Saturday, October 13, 2007

hello! I'm not dead

I will work on a good blog entry about what's been going on, but I decided to write something so that any stalkers will rest assured that I'm still hangin out in Yunnan Province.

Some news: An article I've been working on/stressing about since June (ugh) is up! Rural Eco-tourism in NW Yunnan. If you read the editor's comments about the fate of this website, you can sort of imagine a bit of the nightmare this put me through, also. But it's DONE and possibly won't be there forever, so check it out. :)

Also... I am looking for a job. In a big Chinese city, or SE Asia. (Both rank as "civilization" in comparison to Yunnan.) My visa runs out at the end of November and I don't have a plane ticket home which potentially puts me at a dangerous and expensive situation. Hoping for a miracle but maybe some of my friends can help me out, too;).

Will write more soon!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Buyi women and trash collecting

I have so much to write about… I still need to play catch-up but, for now, I absolutely need to write about Tuesday afternoon and night.

The migrant center also works with another Buyi minority community that is about a 30-minute walk away. With this community, they work not with the kids but with this group of women who do something called “Theater of the Oppressed,” which involves singing, dancing, and a short play involving a reenactment of their lives. Many of them collect trash for a living, and can make about 30-40 yuan a day (after working about 7am – lunch, then 4pm – through the evening). They are from Guizhou, and the stereotype here in Kunming – that people from Guizhou are the trash-collectors – does ring truth. This job pays a decent amount, if one can handle it.

A Hong Kong volunteer went with them on Tuesday to record some sounds of Kunming to put in their play (as background noise) and I was able to follow along. It was such a bittersweet experience – I knew it was an incredible opportunity, yet I soon realized it was certainly not just some exciting adventure. These women took the time to give us a glimpse of their day, yet it really was only a glimpse – usually, they push through intensively, and split up to make their rounds. This time, three of them came with us and, for our sakes, didn’t collect as much as they would have during their shortened shift.

That is the beauty of it – their overwhelming kindness. Even while working this difficult, humiliating job, they were able to make it accessible for us and we could see a bit of what they go through everyday. They come from China’s poorest and probably most underrated in terms of culture and beauty (though I wouldn’t know; I haven’t been there yet) province, and they have come to Yunnan to find a better life. The things I have been able to learn informally at this migrant center, all without conducting any formal interviews, have been invaluable. I can’t wait to spend more time with those women.

Here is a video that I uploaded myself onto Youtube. Slightly impromptu - they knew we were recording, but I was trying to be discreet. This is them walking and singing a Buyi minority song after a short rest.

Later that night I got to watch them practice at a public square. They brought some of their children with them, and went through their routine. I felt a bit of déjà vu from my own high school drama experiences, although, this was still drastically different. No director, no space to themselves, just a routine to go through over and over again until they get it right. If you are in China, maybe someday they’ll be coming to a stage near you!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

don't you wish your food was hot like mine?

A long time without updates - I apologize! I will post more after this, I'm just going to try to catch up for now.

My cousin came to visit during her year-long Asia backpacking trip. It was great to see her for the first time after a six-year separation. She came to the migrant center and to the other NGO's office, and got to slowly acclimate herself to China. Being from my mom's side of the family, she doesn't speak Chinese and I became her food host. While I am a noodles girl myself, I tried to present her with some delicious meals.

Without further ado, here is a selection of some yummy things. None of the credit for these pictures is mine, although I did recently get a camera, so... watch out you blog readers!

1) A (slightly pricey) Chinese meal! We met some Chinese friends at a nice restaraunt (see the glasses and plates?) and had... whatever it is there.

2)Crossing bridge Yunnan noodles. Famous here, there are many chains available to try a taste. They bring out a bowl of extremely hot, oil-filmed soup and depending on what you ordered, you pile it in and in a minute, you have your meal.

3) Isn't this a great shot? Dumplings... the handsome couple who runs this stand near my office has a child about to test for college. Their business is always excellent during lunch, but they manage to handle the flow very professionally.

4)Korean BBQ meat! I'm only just now realizing just how popular Korean food is popular is here. I myself am starting to enjoy it a lot. This resteraunt was really enjoyable, as you can tell by my ridiculous grin.

5)Crab "hot pot"... mmm mmm! Difficult to eat, but spicy (a must for both of us) and delicious.

6) Us grabbing a simple meal while at the migrant center! Since we don't close till 7:30, 8, sometimes we get food delivered while in the office. This is my co-worker, who is famous for her previous work with many orphanages.

7)And our favorite... roast duck. We came here at least three times during Yen's stay. And it probably wasn't enough.
8) Dim sum. That's all visitors want when they come to China, isn't it? Well I'm sorry to say that in Kunming I've only had it twice - it's a Guangdong province thing! And compared to what we had in this picture, well, it's better in the States.

9) Of course, street meat! One of my favorite parts of this city is being able to grab some munchies throughout the day and most of the night.

