In Dehong July 17

October 8, 2007

July 17

In Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture

After a few days of preparation, I am right now down in Dehong, which borders the Shan State and Kachin State of Burma. This interesting place has given me quite a lot of inspirations for my dissertation research, namely about cross-border ethnic  groups and their changing ethnic identity and national identity. Basically, Dai in China and Shan in Burma belong to one ethnic group, and the same thing for Jingpo in China and Kachin in Burma. However, despite their common ethnic background, the Shan and Kachin had been fighting for independence from Burma for decades, and even these days after cease-fire treaties, they still keep most of the weapons by themselves and dont really have a sense of belonging to the Union of Myanma. However, the Dai and Kachin in China have not done so towards the Chinese government, and the sense of being a part of the Chinese state (nation) is quite strong. So my research right now is basically why this is the case.

Today I had some interviews with officials from the ethnic affairs bureau, and I am thinking of tomorrow going down to some villages along the border to do some further interviews.

Btw, there is a very good hotspring here, and I went to take a nice bath yesterday amid rice fields, blue mountains and buddhist temples. Very nice.


July 03

Coming back to modern life

Finally, I am back in Kunming. I took a 8 hour night bus from Nanjian, and arrived in Kunming 3 am in the morning. All the people slept on the bus until 6ish, and I did the same. When I checked in the hostel here, the first thing I did was rush to the shower and took my first shower in 6 days. The bizarre thing about the Chinese countryside is that technology has reached very far. Many peasants i nthe mountains have cell phones, and almost every household has TV. Some places internet is also available. However, the very basic hygene such as shower and toilet are still simply too dirty. Toilets are usually a hole on the ground, and there are so many many flys and stink heavily!!!

The last township I visited was one mixed with Han Chinese, Yi, and Hui (Chinese muslim). There is a Chinese style temple in the township, but locals told me that was a mosque. Most of the restaurants in town are also muslim ones. Relationship among different ethnic groups are actually quite good, women with head scarfs chat with other non-muslim women on the street, and everyone seems to know each other, despite their different ethnic background. I visited some Muslim household. Most of them has lots of Islamic elements in their interior decoration, such as with lots of Arabic symbols etc. However, there is a sense of mixture of Chinese and Islamic culture. For example, they still post Chinese style paintings with the words sometimes written in Arabic, however, the arabic words are arranged from top down, which is apparently Chinese style. Some places I still saw the picture of Mao, which was very rare in other places. For local people, the differences between different ethnic groups are simply dietary, since Han Chinese and Yi eat pork but the Hui don’t. There are still some limits in inter-marraige, but still exists with some arrangements. Ethnicity was not too strong a marker, since people have similar life style and basically do the same agricultural work in the field.

However, I must say that this trip to the Wu Liang mountain area was not as successful as I expected. Of course I have seen lots of interesting stuff, and experiences a part of China that I have never before. However, I still haven’t come up with a good idea of how these things are useful for my dissertation. The project that I observed was not as claimed by its initiator, and I couldn’t find any obvious differences in terms of political and social behavior across different ethnic groups. Most of the Yi I encountered simply couldn’t speak Yi language anymore, and except they still call themselves as Yi, there are simply not so much differences between them and the Han Chinese. They dress up the same, and speak the same local dialects as the Han Chinese. Intermarriage between Han Chinese and Yi are very high. Ethnicity in this part of China perhaps only exists in their registration card, but not so much in real life.

Market day June 28

October 8, 2007

June 28

Market day

In this part of rural China, because the means of transportation is very hard, there is no common market place everyday, but only once in every five days. As most people are peasants and don’t really have any concept of weekend, so the commonly accepted idea of 7 days a week doesn’t really exist. People calculate days and come out all the way from remote villages to a township and buy and sell stuffs, such as pork, chicken, vegetables, clothes, little piggies, and even TV. The thing is although most villages are still quite poor, but almost every household now has a TV. Therefore, TV has become the only mean that they know the outside world, as the transportation to the outside is much more difficult. Thanks to this, almost everyone understands mandarin, although they barely can speak it. People here speak a dialect of Yunnan, so sometimes I have to ask an interpretor to help me understand villagers’ responses to my questions. Its quite funny actually, its like you ask in English, and people understand you and then respond in German.

