photo of Chinese woman northeast and southwest China
China glossary


(CHINA 14 - Southwest)








Mengba village, Lancang county, Yunnan


21 April 1997



Section 1
People explained that Nala's legs had become handicapped a result of a disease she contracted when she was young. But she still acted like other normal people: she fell in love, got married and had children. She had many talents. She also liked to sing. So when we went to Mengba village to conduct interviews, she was the first one on our narrator list. She was giving milk to her two-and-a-half year old son when we met her for the first time. She was a cheerful person. After we explained to her that we wanted to interview her, she agreed shyly. When we turned on the tape-recorder, she was a bit nervous. In her words, she ďcan do things but doesnít know how to speak out about them.Ē So the first night we didn't record anything; we just chatted casually. The next evening, we started the interview. Her mother really encouraged her. As one of a special group of people, she couldn't help worrying about a hard life in the future.

What's your name?

How old are you?
Maybe around 30.

Where does your family live?
Up there [laughs].

Which village are they in?
Mengba, the 4th village.

What kind of handicraft can you make?
I can make Lahu clothes and bags.

You can sew clothes and bags. Who taught you?
I saw other people doing that and I tried and learned.

Did you know how to make them when you were young?
I could when I was young.

Do you make lahu clothes and bags for your own use or for sale?
I haven't sold any clothes. I mainly made bags for sale.
Section 2
How much do you sell one bag for?
Sometimes I sell it at 20 yuan, but sometimes I can get 30 yuan.

Oh! How much can you earn in a year by selling bags?
I could only sell 4 to 5 bags in a year.

How much can you get from the sale? Can you get 500 yuan?
No, not so much!

Do you help other people to make lahu clothes?
If they bring it here, I'll help.

How much is it to make one piece of lahu clothes?
4 to 5 yuan.

How much can you earn by making clothes and bags for a year?
Probably 200 to 300 yuan. But I cannot make that much now.

In which period of time you make clothes and bags?
Before the Spring Festival (major national festival every January or February, depending on the lunar calendar). I do more in December.

Do you make them at other times?
No, I make them only before the Spring Festival.

Do you do the housework when you make clothes for others?
I do housework and make clothes. I help them to make clothes and they help me to do the housework.

Oh! You don't need to do farm work then?
Before the Spring Festival, I don't have to do farm work.

When you make clothes and bags and get tired, what would you think?
Too busy! Sometimes my feet ache when I work long hours by the sewing machine. [laughs]

At what time do you start to sew in the morning?
Every day I start to sew from early morning till evening, but I can make only one item of clothing.

Do you have time to rest in the day?
I have no time to rest. I sew from morning to dusk.

How do you sew lahu clothes?
I know how to sew but I don't know how to explain [laughs].
Section 3
How many people are there in your family?
There are five people in my family.

How many mu (1 mu equals 0.067 hectares) of land do you have?
I have 4 mu of land.

Do you grow hybrid corn?
I grow two mu of hybrid corn.

What are you going to do today?
Iíll help others to do farm work.

Is the work a kind of exchange labour or do you just help them?
That family helped me do the work earlier, so today I go to return labour.

Is it common to exchange labour?
Very common.

Is all your land farmed?
I farmed two mu of them.

Will you go to return labour tomorrow?
Yes, I will go to return labour.

Do you owe others much labour?
Yes, much.

Do you pay someone to work?
I pay some to work when Iím busy; there is also some exchange of labour.

How much do you pay for one person?
I pay 5 yuan. I cannot do it all by myself [laughs].

How many children do you have?
I have two.

How old is the eldest child?
The eldest child is six years old.

Does she attend the school?

Will you let your child go to school when she grows up?
I will let both of them go to school when they grow up.

Have you ever been to the school?
Section 4
Did your man (husband) ever go to school?

Did you study Lahu characters (characters make up the written language)?
I studied Lahu characters, but I didn't study Chinese.

Do you still remember Lahu characters?
I forgot many of them because I don't use them.

Did the agricultural technician come to give advice when you planted hybrid rice seedlings?
They didn't come and see us because our land is far away.

Where did you learn the technique of growing hybrid rice?
When I went for exchange labour, they taught and I learned immediately. We two went to see how others work and we learned.

Is that paiyang (rice seedlings transplantation)?

Who pulls the ropes when you transplant the rice seedlings?
I don't pull the ropes (that measure the straight lines for the seedlings), but just watch how they transplant them.

Now have you learned how to plant hybrid rice seedlings?

Do you know how to sow the seeds of hybrid rice?
Yes, we sow by ourselves.

How do you sow them?
Put them into water and sow with chemical medicine (pesticides).

How do you plant the rice seedlings?
The same.

What do you do after planted the rice seedlings?
Spread chemical fertilisers 10 days later.

How do you use chemical fertilisers? How many times do you need to apply them?
It depends on what kind of fertilisers you use. I apply once!

Do you use organic manure?
I use organic manure too.

