Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Up the Valley-- Sidetrips from Liuku

I forgot to post this picture last time, and I like it and the girl is adorable, so apropos of nothing:

Lisu girl in traditional dress, Liuku

As mentioned in my last entry, I went on a few side-trips during my time in Liuku, into the countryside. Both times we went up the Nujiang Valley (there is no where to go but up-- Liuku is located at the bottom, the very mouth of the valley.) The first trip we took was to Luzhang, a small lower-to-middle class village perched way up in the mountains on the side of the river. We visited Xiong Li Mei's relatives (most people here refer to people who are not blood-related as "cousins" or "sisters" so it's hard to tell exactly how people are or aren't related) in their modest home. I got to hear about both Lisu and Pumi culture, as interestingly the husband and wife are a mixed marriage, apparently something that doesn't happen often. But I was told that their daughter was being raised Lisu (in this situation, children are allowed to choose their ethnic identity at a certain age) because Pumi culture was so far away in Lanping (7 hours by bus.)

At the slightest mention of my interest in minority culture, the mother in the family called her older relatives (she called them Auntie and Grandma, but again you never know) and her daughter, they brought over the traditional clothing they save for special occasions, and they gave me an impromptu Lisu song-and-dance performance in their living room. And then, out of the blue, the auntie decided to give me the embroidered and beaded bag she was wearing that she had made herself. Almost all Lisu people carry a bag of this kind or varation, with specific embroidery and colors, as a method of self-identification in a time when most of them don't wear traditional costumes. The old woman just took her cell phone out of the bag, unhooked it from her shoulder, and handed it to me. When I told her I could never take that from her, she just said "I can make another one." It's not the most beautiful thing in the world, because Lisu are so poor-- they can only afford cheap plastic beads. But I don't care. The whole thing was pretty wonderful.

The Lisu family I visited in Luzhang, in full Lisu regalia (of that region. Here in Fugong the headpieces look different) Also note the classic poster in the background.

While we were visiting Luzhang, walking the winding road as it meandered along incredibly verdant cliffs, it started raining. Hard. Very hard. As I wrote before, as we were driving home there were rocks, serious rocks, in the road that had fallen from the mountains above. It was clearly not a safe situation, and so I was kept from going up the valley to Fugong and Gongshan during my ISP. I was furious and frustrated at first, but I just spent longer researching in Liuku, and on the second to last day we took a real trip a full 2 hours up the valley to Chengang. Chengang is a small town in itself, but really it's just a base for a series of small and very poor Lisu villages between 15 minutes and an hour a way by foot. The weather was finally decent that day, and so the ride up the valley was positively gorgeous.

Scenes from the lower valley

(I am especially proud of this photo because it was taken out a minibus window)

When we got to Chengang, it was time for lunch so we found a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant and ate there. Xiong Li Mei did some hardcore social networking for me (I never would have had the guts), and got our server to agree to take us to his home village a 15 minute hike up the mountain. And so we went, past the singularly most disgusting communal bathroom I have ever seen (I won't go into detail, but I've been in China for 5 months now and it still holds that title. And that's saying something, which you'll know if you've ever used a Chinese public toilet.) We passed several small streams and rice paddies before arriving at a very small, very shabby traditional Lisu house.

The Lisu house I visited in Chengang

Traditional Lisu houses are two stories tall, with the bottom story reserved for livestock. They are made out of woven wood and reeds, mostly. The walls are more flimsy and have a criss-cross pattern, while the floor is woven like tiles, warp and woof. Unless the owner is particularly rich, the room inside doesn't have any more furniture than a few simple wooden stools and some blankets to sleep in. A san jiao (literally "three legs" because, well, it has three legs) or traditional stove, sits over a fire, and by that Lisu cook food, boil water, and keep warm.

Inside the house, with the nainai (grandma) who lives there

And her husband, holding their bibles, probably smuggled in from Myanmar

As you might guess from the above picture, the people living in this house are Christians who celebrate both Christmas and the Lisu New Year, Kuoshijie, which fall within a week of each other. They also offered me some alcoholic cornmash, the beginning of traditional Lisu whiskey (which I recently tried at a Lisu wedding I attended, more on that later, but WOW that is strong stuff), but as Christians they don't drink. This kind of fine-line between what's permitted because of culture and what's not permitted because of religion is what my thesis is turning out to be about. I find it fascinating.

After bidding the old couple goodbye, we rode the 2 hours back to Liuku and had a little goodbye gathering for me-- I was going back to Kunming the next night on a sleeper bus. It was lovely, we went out with the same motley combination of office workers, soldiers, and math teachers as before. We had hotpot, which involves an enormous boiling vat of oil/broth and a million different kinds of meats and vegetables, which you put in one at a time and let cook. Kind of like Chinese fondue. I also got to hear several different Lisu and Pumi stories that night-- a good place to leave off. (Well, except for that cell phone pickpocketing which would come the next day.)

My goodbye gathering

And, in case you were wondering:

The inside of a sleeper bus (the nice kind)

Next time: SIT says goodbye-- Adventures in Xi'an and Beijing

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