June 2015

It goes without saying that my blog shares only my feelings, and that I haven’t researched actual facts or statistics prior to writing anything here. Disclaimer done… now onto a story of personal growth and finding a side of China I thought was missing.

If you are on my WeChat you will recognize the story of Fred in RongXian, Sichuan Province. A few weeks ago I went with a group of Chinese friends to RongXian and ZiGong to see their hometown. Our first day we went up to the top of a mountain covered in gardenias. It was magical. The smell and greenery with the sparkly white flowers made it appear like we were in a fairy tale.

Mind you, that was after we climbed this mountain which was no easy feat. None of us ladies were prepared for mountain climbing and I’m surprised no one lost a heel or snagged a skirt on the underbrush or rocks. Once at the top though it was well worth the physical discomfort and scratches on my feet!

We drank tea in a meadow area that was surrounded by the gardenias and I got some great photos of a local dragonfly. I also got my picture taken with many strangers who realized I was the only foreigner on the mountain and they were excited when I was cool with taking a picture with them. This is not uncommon in China. Many people want to take pictures with me, for their own reasons that I cannot guess at, and I usually am totally cool with it because they are so honestly excited to meet me and happy that I am not some grumpy foreigner.

My friend Lili whose family I spent Spring Festival with took us to eat rabbit for dinner and then we had to find a place to sleep. Her Baba said that I would most likely not be comfortable in their home in RongXian since it is old and has limited amenities. I insisted that I would love to spend some time with Mama who was at their house that night and that I would most definitely be comfortable. Lili sighed and agreed that it was cool if I insisted on staying with the family, but was only staying there since she was obligated to. She honestly wanted to stay at a hotel since she feels that dwelling is beneath her standards.

We arrived on the campus of the RongXian High School and met up with Mama in a super cute courtyard. We stayed in a small apartment that was provided to Mama and Baba by the school since they are retired employees of that school. The apartment was pretty comfortable for being in the subtropics, complete with mandatory mosquito netting surrounding the beds. There was running water and the bed was very old but comfortable. The apartment came complete with our guard spider Fred.

Yep, if you know me, you know I hate spiders. The bigger they are the less I like them. RongXian is an area with banana trees and lots of plants that have drip leaves. That means spiders the size of basketballs. Fred was just hanging out near the ceiling above the bed eating the mosquitoes and chillin’ when we got there. I call it personal growth that I did not freak out, scream, or try to kill Fred. I was super reasonable, in fact no one there realized I do not like spiders, they did wonder why I took a picture of him though. So Fred was bigger than my hand, not kidding, and I think he was well fed by the mosquitoes because he did not look enticed by the new people blood that just walked into his pad. I made a silent pact with him that if he didn’t move all night I would make sure to send him extra mosquitoes before I left.

He was a perfect gentleman and did not move at all during the night. I know, because I was listening for movement from that area of the wall and heard nothing. I’m not sure I slept actually, but that is beside the point. So personal growth for me! What made the entire thing worthwhile was that at night there was a huge rainstorm outside our apartment. It sounded like those movies of rain in the Amazon Forests, it was incredible. The rain pounding on the roof and onto the leaves near the door captivated my imagination and I basked in the gloriousness that was that storm.

For follow up, the next day we went to ZiGong where there is a huge dinosaur museum. It was really cool and we got some good pictures and had some fun. We ate rabbit head for lunch since it is the specialty of ZiGong. That sounds easy until you try it with chopsticks. It is rather difficult to get the meat out of the bones and from the cavities. In general the trip was interesting and I saw lots of things that I might not have seen if I didn’t know people from that area of Sichuan.

Now to my most recent trip to PanZhiHua. For this trip, you should know that I contacted a local Chengdu friend and he put me in touch with his little sister. Between the three of us we connected me with Mama and Baba in PanZhiHua and scheduled a time for Alonso (from the UW Crew) and me to visit the family home in PanZhiHua. Neither my friend not little sister could come with us for this trip so I basically went on blind faith that these people were good like their kids.

For some time now I have been feeling like a hypocrite in my research regarding the Yi minority group. How can I study a group of people if I don’t understand who they are and how they live? I asked my friend if his family would treat me like their family and show me how they live their daily lives and they were absolutely cool with it. They were originally worried about the condition of their home but I assured them that I wanted to be treated as family not a special guest which is what usually happens when I go out to do field research.

Now, I know what not having amenities is like, but Alonso, he wasn’t quite aware of things until I spelled it out for him. I made sure he knew what he was getting into before we left. Electricity, no problem, running water, no problem, showers and toilets…problem. Hoses and holes are the best you get in those areas and sure enough that is what we got! Actually, their facilities while shared with other families were extremely well made and kept clean, I was super impressed. As is usual the toilet hole is placed near the pig pens for ease of cleansing though this had some good ventilation and was built very strategically.

Mama and Baba put us in a room together away from the family so we could have some privacy which was really sweet of them. Baba even found a friend who drove to pick us up at the train station. We spent three days with the family learning how to cook Yi food Baba style, embroider Yi clothing Mama style and seeing the area of RenHe and PanZhiHua the city. We took breaks from the sun (about 90-100F) in the shade of a mango tree in their courtyard. We barbequed at night in the courtyard slices of pork, potatoes, eggplant, and other goodies that we could dip into Baba’s special spice mixture (which he also showed us how to make bless him!).

I called this picture "handsome Baba" which translates to "爸爸好帅“

Alonso and I ate so much on the trip we were sure our stomachs would explode. I also taught the children how to cheers the adults and they were so adorable!!! They would come around with their cups of soda GanBei-ing everyone. I got to dress in Yi clothing; I couldn’t move because it was definitely made for someone half my size but I did manage to put it on, small victories…

Baba and Mama and the rest of that family were some of the nicest people I’ve met. Many days in China I find myself wondering why people are so cruel and heartless. I see someone get hit by a car or motorcycle and people walk quickly by or stand in the back taking pictures on their phone not helping the injured person. It is because here if you help someone you become liable to make sure they are taken care of which means you take them to the hospital and pay for everything. This creates a fear of helping others.

As an American this is disheartening. No one here wants to help others, despite being a country who says they are community minded not single minded like us westerners! I have a hard time with this concept that they believe in the greater “us” when they won’t help grandma cross the busy road or pick up the kid who fell off his bike in the busy intersection.

Mama and Baba helped remind me that people here do help each other. Their family has a great connection with the local farmers and city people. They are a strong family that believes in some really progressive ideas like not being concerned about who their son marries as long as she accepts their minority culture. That is so unusual I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of it among Yi people. Baba had some great heart to heart talks with Alonso and me after consuming enough barbeque and beer to fill the local village. Speaking of the local village, we invited most of them to join us during the nights and we learned a lot about them and their beliefs and hometown over our massive dinners.

Seeing such kind hearted people has strengthened me for this last month in China. It made my heart lighten to see their love for each other and for us, complete strangers! They really did treat us like family and all of us feel a deep sense of loss now that we are back in Chengdu. I miss them terribly and Baba sends me messages and pictures reminding us that we are loved and deeply missed. Alonso and I both felt like PanZhiHua/RenHe was home. The foothills, mango trees and the kindness of the people in that area was heartwarming and soothing to our frazzled city souls. I hope to go back and see the family soon, they made a deep impression upon me and I hope as their daughter I can make them proud and return to them one day.

On a side note, it is cicada season and I love this time of year! The rolling sounds of the cicadas singing in the willow trees along the river near my house is extremely comforting and a friendly reminder of nature in a big city. The cicadas also herald summer, 90 plus degree weather with humidity at about 85% which means most of us are quietly sweating while we study and work.