Saturday, August 23, 2008

Great Endings

My final day was awash in new goodbyes. In the morning I said farewell to my two older gentlemen friends, to Lily my helpful friend and interpreter, to my calligraphy teacher and classmates. I had a final meeting at The Nature Conservancy, further saying goodbye to the friends I had made there. There was dinner and visiting with Sunny, and gift-giving and address-swapping with my Meimeis. And finally: relaxing and joking with the hardworking girls & Mama & Papa at my hostel.

At my final meeting, TNC left me with words of wisdom:

Lijiang is a World Heritage Site because it has a history of accepting China's many cultures. The people of Lijiang learn from others, accept other cultures...they are very open minded. The new cultures coming in, whether "mainstream" or not, have been coming in for centuries. Lijiang is Master of Assimilation. And so, in this way, you cannot say change is bad. It's a process for the future.

This is so important to remember, especially as I reflect on this hub of change, preservation, and development. If you cannot prevent, you can at least effectively and efficiently adapt. Lijiang's been doing it for centuries, so why shouldn't it continue today?


As my time in Lijiang comes to a close--perhaps one of my most memorable summers ever-- I wanted to end with a favorite story from my time here.

After developing a second batch of photos for my new gentlemen friends, I headed back to their home to thank them for all their hospitality. My favorite Navy Blue Wonder greeted me at the door, immediately inviting me to sit in his chair, drink promptly-provided tea, and munch on locally praised sunflower seeds. Children filed in from upstairs, nodding to me in friendly there's-a-foreigner-in-my-courtyard! surprise.

As we chatted, I expressed my hesitancy to go back home; the elder gentleman agreed that yes, indeed, it was sad. Then, lightning quick, the kind sir went into a back room, returning with a small box. The box was a hazy clear, laying peek to a small figure inside. "Shangdi, Shangdi" he said, motioning at the box. He wrote it out for me so I could look it up in my dictionary:


Everyone has their God, he explained to me. Even in America, there is God.

I carefully opened the box as he handed it to me, delicately revealing the ivory figurine inside. It looked worn from touch, its cream color roughed around the edges with a brown musty dirt. The figure was Man, with arms outstretched, standing in confident omnipotence. His long hair reached his shoulders with dignity, and a long fur cloak stretched down to his feet; the coat's long sleeves draping his thin wrists in scholarly significance. Finally, an outstretched finger pointed to a worshipping audience. With mouth agape, this little figure, this little God, seemed to be teaching.

I began to wonder how old this figure was-- how long my gentleman friend had owned it, where he had gotten it, and how it figured into his Naxi ethnicity's belief in Dongba. Who was this God? There are so many Gods in this world, his world, which one was this? And, why was I priviledged to be the new owner of such a treasured item?

As I continued to behold my beloved gift, I turned the little God in my hand, inspecting every corner. There, at its foot, I finally understood. There, hidden at the bottom of this sacred symbolism, was my answer.


A plastic toy?!

There is so much you cannot know in one glance, so much that can be clouded with a little assumption.

Two days after owning my treasured gift, I now know a little more. This little revered God...
is wearing heels.

And has...

This little God... is Cruella Deville!

I guess it just shows: experiences need time to set in before you really can learn from them, huh?

xiexie & byebye!

1 comment:

SaMueL said...

Hello Liz!

I wonder whether you still come to this blog, but I would like to give it a try and see if I can get a hold of you!

I am a student studying in the University of Hong Kong and if I didn't get it wrong, I am researching on the same topic as you did - the ancient water supply system of Lijiang.

I just started this research topic from last month, Sept 08, and I wll work on it for about 9-month time.

You know what? I am glad to hear that you researched on this topic and had actually gone to the site to do investigation, as I am going to do the same in the coming December or January. But more than that, I am even more thrilled to hear that you had lived in Seattle for 6 years since I in fact studied in Seattle for 2 years (2004-2006)! I was indeed shocked yet excited to have discovered this blog!

This comment is just to see if it is possible that we can get hooked up and try to share and work together to some extent.

Ops! I forgot to mention my name. I am Samuel Fung, from Hong Kong. Here is my email address:

I am looking forward to hearing from you!