Sunday, July 29, 2007

Impression: Lugu Lake

The Lugu Lake on the Sichuan and Yunnan border was a bumpy 7 hour bus ride away from Lijiang. Relatively few tourists visit there, and those who do, usually take the two-day tour arriving at the lake around 4pm and leaving the next morning back to Lijiang at 10am. Most of these tourists stayed in Luoshui, Falling Water, the most developed village around the lake, for staged bon-fire parties and a peek at the much-hyped "last surviving matrichal culture in the world!" With the supposed promiscuity of the pretty Mosuo women, a single guy just might get lucky and receive an invitation to a private chamber for a "walking marriage" at night.

Daba, the owner of the hostel on the Lige peninsula where I stayed, said it was simply not true. "The so-called walking marriage is actually serious for the Mosuos, he said. Even though the couple in love dont own or owe each other anything, that doesnt mean they switch partners all the time. Relationships tend to be long term, and when the couple no longer love each other, they part ways.

In fact, he continued, this system is far superior to the ones you have in Han regions. Theres no haggling over child custody or financials in case of a breakup. Everything stays with the maternal family.

Daba was proud of his tradition, yet he had legally married according to Chinese law. He had attended university in Beijing, and had his first job in the local government, so a legal marriage helped him appear less minority. But he stressed he had never used his marriage certificate, and though he helped out with his wifes family, it was his maternal family to which he held the utmost loyalty.

Dabas Inn seemed the last old structure standing in the Lige Village, the village closest to Luoshui. All around the lake villages were undergoing intense transformation, the fierceness of which rivaled that of the Olympic-frenzied Beijing. The Mosuos live with their big extended maternal families. Now every family in Lige has a two-storey inn standing in front of the old family quarter. Most of these inns were built by Han people who migrated here and leased out land from the locals.

My people…” Daba sighed and shook his head. They just want the 50,000 yuan a year from the Han businessman. They dont know how to protect their culture. And the county government is not providing any guidance. The Han people come over here, build an inn, and then start selling our culture like fast food. How could this be sustainable?

To be fair, the local government had implemented strict preservation rules: every family and every inn must have a sewage line running to the nearby treatment facility, which kept the lake water crystal clear; every new building had to conform to the local architecture style (unfortunately, like construction elsewhere in China, all the new faux-traditional buildings look exactly the same). Most of all, the locals were happy. They welcomed the tourists and the Han businessmen who had a much better sense in running the inns.

But Daba was most concerned with the culture itself. There are so many beautiful aspects about our culture, he said, but the Han tourists only knew of the walking marriage, and even that was mostly misinformed. They knew nothing about our religion or our language. The central government itself mistakenly grouped us under the Naxis in 1950. We need to learn to show the outsiders the real Mosuo. Daba was one of the organizers of a local cultural preservation foundation; but no fund was coming in.

Unsurprisingly, few tourists seemed to care. During my three nights staying at the lake, Dabas one-hundred-year-old building had the lowest occupancy every night. The rooms were dark, the communal shower rudimentary, and there were bed bugs. And Daba was the most morose among all the inn keepers. Tourists wanted bigger rooms, hopefully with private bath.

Those tourists, Daba snickered, they are not true travelers. True travelers, like those foreign backpackers, they love the authenticity of my place.

Authenticity was what attracted Old Wang to the lake as well. The next day I hiked along the lake towards the Grass Seaa beautiful expansive marshland on the Sichuan side of the lakeand had lunch at Old Wangs guest inn. Old Wang and his wife had several successful businesses in Manchuria. They loved traveling, and a year ago when they traveled to the Lugu Lake, they decided to stay. The people were authentic. The natural scenery was beautiful beyond description. They asked their relatives to take over their businesses, and they built an inn and stayed.

Thats at least the official version of the story from Old Wang, a theme I had heard repeatedly in Yunnanwearied Han people found inspirations from the scenery and the peole in Yunnan and decided to stay.