Although the Houqing township I am staying is a Yi administrative township, and most of the villagers that I have interviewed are of the Yi minority, but they have been very much assimilated. They speak Han Chinese, dress up the same way, and intermarry with Han Chinese. Their kids are usually registered as Yi, since to register as a minority can bring some benefits in school and in the job market. So when they face the choice of registration when a child is born, usually parents will register as Yi (or other ethnic minorities but not Han). Thats why the number of ethnic minorities (statistically anyway) is rising very rapidly. Only one person that I met can speak some Yi language, but not very much. The other county I am going in a few days will be a Yi autonomous county, so I am expecting to see more Yi culture, since usually in an autonomous county languages dresses what not might be better preserved.

In the Mountains June 26

October 8, 2007

June 26

In the mountains

Hello friends and other people who read my blog, I am right now in Houqing township in Yunxian county, Yunnan province. This is a township that is more than 2000 meters above the sea level, and are located in endless big mountains and big forest. Sorry that I took me so long to write this blog as apparently in such big mountains internet places are very difficult to find. Plus most of the time I have been spending in the villages, where no such thing ever exist. Today I met a guy who works for the Chinese government here so I can use his computer in the office.

The area is very poor. I actually haven’t seen such poor places in my life and I grew up in China. The only road connecting it with the county seat takes 4 hours and is winding right off cliffs. I didn’t even dare to look outside of the window and sometimes I even thought I might really died when the car fell off the cliff. The only good thing I can say is that you can see so MANY STARs, and the sky was so close to you just like you are looking at the ceiling. I have been interviewing villagers about rural development projects carried out here by the Chinese government and other international agencies on biodiversity and micro-credit community management issues. Very fascinating stuff.

Today I talked to a guy, who has been ill for 8 years, and he still needs to support his two kids at high school. In the middle of the conversation, he suddenly started to cry and lamenting about how hard his life has been. Immediately I don’t know what to say and tears started to come out of my eyes as well. I don’t know what to say and just listened to his story in tears. Frankly I have never been so touched by such things that my homeland is still so far far away behind and there are so many such honest and lovely people who needs more economic development to raise them up from poverty. I gave him some money in the end, but he refused. I didn’t know what to do and what to say…….

June 19

Leaving for the mountain tomorrow

After more than a week in Kunming networking and just sitting around relaxing and drinking, tomorrow evening I am taking a night bus to my first destination Yun Xian county (Cloud County) in the Wuliang mountain. I will be there visiting several villages, and then head north to NanJian Yi Autonomous County to visit a few more. I will be back to Kunming probably in 10 days time, unless I fell off the cliff or be eaten by a big animal.

For the first section of the trip, I am going with an English guy who is doing his masters at the New School in New York, and a Chinese girl who he met here in Kunming. This guy is a mess, don’t speak a word of Chinese, and have no idea of what China is really like, so I dont think he can survive the tough countryside. Furthermore, I feel that the Chinese girl is working very hard on him, so perhaps when we come back from the trip, he will probably get married with her already.. poor thing. Apparently it is very common thing, as happened everywhere in Asia, that lots of Asian women want to get married with a western guy. Perhaps more so in Thailand, but I have seen many such couples in Kunming already. I don’t know about the success rate. Many times, its just a relationship with convenience, the western guy can learn some English and get easy sex, while the chinese girl might get some money or dream for going to Europe or America for awhile… Am I being too bitter and cynical? haha

I have made a good friend here with an Irish girl from Northern Ireland whose name is Karen. We have been going out for drinks quite often lately together with her friends.. She is very easygoing and simple as a country girl…I think she was a bit hitting on me at the very begining. Things like this very rarely happen to me, I am just flattered. Haha!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t know whether there are internet avaiable in the mountains. Perhaps in a big township but definitely not in the villages. So we will see whether I can keep writing this blog when I am there…

Here is a photo of the mountain area that I am going..

Countryside Fun June 17

October 8, 2007

June 17

Countryside Fun

Two of my friends from college now live in Kunming, so today they drove me out to the the countryside just outside of Kunming to experience the fun of being a peasant. Yes, we went to several fruit orchards, and we picked plums, peaches, and Chinese strawberries directly from the trees. The concept is you can eat while you are picking them, and later you can just pay some money to the owner of the orchards. This type of activities are extremely popular recently in China for urban middle class people to experience the beautiful countryside.

