Lijiang Studio Week 2 – Miranda

A man fishing, probably illegally, on the lake at dawn.

A man fishing, probably illegally, on the lake at dawn.

It’s amazing how quickly I’ve adapted to a lifestyle that has no bearing on my regular life whatsoever. The little daily rhythms that appear after a short time are comforting.

Twice a day a Naxi grandmother herds her mismatched gang of goats up the road to the lake, and then back again. They bleat and straggle and run to catch up, with their bells ringing and A Nai (grandmother) cracking her whip and singing out as they make their way past.

Grandfather sitting under his portrait on the studio wall.

Grandfather sitting under his portrait on the studio wall.

Every day grandfather appears in our courtyard, folds himself up in a sunny spot, and smokes. If it’s after about 11am he’ll probably also have a small glass of firewater. He’s ephemeral in his attentions to us strange non Naxi speaking artists, appearing and disappearing before I’ve had a chance to formulate a question to start a conversation. Often you’ll look up to find he’s gone, and then discover he’s just moved to an even sunnier spot and folded himself up there. A particularly sunny corner has a portrait of grandfather, wearing a beanie and smoking.  It’s one of his favourite places to sit, often while wearing a beanie and smoking.

This week we started getting up early to record the dawn birds, and now it’s just Naima doing so… On our first outing I rode my bike into a ditch, and thoughtfully decided to break the bikes fall with my much less breakable body. Or so I thought. That night when I went to bed I suddenly was seized by leg cramps, worse than I’ve ever felt before. After 8 hours of excruciating pain and mounting delerium it was finally morning, and it had calmed enough to let me hobble with assistance to the bathrooms. Doing so, step by slow step, I was spotted by the women who were staying in our courtyard house. One of them is married to a doctor, and he was summarily summoned. Then started the most public and painful massage of my life to date!

I was on the bed, Naima was next to me trying to calm me down, Jay (the curator at the studio) was translating everything the doctor said. The Doctor was very kind and concerned in his ministrations, wiping the tears from my eyes during breaks, and apparently did hold back significantly in his massage strength, even though at the time I would have yelled “too much! too much!” if I’d known how to say it in Chinese. The doctors wife, her friend, her husband, and the Grandma of our family were all also crowded into our little bedroom, offering advice, murmuring concern, and translating everything the doctor said into different Chinese words, and little charades, hoping I would understand something, and furiously agreeing with each other. It was like a hospital drama re-imagined by Kafka. If Kafka was in a good mood.

By the end of this super helpful ordeal, I was even more delirious, shivering, and my hands were swollen and numb. The doctor was obviously quite concerned about this, and ordered two more doonas, another pair of socks and a heater to be pointed at my feet. By the time I went to sleep I was under about 4 doonas and a blanket, in my puffy winter jacket, wearing a beanie, and I’d never been so comfortable. Fresh fried steam buns with ginger chilli sauce and a hot ginger sugar drink were sent over from the kitchen for breakfast, and the next thing I knew it was lunch.

The family were so lovely. They all came in to check on me, bringing lunch and dinner to my room, and in an attempt to make the most wholesome food possible for me I think the family ate a lot more vegetarian food than they usually do! Grandpa at one point came in, and then realised he had a lit cigarette and left straight away. Since then, I’ve been fine! A bit sore and achy, but mobile and moving freely. At least twice a day Grandma tells me that the problem is that I’m too tall, and I had so far to fall. If I’d been shorter, it wouldn’t have been so  bad.

Also this week we ventured into Lijiang, the big town nearby, which is a world heritage unesco listed site. Apparently it used to be an amazingly preserved old town full of local minority culture people living their lives as they always had. Big markets and old ladies with baskets brimming with vegetables, and traditional music and dancing in the village square. Now it’s tourist central. I was claustrophobic within seconds of entering the old town.  Every shop is filled with tourist junk, and the streets are so crammed with (mostly Chinese) tourists that it’s hard to move.

There was a Naxi song and dance competition on, however, which was adorable if terribly amplified, and watching all the groups of traditionally dressed women on an outing to compete was pretty fabulous.

So to the music this week! I have a rough draft of a piece inspired by this photograph: OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The banjo melody is based off this tune from the World Oral Literature Project. The song is a Naxi song sung by elders to younger people, telling them about the changes they will see in their lives. I ‘played along’ and recorded it 3 times to get a randomised chorus effect. 3 is a lucky number representing the 3 stages of life, birth, marriage, and death. (Obviously politically problematic, but that’s to be tackled in a more sophisticated project!)

The other sounds are river stones from our courtyard representing the stones of the graves, and burning pine needles, representing the trees, the dry grass, and the memories of the forests being torn down for firewood during the Great Leap Forward. The forests are younger than the mountains and many people around here.

I lengthened the rests on the banjo tracks, slowly phasing the tracks apart, and about halfway through reversed and slowed down the rocks and layered them by 3 again. The idea was to get a sense of time slowing as grandpa tended the graves of his ancestors, but the future interrupting our reverie. It ends with the organic sounds of stone and fire, dust to dust.

I’ve started work on my first larger project, it involves translation, graphic notation, local history and the ever present mountains… and I’m excited to see it come to life. Watch this space!

I’ll leave you with a gallery of photos of a the village life, children, fireworks and bicycles.



4 thoughts on “Lijiang Studio Week 2 – Miranda

  1. Thank you so much for sharing all this. I love the photos and just wished we could come and visit.
    I listened to the music and enjoyed that too , not quit sure if I understand it completely but will keep following the progress.
    Hope you are feeling better. I think you will be in good hands with the Old Chinese traditional medicines….Love to Naima,

    • Thanks Ina, It’s pretty amazing to be able to be in this environment. So far from our worlds at home, but also so far from anything we experienced as tourists in China!

      My leg is much better, thank you. The TCM doctor kept checking in via text, and telling me to keep warm. 😉


  2. Hi!
    Thanks for the link to your website. You take great photos! That leg thing sounded horrible!
    Your banjo piece makes me think of a soliloquy or a story being told around a camp fire. A narrative of how a village grew from the ground and the journey of its people before being burned down back to the ground.
    We’re coming into autumn now, here in Melbourne – my fave season of the year. Not much else to report from Australia. Gustav, my pet rabbit, says hi.

    • Hi Sharon!

      The leg thing was pretty bad, I’m super glad it was acute and not ongoing. As horrible as the acute stage was!

      That’s a lovely interpretation of the Gow Qin Bei reinterpretation! It’s oddly accurate considering what this area went through when grandpa was a young man.

      Things are slowly starting to warm up here, still have very cold nights but with bright blue sunny days. I think the summer’s going to be humid, so I’m enjoying this crisp weather while I can!

      Dudu, the family dog that’s part St. Bernard, says hi back.


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