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.



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.


2 thoughts on “Lìjiāng Studio, weeks 7 & 8 – Nà Mǎ 纳 玛

  1. Hello Miranda and Naima

    Really enjoying looking over your explorations and the story of your work (liked the tone tracings), and the evocative power of the images of Yunnan life as well!

    Came across your blog from a sound interest and a Lijiang / Melbourne connection point of view – my partner and I had an artists residency (drawing and sound) in Beijing a few years back, followed by Yunnan travel.

    If you wouldn’t mind sending me an email (couldn’t locate yours) – Having stumbled across you, I was hoping to make a very small and bizarre food (chilli) related request of you in your time over there… Sorry if this is a bit weird, we are looking for fellow Australians who might pick up some packets of magic chilli powder (which you might have tried, its on the Yunnan crispy shredded potato pancakes) which we have been in desperate withdrawals from and can’t get any other way 🙂

    Hope to hear from you sometime – many thanks, Eliot

    • Hi Eliot!

      Great to hear from you, and greetings from cold and rainy Yunnan!

      We can of course bring you back some magic chilli powder. Do you know any more details of what it’s called in Chinese or a picture of the packet or something? I’d hate to bring home the wrong one. 🙂

      Email us at finefinesmallmountain@yahoo.com and we’ll figure something out.

      Say hi to 澳大利亚 for us!


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