Chinese Whispers: Himalayan Inspiration
Life on the border of Tibet
As a foreigner, or Laowai, with blonde hair and blue eyes, I am used to getting stared at. Curious glances are often glued to my face, clothes and chest. I’m the only white girl in town and often the first westerner local people have come across. After more than a decade in Southwest China, I’ve lost the urge to stop dead, turn around and scream at my gawkers: ‘Has no one ever taught you that it’s rude to stare?’
Being ‘special’ and therefore a social outcast is part of my life here. As is jumping over blobs of phlegm in the streets, dodging men and women on high speed, but lethally silent, motorbikes, and picking out a live chicken at the market for dinner. I even find inspiration in the oddities that comprise my life.
The streets are teeming with women in colourful costumes. Their long, flared skirts dance in the wind. Their silver jewels reflect the sun. Men stand around the market place, often selling goats. They are Black Yi, or Nuosu, like my husband. They belong to an ancient tribe that dwells in the mountains of Northern Yunnan and Southern Sichuan. For millennia, this tribe has governed its territory with a kind of force and brutality that reminds me of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, minus the horrible human sacrifices. The Black Yi were robbers, bandits, kings and horse masters. And above all there were feared by the other peoples of China. Their community has ever been impenetrable to outsiders. Their bloodline stayed pure for they believe their blood is black and doesn’t mix with those of inferior races. Never before was a Black Yi man allowed to marry a non-Yi woman. Not until Anzi Aku turned my world upside down, and I his.
For what has felt like an eternity, Anzi and I battled for the clan’s acceptance. Even now, after we have been married for six years, our relationship is subject to scrutiny wherever we go. Relatives and family friends offer Anzi women who they believe are more suitable for him. I am not even sure why they eventually consented to our marriage to begin with. But ever since we have been married, my life has changed dramatically.
Clan life meant forsaking my individual ambitions. Striving for the prosperity of the tribe is key – a concept that was completely alien to me. But even though this way of living is sometime insufferable, it also serves as a great source of inspiration for the writer in me. Reborn, a different woman from the selfish Dutch brat I was, I‘ve gained access to the Black Yi’s greatest mysteries. I mingle in their world of shamans and ancients legends of heroes and the spirit world. My debut novel, The Fire of Dawn, though mostly set in Europe and Siberia, is a direct result of my encounters with the paranormal in China’s Wild West.
I miss that world sometimes, but relish the fact that now that I am back in The Netherlands my life is my own again. Yet, I can claim without a doubt, that living there have made me into a better writer. I can’t wait to continue my journey here.
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