Two days ago we arrived in Lijiang and explored the village of Shuhe, which is smaller but way better than the Gucheng in my opinion – less tourists and street peddlars. Lijiang is the watering hole of China for all its hippies and bohemians. Everything is very slow-paced here, it’s like you stepped into a place ignorant of time (it’s 11 AM here and nobody’s awake). Unless you’re a rushed tourist, which my dad and I strived not to be by basically planning to not do anything remotely interesting these next four days.
Guy in Arab headscarf and amateur drum duo in front of a café. It’s like I’m in Kits or something.
Well, that kind of failed. While browsing the gucheng yesterday morning, a totally commissioned woman posing as a disinterested tourist helper talked my usually resistant dad and me into visiting Lashi Lake, which I didn’t really research. The ride there and back only cost 10 RMB so we were like why not, nothing else to do. When we arrived, a Naxi man immediately introduced us to a bunch of overpriced horseback riding routes. We weren’t taken to the lake so much as taken to a place that sold activities around the lake. We took the cheapest option though we rather would not have done anything at all – the cheapest still cost 360 RMB for both of us. The entire area looked underwhelming. There were virtually no people. The village surrounding the lake is a poor Naxi village, and the area itself is far from Lijiang city. There were horse droppings everywhere, it smelled, and it was overcast that day anyways.
On that last point. Literally five minutes after we mounted the horses, it started to rain. It was light at first, and then it turned into a torrential downpour of Bangladeshi monsoon variety – Yunnan borders Burma. Our guide, a 60-something Naxi man who spoke really loud and accented Mandarin, gave us raincoats but the raincoats were immediately saturated and my hair, clothes, shoes, socks, body were soaked within seconds. The horses smelled like a million wet dogs, and the flooding made the horse shit smell even worse. My dad started yelling at the poor guide to stop under cover, but he just kept taking the horses along for until we finally arrived at his house. We ducked into his covered balcony area and waited for the rain to stop.
It didn’t. Well, not for like, an hour. So my dad and I ended up just chillin’ there in rural China (which is far from the idyllic image of farmland people possess) in some stranger’s house, with said 5 foot tall water-pipe-smoking stranger, a pair of apathetic horses, and a bunch of equally apathetic chickens. With nothing to do until the rain stopped, my dad and the guide conversed. The guide was hospitable and kind. He gave us sunflower seeds, sachima cookies, and offered us some of his homemade honey which we were too scared to eat because it came with the hive. He also told us about his life, family, and surprisingly nice-in-an-antiquated-way house. I learned:
- Five generations of his family have lived in his house now. Though it’s been renovated a bunch of times, the original façade is about two hundred years old.
- He has two kids. One male, one female. The male is in his twenties and is a teacher, while the female is only 12 (which means she was conceived in his fifties). He hoped for two males, but since fate decided differently, he now hopes for two grandsons.
- Basically all the Naxi people moved away from Lijiang to places like Lashi Lake after we Hans took over.
- My dad used to smoke a water pipe (!)
It was interesting to meet somebody from a different background and to get to know part of their story. It was also quite sad. Our guide was relatively well off, but a lot of the other Naxi people we met in the village looked deprived. Almost all the street fruit and trinket sellers here are Naxi people. They don’t dress in the ornate costumes that tourists take pictures of themselves in because well, most of them can’t afford to walk around with 20 pounds of silver on their head. I don’t mean to be political, obviously my perspective is far too limited, but seeing such obvious marginalization of an ethnic community by my own ethnicity is jarring and painful. I can’t enjoy the nightly dance circles at Sifang Square led by pretty Han girls dressed in stereotypical Naxi clothes while three meters away an eighty-something year old Naxi woman and her three grandsons are carrying five baskets of mangoes on their backs in the hopes of turning a profit that day. The irony is hurtful. I worry that I’m facilitating the tourist-trappification of such a beautiful place, and the consequent, inevitable, de facto cultural eviction its aboriginals.
I’ll move away from my bleeding-heart liberal aside. By the time the rain stopped and we set back out on the horses, I felt pretty okay, and things started looking up. We passed by horses eating and playing by the lakeshore. Three of them, free of their saddles, galloped by us on the trail. I understand why some people have an obsession with ponies now. It was one of the most gorgeous sights I had ever seen. Horses reside with eagles and jaguars in that league of animals whose movements for some reason evoke themes only found elsewhere in state constitutions.
As soon as my foot left the saddle, the sun broke out. My dad and I were annoyed beyond belief at our terrible luck, but at least we got a story! When we returned to Lijiang we climbed up to the highest reaches of the old town, found a coffee shop and rested there. My dad had a beer and fell asleep while I had some Yunnan coffee (kinda sour) and played Angry Birds with a stray dog napping on my lap. Any day that ends like that is a pretty okay day.
Yesterday I went shopping at the bargaining market with my da gu to find little trinkets to buy for my friends as souvenirs. There’s a few for whom I simply don’t know what to buy i.e. Shannon who, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t have a penchant for fake Hello Kitty Crocs (which I was dying to buy but da gu was like “…really?”), so I still need to find them something.
Today I had lunch with my xiao yi, and wandered around a really nice pedestrianized shopping complex. Unpopular opinion that borders on treason in today’s China, but I think shopping in Vancouver is easier. Clothes are actually cheaper in Vancouver for the most part - there’s no equivalent of H&M, F21 here, at least in terms of quality + ubiquity. Perhaps all that cheap food leaves a lot of more disposable income to spend on higher-end clothes. Young women here really take fashion seriously; either that or their version of “T-shirt and jeans” is “floral maxi dress and 10 inch hot pink clogs.” If you took the average 22 year old girl here and placed her on Robson x Granville she would stand out as a sort of fashion pariah. Alas, here she and all her pastel/lace/clogs/ruffles are just a drop in some rococo-parodic hooker-Lolita soup. Suffice it to say that after 3 weeks here I have converted from “can I haz more rufflez” to “can I haz American Apparel bulk order”.
