Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Progress Made?

Well. When I last wrote—I was “master planning” my way through the first couple days—getting comfortable, etc etc etc. To be honest, much has been the same. I’m trying to make sense of my time here, and that includes time “alone”—I’ve never been this much on my own with my own schedule and without friends or family to back me up. It’s both daunting and liberating at the same time.

The past two days have been plotting, plotting, plotting. I reorganized my “Plan of Attack” (for those of you who know me well—could I do anything else??) and: A) identified what I want to ask of my contacts, B) scheduled meetings, C) continued to read my resources (check out the huge list to the right!), and D) brainstormed ways I can most creatively gather information. In addition to this scheming, I’ve been discovering more of the Old Town as well. Remember how I said that the Gu Cheng (Old Town) was just an ancient, Disney-like mall? How wrong I was! Winding through the streets, I stumbled across the Naxi market, full of veggies, pig heads (see to the right!), seafood, bamboo maggots, laughing, shouting, grunting. I even walked past a fight between two older Naxi women, where one of the cute little ladies—with the meanest glare I’ve ever seen coming from such a small, tiny thing—threw her cabbage at the other! Oh the onlookers roared in excitement! So too, did I stumble across a "3-pit well" where people are still using it in the 'first drink, then wash vegetables, then do laundry' fashion they've been doing for hundreds of years (see pictures). Despite this excitement though, after the first couple days I started to feel overwhelmed and suffocated by the tourist groups galore. So, stepping into the New Town, I tried to find a new place that I could call “home.” No such luck. New Town is quite gaudy—large signs, even more tourist groups, little character. After an hour or two I retreated to my cobblestoned paradise, and signed up for another 7 days at my hotel!

That’s another thing—my hotel room. While I’m technically living at an inn with my own room, I’ve definitely started to call the family that runs this courtyard-styled inn my own. Well—that might be idealistic thinking. I hope to soon at least. I’ve become friends with the 20 year-old girl working here: my Meimei (little sister) is very sweet. We chat, teach other Chinese/English, and watch Chinese soap operas! I have yet to really know why she’s working in Lijiang during the summer, and what it’s like, but I hope I will learn this as I get to know her better over time.

In addition to Meimei, I made another Chinese friend: Xiaodong. He helped me find a taxi on my first day, and treated me to drinks on the raucous bar street the other night. The bar was quite the experience. Huge, loud, with green and red lights sizzling against the black interior. Here was where all the tourists had come to play--and not for cheap. A bottle of Budweiser cost (gasp!) $7 US Dollars! Dancing, smoking, shouting, karaoke-ing…this “rocking” scene seemed so different from the peaceful, historical setting it chose to call home. (You can see why the tourism designation is such a paradox, huh?) And man, has Lijiang made a paradoxical name for itself. When I asked my new friend Xiaodong why he chose to vacation in Lijiang, he said ‘because of the nightlife and girls.’ Interesting. Who would have thought that here, in the beauty of Yunnan, so touted for its rich "biodiversity and indigenous cultures," that would be the drawing factor?

Something else I found out: Xiaodong works construction in Beijing—and with the Olympics, his work is too “dirty” and “loud” (his words) that its been postponed until after. So, this summer during the Au yun hui (Olympics), he gets a 10-week vacation! Pretty sweet if you ask me, though there is no compensation for this long time without pay. I asked if that made him angry. His answer: ‘Why? The Olympics are doing good things for our country, and I love my country.’ (Please keep in mind that this was all strictly in Chinese, using the aid of my dictionary for every other word!) I’ll be interested to see if even more tourists populate the area as the Olympics strike and people flee the soon-to-be-chaotic Beijing.

Sooo that was a lot of personal life. In terms of water supply, I’ve started my first traces of the infrastructure. I plan to do a personal map (both a traditional one and then one thru pictures) of how the ancient system works. I’ll trace each of the 3 branches individually—seeing how it cuts through the town, and how the town itself accesses each lifeline. Once I have this personal understanding, hopefully I can compare it with the Lijiang Water Authorities’ Docs (oh I do hope I get a hold of them!). Stay tuned for that info coming soon!

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