The family here has been shrinking apace this week, both sons have gone away to school, Jay and his family have gone on a holiday up north, and Xue Mei and Er Ge have been spending time in Lìjiāng so all of a sudden it’s gone from 11 people to 4! The mass desertion of the He family homestead also means that all 3.5 other english speaking family members have gone… So meal time has descended to us and the grandparents, pointing and saying nouns. Grandma has started teaching us some Naxi, so we sit around saying “Thank you,” “Xièxiè” “Jo Bea zhu”, and other things I’ve forgotten already. The other night after we left the table we heard her intoning “Thank you, thank you, thaaaaannnku yooouuuuuaah”. However due to her Naxi accent it sounded like she was gleefully singing “fuuuuck yooou, fucku youaah, fuuukaa yoooou” at our retreating figures.
Grandma talks to us a lot, most of which we don’t understand. It’s a rough feeling to have someone repeating the same word over and over again and still not understanding. Then she resorts to charades. Which sometimes illuminates the issue, but often doesn’t. It’s not uncommon to have her putting fake horns on, and then pretending to be a bird, before shaking her head at the fact that we don’t eat meat. Miming exactly how the food was prepared, counting unknown things, making ‘dead’ gestures, and in one memorable moment: hassling me to eat another bowl of rice, and then behind my back gesturing to my thighs and bum and gesturing meaningfully to Naima and muttering “hǎo, hǎo, Dà de rén, duō wǎn fàn”
Excitingly, spring is most certainly springing out around these parts. Blossoms are blooming, crops are growing, the lake is shrinking due to crop irrigation, and the days are getting warmer. Most charming is a family of house swallows that have multiple nests in our courtyard. They twitter and flit and chase each other around, before landing in a tiny nest to continue their conversation.
This week we went to visit extended family for a days entertainment. A grandma in that village had swiped a small bird of prey out of the air with a broom as it was about to eat some chicken for dinner… The poor thing was then taken as a new pet by the family. It didn’t fit in a cage, so it was then tied by the feet to a tree branch. I found it pretty upsetting, as the bird kept trying to fly and ending up dangling upside down and helpless. The relationships between people and animals here is so different to what I’m accustomed to. It’s a real effort to stay off my city dwelling vegetarian organic food eating bulk buying high horse for long enough to remember: these people live on the land, they have closer relationships with their animals than I ever will, and who am I to say how the pigs should be treated? It’s hard, however, and I will most likely continue to struggle with it.
At the same house they had a sow with piglets! They were amazingly adorable, even if we were seemingly the only people still excited by them… Even mama pig is over it.
Here are some more photos from this week’s adventures:
This week has been very productive, but I’m afraid I have very little to put online to show y’all. One of the things that I’ve always wondered about tonal languages is what happens to the tones when words are set to music? The answer, apparently, is that they disappear and song lyrics are often very confusing and extremely contextual. So: I’ve been working on developing a musical language that does the opposite; leaving the listener with the tones, but no consonants or vowels.
It’s fun, but hard work, and grandfather keeps looking over my shoulder at my scribbles, saying “OK!” and wandering away again. It feels like he’s the arbiter of our work here, silently watching our work and pondering what on earth we think we’re doing. I wonder if he’ll be surprised or all knowing when we have finished works to present?