“Final- three hundred seventy-seven dollars” demanded the storekeeper at Old Town Lijiang. I had just haggled my way for a handmade embroidery dress down from six hundred renminbi. I had gone to Yunnan thinking that I would be able to buy an insane amount of souvenirs for next to nothing. How wrong was I? Unhappy with the final price after two attempts of returning to the store, I decided to leave empty handed.
I couldn’t help but reflect on the outrageous price and how that figured into the current state of Lijiang and China in general. Even on a Thursday night, the Old Town of Lijiang was flooded with tourists from all over the world. Despite its popularity, I still considered it a relatively untouched site where Nanxi and other Chinese minorities could still roam around practicing their own culture, beliefs, and language. Lijiang is considered an “ancient” untouched part of China. In fact, it was even declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Tourists have since flocked to Lijiang to see its traditional architecture of the Naxi. Our lovely tour guide Anna, who was amazing made a comment that for the Nanxi, money is only paper-nothing more. But just how long and how realistic is that traditional sentiment? When I was trying to haggle my way of the dress, her comments kept playing over and over in my head. If money is only paper, then why are you charging so much paper for this dress? Anna repeatedly stressed the importance of the environment and taking care of the land that in turns takes care of the Nanxi people. But again, how long will that last?
With an impending new airport in the works, Yunnan has opened itself up for some full-blown tourism in hopes of bringing more economic prosperity to the area. The locals are learning more mandarin and many of the businesses in the area have signs that accompanied by Chinese characters as well as their writing system, which looks a lot like hieroglyphics. Houses have also been turned into bars and shops to accommodate that large amount of tourists. Aside from their historical significance of the area being largely untouched, Yunnan also touts itself as a green, sustainable, and environmentally aware area. But with the large amount of tourists coming in, it makes me wonder how long it will be before their culture begins to fade. I got the feeling from walking in Old Town that not many locals could afford to live in the area any longer because of the prices of rent.Tearing down culture and history to put up bars and cater to tourists, sounds familar does it? *cough Beijing *cough Olympics. The real question is how do they preserve Yunnan while opening up to tourism or is there no going back at all?