Photo post, the elders of Ji Xiang. – 山慕

Forgive me, readers, for it has been weeks since my last blog post. Our internet has been out, and the electricity, and I’ve been busy doing things and not writing about them. Oops.

So here’s a series of catch up posts! Weeks ago was the ‘old peoples festival’ (Who knows what it’s really called, the 16yo of our family called it that… He also made “old people potatoes” for dinner on his birthday. They’re super soft and mushy. 😉 ) It’s 3 days where all the old folks of the village get together in the seniors centre and have lunch and dinner provided for them. The sit, eat, gossip, play mahjong, play other card games, eat some more, gossip some more and laugh a lot. The first day the grandparents from our host family were all dressed up, but by the time I went on the 3rd day they were back to daily clothes.

I asked Anai if we could come and take photos of people, and she agreed instantly. Everyone wanted their portrait! We were very welcomed, apart from when Dudu escaped our courtyard and came to join us…

It’s a lovely part of the importance of community in Naxi culture and in Ji Xiang. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone pitches in to help when required. It is the sort of community I would like to live in one day.

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Lìjiāng Studio, weeks 7 & 8 – Nà Mǎ 纳 玛

I have been putting off writing this blog for so long…I planned to catch up with a separate week 7 post but I’m already starting week 9, so here goes 2 weeks at once! Horse show! A local went and lived in America for a few years and came back with some money, and built a horse-racing track just down the road from us, between our house and the lake. I felt a bit distressed as I abhor horse-racing. But until 2 weeks ago nothing had happened there.

Flag!

Flag!

Then, over Sānduǒ’s birthday weekend, people put on horse-person-ship shows, not races. So we went to see a horse show, with Tibetan people riding horses back and forth in front of the grand stand in the MOST outrageous positions on their horses. I must say it is surely one of the most stunning views from any grandstand in the world – straight across the lake with Yùlóngxuě Shān (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain) towering behind. One funny move was 2 horses galloping along, and I just thought they were galloping along on their own in great synchronicity. But it was pointed out to me by the others that in fact there was a man hanging between them, one arm and leg on each horse! It’s hard to get photos of people racing past on horses…

Yes, he's doing a shoulder-stand on the galloping horse!

Yes, he’s doing a shoulder-stand on the galloping horse!

I don’t know how the horses are treated when they’re not on the track, and Jay and Kira said that horses generally like to warm up and then stay warm rather than having short bursts of exercise and standing still in-between. But they do seem to be turned out into the paddocks by the lake when they’re not performing, which is more than most of the horses in the valley get.

Kira and the horse.

Kira and the horse.

Kira, Hé Yé Yé, Jay, and the horse.

Kira, Hé Yé Yé, Jay, and the horse.

Kira and Jay both left on Wednesday. Kira was going to stay 2 days and she ended up staying 10 so we were pretty lucky! We as well as the family horse were sorry to see her go! Jī Xīng is the only one in the family who can ride him, but he’s away at Uni until July. But Kira took the horse out a few times and got an instant reputation in the village of being an outstanding rider! Unfortunately I didn’t see the horse-ride that garnered the reputation, which involved a very happy horse galloping and jumping ditches.

I totally fell out of my composing-every-day habit while they were here, and only recovered it for a few days afterwards. Most of the past few weeks I have continued to not compose. But I had a big chat with my parents on Sunday, and Dad asked me how the composing was going so I had to tell them. They finished the call with, “go and write some music”, so I did! For hours! And again yesterday. Thank you, parents! I plan to continue the trend. I am working on a quartet for flute, cello, double bass, and tuned glass bottles with water in them. Right now there’s only a flautist and a bassist at the studio, but in June there will be musicians enough to play the piece. It’s going a lot better than “How to Build a House” which ground to a halt after 14 bars. Miranda has recorded me a play-through of each of the 6 First Impression Family Portrait pieces, but I’m yet to start editing them. She’s been practising on the (challenging) bass for 4+ hours nearly every day! It’s great.

Last Sunday we went up the mountain for the other yearly tomb-sweeping festival, Qīngmíng Jié (literal translation: Pure Bright, or Clear and Bright, Day). I am really happy we got to be here for both the tomb-sweeping festivals. It is a special and lovely day. Jī Yǔ, Miranda and I rode up the mountain and the others drove up. Willow branches and pine needles were put on every tomb, fireworks set off, cakes, fruit, lunch and prayers offered at every tomb, and 2 live chooks sacrificed and turned into lunch within an hour. Hé Yé Yé took us around with (his grandson) Jī Yǔ and told us who each tomb was for. We cooked and ate with a neighbouring family whose familial tombs are close by. At New Year, Anǎi didn’t come, because she doesn’t like travelling in vehicles and can’t walk that far. But this time she came in the back of a motor-trike/ute type vehicle that’s really common around here.

