Sunday, March 22, 2009

Butterfly Effect: Erma Yina, the Blogger, the Movie, the Earthquake and the preservation of Qiang culture

In August of 2004, a tourist took a snapshot of a beautiful young Qiang woman named Erma Yina and posted it on his personal blog. The photo touched other Netizens, resulting in a flood of Chinese tourists to Taoping Village, Sichuan where the girl was photographed, and a flood of more pictures and national celebrity for Erma Yina followed. As a result of the girl's Net-driven idol status, a movie was shot in Taoping, "Erma's Wedding," short on plot but very long on local color.

On May 12, 2008, the Wenchuan earthquake all but wiped out Taoping and Erma Yina's birthplace of Li Xiang and threatened the future of Qiang culture.

Probably influenced by the Internet-spurred celebrity of Taoping Village and its famous resident Erma Yina, approximately 10 billion yuan (US $1.5 Bn) of investment from China and abroad has been allocated "to save and rehabilitate the quake-threatened Qiang culture."

The movie, "Erma's Wedding," was recently released in an English-subtitled DVD in the "Follow Me Chinese" series which features, though not exclusively, movies of a high propaganda value. The movie is described as "A true record of culture and natural landscapes of Qiang ethnic minority before 5.12 Wenchuan Earthquake."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

From Peru with love: Cuy on China's Tables?

Peru has borrowed more from Chinese cuisine than has any other non-Asian nation. Peruvian-Chinese "chifas" (whose name derives from chi fan, or "eat [rice]" dot the Peruvian landscape more than chop suey parlors ever did the U.S. landscape. It's said that even non-Chinese restaurants in Peru have a variety of wonton soup as a standard menu offering, and lomo saltado, which amounts to Peru's national dish, is said to be of Chinese invention. It goes without saying that Peru would like to repay China for its culinary largesse beyond her greatest conbtribution to China's larders to date, the potato.

Enter the cuy. As the intriguing blog Double Handshake explains, the cuy, better know in the English-speaking world as the guinea pig, is a favored delicacy in Peru:

The animals, which reproduce extremely quickly, are full of protein and low in fat. Cuy, as it is called in Peru, can be fried, broiled, roasted or turned into soup. Peruvians eat about 65 million guinea pigs annually.

It seems that modern breeding methods have produced more guinea pigs than Peruvians can eat, and export options are currently limited. Why not, wonders the blog (which covers both China and Latin America) interest China in adopting a new taste treat? It convincingly lays out half a dozen good reasons why cuy would probably catch on, including a catchy slogan “It’s keyi to eat cuy!

To Double Handshake's list of reasons why it makes sense to export guinea pigs to China for human consumption, I would add another: precedent. A cuy, or guinea pig, after all, is just another rodent, albeit a cute one. A rat is a rat is a rat, and skinned and cooked (see the picture in the Double Handshake blog) a guinea pig looks remarkable like the end product in an earlier blog post of mine, Eating your way through the Chinese Zodiac. That gustatory delight started out as the uncute critter depicted below. I've yet to taste either, but perhaps another selling point for cuy might be the catch phrase "It tastes just like rat."