gone for longer, but John's host father seemed set, so instead we went to his son's house. We derived endless humor from our 15 minutes of farmwork, punning on the word "hoe" and discussing our rippling muscles (well, mostly it was just John talking about his own rippling muscles.) At the son's house, we drank some strange tofu soup, and played with the son's adorable 4-year-old daughter. And John convinced her that Americans don't have butts ("pigu") and refused to turn away from her to let her see his. Later, when she saw that both he and Mike did, in fact, have behinds, he told her that they had bought them at the market.

Sideng life is very traditional. Besides lectures about the history of the Caravan, visits to a small museum, an ancient bridge, and the local god's temple, we did a lot of walking and research-- we were each assigned an aspect of Sideng life to research, with an oral presentation at the end of our stay. At night we gathered a few times at the only tea house in town, drinking beer or tea and shooting the breeze, as they say. There wasn't anything else to do. I also spent some time at John/Mike's homestay, which was in a gorgeous traditional compound with beautiful courtyards and carvings on the house itself. It was a very strange living situation, however: John's homestay father and his brother (homestay uncle?) had always lived together in the house, but once attention started coming to Sideng for its historical value, they started fighting about who owned the house. Now they both live there, but they're not on speaking terms. Mike lived with the brother and we would talk to each other across the main courtyard, but the brothers acted like no one else was living there.

On the Friday before we were left, Sideng had its weekly market. Almost all of China works on the market system, with the main economic power in an area (and often that's not saying much) setting up all along the streets and people come from all around to buy or sell produce, pigs alive and dead, fish, chickens alive and dead, cloth, flashlights, batteries, Mao-style hats, cookware, farming equipment, and a myriad of other things. Just as I love diners in the US, I am definitely a Chinese market person. This market attracted all sorts-- my favorite was the Yi (another minority) women, who come down to markets from the mountains where they live pretty much in solitude. The unmarried girls wear beautiful skirts and sometimes head pieces that look kind of like cloth tiaras. The married women wear even more colorful skirts, vests embroidered with spirals, and these strange, huge octoganal headdresses covered in black velvet. I started taking pictures and couldn't stop, even though I knew it was sometime inappropriate (see the Argus column I posted a week or so ago.) I got some fantastic shots.

We were super lucky because that particular day a Public Health commission from the government had arrived in town to do a sort of Meals-On-Wheels type program but with information about AIDS/HIV prevention, environmental protection, and general sanitation. It was really interesting to see how such a program worked and even more interesting to see how interested all the townspeople were in getting the pamphlets and posters, in lining up to speak with the doctors about AIDS (although no testing was happening that day.) The festivites extended to a presentation for the school children about drinking clean water and not eating raw vegetables (which can get even Chinese stomachs in trouble here) and performances of Bai traditional dancing and music. When I went back to the Inn for lunch before our oral presentations, I was gradually surrounded by adorable children (girls and one boy)of indeterminate minority-- they didn't speak Mandarin, but they thoroughly enjoyed my taking pictures of them and then showing them the result.

Next time: The beginning of the Tibetan world

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


I did indeed move on to Liuku today (one day late, as I had to get thesis proposal stuff squared away.) And the internet cafe at which I am now seated does not seem to have the issues the one in Lanping had. Which means: voila! I can blog now!

I don't have the time or energy to write a long entry now (it's been a long day), but suffice it to say that I got off the bus today in Liuku and immediately made two friends, not even of my own volition. Later this evening I went to a Chinese college/university where I read English aloud to much oohs and ahhs, saw a Chinese dormitory, and was serenaded with Nu and Lisu welcoming songs (by some pretty shuai ("handsome") Chinese boys, I might add.) Also I met a Dulong girl, which is cool only in my anthropologically dorky mind (I read a book about the Dulong people before I came here... there's only about 5000 of them in China and I thought they all lived in the next valley over, one of the most remote places in all of China. But I guess not.)

So here I am, cautiously hopeful. Expect long updates in the next few days

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Technical difficulties

My apologies: it's been awhile since I posted, but I have a good excuse: the internet cafe I've been going to in Lanping seems not to accept Blogspot cookies, and so I can't sign in. I sent this post to my mother to take care of for me-- that's the solution I came up with. I'll be moving on (I hope) to Liuku on Monday, so I can hopefully start posting again. I have a lot to say.

But for now I'm afraid I'll have to leave it at an apology. I've been very stressed out about thesis/research topic stuff the past few days and I seem to have gotten myself into a pretty significant funk. So I think I'll go back to our hotel and eat some chocolate (if I can manage an appetite, my stomach has been acting very oddly) and go to bed early. Tomorrow is a new day...right?