Aug 12th and 13th Symposia in Delhi, India

We are excited to announce not one but two symposia that will be taking place in New Delhi next week. The first will take place on Aug 12th at the University of Delhi, and is titled “India China: Thinking Doing Relating.”. This event will be featuring the Student Fellows who took part in the summer India China Knowledge and Capacity Building Initiative (ICKCBI), and will run from 9:30 am until 7:30 pm in the Conference Center on the North Campus of the University of Delhi.

The second event will be held from 2:00 pm -6:15 pm at the India International Centre (IIC) in New Delhi. This event is focused on questions of inequality and economics, and is titled “Inclusive Growth and Development: Mirage, Promise or Reality?”

Both events are free and open to the public, but we ask that guests please RSVP for food ordering and seating. To find out more, see the program schedule and to RSVP, visit:


Kunming Adventures…!

The past two weeks were exciting for the Mobility and Livelihood Group. After interviewing more urban villagers and exploring Kunming, we decided that the most feasible way to narrow our research topic is to focus on the impact of migration for migrant workers in the food industry. In particular, we thought it would be interesting to focus on migrants working in restaurants or as street food vendors for five reasons. First, many migrant workers in China are concentrated in these two occupations. Second, these occupations are not gender-specific, unlike construction or domestic work, and would allow us to examine the realities of migrant men and women. Third, studying the formal sector of the restaurant industry and the informal sector of the street food industry will give us a good sense of the issues associated with both sectors. Fourth, to our knowledge not much research has been done on the challenges facing food industry migrant workers so we would be adding something new to the existing literature. Fifth, since many of the migrant workers we had already interviewed were employed in these two industries it seems to be a useful way to build on the research we have already conducted.

Despite the preliminary stage of our analysis, we have already come across some interesting findings that we’d like to share. In our interviews and interactions with the respondents/informants engaged in this industry, ‘prior skill’ perse was not a required qualification. Secondly, the level of education among them was mostly skewed as majority of them were primary or high school graduates and drop-outs. Majority of them are migrants living in urban villages, and the dominant literature on migration studies in China has ignored them or not adequately studied them.

At the same time, fieldtrip to Shangri-la (Gyalthang), Lijiang and DaLi was a much needed break from our active work. However, we did not miss to interview some respondents. It was educative and adventurous. The visit to the Songzanlin Si (Sungtseling Monastery) is the most important Tibetan monastery in southwest China was enchanting. The paintings on the walls and its architecture show the fusion of rich Tibetan iconography and Han Chinese. Walking tour with Prof. Eric Mortenson through the monastery and the stoned-bylanes of Gyalthang gave us glimpses of old Tibetan culture, religious and social lives of the people.

Our orientation in Thangka Centre with Dakpa Kelden (Shangri-la Association of Cultural Preservation) and elaborate presentation by Ms. Uttara Sarkar (Gyalthang Ecotravel) on preservation of old traditional crafts such as thangka paintings, safe and sustainable ecotourism gave us new insights to the tourism industry in Shangri-la .

Homestay in Trinyi village and hiking up the mountains above 3300 metres was adventurous. With all the three members of the group ( Lu Qian, Danielle K. Smith and Bhim Subba) making to the top was special. The drizzle and the slippery terrain made it more challenging both while ascending and climbing down. The majestic view of the Gyalthang town and the village surrounded by beautiful hills on all sides could be seen from the mountain top. The next day visit to Tiger Leaping Gorge, and overnight stay in Lijiang and DaLi were exploratory in nature and recreational. We had an adventurous and pleasurable biking tour of the Erhai Lake with a beautiful landscape at the foreground.


An overview of my team’s work- written from the Darjeeling days

The 2012 India China Knowledge and Capacity Building Initiative began on July 21st in Kunming China. The program is an innovative multi-cultural collaboration between emerging scholars of three countries: India, China, and America. There are six teams, comprised of a participant from each country. Each team is given a broad topic that is unpacked and narrowed throughout two months of intensive fieldwork in Yunnan, China, and West Bengal, India. My team started with the topic of ecotourism. As our fieldwork began, we rapidly and frequently refined our topic. Our fieldwork pulled us toward the relationship of food cultures and ecotourism. Gradually, ecotourism waned in prominence.