10) We went to Xishuanbanna for the Dai New Year. The Chinese Dai minority have many similarities to Thais, and they celebrate their new year with a (now very touristy) event called Watersplashing festival. Unfortunately, we have few pictures of the fun, but we do have a couple of food. Here is a picture of our first meal after crawling off the sleeper bus. My friend has a Dai aunt who lives in Jinghong and was sweet enough to take us to lunch. This picture does Dai food no justice!

11) Later that night we ate some real Dai barbecue. Most of it was wrapped in leaves and was deliciously spicy.
12)Migan - a sort of rice noodle. Yen pointed out that it looks a little like pho, so like true vietnamese, we dug in.

Chinese food may make you think of stomach problems, and stomach problems may make you think of health, and health may make you think of the recent news involving Chinese pharmaceuticals and exported goods, such as the antifreeze toothpaste in Panama. Well, China's former drug regulator is now facing the drug sentence. I can't say I agree with this punishment, although I do have to say I'm a bit worried about what's been going into my body. I did see a (actually, two - well, actually... six, in the loose sense of the word) doctor at a Chinese hospital last week, and while it was an interesting experience that cost me a whopping 50 cents (my flea medication - oh, by the way, I got fleas on my recent field trip - came to about 5 dollars), I'm not sure I would repeat it, nor am I regretting that I didn't buy the antihistamines prescribed to me (which would have cost about two dollars).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

extension: approved!

Yay! I just found out that I will have more money to be here until October 16. That does not mean I'm coming back immediately afterwards. Far from it, in fact. I technically have a one way back to the States to use before September 16... but I will likely not use it. Pretty sad, but time is passing by quickly, right? I hope to get a lot of stuff done.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

now you must love my blog!

I just learned how to add pictures straight through this website... so no more huge pictures that took forever to upload (I hope) will plague my blog. Things are still exciting, although the fact that I will be leaving for almost a month to back to Shangrila is bittersweet, mainly because of the migrant center...

I don't have many new pictures on me, but I do have some old ones.

Us and some of the Tibetan ladies from Hongpo village. This was after they had taken us to some hot springs nearby. It sounds like heaven, and it was: wonderful people, hot springs in the mountains (cheap, too!), singing and dancing all night long. Many of the women from that village go there before the new year, once a year.

So that's just a taste of what I can do now!! Muhaha! Wait for more..

P.S.... In hindsight, this took a lot of time to upload. But it looks nice, eh?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

my trip to burma and the green lake

I only seem to be able to upload only one picture at a time. So, painstakingly, I did it. Here is a little view of what I've been up to:

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Way back in January, we "took" (I tagged along) six Tibetans from a village in Deqin to Luquan (uplands of Yunnan) and Xishuanbanna (down south) for field visits - so that they could see other project sites. It was an amazing trip, and I went through a slight depression after they went home. This picture is of us in Burma, where we crossed the border for about ten minutes. Hmmm.. gives me some ideas for planning my next trip..

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This is a more recent photo! I've been at the migrant center for only a week, but I'm going to become a pretty committed volunteer. They took me to the community the children live in, and they're going to be starting an oral history project there pretty soon. Many of these kids will hang out at the center after school and on weekends. It is Kunming's first migrant center, and opened only in February! My original project proposal was on rural-to-urban migration from the rural perspective, so I'd say that for me, finding this place was perfect. It's just that it changes my research focus... a lot...

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Last Saturday, we took the kids on a field trip to the Green Lake (we only passed by, briefly) and then Yunnan University. I don't want to write too much about this center yet because, depending on who sees this (as in, the one person who reads this in the United States) - actually, the problem is more if I publish it -, anything negative I write about the children's conditions or their lives could put pressure on the government to actually shut the center down. Well, anyway, these children are wonderful.

Friday, March 16, 2007


As I sit here waiting for my shower water to heat up (which will later provide a shower which is also physically situated above our toilet - hey, I never said I was living in posh conditions!), I felt that it was about time to write an update.

Being in China, I have gotten used to the changes that occur about once a day. I never fully know what's going on and what will happen in the future, which makes things a little hard, especially as I may have some visitors coming in the next few weeks. It also means I have a lot of highs and a lot of lows. After being in a high early February, only to have it interrupted for a month by being away from Yunnan, I am now back on the horse. And tomorrow I will have a meeting which may push it even further. I am back to being rather busy - and it's great! Of course, if it could come at a steady pace, that would be even more divine.

To stop being vague for a few minutes, here it all is, in a nutshell: Philippines (Boracay Beach) was amazing and highly recommended; Fulbright conference was intense; I am currently connecting with many NGOs, including a newly opened migrant center that I will be volunteering at this Saturday!!!; still working on some slightly new projects in the same villages I've been based in; about to begin focusing on research on village cooperatives; recently engaged in a Chinese birthday (my own) (where the tradition is to treat all your free-loading friends :D); and... hip hop exists in Kunming!

And I would now like to use my celebrity status (aka, the fact that you're reading my blog) to mention an issue I had never given that much thought to: leprosy victims. In the 50s and 60s, the Chinese government, as you might know, created leprosy villages in order to isolate them. In Yunnan there are over 100, at least one in each county. The villages were provided with some subsidies, but things are still hard today. For example, markets are far away, and many people refuse to sell to or buy from these victims. Even after being cured, sufferers cannot easily reunite with their families, due to both the government and society. And the families suffer anyhow - one man's son could not find a job, not even with the army, because of his father having leprosy. In the end, he couldn't find a wife, and had to marry far away - to a woman with mental disabilities.

