Hey everyone! I (almost literally) just got back from Xishuangbanna, a prefecture in the southern part of Yunnan Province, close to the Burmese border. We spent 4 days there as part of our classes on Regionalism in the Greater Mekong Subregion and Ethnicities in the Borderlands of Southeast Asia. Two of the days were spent in a Dai minority "theme park" (as it is now called) and the other two days were spent in a small Aini village up in the mountains. The differences between the two were astounding.
The Dai "theme park" isn't a theme park as we know them in America, but rather a group of villages that had a fence put around them and now serve to showcase traditional Dai culture to tourists. I didn't particularly enjoy my time there, primarily because I don't like to see traditional culture being exploited and perpetuated purely for commercial purposes. The local villagers weren't terribly happy either when we interviewed them for our research project, but most of the displeasure was directed at the government for failing to attract more tourists.
Meanwhile, the Aini village was most definitely the poorest place I have ever visited in my life. The family I stayed with averaged an income of roughly 200RMB (32.49USD) per month. The homes in the village were made primarily of wood and straw, and nearly everyone in the village farmed as their primary profession. Despite the poverty, the village welcomed us with open arms and shared what they had with us. We got to pick our own tea leaves (and take them home!), plant trees, interview the mayor, and sing and dance with virtually the entire village. Even though the villagers didn't have much, they were quite happy with their lives, and that was incredibly powerful.
I'll put up pictures from both places soon, I've got plenty of time now since I have the week off for the Chinese national holiday (think 4th of July, but for a week.)
Catch y'all later!