To make a long story short, our research now centers on wild Yunnan mushrooms and Darjeeling tea. Our research question asks what perceptions surround these geographically unique, sensual, and idiosyncratic commodities? How are imaginaries and fetishes constructed out of these perceptions? What disconnects (between consumer perception and production) result from such perceptions?

Currently our team is in Darjeeling, the queen of hills. It was nearly two months ago that we shadowed mushroom pickers in rural Yunnan province, and wallowed away most of our research budget sampling the wild delicacies in gourmet restaurants (alas it was invaluable data collected). Compared with the local love and sensual appreciation for wild mushrooms in Yunnan, the relationship of high quality Darjeeling tea amongst Bengalis stands in stark contrast. This contrast, however, is highly generative in highlighting the varying local vs. global consumption patterns. Particularly as both regions witness an expanding middle class and increasing amounts of expendable income. What kind of sensual experiences are worth paying for?

At first glance, Yunnan mushrooms and Darjeeling tea seem an odd couple. However the benefit of their pairing lies in the balance they strike amongst similarities and contrasts. For example both commodities are intrinsic to unique ecosystems, with booming international reputations, degrees of fetishism, and local cultural and economic importance. But if you consider history, land-use, or regional consumption, the commodities couldn’t be more different.

Historicizing the commodities is crucial: Wild mushrooms have been mushrooming in Yunnan as long as the region’s pine forests have existed (indeed, these mushrooms have a mycorrhizal relationship with the trees). Records of humans eating these wild mushrooms are equally ancient. Darjeeling tea, on the other hand, is a colonial legacy. In many unfortunate respects, especially in terms of the plantation labor structures and vast monocultures that most Darjeeling tea estates retain, this colonial legacy persists.

This point on monoculture brings out the issue of environmentalism. This is a highly nuanced area for both commodities. On the surface, it may seem that the production of both commodities is kind to local ecosystems. In fact, when asked about such environmental issues, a director for one of West Bengal’s biggest tea companies blurted, “are you kidding, we should be getting carbon credits for our estates”. Those sympathetic to this line of thought, often cite the fact that shade trees and plants such as wild sunflower (to aid soil nutrients/composition) on the estates provide biodiversity. Or they will happily relate how elephants and other large mammals roam the estates. When we brought up such arguments to an employee of a local environmental NGO, all he said was ‘bells and whistles’.

The eco-friendly case may be stronger for wild mushrooms. However, with growing demand for the illusive fungi, fragile forest floors are increasingly trammeled. Additionally, the verdict is still out on whether or not picking the fruit of the fungi (the mushroom), hampers the organism’s future growth.

More apparent repercussions are found in the hasty and ill-conceived development of regions as they are subjected to such commodity booms: populations mushroom, waste accumulates, and ecosystems shift. Although the mushroom (and tourism) craze of 21st century Yunnan is hardly analogous to the 19th century gold rush of the American West, global market prices and sheer interest in Yunnan mushrooms is escalating, and the effects on local ecosystems and economies are becoming apparent. (The same can be said of Darjeeling, especially with tourism factored in.)

The environmental affects of monoculture tea estates may be more apparent than those of wild mushrooms. However, it must be cautioned that the more surreptitious environmental affects of mushroom picking can make the act awfully pernicious. In fact, it is the general lack of knowledge (scientific and local) concerning mushrooms- their reproduction and role within ecosystems- that adds to the perception that mushroom picking is innocuous.

This multi-cultural environmental fieldwork opened a further pod of peas: where do such environmental perceptions originate? Can we find multiple or divergent ‘eco-perceptions’? What beliefs, values and knowledge structures are behind these perceptions? What causes or individuals promote these varying brands of environmentalism (eco-perceptions)?

Additionally, this brings up the topic of globalization, specifically, the flow of knowledge and ideas. Beyond ecology and environmentalism, what global knowledge flows exist that concern the (possible) health benefits of mushrooms and tea? What can be said of the emerging global standards on labor, as seen in ‘fair trade’ labeling?