These stories were told to me tonight by a man working for a rehabilitation center. I asked him what someone outside of his organization could do, and he simply said, "Come with us." Well, I don't see what else my money is supposed to help me do. Though I am not so sure what you, my readers, can do yet, hopefully I will have more information in the future.

Monday, February 12, 2007

marriage as a global institution

I recently learned of a very personal way to increase international ties to a country: marriage. Some of you may not find this surprising, but after much exposure to lost, Chinese-learning white men teaching English for money/years on end (read: not businessmen) getting it on with (sometimes several) Chinese girls (many of them university students, and some wanting the bonus of getting a way out of the country) in Kunming, I never really felt that vibe of let's-get-hitched-so-I-can-make-billions-of-dollars. But it's happening!

Example one: A fellow FBer, who is African-American and researching banking in Chengdu/Beijing, says that she gets Chinese male friends (given her field, I assume her Chinese friends are much more powerful than mine are) asking her to introduce them to African women (even though she's not from there). Given the recent Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, I suppose some parties on both sides are excited about tapping into each others' respective markets (and as a bonus, in producing hot babies).

Example two: I met an older woman here in Shenzhen whose daughter went to France to study law and came back with a husband. Her husband is now getting good at Chinese in Shanghai, where they have settled, and his mother-in-law is helping him in importing and selling very expensive French wines. Even my father picked up a couple of 300-rmb bottles. Traitor. What about Great Wall Wine, the official Olympic wine? I suppose to even a non-wine connoissur, the differences can be vast. Well, despite them running Chinese wineries out of business (a slight exaggeration, perhaps), at least the couple will produce some hot babies.

If you're interested in joining in on this, I suggest you move fast. The woman told me I need to find a husband NOW, at 22, because in a year I won't have as many prospects. I'm not sure what I can offer to the Chinese market, or to the men, because it's certainly not skills nor money nor connections, and, after my upcoming vacation to the Philippines (Feb 19-26), I -hopefully- won't even be able to offer pale skin. But I suppose if you want to visit me in Yunnan Province, I may be able to help you out with a little translation-flirting!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Chinese people...

I have been a bit too tired to update, and I apologize! Here is a short one.

I often get tired of city life, everyone rushing around, no one seeming to give a damn about each other. It seems just much too rushed, especially in terms of traffic. It's understandable, in terms of increasing globalization, population (although I suppose the population growth is not technically increasing that much now), divides between the rich and the poor, etc. I have also heard of some nasty city situations pouring into the rural areas: in Sideng Village, Shaxi Township, which is becoming more developed (mainly due to the help from a Swiss organization, and from increased tourism), apparently there are robbers who prawl the streets during the village's market day, which is on Fridays.

Yet every once in a while, I do encounter something that tells me that we are all still in this together, and people sometimes don't have to look out for just themselves. For example, I was on the bus (which is now a rare occurance due to my wonderful, cheap bike) and as more people piled on, I pulled my backpack in front of my chest. I was definitely not in the mood to have my cell phone, or anything else, stolen again. I lazily balanced the bag on the back of the chair in front of me, and I must've shifted it too much, because a sixty-year-old woman sitting behind that chair suddenly insisted on putting my bag in her lap. I protested, but I knew it was no use because most Chinese women seem to have this incredible ability to get things their way. She also took my jacket, which was in my hands.

Sometimes, I try to give back as well. It's worth it to see the smile on a person's face, to just get along with people instead of glaring at them (which is what I am usually doing, be it on my bike - biking is a dangerous mode of transportation here! - or on the bus), but it's sometimes hard. When I see a person digging through garbage or sleeping on the street, would it be "awkward" to give them something to eat?

On a similar note to that, I went to my second visit to Shaxi (and fourth overall) recently. I think I am beginning to realize why there is a lot more research on rural-to-urban migration from the urban standpoint, as opposed to the rural. Rural life is extremely difficult. Yet there are many happy people in villages, some tight bonds, and most importantly, people know each other, and people are in it together. Yet in the city, migrant workers are probably struggling a lot more, even if they make more money. They have to deal with being out working, probably by themselves (unless they are in retail/resteraunt or something similar, and even then they may not know their co-workers), have to deal with no insurance, long hours, bosses that are probably not looking out for their best interests, having lower "statuses", perhaps having to communicate in something other than your mother tongue... and the goddamn traffic. I get more emotional seeing a man riding a bike pulling a huge cart full of glass panes than I do seeing a row of women planting rice. Both are backbreaking jobs, but I think being in the city, away from your home, just makes it that much harder. (Thus, if researchers were to follow this line of feeling, they would probably choose to look at it from that aspect.)

**disclaimer** Not all crappy jobs are taken by migrant workers, of course. But many are - after all, they had almost all the disadvantages from the start.