I am aware that I haven’t produced much directly regarding the environment or the people/environmental relationship yet. I have many recordings of birds that I plan to notate and make into a piece. I have a growing collection of other people’s rubbish for a non-musical project that I’ll reveal another time – but I’ll just say: who would have guessed that it is nigh on impossible to get, even to buy, piles of old newspaper in these parts?! Even in the city. When Jay’s back in a few days I’ll utilise his translating skills and keep sleuthing about. I haven’t got any ecological data yet to begin my notational coding works. The visit to the data-collectors is about a day’s travel away, and I hope to go in late April/early May. But I did find this really interesting ethnobotanical and ecological PhD project, by Robbie Hart of Missouri. The data he is collecting and the analyses he is doing are exactly the kinds of data I want to use: Effects of climate change on rhododendron flowering habits and optimum growing altitude on Yùlóngxuě Shān. He did his undergrad in Linguistics and has also spent 2 years working with an author on a book about the cultural, practical, and other knowledge that is also lost when a language dies. Here’s his website: http://robbie.eugraph.com/main/Robbie_Hart.html and here’s a direct link to a poster about his work-in-progress: http://robbie.eugraph.com/main/thesis_files/Perth%20Poster%20Prepress.pdf

We have also enrolled in Chinese language classes, visited the school 4 times to figure stuff out, visited the Public Security Bureau office to hand in our Student Visa application, had a visit from the Public Security Bureau and local police to confirm our address, and I also had to go back in to the PSB office again because the school had filled out my form listing me as a male…

A box of eucalyptus leaves!

A box of eucalyptus leaves (whose? From where?) that I spotted on the street after a stressful bank-school-PSB day, and that smelt like home. We broke into happy nostalgic smiles, and took a few each.

It can’t just be corrected, a whole new form has to be filled in and then taken to them in person, not posted, to replace the other one. We did pay the school to help us get the visa, but apparently that payment doesn’t involve them actually delivering replacement papers that fix their own mistakes. We start school this Thursday morning.

I am having a celebration: I’ve finally started helping in the fields. The photos show some of the methods used. I surmise that the plastic covering acts like a greenhouse, keeping in heat and moisture and giving the sprouting plants more of a chance.

Transparent plastic sheeting over the planting mounds.

Transparent plastic sheeting over the planting mounds.

It’s pretty awful – look how much plastic is used on just one field! I have no doubt this is the most common method for farming families across China. I can’t fathom how many metres of plastic are rolled out every spring country-wide. On the other hand – it is quite a clever and simple innovation for a temporary greenhouse, without having to actually transplant acres of corn and beans etc as you would if you started them in an actual greenhouse. If the plastic was some other environmentally friendly and reusable material, I’d be really into it! My jobs included laying down the plastic; burying the edges of the plastic; picking out the flappy bits of plastic after the holes are made; and filling over the holes with soil after the 2 or 3 seeds are put in each hole. Today Xuě Méi and Èr Gē pumped in water so I filled buckets and watered bean seeds, and helped cover them with plastic too. : /

Morning tea break in the fields with the neighbours.

Morning tea break in the fields with the neighbours.

Doing this work is really helping me – some actual physical labour! Of course going for walks and bikerides is fun and physical, and a form of work, but I am really enjoying putting my body to work as a productive member of the family. I know music is productive too, but I really need something to balance all that “head-work”. And I love doing physical outdoors work.

Èr Gē and I covering the seeds with soil.

Èr Gē and I covering the seeds with soil.

Swallows, ridiculously perching on a papier mache cow head's horns (ignoring all the perches I installed for them)!

Swallows, ridiculously perching on a papier mache cow head’s horns (ignoring all the perches I installed for them)!

The most truthful sign I've seen in years.

The most truthful sign I’ve seen in years.

Qíng Nà Mǎ.

晴 纳 玛

  P.s. I discovered the other day that we are living at about 2400m above sea level. Mount Kosciuszko (the highest mountain in Australia) stands at 2228m above sea level. I am living higher than I could be on land anywhere in my home country! No wonder all the chip packets are puffy! And the beautiful Yùlóngxuě Shān watches over us day and night from 5596m above sea level, a comforting sentinel in our peaceful mountain valley.

Photo Gallery – Small Things (weeks 7 & 8) – Nà Mǎ


N.B. Click on the photos to see descriptions and enlarged versions.

Lìjiāng Studio, week 6 – 纳 玛

This past week has been a creative disaster! I think I wrote for about 2 hours all week. Jay arrived back with Miranda’s bass and my keyboard on Sunday afternoon, which should have been a massive spur-on for me. It was for the first couple of days – we workshopped my family portrait pieces, which was great, and I took lots of notes and started editing them. But along with our instruments came Jay and Kira, of China Residencies, who enabled us to come here in the first place. It was great to meet her in person at last. The next evening another musician residency person called Yasu, a Japanese music director, sound designer, sound archivist and the composer of Concrete music, arrived as well. Yasu and Kira are lovely, and suddenly there were all these people who spoke English, and places to go and things to do! So aside from the significant feelings of guilt over my creative dearth, it was a fun and busy week!

Bass!

Bass!

