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!



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:

Kira’s China Residencies website:

Lijiang Studio’s website:


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