Do you think it's better to grow the hybrid rice or to have more, different kinds of varieties?
Hybrid rice is better.
Section 5
Why is it better?
[She just laughed but didnít answer.]

Do you have sufficient grain to eat?
I have sufficient.

Was it sufficient to eat in the past?
It was sufficient only after the household responsibility system was implemented.

Why wasnít it sufficient?
In the past, we didn't know how to work. Only old people worked but it was not enough.

You didn't have enough to eat when you were young. What did you eat?
[She just laughed but didnít answer.]

Now what's the source of your family income?
I don't know how to tell you [laughs].

Did you deliver your child by yourself?
I delivered my child by myself.

How many years have you had the pain in your legs?
I cannot remember.

How did they start to feel painful?
First there were sores, then they became like this.

Do you remember when you had the sores?
Yes, I remember.

How many years have you been sick?
About 20 years.

Did you feel very sad when you were sick?
After I had been sick for around 8 to 9 months, I couldn't get to sleep. It was so painful.

You are really hard working!
I'm afraid of having nothing to eat and wear. I am not afraid of difficulties.

Now your legs cannot work properly, is it difficult for you to go up and down the mountain slope?
Itís difficult to go up and down the slope. I cannot catch up the others. Itís too hard to catch them up.

Is it okay for you to plant rice seedlings?
Iím fine if it is not muddy when I plant the rice seedlings.
Section 6
Did you go to any hospitals for treatment for your legs?
My parents didn't take me to hospital. I just took some herbal medicines.

Which herbal doctor (cao yi in chinese) did you see?
I cannot remember. I was young at that time. I was just a little child.

Your parents didn't take you to the hospital - do you feel regret about this?
I feel regretful! I'm still thinking about it. If they took me to the hospital, I would not be handicapped. But my family was very poor. They had no money to take me to see a doctor. I'm still thinking about doing some treatment. It's too inconvenient (awkward, difficult) to work. I canít work like the others. I cannot bring money home even if I can earn a lot. I cannot walk if I carry heavy things.

Can you carry your child?
I can carry one child. It's fine to go up and down the slope with a child on my back.

Can you carry firewood?
Itís difficult to carry firewood. But I need firewood; I have to carry it no matter how difficult it is.

You can just work less because your legs are not convenient!
No one will do the work if I don't do it. My family is not like the other ones.

If you have money, what will you do?
If I have money, I want to go to treat my legs. After they are healed, I can work like others. Maybe life will be better then. I've been thinking about that.

Since your legs are incapacitated, can you just raise some pigs and chickens, or make some clothes and bags?
I had thought about that but cannot do without ***[not clear]. I made some Lahu bags, sold them and made some money. I spent the money to buy some chickens to raise but they died.

Did you ever sell pigs?
The pigs died from illness. Pigs easily get ill and die nowadays.

En, if you have *** (?), do you want to make clothes and bags to sell?
I want to.

Is the healing of your legs what you want most?
Yes, I hope that when they are healed, then I can work like the others. Doctors from Kunming asked me to go to Kunming for treatment. So I've been thinking about going to Kunming but Iíve got no money.

En! Now what's the source of income of your family?
We pick tea leaves [from our own bushes] to sell.
Section 7
Do you have rice to sell?
No, we just have enough for eating.

Do you plant sugar cane?
We just started planting this year. Last year, my child was too young and I could not work.

Were both of your children born after your legs hurt?

Did you have difficulty in delivering your child?
No difficulty. My man [husband] was with me when I delivered the child. No other people around. Originally, the doctor here worried about me and asked me to go to Lancang for the delivery, but I wanted to deliver the child by myself.

Did the doctor come to see you when you delivered the child?
The doctor came to see me after I delivered the child.

Did you go to ask the doctor to come before your delivery?
No. Both of my children were born at 4 to 5 am, it was the time when people were deep in sleep so I didn't go and ask.

As your legs were incapacitated, did you go to hospital for pre-natal care check-ups when you were pregnant?
I went. The doctor said the foetus was in proper position and the foetus was all right.

Did you go for check-ups once a month?

Did the doctor of your village come to see you when you bore the child?
Yes, people from the village came to see me too. When I had my second child, the interval (spacing between children) was not enough [according to government policy] and my body was not like the others. The doctor asked me to have an abortion. It was the village leader who allowed me to have a second child. I was old and could not have another child if I got even older. So the village leader agreed for me to have a second child.

How many years was the interval period?
Not more than 4 years.

So the government allowed you to have the child?
Yes. The village leader said, "We would not agree if it was somebody else. But because you are handicapped, we agree for you to have another child."

Is the child healthy?
The child is not well.

Which one gets sick easily?
The elder sister gets sick more easily. She does not get sick now but she was so sick when she was one year old.
Section 8
Do you like boys or girls?
I like both boy and girl. They will support us when they grow up.

How long did you rest after you gave birth to your children?
Almost one month.

Did your man (husband) let you take rest?
My man asked me to rest.

