Saturday, September 8, 2007

A Fugong Family

There are three counties within Nujiang Prefecture-- Lushui (of which Liuku is the seat), Fugong, and Gongshan (Gongshan's county seat has a different name, but everyone pretty much just calls it Gongshan.) Since I'd already spent more than two weeks in Lushui county (mostly in Liuku), and because Liuku was currently horribly hot and humid, I opted to stay there only as long as it took to get in touch with a woman who had helped me during my ISP. She recommended some people who might be able to find me a translator during my stay this time around in Nujiang, given that Xiong Li Mei (who helped me during ISP time) was in classes taking final exams and was thus unable to accompany me to northern Nujiang. With a phone number clutched in hand, I rode the four and a half hour bus to Fugong, the middle county, alone and, frankly, pretty scared. I had forgotten my guidebook and had never been to Fugong before. I had no idea how I would find out where to stay, find my way around, make the beginnings of a life which are neccessary to do anthropological research. I looked out the window at the countryside, which was green almost to the point of ridiculousness, and silently freaked out.

On the way to Fugong

The incredible greenery of Nujiang

When I stepped off the bus, I had neither map nor hotel recommendation, only a brochure I'd been given at a travel agency in Liuku with listings of some places to stay, but no addresses, only phone numbers. I went inside to the bus station desk and asked about the nearest hotel, only to be told that the station itself doubled as a place to stay, for Y50 a night, or about $6.50, the cheapest around. For awhile after I had settled in I considered changing hotels (the place was clean but very worn and a little bit shabby), but it ultimately didn't seem worth it.

Fugong city as it turns into village on the nearby mountainside

The night I arrived in Fugong, I called a contact Lu Laoshi had given to me, and he insisted on taking me out to dinner with a coworker of his, a Lisu woman a little older than I. Unfortunately, she was to return to Kunming for summer term classes the next day, but after an awkward dinner where I picked (my stomach wasn't feeling excellently, having yet to recover from my Kunming upset) and they watched me pick (they had already eaten), my new Lisu friend brought me to a local teahouse, where we drank locally brewed beer and I heard several traditional Lisu stories from her and her friends.

Unfortunately, the local beer did very little to improve my stomach situation, and I spent the next day or two feeling rather cruddy (which would, sadly, become a trend.) I was also really sad that my new friend had to leave so fast, as it seemed like we got along winningly. Luckily, the man who had introduced us had another woman in mind to help me instead. Xiao Cui was a 30 year old traditional dance teacher in the local Cultural Bureau, with an 8 year old son, a husband working outside Nujiang (a fairly common familial set-up), and a 19-year-old half sister living with her. Over the next few weeks Xiao Cui, who I called jiejie, or "elder sister" and her meimei (younger sister) became part of my Lisu family. They took me to the village where jiejie grew up to meet their grandmother. They took me to their cousin's traditional Lisu wedding-- more on that in a separate entry. And when I was sick, they brought me rice, bread, and Sprite (which was, sadly most of my diet for the better part of two weeks.)

My Fugong translator, Xiao Cui (on the left) and her younger sister

For sick I was, and everything seemed to aggravate it in some way, whether I ate bland porridge or fried rice (admittedly a bad idea.) For almost half a month I was able to eat almost nothing, and IV treatments and two rounds of Cipro (as long-term readers of this blog will remember) did nothing. Around this time, Xiang Yang Jiang, the man I shall refer to regularly as Foster Dad made his appearance. He was another cultural scholar I met through the guanxi (relations/connections) system, a friend of Lu Laoshi's friend. But as soon as he heard I was sick he stepped in and became more than a scholarly source. He and his wife would regularly show up at my modest hotel room. "Put on your shoes, we're going out!" they'd say, then bring me to a restaurant and make me sit there until I ate a whole bowl of rice porridge. Foster Dad often gave me fatherly lectures, with topics like "The Importance of Your Health" and "Just Exactly How Unneccessary and Space-Wasting All That Stuff You Brought Here Is." If it hadn't been for the fact that I realized that this was the only way he knew to be fatherly toward me and to the fact that I generally found his behavior interesting and/or entertaining, it would have driven me crazy. As it was, I was occasionally tempted to say "For Christ's sake, I'm in China on my own, let me make my own damn decisions!" Luckily, I don't know how to say "For Christ's sake" in Mandarin. Harhar.

Doing research in Fugong involved a combination of talking to officials in the Cultural Bureau, exploring the splendid once-every-five-days market that took place on the Main Street (and warrants its own individual blog entry), and travelling to the countryside around Fugong to interview elderly sources about life fifty years ago and all the stories they could remember. I would get into one of the motorcycle cabs (modified cycles with rickety red cabs on the back, also known as "cyclos" in some places) with my translator and a collection of gifts (usually rice wine, soda, and an assortment of snacks.) We would whiz down the road that curved with the river, stopping at some village 10-25 minutes outside of town (Fugong has about 10,000 people living in the city and about 80,000 in the countryside) to climb down or up the valley slope to somebody's one-room bungalow. I eventually had intervewied the four oldest residents of Xiao Cui's home village. One man and one woman (called nainai and yeye, grandmother and grandfather, out of respect) were so aged that they weren't sure exactly how old they were-- they were born before the idea of keeping track of time in a linear (rather than cyclical) fashion had come to the area. The man was, by his estimation, around 80. And the woman thought she was probably older than 100-- she says the 80-year-old man was about around 8 or 9 when she got married. It was incredible to hear from them about what life was like during Dynastic China away from the Imperial Eye, about the turbulent times of the Cultural Revolution. I felt so privileged.

The 100-year old nainai

Nainai's traditional Lisu house-- note the woven floor, the lack of furniture, the open fire

When I began to feel a little bit better, I started to take trips to outlying areas of Fugong county-- Laomudeng, center of Nu culture(which gets its own entry, and where I fell off the 5-foot ledge), to farther villages, to a traditional wedding (again, its own entry), and on a sight-seeing expedition to the local geological attraction. Shi yue liang is an enormous hole in one of the local mountains, apparently almost 30 feet tall in person. From far away (which is the only one can view it without undertaking a backpacking expedition), it looks like a big,misshapen moon peeking out of the greenery (the effect is caused by the perpetually misty sky showing through.) That's where it gets its name, too-- "Bright moon in the mountain."

Shi yue liang, the so-called "bright moon in the mountain," about an hour outside of Fugong, and source of many Lisu and Nu folkstories

I ended up spending more time than I bargained for in Fugong, ultimately, due to my extended bout of gastric distress (which was finally mercifully cured by discovering the correct and more extreme anti-biotic-- $1.00 for a bottle) and the fall that left me on bedrest for a week. But it was a good thing, too, because I started to blend into Fugong's everyday existence (which is not to say that I did not get stared at constantly). One of the things I liked to do most was wander the streets and see what surprising things I encountered-- a streetside shoemaker, a small footbridge across the roaring Nu River, a teahouse with Christmas lights festooned across the small patio glowing in the dusk, an old woman in traditional Lisu dress bringing her day's crops from the fields, an old Lisu man smoking his bamboo pipe on a stoop. Fugong never failed to surprise me.

The streetside shoemaker

Wonderful old Lisu man with his pipe

Lisu bags tied to a tree on market day

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