Sunday, August 10, 2008

HP#1 continued...

Collected and Reflected!

I've had some time now to go over my notes and reflect on my meeting with Helpful Professor #1. Here goes...

I again lucked out. I had been meaning to call HP1 for a week now, and yet always found some excuse to not do so. However, exactly when I finally did call... he was going to be in Lijiang the next day! What are the odds! On Saturday I met with Mr. 1 to ask questions, investigate his vast knowledge in Naxi culture, and implore him for more contacts & suggestions. We had a lovely chat, and I left scared of how little I know and how much I have to do in order to do something "different". So much has been done to study Lijiang already. It's a hotbed for research, really. Where am I different?

A couple of initial cultural things. Perhaps I never mentioned it, but Lijiang and the Naxi culture are famous for their “3-pit well” system. At natural springs throughout the Old City, the Naxi people constructed 3-welled water systems, with strict rules for their use. In the first well, people could drink the water, without fear of contamination (in the past, that is). This water then flowed to the second well, where people washed their vegetables. In the third and final-linked well, people could wash their laundry. Keeping these rules preserved the quality of the Naxi people’s water and was—at one point—respected by all. (Today, those that use the system still respect it… but these people are few in number, and the wells themselves are not very well maintained.) In addition to the 3-pit well system, in the past the day’s drinking water was to be fetched from the canals before 10AM every morning. Only after this regionally-known time, the daily cleanings of vegetables, laundry, etc etc etc could take place. It was taboo to go against such a rule.

In the past, rules were imposed by the village committee, usually a collection of “in-the-know” Elders. Education came through Ritual. Through ritual, people learned what to do, what not to do. Unfortunately, today this no longer happens. A lesser spiritual connection among the younger generations, a diminishing number of Dongba priests, and the constant flow of mainstream and outside cultures accounts for this disappearance.

The overall idea I got from our meeting: culture is utterly important, but that does not mean much in the reality of things. In Lijiang, the retracing of traditional footsteps will not work alone. The reason? Lijiang has developed too fast, too unchecked. Its population of the Old Town has changed. Out with the Naxi to the New Town, in with the immigrant businessmen to the Old. Traditions are lost in this simple migration—the historic significance of water & its regulations walked out the door. Immigrants are not careful in their new, unfamiliar home. Additionally, the steady flock of tourists makes restaurants and hotels construct innumerable wells, lowering the water table. Increased water demand leads to increased water waste. You can see that there are many reasons why tradition just wont work any more.

Last year Black Dragon Pool dried up. (This is supposed to happen about once every 10 years; now it happens about once every 3 years.) The shock was oddly a good thing. It shook the people into realizing what they were doing (if only for a little bit). Remember those prayer flags & incense sticks I saw at the Black Dragon Pool—confused as to why there were there? They were from the earlier drought—people had realized the significance of their water, and had gone to pray for it to return. So, despite everything, religion still has a minor presence, though it might be the type that only happens if something kicks you square in the seat of your pants.

All in all, Lijiang is too “past its time” to just rely on returning to traditional ways of doing things. That is na├»ve & idealistic to think. Rather, you need a mixture of traditional with spiritual with governmental with education with awareness. Government regulations need to restrict the amount of building that happens right against the water source. Scientific studies are needed to figure out what exactly can be allowed for water quality and quantity to be maintained, how many wells Lijiang can build, how far their buildings should be away from the source pool, how scalable the impact is of even the most minute actions. This unknown scale is, too me, the most alarming.

What is needed, really, is a new ethic. You cannot just tell people to believe the religious side, and you also cannot just impose harsh government (or even economic)-imposed rules. People have to follow more of a moral code for this to really have effect. And yet, that moral ethic cannot be imposed either. So what do you do?

I don’t know.

1 comment:

michael bird said...

Good post - can now see what the problems are - firstly, growth at too rapid a pace. Am sure the radical change is very hard on the people who have lived there and call it home. From what I have read so far, the Central Government has not played a big part in the local life. Is this really so?