As seen with Darjeeling’s ‘fair trade’ tea estates, fair trade labeling still has a long way to go. It is hard to look past the hypocrisy of a tea estate, that is structurally unchanged since the colonial era, labeled as ‘fair trade’. Even after four generations have continually lived on and worked the land, workers still have no claim to the land, nor cut of the profit. Instead they are provided slum-like living conditions and a flat rate of hardly over one dollar a day (floating around the international poverty line) to produce a commodity that is renowned across the world.

To add insult to injury, the lavish bungalows where the British lived and watched over their subjects, are now rented out at exorbitant fees as vacation destinations, often filled by European aristocrats. Naturally, these tourists are sheltered from the working underbelly of the estate.

The picture isn’t all grim, however. Another type of tourism is growing around tea estates, one that caters to the more adventurous and eco/socially conscious. It is a mixture of ecotourism and tea tourism and it brings tourists into the homes of estate workers, or allows tourists to sleep in tents amongst the flora of the estates. The same is happening in Yunnan. Tourists are encouraged to reach the scenic heights where wild mushrooms grow and try their hand at foraging for the illusive beauties. There are even cooking facilities equipped with chefs and mushrooms to buy incase your foraging experience was less than fruitful.

As can be seen, our research has lead to more questions than answers. And that is the point. Two months is not adequate for any serious research, but it is more than adequate to build lasting friendships and connections, and open doors to possibilities and curiosities for future research on India and China. And for that I have the ICKCBI to thank.

Xu Jia’s new hope

When the dream suddenly come ? Last time you climbMeiliSnowMountainwith a lot of strange Tibetan people, you stand at the top of one mountain , a sea level of 3500m. That moment you can seize your own freedom, which seems like all dreams can come true. And this time ,after today’s interview , your heart be fired again. She is right ,since you are so young , what the reasons for worrying about registered residence ,why not just give yourself a chance and have a try ,why not just believe in yourself. God will bless me . These days we do many interviews of professors, NGO officials and journalists. They dedicated themselves to the public career and without any pay. It is with passion, courageous conviction and strong sense of self that take our next steps into the world. So congratulations, these are good signals .Wish me have a good job .

Xu Jia's new hope

When the dream suddenly come ? Last time you climbMeiliSnowMountainwith a lot of strange Tibetan people, you stand at the top of one mountain , a sea level of 3500m. That moment you can seize your own freedom, which seems like all dreams can come true. And this time ,after today’s interview , your heart be fired again. She is right ,since you are so young , what the reasons for worrying about registered residence ,why not just give yourself a chance and have a try ,why not just believe in yourself. God will bless me . These days we do many interviews of professors, NGO officials and journalists. They dedicated themselves to the public career and without any pay. It is with passion, courageous conviction and strong sense of self that take our next steps into the world. So congratulations, these are good signals .Wish me have a good job .

Mushrooms in translation

Hi all!

I want to share this section of my fieldnotes. Rather than description, it is my analysis. It is very much a thought in progress, so I would love any feedback!

A description of mushrooms and mushroom sellers at a Kunming market


There are two important variables concerning mushroom sellers in Kunming’s farmers market. The first variable: Is the seller also the picker, or did the seller buy from a distributor? The second variable: whether the mushrooms are wild or not. While the word ‘wild’ seems to translate into English quite nicely, and without confusion, describing ‘not wild’ is more open to interpretation. Andree, my Chinese counterpart, prefers the term ‘artificial’. Indeed, after spending a good week chatting with Kunminese about mushrooms, it seems that ‘artificial’ is the most commonly used English word. Other translations would include, ‘cultivated’, ‘industrial’, ‘farmed’, ‘mass-produced’, etc.

In my opinion ‘cultivated’ is the most accurate term. Afterall, cultivation is exactly what is being done. As opposed to mushrooms growing without the aid of humans, in the wild (interestingly, most wild mushrooms still cannot be cultivated), this other category of mushrooms ARE grown by humans, they are cultivated.

