Approximately two months ago, I was all but fed up with Lijiang. I was feeling underused in the office, and the politics surrounding NGO work in China were preventing me from fully participating in fieldwork. My best friend in Lijiang, a fellow volunteer with TNC, had recently finished her contract and moved to Hangzhou. I was lonely and bored.

Then I met Yixiu.

I mentioned Yixiu in my last post as the owner of the bar where I work part time, and as an important source of many of the connections I’ve made in Lijiang. I suppose I should explain a little more clearly how all of this came to be.

It was a lonely Saturday night, and I was itching for some social interaction. I finally forced myself to go out to the only bar I knew, where I could sip a Tsingdao and chat with the painfully shy Chinese bargirl. The bar was empty except for me, the bargirl, and a mysterious man dressed in black, sitting by himself surrounded by a small forest of unopened beer bottles. He beckoned me over, and I realized that he was startlingly handsome in a slightly dangerous way, like Jack Sparrow draped in Buddhist prayer beads. He cracked open a beer with his teeth and handed it to me.

You might be wondering why I wasn’t fleeing for my life at this point, consumed by fantasies of kidnapping and rape and murder. The answer is simple. This was China.

Jack Sparrow clearly knew the bargirl, whom I happen to trust. Although I was cautious, I was also starved for social interaction, so I decided to take a chance and be friendly.

Sure enough, my conversation with Jack Sparrow was pleasant and interesting. I learned that his name is Yixiu. He grew up in a Naxi village near Lijiang, left school at 11 to herd goats, and then later joined the army. I learned that he has a wife and a two-year-old son. Most importantly, I learned that he was planning to open a new bar in Lijiang, a big one in a central location. His business partner was Russ, a Welsh guy I’d met a couple of times before. They were looking for female servers—was I interested?

At first I balked at the idea of working in a bar. I’m a very introverted and reserved person, the kind of girl who would prefer to go home and spend hours drawing mandalas and listening to weird music rather than be ordered around by Chinese bar-goers. But then again, I had spent every day that week doing nothing but drawing and listening to music (and watching Futurama, let’s be honest), and I was sick of it. I wanted to get out and meet people.

In late June, the new bar finally opened. It’s called Rock Bar, named after the legendary Austrian-American botanist Joseph Rock who devoted his life to studying southwest China, particularly the Naxi people. The bar is divided in two; one half is dark and smoky with a live band and a lit-up dance floor. The other half is quiet and calm, specializing in coffee and red wine. After discussing it with Yixiu and Russ, I agreed to work as a server on a very part-time basis. My work at TNC would still take precedence. I’d only work once or twice a week. I could come whenever I felt like it.

Fast-forward to August.

The Rock Bar family has absorbed me as one of their own. I eat dinner with Yixiu, his wife, and the other servers at least three times a week. Russ the bartender has become one of my best foreign friends.

Most importantly, I am now dating TF, one of Yixiu’s closest “brothers.”

I suppose it pays every once in a while to pull out your headphones, strike up a conversation with a stranger, and take a giant risk.


Although brand new, the entrance to Rock bar is in the style of traditional village houses


Breakdancing dance-offs are a surprisingly frequent occurrence in the club-style half of the bar


The quieter, wine-and-coffee half of the bar