Yunnan is indeed very beautiful. We drove on the highway out of Kunming, and there are big mountains and lots of forests along the highway, and in some way the scenary here reminds me of the trip that I once took to Maryland close to West Virginia. This part of China is very livable, beautiful scenary, nice weather, no polution, and very cheap…

Villagers here are quite well-off, perhaps because they are quite close to a big city. There are lots of green-house thing in the villages that we visited, and commercial agriculture is doing very well. They plant lots of vegetables, fruits, and flowers. Kunming is actually one of the biggest flower producer, and many of the tulips whatnot are then exported to europe and many other countries..

But my friends kindly reminded me that the area I am going to visit next week will be veyr different, that is much much much poorer..

June 13

Rural development in 46 minority villages

Something really interesting is happening. I met a prof. here in the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences the other day, and he introduced to me some interesting rural development projects he is doing in 46 villages in a Yi majority area in the WuLiang mountain area. According to him, they set up community development management board in each villages, and all the board members are democratically elected through fair democratic elections. After elected, the community management board then gives out micro-credits to villages to support their agricultural development activities. The community management boards have become so successful that the officla government village heads and the party organization have become non-functional.

He is quite interested in my research, and asked me to go down to the villages to visit next week. The 46 villages are located in the mountainous areas in central Yunnan, and majority of the villagers are of the Yi ethnic minority. As he is an economist be training, he hopes that I, as a political scientist, can do some research on the impact of these community management board on social change, inter-ethnic relations, political relations with the government etc. He is very supportive and said that I can do whatever I want there, doing surveys, interviews anything. He is even willing to assignm one of his grad students to go as my research assistant…. I am really looking forward for the trip.

The 46 villages are mainly located in two counties in the Wu liang mountain area. One is Nanjiang Yi autonomous acounty, and the other is Yun Xian, which also has a big number of ethnic minority pockets. The trip there might takes about a day by bus, as it is very mountainous, and things there, according to him, are very cheap. Hostels only cost 10 RMB, its like 1.2 dollars….I am expecting living conditions are very hard there, as these two counties are one of the most poor in the province. So that will be a great experience..Hope I will not eaten up by some big animals or being bitten by some vicious snakes…

Kunming The Hump June 11

October 8, 2007

June 11

Kunming The Hump

Today I flew from home and after 3 hours I am now in Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan Province in Southwest China. I checked into a youth Hostel called The Hump, quite nice place actually. I got a single room, but have to share bathroom and shower with other people, but it only cost me 9 dollars a night. The room is small, but quite clean, so I think I am staying here for a few days. There are lots of foreigners here, backpackers, and the hostel has a very bohemian atmosphere, very nice!

Tonight I am going to have dinner with a friend of Logan. Logan introduced Jenn to me before I left DC, as she is a good contact person in Kunming. So tonight I am going to join Jenn to a dinner party with some of her friends. She also said that many of her friends work for NGOs and some of them work with projects related with ethnic minorities, so it will be a good opportuny to meet people and perhaps find more contact information for my research….

Kunming is such a lovely city, nice weather, excellent food, and little pollution (much less than many other big Chinese cities)… I am starting to enjoy it..

June 07

鬼吹灯 Ghost Blows Out the Candle Light

Monday I took a trip to Shanghai to renew my student visa at the US consulate in Shanghai. Because I still had some jet lag, I couldn’t really sleep very well at night and woke up very early in the morning. After a long trip to Shanghai from Hangzhou, and all the waiting time in the US consulate, when I came out I was really tired. When walking down the Nan Jing road, I was feeling my eyes were just about to close off. I saw a starbucks coffee and got myself a coffee, but it seems cafeine no longer works. Thus I was in no mood for shopping or any sightseeing thing, so I went directly to the Shanghai South Rail station. However, when I got the rail station, there were still about 3 hrs before departure to Hangzhou. So I wandered around the train station bookstore, and sought for things to read. Very Randomly a series of four books came before me, so I took one up and started to skim.. Immediately, I was intrigued about the books. The title of the book series is 鬼吹灯,literally translated as Ghost BLows Out the Candel Light. Gui Chui Deng is a jagon used by professional tomb diggers to refer to a situation that, if the candle lit in the tomb got blowed out, then there must be a ghost in it, and the tomb digger should leave immediately. The title itself doesn’t really sound very interesting. However, the subtitles of the four books are very mythical and very historical/archeological. The first is about an old city of Jing Jue, which is now in Taklamakan desert in Xinjiang, the second is about a labrinth in Shanxi, the third about a bud valley in Yunnan, and the last about an underground palace in the Kunlun mountain of the Greater Tibetan plateau. So I decided to buy one to kill off time. As I am more interested in Yunnan, so I bought the one on Yunnan and started to read in the train station waiting room.