But, that point aside, the fact that these Kunminese prefer the translation ‘artificial’, is very telling. ‘Artificial’– to describe not-wild– is by far the most polarizing term to use. To say ‘artificial’ implies that something is not real, it is not genuine, and thus inferior if not critically flawed. It goes far beyond terms such as ‘cultivated’, ‘industrial’, or ‘farmed’. And indeed, when discussing this choice of translation with various Kunminese, I have questioned whether or not they mean ‘industrial’ or ‘farmed’. They tell me that they also mean these other, nearby terms. But still they insist that ‘artificial’ better expresses what they are trying to say when describing those mushrooms that sell at a cheaper price and are lacking in robust flavor and aroma.

Additionally, this view of wild vs ‘artificial’ mushrooms applies to other produce. At one point, when walking around the market, we found ourselves in an area that strangely lacked the hustle and bustle occurring everywhere else. I wasn’t the one to bring it up. Rather, Andree pointed it out by asking Shiladitya and I why we thought this section was so quiet. We gave many guesses but couldn’t figure it out. Finally, she said that unlike the rest of the market, where the farmers themselves sell food, this section was comprised only of distributors. Andree explained that these distributors get their food from industrial farms (of course she said ‘artificial’). She said it wasn’t as fresh, or natural. And evidently everyone knew it. (Now I have to also admit that on average the price is slightly lower, and it is easier to bargain with the farmers. But still Andree stressed that the quality of the food was of higher consideration to the scurrying consumers.)

In other words, what Im trying to say, is that Kunming doesn’t need Alice Waters to come and lecture on the importance of naturally grown, locally sourced food. Such values run deep in Kunminese culture.

And to really take this thought too far… I will say that this story is very interesting in relation to the macro picture of an industrializing, urbanizing China. If there is such concern over naturally-grown, fresh foods, how do people swallow such obscene industrialization? Throughout my interviews, I am surprised to find so much acceptance over industrialization (and its consequences on food quality, including pollution in general). Obviously people aren’t happy about it, nor am I inferring any sort of apathy. But still, there seems to be a sense of trust, or calm, maybe understanding that this is part of a process, a cycle, and that resolution will be found. It is hard for me to express. And it is hard for me to say how I feel about it, but it is what I observe.

You Never Could Wake A Person Who is Pretending to be Asleep

I was working carefully on my final paper when the postman called me to get the parcel. It is a book from my best friend Chen. The cover of the book is very simple and clean, I like the design of this book. There is a sentence at the back of the book: “in some sense, our lives just like a complete liquidation, like a war we need fight unremittingly against our nature, even like an unanswered question about ‘know yourself’. During this long course, we need liquidate our unwise, more important, we need overcome our foibles. Of course we can choose seek help from the ancients, the contemporaries, relatives, friends, even strangers. But ultimately, no one can depend on.”

While the language of this book is schmaltzy, it got me thinking about life and knowing myself. I have to have the courage to examine who I really am, to find out what I really want, to come to terms with the dark corner of my own soul. We live in an era in which information speed around the global, every hour of every day. No matter how unfair or wrong, whether we like it or not, all of our fortunes are tied together. Maybe we can choose shake hands and move on, or we close our eyes and pretend to go to sleep. The author of this book told us a story: he has a dog, it always trusts everyone, and shows the soft abdomen to people who want to touch it. Such unquestioning trust is a point of the utmost jealousy. And I believe once upon a time, we can trust anyone just like the cute dog.

The name of this book is You Never Could Wake A Person Who is Pretending to be Asleep. If a person chooses to pretending to be asleep, maybe that means he chooses not to believe.

Dian Lake and the Gateway to South East Asia

Apologies for the lateness of this post, I was out of town and didn’t have net access.

Friday morning I managed to pull myself out of bed around 7:30.  I stumbled my way to the dining hall, eager for some steamed buns and a heaping bowl of boil-them-yourself noodles and broth.  As I slurped up my breakfast and sipped my leafy tea I wondered what exactly a trip to Dian Lake and the new Yunnan Campus would entail.  The significance of the lake was lost in the barrage of information I’d received in the past seven days but I was looking forward to getting out of town and seeing a bit more than the blocks surrounding Yunnan University.

