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Encounters in Lijiang

ally's picture

In the article ‘Arts of the Contact Zone’, Pratt discussed the contact zone which is formed where different cultures meet and clash. The literal definition of contact zone reminded me of my unforgettable trip to Lijiang in which I integrated myself from the multi-culture environment there. However, looking closer to the passage, I found no matter the bilingual 400-page letter Guaman Poma wrote to the King of Spain or the teachers teaching pupils by unifying the entire world in their own opinions all indicated that the contact zone contains a highly asymmetrical power relation between the two sides in the contact zone, usually leading to a mournful story. Beside the negative and tragic part of contact zone, I want to reveal the more valuable and positive part of it by telling my own story of encounters in Lijiang.


As I finally graduated from high school and finished the arduous 12 years of Chinese education, realizing that I would never have this kind of restrained life any more, I started to worry about my future. It seemed that I had never imagined my future with inspiring reverie, never thought deeply about my inner enthusiasm, my dream. The only thing I’d done so far was moving along with the hustle and bustle crowd. Though my brain had been stuffed with knowledge, I could feel that my heart is empty. Embarking on the plane to Lijiang, Yunnan, I started off a trip to meet with different cultures and integrate myself.


I flew 4 hours from Shanghai to Lijiang, from the west coast to the plateau in the eastern part of China, from a bustling modern city to a tranquil little town. The first view of Lijiang from porthole of the airplane shocked me: Different from the plains in Shanghai, the airport was surrounded by the reddish soaring mountains.


As the sun was setting, I stepped on the rocky road and looked around in the ancient town. There are all kinds of little stores opened alongside the roads, selling a variety of things: from art craft to local flavors. I went into a delicate hand craft store, viewing all the art pieces hung on wall and wondering why isn’t any one coming to receive me. When I wandered to the back of the room, I encountered a young woman immersed in beading a rosary. She greeted me and continued on her work, like the rosary has a strong appeal to her and she doesn’t even care if I would buy anything in her store. Looking at her picking and appreciating the wooden beads carefully, ‘What’s so interesting in the rosary?’ I asked. ‘Don’t you think the different textures of the beads are so amazing? It’s just like telling us its own story…’ She kept focusing on her rosary as she answered.


Her words inspired me: the unique grains on the beads are just like the wooden bead’s own identity. All things in nature had its own story its own identity and looking at the rosary is same as looking into a colorful world which contained stories with different background. I think these are the things I’m looking for: a different way of life, a different kind of culture: embrace and respect nature, what the fast-paced life in shanghai can’t give me.


Different from the unequal and opressive contact zone mentioned in the passage, Lijiang is a place where people are from all over the country, coming here to escape from the stressful city life or to find a quiet place to clearly reflect on themselves, find their lost dreams. People forget about their original social status, no matter you were a successful millionaire or a wanderer, at here, in Lijiang, in front of a creaky wooden table with pot of tea, you are just equal human beings sharing thoughts and dreams regardless of your wealth and status.


As depicted in Poma’s story, the dominant part in contact zone simply emanates their culture and the subordinate people will decide what they take in, a one-direct propagation of the dominant’s culture. In contrast, the contact zone in Lijiang is closer to the definition of contact: all kinds of culture converged here and spontaneously formed into a contact zone which will continuously adopt and inspire everyone here. The same time as I was listening to others, I heard my heart. I found the lost part of myself here. Instead of a mechanical student, I was integrated to be an energetic human being with thoughts, trying to comprehend the mystic natural world and being enthusiastic to change the world.


Furthermore, Lijiang is more than a contact zone where different cultures crash, it is also a contact zone where human civilization encounters the wisdom of nature. Inspired by the nature, people abandon their mundane restrictions and pursuits and return to basic human beings here, interpreting the riddle of nature and looking for the primeval enthusiasm in their heart.


In conclusion, Lijiang expanded the definition of contact zone in ‘the Art of Contact Zone’ by shedding light on the positive side of contact zone and also indicated that not only can contact zone form between different culture but it can also form between human and nature. I believe, as Lijiang enriched my inner soul and integrated me, there is also something that I left at Lijiang, supporting and enlarging the unique contact zone.