Trust, I haven’t really read such a gripping book for a long long time. It is at this moment that I understood the meaning of time flys. 3 hours went away so quickly, and the 1 hr and half train-ride to hangzhou was just like a flash. It is difficult here to offer a detailed summary of the book, what I can say is that it involves lots of Chinese ancient mythology, Feng Shui, Cosmology, and history. The main characters went to a valley in Southern Yunnan to dig an ancient tomb of the late Han Dynasty of a king, who was an expert in the use of mythical insects and obsessed with going to heavan. Note the heavan here is not the Christian one, but one of the Chinese Taoism/Buddhism/Superstition that involves the use of mythical elements to help the individual to escape the earth. Perhaps it is similar to the Egyptian mythology I don’t know. Anyway, the adventure undertook by the main characters were just like watching the Indiana Jones movies plus Harry Potter. Especially the knowledge the author grasps on Chinese ancient mythology and feng shui was impressive, and the novel was written quite smoothly as the author was quite a good storyteller.

When I got home, and finished the book over night. The next day I did some internet searching, and found out that the book series was a big hit in China right now, and even some US Holleyhood movie makers are interested in turning it into a movie. So watch out! The unfortunate thing, on part of me, is that many of the stuff from the book is very difficult to translate into English (totally out of my capacity). Just the idea of explaining Feng Shui will be too much to handle. It might be very difficult for western readers to understand as it is totally out of the monotheic Christian epistemology. Perhaps it is similar to the situation of the impossibility of translating the great martial arts literature from Chinese into English. Anyway, here is a pic of the book cover..

June 04

Flight back to China

I hate long flight, but obviously due to the fact that my home country is so far away, there is no other way to get around that option. I got to the airport on June 1st at around 10am. My flight is at 12:30pm, so I have about less than two hours before boarding. Because my sister wants me to buy some dutyfree stuff for her, so I spent most of the waiting time cruising shops and buying stuff. I bought lots of cosmetic stuff, a Savador Fergamo belt for my brother inlaw, and some liquor. I love shopping..

The flight to Beijing is full, literally all seats were occupied. Seems now its summer time and all kinds of people are going to China. Chinese students going back home, american students go to study Chinese, business people, and lots of tourists. My seat was way back in the cabin, which means everytime the flight attendant did the service thing, I was always the last person to get food or drinks. The good thing is all liquor drinks are still free at the united flight. I took an AA flight to China before, and I was outrageous to find that all alcholic drinks cost 5 dollars. Anyway, this time is free so I drank several bottles of write wine, and some other cocktail drinks, hoping that I could get drunk and go to sleep.

Alas, I couldn’t sleep at all, despite the drinks and all that. So after several failed attempts to fall asleep, I gave up, and started to drink coffee. I have to say that during the whole flight I drank at least 5 or six coffee that I could feel my head is vibrating!!! So I walked around the cabin, talked to different people, and tried to read Orientalism that I borrowed from a friend. SO BORING.

The only enjoyment came when two middle aged women sitting in front of me started to discuss world politics with a Chinese lady. They were from Georgia and with strong southern accent. They talked from a very conservative religious point of view on Iraq, Iraq, middle east, muslim etc, totally bigotry (to me) yet still very funny and the most interesting part is their views did have some internal logic in them. The Chinese lady once tried to defend a bit on part of the middle east, and one of the southern ladies said that “you live in the US too, don’t you worried that you might get bombed by Iran?”  Oh well, seems the scare effect of the Bush administration and the ultra right are very effective.

I got to Beijing at 1pm local time, and took another flight home. When I got home I was already 24 hrs without sleep. After a big dinner, and shower, I hit the sack so quickly without even realizing that I was going to sleep……