Phase 3: Interpreting Information

Updated 5 years 1 week ago

In Phase 0 of my Inquiry Project, I decided on my topic. During Phase 1, I did research on my project topic, which is shown here in Phase 3, and I came up with my ten Big Questions. In Phase 2, I found more helpful resources for my project, including those in XiZhou. Here in Phase 3, I will lay out all of my information from background research to local contacts, along with their sources. 

Background Information (from Phase 1)

My topic is a combination of food and small business. According to the basic definition of a small business, the business will be privately owned, will have less than 250 employees, and will make less than 7million USD per year[7]. If that is what a small business is, then it seems to me that most of the places I will be visiting in XiZhou will be miniature businesses, especially the street vendors. In XiZhou, some of the local food street vendors (having only one or two "employees") make an average of about 230 RMB per day, which is almost 84,000 RMB per year (13,500 USD), not even close to 7million USD [7]. People who start, run, and organize small businesses are called entrepreneurs [10]. Entrepreneurs have advantages, such as more freedom within in their job, but also do not have worthy benefits such as healthcare[4,7]

Yunnan Cuisine consists of hot and spicy dishes, greatly influenced by Sichuan flavors [5,6,8,9]. In XiZhou, there are plenty of restaurants (such as the Golden Flower), but also many food vendors that people enjoy snacking on during the day [6,7,8].  There are many local shops and markets in XiZhou where one can purchase fresh produce. There are many unique kinds of vegetables that can be found there year round [5] and ripe fruits such as wax apples, mandarin oranges, and persimmons [1]. There are also markets that sell meats, especially pork [2].  The main few crops that are grown and harvested in XiZhou are rice, wheat, beans, rape, maize, and tobacco [1,5,6,8,9]. A few meals that are special to XiZhou are the Dali cold rice noodles with chicken thread, the Mild Curd, the rice cake shred, and XiZhou baba [9]. XiZhou Baba is a doughy flat cake that can be made either plain, savory (usually with pork and onions), or sweet (usually with brown sugar and red bean paste) [3,6,9].

Information from 3-to-5's 

Ms. Mai:
In my 3-to-5 with Ms. Mai, she gave me a lot of information about the types of foods in the village as well as their specific locations, which will be very helpful as I go to visit these people.There are two Erkuai factories in town: one where we went for the tour, near the morning market, and the other in the opposite direction. The first factory usually closes at 14:00 each day, while the second one stays open until 16:00 or 17:00, which could be more helpful. She gave me information on how the Erkuai sushi-type rolls are made. The Erkuai dough is created in the factory, then a food vendor rolls it up with meat, vegetables, and spices and cuts it up like sushi. She also explained how glass noodles vary from Ersi: they are more transparent and are hung out to dry in thin strips. The factory is located about a five minute bike ride away from XiZhou. The steamed bun family shop makes plain buns as well as meat filled ones[11].

Mr. Tafel:
Mr. T gave me multiple people to talk to and places to go, but also gave me very specific information on a couple places, which was helpful. Old Town Snacks is a family business, with a Bai minority woman married to a Han man. They have a son and the father's mother often stays with them. They run Old Town Snacks, a restaurant, very closely together and are very fimiliar with the Microcampus program. In fact, they named a a dish after Mr. Tafel: tai fei chao fan. They are open about their story and would be willing to share with me. Also, Old Town Snacks is currently moving from their old shop to a newer building, a few places down. 
The shop that sells crooked milk popsicles is the sister of the woman who runs the shop next to it (with cold noodles and various hot dishes). It could be interesting to learn about their stories side by side. Another idea is for me to learn many stories from the restaurants in si fang jie and compare them to each other. Also, "Yard Entrance" and a couple of the restaurants next to it are brand new, so I could research their new lives. 
As for personal advice, Mr. T talked to me about how important first impressions and general connections are. I was worried about my lesser Chinese skills limiting my connection, but Mr. T reassured me that if someone is there translating for me, they will just be subtitles, not taking over the conversation and connection. More advice Mr. Tafel gave was to let things happen more-or-less naturally. I should not quickly decide on one place and spend my whole time trying to get to know them; it is better to make many connections and see which direction my project is naturally heading in[12]