In the evening I went to Tianfu Square, took a picture with the Mao statue. Some of the architecture near the square is amazing - I’ll save that discussion for my eventual architecture post, which I have been planning for in photographs since day 1. All I’ll say for now is that Western architecture really should consider making better use of light as an architectural element.
Most importantly, I got my UBC course worklist 99% figured out today. I put way too much effort into this for it to not go perfectly come July 4 (see July 5 post where I mysteriously end up in URDU 490).
- MATH 104
- ECON 101
- GEOG 250
- CLST 211
- MATH 105
- ECON 102
- ASTU 150
- STAT 100
- POLI 100 (98% because prof = really hot)
HIHIHI. So I’m lazy too, and I tried to see if tumblr has a msg thing but it doesn’t for your page so I’ll just write it here too, hee.
I am leaving China July 18 ish to beg at people’s doorsteps to hire me in Vancouver, and to study stuff. My math is adequate - I want to be kick ass, LOL. My trip was cut off by three weeks, but that’s okay because things have been kinda super boring here anyways. Talk to you about that when we eventually hang out. When are you coming to HK??? We won’t get to see each other obvs but I’m sure you’ll be so crazy high on fun all the time anyways. I loved Hong Kong, even if just for two days, it’s like a cleaner and prettier and less batshit insane urban Chinese city. I totally understand now what you meant by “grungey” food, and you’re right, it really is the best HK food! Super cheap holes in the wall = nom.
Please do tell me if Panda opens for job applications! I’d love to work there, Oakridge is so close to my home and UBC, and I think I’ll continue working during first year anyways because I’m taking like two courses. But I don’t have any retail experience ): I applied to minimum wage cashier positions at Shoppers Drug Mart and Save on Foods and no response LOL.
Wishing you the best!
Vivian (who STILL doesn’t have her L)
Photos to come later - my auntie took my camera for her car crash, long story.
I visited Wenshu Monastery and Dujiangyang the past two days. I took a few good pictures, I nabbed a shot from this gorgeous temple before quickly being escorted out by a monk as they were closing to the public. A few thoughts:
- At the monastery (which is more like a large, lush park with a small monastery and scattered temples and pagodas) entrance there’s a really tall stupa at whose seat Buddhists prostrate. I was taking a picture from the seat of the stupa, which I’m pretty sure is somewhat sacrilegious, when I heard this really really quiet meowing. I found its source at the stupa’s base, near some oranges offered in puja - the tiniest kitten I’ve ever seen in my life, about 10 cm long. It was dirty and skinny. The people were prostrating, unbeknownst to them, before a famished baby cat.
- Tourist places cost a lot of money here…Dujiangyan cost 90 RMB to enter, though I was able to get in free with my gramps.
- My gramps speaks in an accent that my 小姑 夫 calls “a relic from the Tang Dynasty”, which is probably impossible but I believe it because I NEVER KNOW WHAT HE IS SAYING. He sounds like an asian Grampa Simpson, and acts like him, too.
- On the bank of the most visited canal at dujiangyan is a series of shanty-esque houses whose doors can barely fit me. Its residents provide tea for tourists, and ear-cleaning. I felt like taking pictures of the houses because they were eclectically attractive (the composition, the odd paint colour choices, the occasional Chinese graffiti, the surrounding greenery and irrigation canal), but it also felt rude and patronizing, and my grandma berated me when I did take a photo, asking why I would take a picture of a shitty house.
- In fact, my family/their friends here - especially the elders, actually - are really fond of ‘new China’, and are more eager for me to see the shiny 20-floor shopping complexes and bright lights than the older stuff. With exception of my gramps. I can understand why. I admit to being delighted in that gwailo-way by the repetitive, monolithic, and unadorned concrete apartment complexes (whose windows residents for some reason furnish with blue cellophane and pottery), and the sketchy makeshift restaurants at busy intersections, and even the tiny-door crumbling detached units within UNESCO world heritage sites. But yeah, obviously fancy can’t obscure poverty. Hooray for globalization and the the International Style!
My schedule for the next three weeks (coming back mid-July now) is still up in the air, but it looks like I will probs be going to Lijiang, Xi’An, then departing from Beijing.
When I come back to Vancouver there’s a few things I need to do:
- Get really good at math
- Read some stuff on computer science, math, stats so I’m not a totally n00b come September
- Finish Infinite Jest
- Get a freaking job. Anything. This LG will work for minimum wage…I don’t know how I’m going to pay for UBC ): I don’t want to bleed my parents entirely the next four years.
- Download Lightroom, PS7 on new laptop and get to work on the shitty unedited photos I’ve taken this trip
- Sleepover :)
He brought me out into the hall (I could have sworn it was haunted)
And told me something that I didn’t know that I wanted to hear:
That there was nothing that I could do to save you
The choir’s going to sing, and this thing is going to kill you
Something in my throat made my next words shake
And something in the wires made the lightbulbs break
There was glass inside my feet and raining down from the ceiling
It opened up the scars that had just finished healing
It tore apart the canyon running down your femur
(I thought that it was beautiful, it made me a believer)
And as it opened I could hear you howling from your room
But I hid out in the hall until the hurricane blew