It was right before noon. There was only me and Old Wang in the dining area which had huge windows overlooking the marshland. Old Wang told me stories of the local Mosuos, stories he claimed that the Mosuos themselves had forgotten. The rice porridge tasted great after a good mornings hike. Flies were bombarding us despite the burning incenses. It was a enchanting breezy day by the lake.

Old Wang said he didnt care about money. He just loved the tranquility. I said I noticed that the Sichuan side of the lake had built nice asphalt roadsunlike the bumpy stone roads on the Yunnan side of the lakewhich made me worry a bit that the Sichuan government was intent on bringing hordes of tourists in. He said thats not the end of itan airport was being planned and supposedly would go into operation by 2010.

That would be the end of the lake, I lamented. He said no worry, wed have moved to a different tranquil place by then.

Then immediately, he started bragging about how he turned a profit after only 5 months. He was thinking of building a chicken pen and raise tons of chicken. He would charge tourists to shoot the chicken with real rifles and cook for them immediately afterwards. He could get the chicks for X yuan a piece, and charge XX yuan a piece to shoot them when they grew up. He would end up with XXX yuan profit with XXXX chickens in the pen.

I was silent for a beat, then I asked, Wouldnt that ruin the tranquility?

Oh, he said, by then I would have moved on to another piece. I would let someone else manage the place and collect the money for me.

That night Daba invited his friends over for a drink. They were three young Han businessmen who were loud and friendly and loved to drink. They were building a fancy inn with bathrooms looking out at the lake in the village. Three young Chinese tourists and I joined them. We told stories, drank barley liquor and sang songs. Daba said he had begun contemplating some renovation work, perhaps repainting the entire building and remodeling the two big rooms to add in private bathrooms. His friends all said its about time. I concurredafter three nights, the bed bugs at Dabas place had really started bugging me.

The gentle waves of the lake hit the banks as the night’s merriment went on, and stars slowly came out until they filled the entire sky. I was happy being half drunk and in Yunnan. It was not my place to lament the encroachment of Chinese TV and American soap operas in the Mosuo village. It was not my place to criticize the travelers who want comfort and the innkeepers who want to make some money by catering to that comfort. It would be simple condescension if I were to note the irony of the Mosuos who had traveled far away from home wanting to preserve the tradition that the true locals seem indifferent to leave behind. The forces of the people coming and going, of them chasing the next fad destination, of locals marketing themselves to outsiders, of conservators striving to conserve and radicals fighting to shed their skins; the changes, the unstoppable changes, the scarily rapid changes sweeping everywhere—Mosuo, Yunnan, China, and everywhere else—they are beyond my comprehension and judgment. I can only observe, it seems, and appreciate the fragile scenery and people while they last.


I'm in said...

If you want tranquility and the "real rural Sichuan", go to Yongning and walk north east out of town, past the hot srpings and keep going for two days to Muli. You'll pass though Yi and Mosuo villages with no electricity and no villas. You have to cross a mountain pass about 4000m high. You won't meet many toher peope, and on other side of the pass it is mostly Tibetan people.

Little Owl said...

looks like lugu still has its stunning natural beauty at least for now. Four years ago, I toured around Lijiang, dali,the butterfly spring etc. They were charming, but one could tell they were all sadly artificial and staged. And golf courses were planned in YuLong mountain etc. Economy does seem always win.

Lugu was closed for some weather related reason and an alleged three -month abduction of a foreign male visitor by the Mosou women... suppose another tale for the local culture. Good to see it through your post.

and welcome back

Baomin said...

I don't have to say how much I enjoy my reading of your blog. Keep up writing.

Beijing Loafer said...

Thanks guys.

Anonymous said...

are there more pictures besides the first one? I can't seem to see the rest.

Beijing Loafer said...

Fixed. Thanks for the reminder.

Dr. Claude Mariottini said...

Thank you for your blog. I have a question: I publish a blog, that was read by many people in Beijing. But lately, no one in Beijing has visited my blog. Is the government in China banning blogs from the USA?

Claude Mariottini