Information from Local Contacts

Mrs. Zhao (4/23/15)[13]

Personal Life:

  • Born and raised in XiZhou
  • Bai minority
  • Traveled to Kunming where she met her husband, then they moved back to XiZhou together
  • Her husband is a han man from Sichuan
  • They have one son, age 7
  • Her parents sell jade together in Dali Old Town
  • She and her husband run Old Town Snacks together, a restaurant in si fang jie, along with his mother, Chen nainai
  • They opened the restaurant, in XiZhou, so they could take care of their son
  • She likes her job
  • Mrs. Zhao likes service (taking orders and meeting people) while her husband likes cooking, so they are a great team 


  • Most popular dishes: pa rou er si (pig foot rice noodle) and liang ji mi xian (cold chicken noodle)
  • pa rou er si was very famous when her dad was young and both the dishes have local flavor; they appeal to a wide range of people 
  • The locals like the sweet baba, because they think there is too much fat in the salty on ein the pork; they say its too oily
  • Foreigners usually like salty baba
  • The locals love wan dou fan because it can be made spicy, sweet, and sour.
  • The cuisine has a big mix of flavors, not too spicy 

Now vs Then:

  • Tourism has not affected the ingredients used
  • When she was young, there would be one vendor per snack but now there are many
  • She and her husband went Kunming and tried KFC and fast food for the first time
  • Many people have never tasted that because they have never left XiZhou
  • Bubble tea is brand new in XiZhou
  • They started delivering three years ago and were the first place to do so and now places have begun to copy them
  • They cost one kuai to deliver
  • They moved shops because the new building was falling apart 

Talking with Mrs. Zhao was very helpful for me in the information I gained and boosted my confidance. This was the first conversation I had with a local pertaining to my topic such as learning people's stories and understanding XiZhou's cuisine. At first, I was very nervous about my interviewee not understanding my Chinese or feeling awkward/ bored with what I had to ask. Mr. T encouraged me to speak Chinese and try to stay casual with my conversation. This definitely helped and I was pleasantly surprised when Mrs. Zhao understand what I was asking. So much of what she said answered my ten big questions the questions I had in my head. She told me about the cuisine and what locals like versus tourists, and told me a bit about herself and why she opened her restaurant. I would be interested to learn more about her story, especially because Mr. T talked to me about their family and is quite close with them. This also brought up another question: If this is her story and her opinion on cuisine, what would others be? Would they be similar or different? I would like to investigate this at some point, comparing her story to the others around her.


Mrs. Song (4/24/15)[14]

Personal Life and Work: 

  • She works at the Glass Noodle (fen si) Factory
  • Her job is to wrap up (around) 200 gram clumps of noodles and tie them up
  • She works from noon to around 6 o'clock per day, depending on how long it takes her to get the job done
  • Mrs. Song gets 40 kuai per day and works everyday except when it rains
  • She is paid for completing the work, not by the hour
  • She is local to Dali Zhou, one of the eleven mini villages within XiZhou
  • She does not know what year she is born in, but is 67 years old, so she was born in 1948
  • She has kids who have grown up and are now farmers
  • She used to be a farmer until two years ago, when she started working here
  • She started working here because she had more free time because her kids were able to help out in the fields
  • Her husband is also a long ming (farmer) who, depending on the season, harvests chang dou (beans) or mi fan (rice)
  • He gets paid anywhere from 200-600 kuai per six months, depending on that year's harvest, which is about 30-90 kuai per month, similar to the amount Mrs. Song gets paid in one day 
  • Last year, the garlic harvest was four kuai per kilo and this year it is nine kuai per kilo
  • She does not have a favorite dish, but her whole family loves spicy food
  • She cooks at home and usually makes either stir-fried vegetables (fresh from the morning market) or makes soup, often including the glass noodles
  • She also enjoys fish because it is fresh from Lake Erhai

Glass Noodles:

  • These noodles are made from rice
  • The noodles cost 5 kuai per noodle which is about two clumps of noodles
  • About half of the product goes around XiZhou, to restaurants or families, and half is shipped out to Xiaguan, Dali Old Town, and Kunming
  • The noodles are made by being boiled for two minutes in water
  • They are usually used in hotpot (ma la tang), but can also be used for cold noodle dishes, based on preference
  • The owner, Mr. Li, and his daughter make the noodles, while she and three other women wrap and package them

The information Song a yi shared was very interesting. I enjoyed hearing about her life and her part the process of the glass noodles.  I had not known anything about glass noodles and she actually did not know much about the process either, just stuck to her task. I found this a bit strange, and wonder if other people experience this as well. Our conversation also made me wonder if many people change their job when they age and for what reasons.

Mrs. Li (4/24/15)[15]

Personal Life:

  • Mrs. Li seemed very grumpy and did not want to speak with us
  • Mr. Li is the owner of the company and her father
  • She was being very protective of her business and not wanting to share the process because there used to be one of each company/ vendor but now there are so many tourists so there are many copies of each place
  • She told us that her parents recently divorced 

Glass Noodles:

  • The noodle process is similar to ErKuai
  • Rice is cooked then heated into a sticky mixture that gets pushed through a machine with noodle-shaped holes
  • A fan dries the dough as it comes out so they do not stick together
  • It is cut from the machine, which spits out the noodles very quickly
  • It is then hung dry outside

Talking to Mrs. Li for this short time felt a bit strange. She was very defensive and gave me some weird looks. Ms. Mai told me how she has met Mrs. Li's father andhow  he had shown her around the factory before. However, I was abe to see the process happening behind her, which was helpful. One thing that surprised me was her parents' divorce. For some reason, I thought that people here do not get divorces often, especially so late. It raised more questions about people's lives and marriages. 

Mr. Yang (4/27/15)[16]

Personal Life and Work:

  • Mr. Yang has lived in XiZhou his whole life
  • His full name is Yang ji wen
  • He currently owns a fruit stand at the morning market
  • In middle school, he began learning english, and he still knows a few words now
  • He graduated high school and got straight A's; a very good student
  • After high school, he began selling clothes
  • He would travel by boat or bus to many places to sell clothes
  • He has two sons, aged 18 and 10, who attend/have attended school in XiZhou
  • After his first son was born, Mr. Yang opened his fruit stand, 16 years ago, because it paid more money
  • His eldest son is a car mechanic in XiZhou
  • When asked if he is happy with his life and job, he says he just loves life. He said, "You are living anyway, so you might as well be happy; there is no point not to be." 
  • What he wants for his kids is for them to have a better life than he does. They can do this by getting more money. He knows that does not sound like a good answer, but says if he is being honest, more money equals better life


  • Grapes,  peaches, and cherries are grown locally
  • The fruits that sell the most are apples and bananas
  • Tourists create more business for food places, so they are good
  • He enjoys eating vegetables, particularly vegetable soup, which eh says he eats every meal
  • Mr. Yang's favorite meat is Yak meat, which is quite expensive, about 60 kuai per half kilogram
  • He believes the main flavor of food in XIZhou is sour-spicy

Mr. Yang was extremely nice and positive. He was constantly smiling and talking about his theories on the greatness of life. He was attempting to speak some English and was asking how to say certain words. One question our conversation brought up was, If he was such a good student and even graduated high school, why does he not have a "better life", like the one he wants his children to have? How come he did not move to a city instead of selling clothes off a cart?

Mr. Shi (4/27/15)[16]

  • He opened his business in 1982 at age 29
  • He is now 62 years old
  • In 1980, China had recently "opened" and the government was encouraging people to "be adventurous" and open businesses.
  • Mr. Shi began making popsicles, because he was adventurous, and people liked them so he started his company
  • He used to have many more flavors and choices of popsicles on the menu, but simplified it to make is easier. 
  • He used to make many fruit popsicles, but fruit became too expensive
  • When he first opened a popsicle cost 3 fen and now they cost almost 3kuai, so now he can use better ingredients and make better popsicles
  • Mr. Shi has one son, age 35, and one grandson, age 8, whom live in Kunming
  • His son works in the IT industry, but promised his father that when Mr. Shi became too old, he would come back to XiZhou and run the popsicle business

Mr. Shi was a bit quiet, but still was okay with answering my questions. He is the first person I have met with who has shared anything about the government or changing China. I find it inspiring how he invented these popsicles and has made such a nice living off of them. 