How old is this younger child? Must be more than 12 months!
The child will be two years old in July.

What kind of contraception do you use?
I did nothing. I may put in an IUD later. Now the workload is heavy [so I am unlikely to conceive].

Do you want to be sterilised?
No, the child is still young.

Why don't you want to be sterilised?
I'm afraid that the child is not well (meaning may not survive to grow up), so I don't want to be sterilised.

Do you feel inconvenienced by your legs when you do housework?
Iím all right in doing housework. I have difficulty carrying things.

Do you go to the market? Do you sell something there?
Yes. If there is rice, I sell rice. But I could not carry it; my man carries it. I carry tea leaves to sell, and buy salt and pepper to bring back.

How often do you eat meat?
[laughs] I cannot eat meat if it's not the Spring Festival (major national festival every January or February, depending on the lunar calendar).

Do you kill pigs for the Spring Festival?
I killed one this year.

For how long can one pig be eaten?
[laughs] During the Spring Festival, brothers and sisters and other relatives come to eat together and finish it.

Do you feel comfortable going out in the street?
Not comfortable. Iím not like the others. I'm shy [laughs].
Section 9
You are very capable; it's unnecessary to be shy. It's not good to hide at home every day. Don't be shy because of your legsí pain. You are capable.
You are only 30 years old this year, arenít you?

Just 30 years old Ė it is possible for your legs to be treated and get better.
Does your child cry when people from the village come?

Then maybe he's afraid that we will scold you?
Maybe. He probably thinks that you are scolding him.

Your child is very clever and sensible. [laughs] Does anyone help you in your work?

Don't young people help you?
They don't help.

Don't other people help?
They don't help.

Was anything given to you before you got married?
Nothing was given.

As your legs are incapacitated, is it difficult for you to sew clothes and bags?
Not difficult.

What do you wish the other people would help you out with?
[laughs] I only wish I could be helped with what my legs make inconvenient Ė itís too difficult to carry anything for the farm work.

What else? What do you wish the other people help you out?
[laughs] I wish they would help me to earn some more money. If I have money, I want to buy more pigs and chickens to raise and sell. I'll pay them back after I sell the livestock.

Do you raise them in sheds or let them graze them outside?
I would raise them in a sty.

Did you raise the pigs in a sty or leave them outside in the past?
I put them out.

Then why you want to raise them in pigsties now?
All those which grazed outside died, so I thought about raising them in sheds. I think I can raise them up and sell them.
Section 10
Do you feed the pigs with raw or cooked fodder?
Cooked fodder.

Oxfam promotes raw feeding. What did you think about that?
I didn't learn the technique of raw feeding.

What ways will you adopt if you want to get rich?
[laughs] Only by doing these!

You can make Lahu clothes and bags, which is a road to richness. You should take the opportunity, work hard to improve the products. Did you ever think about that?
Yes. So I plant some sugar cane.

Are your legs all right when you plant sugar cane?
They are not very good but I try hard to do it. I have to make a great effort to do what other people can easily do.

Do people look down on your family?
There are some people who don't look up to us, a poor family.

When you went to ask rich families to exchange labour with you, did they come?
They didn't come (meaning they donít exchange labour, they just buy it). Only we poor people went to help them, got paid for work and I went to buy salt.

Who helps you when you plant the rice seedlings?
I went to exchange labour with my acquaintances. When I needed to plant the rice seedlings, they came to help me.

Who do you go to borrow money when there is an urgent need?
I borrow from relatives, or from friends.

At which season do you usually borrow money?
Before the Spring Festival, I borrow some money for sugar cane planting and rice seedlings. I buy cigarettes for those who lend me money.

What content of Lahu language did you learn?
Work techniques, book keeping, loan note writing (for tools, grain or cash), letter writing, etc. I'm not illiterate in the Lahu language, but I didn't study Chinese characters because I had pain in my legs when I was 10. Both my elder sister and I had leg pains, so the family could not do farm work well. That's why my family is so poor.

Do you carry your child on your back when you work?
No, I leave her at home and my mum looks after her.

Why haven't I seen your mum?
She has gone to pick up some vegetables.

What kind of techniques do you want to learn?
I want to learn the new technique of raising pigs, and the technique of farming.
Section 11
What else will you learn after you learn those techniques?
Both techniques are necessary. I cannot work if I don't know that.

When did you start to have electric light?
Last year.

Is the fee for electricity expensive?
Expensive. It was expensive when we didnít have the meter. After installing the meter, we just pay for however much we use.

How much is it for one kilowatt-hour?
Itís 6 jiao (10 cents equals 1 jiao ;10 jiao equals 1 yuan) for one kilowatt-hour. We pay about 3 yuan each month.

What's the advantage of using electric light?
There are many advantages to using electric light bulbs. The house is so bright after you come back from working the farm; it's convenient to do anything.

Do you think it's better to live in the village or better in the mountain?
[laughs] Village is better. The road is flat for farm work. I don't need to go up and down the slopes. It's more convenient for me, easier for me.