Conversations

Zhang Xiu Qiong, aka Susan, from Lijiang in Yunnan Province, China. 25 years old. Susan is her English name, suggested to her by an American friend. Zhang Xiu Qiong is her Chinese name. As with all Chinese names, her family name, Zhang, precedes her given name, Xiu Qiong, meaning Good Inside/Flower.


We met Susan at a the Sun Room Cafe in Lijiang, Yunnan Province. This cozy little eatery became our favorite in Lijiang with tasty food, plenty of English books, maps, travel photos and a wide menu of Chinese and Western Food, all translated into English -- all catered to us and the hundreds of other backpackers who meander through Lijiang's old cobble-stoned streets each day.

Susan is a Naxi, Lijiang's ethnic majority. The Naxi are descended from Tibetan nomads and lived until recently in matriarchal families. Her mother used to do "everything in and out of the household," typical for Naxi families, while her father stayed home and helped with the housework and children. But in actuality, Susan said that Mummy did most of that too though!

The matriarchal concept was difficult for me to grasp, being the near opposite to my own culture. However, like America's patriarchal society, it too is quickly fading as men and woman's roles become equal. According to Susan, "Naxi culture is fading and families are becoming just like the Han Chinese," and this worries her very much.

1. Where are you from?

I was born in Lijiang and have lived here all of my life. I lived in Kunming during university, but I like Lijiang better so I came back.

2. What is your occupation? Why?

I am a middle school history teacher. I teach Chinese history. Today I taught about the Qing Dynasty.

My smallest class is 55 students and my largest has 87. I have 400 students all together so I work very hard. I don't mind doing, but it leaves me little free time.

Do you live with the other teachers in government-paid housing?


No. I pay 20 yuan (2.50 USD) for a room at the school. This is a private room for me -- I could live there but I choose to live with my parents. Many teachers do live at the school.

3. Do you enjoy it, or would you rather do something else?

No, I don't like it. Teaching is not a greatly respected position here and does not pay well. Children take nine subjects and must pass tests to enter high school -- Chinese, English, math and politics are the most important. History is not taken as seriously. Some students like it.

I wanted to study English or computers but my scores were not good enough. So I had no choice but to study history. After university, I studied to be a teacher because my parents wanted me to. History I don't really like but I am beginning to enjoy it now.

4. Have you traveled much or been outside your country?

No, but I want to travel everywhere. I want to visit India because I am interested in Buddhism and would like to see where it started. I would also like to visit Tibet someday for the same reason. I have heard there is a lot of old and new together in India.



5. Tell me about your family? Are you married?

I'm not married. I have one sister who is 33. I still live at home and my parents are retired. My father used to help with the housework but now he plays mahjong all day, so my mother does all of the housework. I grew up in a traditional Naxi family.

6. What is your favorite food and why?

All kinds!

All kinds of Chinese food?

Yes, I like all kinds of Chinese food. Sichuan food is spicy and Shanghai food is sweet. There are many kinds.

Do you like Western food?

Yes, pizza and pancakes. You can get those everywhere here.

7. Why are you here, in the Sun Room Cafe in Lijiang?

The owner is my friend and I come here to read the books, study and meet people.

8. Do you have access to the Internet?

Yes. I don't have a computer at home but it's easy to go to an Internet cafe anytime.

9. Where did you learn your English? Why did you learn it?

Everyone has to study English in school, and sometimes people study other languages. Like in northwest China, some study Japanese. I have been studying English for 11 years.

10. What do you do for fun?

I like to go dancing. There are many discos in the new city. Also reading. I like nonfiction. I have for two or three months been reading the Bible. The New Testament. It's in English and Chinese, but the translation is not so good.

Nigel & Julie
10/22/01

   

 

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