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 don’t own or owe each other anything, that doesn’t 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. There’s 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
Daba’s Inn seemed the last old structure standing in the
“My people…” Daba sighed and shook his head. “They just want the 50,000 yuan a year from the Han businessman. They don’t 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, Daba’s 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
That’s at least the official version of the story from Old Wang, a theme I had heard repeatedly in
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 morning’s hike. Flies were bombarding us despite the burning incenses. It was a enchanting breezy day by the lake.
Old Wang said he didn’t care about money. He just loved the tranquility. I said I noticed that the Sichuan side of the lake had built nice asphalt roads—unlike the bumpy stone roads on the Yunnan side of the lake—which made me worry a bit that the Sichuan government was intent on bringing hordes of tourists in. He said that’s not the end of it—an 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, we’d 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, “Wouldn’t 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 it’s about time. I concurred—after three nights, the bed bugs at Daba’s 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