Hannah Kerne (’12 Fellow, Saint Louis University) is currently a 1st year Fellow in Yunnan. She reflects on her experiences engaging with her local community through food and music.
After spending the weekend in Dali to bring in 2013, I returned to LiuHe on New Year’s Day. I thought I could get some relaxation in before classes started up. Of course, we ran into government officials on the way back to our dorms. There was yet another pig killing that we could not escape. What is a pig killing exactly? At this time of year, everyone in LiuHe kills the pig that they have been fattening up and invite everyone they know to come eat that pig and drink copious amounts of 白酒 (rice wine). When I say eat pig, I actually mean eat pig fat. Pig fat, along with every other unusual (to Americans) part of the animal, is eaten. The actual meat is cured and eaten for months. Eating the pig fat is how you show respect to the family that has killed that pig. So, you often get asked “how many pieces of pig fat have you eaten?”
At this particular pig killing dinner, we were lucky enough to also eat beef–a rarity in my village. We can always buy pork at market day, but if we want other types of meat we have to buy our animal of choice, kill it, and cook it. With this being said, this pig killing (relative to the 15+ I have been to this month) was fantastic.
After the meal, I was asked by the local Baizu women to put on Bai minority clothing and dance with them. A mother of one of my students happily walked twenty minutes to her home to get her Bai clothing for me to wear. I felt so honored to have been able to wear that clothing. The baijiu was flowing, a bonfire was lit, and the dancing started. Local Bai men started playing Baizu music with instruments I have never seen or heard before. There were about 50 Bai women, men, and children (along with me and Johan ), dancing to traditional Baizu music around a bonfire. It was fascinating to see them collectively take part in their customs. Lucky for me, I have been practicing two Baizu dances that local teachers taught me. This came in handy.
Up until this point, I had not felt I was part of the LiuHe community–I did not feel connected. This is not because I did not feel welcome; it was and is because the challenges that accompany language barriers and cultural differences. With this language barrier, there are fewer opportunities and methods to connect with people. By dancing and singing with the people of LiuHe , I felt the cultural exchange was on their terms–something they are clearly more comfortable with. This got me in touch with the soul of their culture. We did not have to say a thing to one another. I imagine we were all feeling a similar feeling–joy. Everyone kept asking the person next to them “你开心了吗？” (Are you happy?) Their energy, in addition to their response, said “yes”. By learning their dances, wearing their clothing, listening to their music, I say to them “I respect you, and I want to learn from you.” My efforts were well received to say the least.
This dinner was a classic case of “Surprise–don’t plan anything. You live in rural China” I often complain about this sort of thing, as these pig killings usually come at inopportune times (i.e. when I need to plan for classes, when I need to sleep, when I actually have class, when I have 拉肚子”aka the world’s worst stomach ache”). This one in particular was a well-needed reminder of the fact that these pig killings are my opportunity to connect with the community– 关系via 杀猪(connection via pig killing).