Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Guanxi Guanxi Guanxi

Luck was on my side today.

For starters, every time I entered a building... it started to rain. And every time I stepped outside again--it stopped. (I know, aren't I special. The gods must be on my side-- it is the final day of the good luck Torch Festival right now, after all.)

But more importantly: today was the day I made use of my guanxi (connections, connections, connections)-- and met with the head of The Nature Conservancy here in Lijiang. They have programs in alternative energy, national park preservation, animal-life conservation, etc. To be honest, my "meeting" was really just a random "dropping-in," and I totally lucked out. Despite my email to the office's head last week, I had heard no word or invitation for a meeting. Luckily, though, I had made friends with the student volunteers who work there; Yana, Sue, and Andy assured me he'd be in the office and I could just stop by. (They also all study environmental science/engineering. As Lijiang residents, they volunteer at TNC's Nature Center over the summer.)

Despite my unannounced arrival, however, the TNC staff was overwhelmingly helpful. Part of me thinks it was my 1/2 Asianness that got me in the door. The head's first words to me were, "Are you part Chinese?" To my nod, he tipped his head back in affirmative laughter: "I knew it." Perhaps this broke the ice? (Or, maybe it was because I came bearing gifts from the guanxi who recommended me in the first place.)

[OTHER GUANXI SIDENOTE SHOUT OUTS: Prof. Fitzpatrick, thank you for writing me that introduction letter, and Mom, thanks for translating it. C. Hayden, merci for the suggestion of namecards, and Xiao, thanks for making the call!]

Out of utter generosity, the head recommended I speak to a friend of his... a Naxi woman who designs water systems in Lijiang. Perfection! Furthermore, he spent perhaps 30 minutes searching for the number of Yang Fuquan, a professor of Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences & eloquent spokesman of Naxi Culture. 20 phone calls later--I'm serious--he found it! I am humbly grateful for the veritable "in the door-ness" this guanxi now gives me.

Other news of note... I was invited to a project presentation meeting at Green Watershed, an organization that works in the Lijiang area to promote water rights among local communities. UNFORTUNATELY (or perhaps fortunately?) I had already made plans to trek the Tiger Leaping Gorge-- one of the deepest gorges in the world (or so says my quick, sneaky reference of Wikipedia.) Naxi live throughout this gorge, which acts as the Tupperware container (freeze it, melt it, step on it... it endures all seasons) of Lijiang's Jinsha River, tributary to the Yangtze. I hear it's gorgeous (see google images for yourself), and I'm excited to see the other forms of gushing water that call this area home. (And perfect place to learn about the significance of water to the Naxi people.) Sadly, though, the Chinese government is trying to build 8 dams in this area, so who knows what will happen to it in the upcoming years. The need for water always seems to come joined at the hip with damming, relocating, flooding...

Living in Lijiang has certainly been an eye-opening experience. I've experienced so many "worlds" in this tiny little place. Life of my "host" sister who left her family's farm this summer to work at my inn. Life of my Chinese friends vacationing in Lijiang while Beijing's construction ban is in effect. Life of my Chinese student friends volunteering while on vacation from university. Life of the various foreign travelers who clump together in backpacker inns and enjoy in the traveling lifestyle. It is really interesting to be here. In fact, it's strange too; weird to become familiar with both the Chinese culture of tourism and the Naxi culture of, well, indigenous awesome-ness. I really do want to become friends with the sweet old Naxi women that walk through these streets everyday, but the whole idea of tourism prevents that somehow (and also possibly because many of them don't even speak Mandarin.) Comparing it to my time in Cameroon, for example, there was none of this tourism business. I was seen more in a "Development/ Peace Corps" context, where people were more eager to welcome me in & help me out. I think people feel it's weird that I would even want to get to know them & their culture. Some of the Chinese tourists here are so sassy to the people that work here, yelling at them for being slow, incompetent. Not everyone is like this, of course, but I certainly witness such a scene everyday. So, why would these people that travel around and hike and drink and buy wares care about a super old, intoxicating culture? It just adds to the dynamic that is Lijiang, I guess.

1 comment:

Melanie said...

You're blog is great, Liz!

Glad you are having such an interesting time.
Take care,
Melanie