It was Sānduǒ’s birthday, a Nàxī God who is the Protector of Nàxī people, so we went to Yùfēng Monastery near neighbouring village to wish him happy birthday. At the monastery there were also little monk kids blowing up the biggest balloons I’ve ever seen, a monk pouring candles, a 500 year old camellia, a 99 year old monk, and several tens of incense-selling women who rushed us upon our arrival. I took photos of the camellia; it is espaliered and twisted and gorgeous. I didn’t take photos of the monk because I was annoyed at everyone else taking photos of themselves posing in front of him for photos without even acknowledging him! But I took a moment to observe his ancient calmness. I’m quite sure he could’ve sat in the same spot all day without moving, eating, drinking, or weeing, and not become uncomfortable. There was a drawing of him by Mù Yún Bái, the artist we met in the first week, on the wall opposite him.

500+ year old Camellia.

500+ year old Camellia.

A monk pouring candles.

A monk pouring candles.

We went to a mini Nàxī museum run by a local historian, with lots of bits and pieces and heaps of surprisingly graphic sexual illustrations that he didn’t mention, but everybody giggled at. It was followed by a business dinner at a salmon farm with friends of Èr Gē’s. We got to witness the legendary and awful Chinese “boss is king” culture, coupled with an unfortunate peer-pressurey, sexually aggressive/predatory, and alcoholic boss-personality. We thought we were going to dinner with friends and didn’t realise it was a business dinner. It was really very awful, and also awkward, because by refusing to toast the boss as many times as he wanted us to, we were in my mind standing up to his pushiness, but in his mind making him lose face. I understand that this is a Chinese tradition, but I don’t think all traditions are good, and I hope that Chinese people and particularly women are able to start challenging this tradition for a more mutually respectful and much more fun work/socialising dynamic.

Traditional NaXi shoes.

Traditional Nàxī shoes.

Part of the salmon farm. Poor salmon!

Part of the salmon farm. Poor salmon!

We had dinner at an awesome Tibetan claypot restaurant, where we met one of the best flautists in Lìjiāng area, Jimmy. The restaurant had a coal stove in the middle of the table with a spot for the pot to go, surrounded by a metal hotplate to barbeque things on such as potato, tofu, and bean jelly. We went back to Jimmy’s place afterwards and (I) continued to get quite tipsy on some kind of firewater/strong transparent liquor soaking in hundreds of Tibetan red native berries so that the result was bright pink liquor. We played about 6 different types of flutes, an èr hú (Chinese 2-string vertically-hel fiddle), a crappy violin, an ornamental Chinese banjo-thing, and a traditional Nàxī double-reed pipe, like a tiny bamboo oboe. Jimmy and I agreed to swap lessons in flutey instruments for lessons in reading Western manuscript.

Delicious food and great company.

Delicious food and great company.

Jī Yǔ, Xuě Méi, Kira, Miranda, Jay and I went for a bikeride all the way around Lāshìhǎi. I thought I was absolutely the out and out slowest and least fit rider in the pack until I realised right near the end that my front tyre had been getting steadily flatter for the whole ride.

Bike gang in the distance...

Bike gang in the distance…

Miranda sat up with Jay and Mù Yún Bái one evening discussing her big graphic score work and whether he was interested in collaborating with her on it.

Discussing Miranda's graphic score.

Discussing Miranda’s graphic score.

Our electricity went out for 4 days, coming on overnight from 8pm-7am. Kira and Miranda developed owl-like habits, but I mainly just didn’t do any work that involved the internet or computers.

I sat in a Tibetan cafe in Lìjiāng for hours, eating momos and applying for a composer and musician’s summer school in Hong Kong, although I don’t know whether I’ll go as it’s in June, when about 8 people will be here, including other musicians whom I was hoping to write for.

For our next visa, Miranda and I dallied between going to Hong Kong or learning Mandarin with an official school. We decided to join a school with 8 lesson hours a week. It means we’ll get a 6 month student visa and learn better Mandarin. We’re going to Hyáng Academy. http://learnchineseinyunnan.com/lijiang

I started writing a piece for double bass and flute. I was looking for inspiration and not finding any, so I took a 10B graphite pencil and some thin paper and did some rubbings of surfaces – the wood of my bedroom door; a stone in the courtyard; the bark of a tree; the rendered clay of my bedroom wall; moss on a rock. I pinned them up over my desk and set up manuscript for a double bass and flute duet. I yelled out to Miranda to pick a note I should start the piece with: she said F#, and off I went. So far I’ve got 14 bars, and it’s called “How to Build A House”.

Wood (left); soil (upper right); stone (lower right).

 

Tiny beetle amidst the moss forest on the rock I took a rubbing of.

Tiny beetle amidst the moss forest on the rock I took a rubbing of.

Qíng Nà Mǎ.

晴 纳 玛

 

Yasu’s website:
http://www.yasuhiromorinaga.com/

Kira’s China Residencies website:
http://www.chinaresidencies.com/

Lijiang Studio’s website:
http://www.lijiangstudio.org/