We miraculously were all able to get on the bus on time and soon we were on our way to Dian Lake.  The weather was quite overcast but I for one was glad when we pulled over by the side of the lake and were invited to take a walk.  It’d been a while since I’d been able to walk around such a spacious, not-so urban area (I’d spent the past week on crowded flight from New York City to Shanghai and then a packed train car to Kunming, which may be a smaller city in Chinese terms but it’s still a bustling metropolis) and the lapping of the water mixed combined with the serene Sleeping Beauty was calming.  This portion of the lake had undergone a massive cleaning overhaul but the section we were about to visit was still highly polluted.

Teams of workers in orange vests could be seen on rafts as we rolled past the lake.  The massive project they were undertaking was made clear by Ruyong when he explained that the water was so dirty that it could not even be used for industrial purposes.  While this fact was jaw dropping, the portion of the day that left the largest mark on me was the drive back to the city.

The fact that China’s urban migration is of an unprecedented size is well known (a figure I read recently claimed that a decade of rural to urban migration in China has eclipsed the entirety of Irish immigration to the USA and the number continues to rise) but until you see the dozens upon dozens of high rises being built around the outside of the city and recognize that it is just a single Chinese city among hundreds, the reality of the situation is impossible to grasp.  Furthermore, after seeing the While giving me a much clearer sense of the scale of China’s urbanization situation, the skeletal frames of the high rises, the unfinished freeways leading toward them before ending abruptly and the cranes dotting the landscape created many more questions.  With Dian Lake still on my mind, I wondered about the environmental effects of such development.  I also found myself wondering who exactly was going to be living in such complexes and what sort of work would they be doing?  As we entered the city proper I became more aware of the work occurring within the city as well.  What I took for renovation was in fact construction and reconstruction.  All of this lead me to wonder what the Kunming represented to the its long term residents and how that differed from how it is being understood in the state development projects that view it as the gateway to the markets of South and South East Asia.

Talk about why I choose this topic

Time really flies. It have been eight days past, and I want to explain why I chose this topic. I think having a well-defined set of objective will give me a hand to complete this research program.

Firstly, many people work hard to earn money for their family’s living, and the house is one of the biggest expenditure in their living cost. My friends also strive to earn a living, who just have graduated from the university in these years, with the hopes for their future and happiness living and marriage. House is the indispensable things for their future. Because the house is the symbol of the stable life for our Chinese, and also linked with many social problems, such as household register system, medical care and child education, etc.

Secondly, In our Chinese traditional values, land and house are the best choice as a store of wealth. In the modern society, the land is strictly controlled by the government; But the house always is one of the best choice as a store of wealth. And in Kunming, lots of house are stockpiled for investment to have the sudden profiteering.

Thirdly, according to some surveys, 13.04% of China’s GDP today comes from the house market, and the house market have the huge influence for our country’s economy. Between 2009 to 2011, our Centre government has published many policies and regulations to protect the normal house market. Changing house price will be influenced the continuing development of china economic, and the normal life of citizens.

At last, I thought that it’s a critical problem for the huge rural country with 1.3 billion people and India will also face this problem in the future or maybe now. Because both China and India share similar national conditions, for instance, the rapid economic development, the huge population , the rapid urbanization and the emerging middle class. I am very interested in this topic, and I will try my best to complete this research program.




Welcome to Kunming, friends! How is your stay in the town?

It has already been a week since we’ve met with each other. And I’m really looking forward for the following 7 weeks that we can work and talk and have fun all the way together. I’m pretty sure that we will find more commons than we imagine. Frankly, I was pretty exhausted since the tight set schedule of the 5 days. But I’m confident about all the projects that all of us have worked with and about to work with. I think it was and will be worthy and fun. I am ready to work on our most interesting projects. How about you guys? Actually I don’t know what else can I say. Probably it’s because we are still in my town. So there are just few things that can surprise me just a little bit. And are you guys going to watch the Euro Cup Final tonight? Which team you think is gonna win the game? I bet the champion will be Spanish.

Oh by the way, do I really look like that I am serious all the time? Please do tell me if you do think so since Sreerupa told me that on the night we saw the show of Yunnan Dynamics. Trust me, my appearance could be deceiving. I’m not that serious.

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