Mr. Li  (4/28/15)[18]

  • Mr. Li and his wife own a restaurant is Sifang jie called yuan zi kou (院子口), or Yard Entrance.
  • Mr. Li is Bai minority, originally from XiZhou
  • Mrs. Li is Han, originally from near Chengdu in Sichuan
  • They opened the restaurant on November 1st, 2014, less than six months ago
  • Mr. Li is like the face of the company. He talks to the customers and helps to take orders. Mrs. Li is the chef.
  • Mrs. Li loved cooking her whole life so she opened up this restaurant
  • She grew up in the countryside, so it was custom to be able to cook what they freshly grew
  • She attended no school or classes for cooking, but as she works, she becomes more and more skilles
  • Mr and Mrs. Li met while she was on a day tour in XiZhou
  • The staff they have at Yard Entrance are all either relatives or friends
  • One staff lady takes orders, while the other prepares and peels vegetables
  • Thier most popular dishes are suan la yu, spicy-sour fish, and huang neng ji, which is a traditional pan chicken dish
  • They get fish and baby shrimp fresh from Lake Erhai, so those are also quite popular

I made the mistake of going to Yard Entrance at one o'clock, still during their lunch hour, so I could not sit down and have a proper conversation with either of them. Mr. T and I talked to them while they worked and they were very friendly. Although we could not talk much, I enjoyed watching their process, especially the speed and efficiency at which she prepared the meals. Without asking, Mrs. Li invited me to come back so she could teach me how to cook something. Next time, I will go in the afternoon when they are less busy. 

Mrs. Zhang (5/2/15)[19]

  • She makes cheese everyday on a wok in a courtyard 
  • She started her business 12-13 years ago
  • Her parents used to make and sell in bulk, but now she does it out in the open so that tourists can watch and buy
  • The house she lives in is over 90 years old so people come to look at the house as well
  • One year ago, she began selling embroidery and tie-dye to further rake in tourists
  • Her mother taught her how to make the cheese when she was 15 or 16 years old
  • If she is focused, Mrs. Zhang can finish making all the day's cheese in 3 hours, but when she is busy with tourists usually about 6-7 hours
  • Most of her buyers call and place orders and she lets them know when they can be ready. They often want 25 kilos every few days or maybe one to two kilos each day. Finishing making the cheese is not necessarily based on the speed of her work; it depends on how much milk form the cows she has left
  • They have two cows that live in a field next to her house. One cow had a baby last year and they do not have room to raise more than two so she sold it. The mother was sad for a few days, but then got over it. Mrs. Zhang now believes that both cows are pregnant. She will give them both a two month break to give birth, which is very kind, especially because it will strongly affect her business. 
  • When the cows are not pregnant they produce about three buckets full of milk, when they are pregnant it is more like two or two and a half
  • The cows are fed the most high quality foods: corn, grass, and chang dou 
  • There are three other families that make and sell cheese in XiZhou that are Bai minority
  • However, many Hui minority families make their own cheese because they raise cows and have extra milk
  • Mrs. Zhang's cheese is the most high quality in XiZhou. Some places add milk powder to their cheese or feed the cows different food so it is not as good
  • She has no advertisements anywhere, but, even though she is hidden, people pass on the information of her cheese so she receives plenty of customers
  • There is a lady who lives right next to her and makes cheese just a few meters away from her, but her cheese is not as good so she does not receive as much business. They do not get along very well


  • She has been married for 18 years
  • She has a son who is 15 or 16 and he goes to high school in XiZhou
  • It is a one week Bai minority holiday currently, as well as May Holiday, and her son was still asleep (at 2pm)
  • Every meal they eat white rice
  • Each day she goes to the morning market and picks out the fresh produce and stir-fries that for lunch and dinner
  • Mrs. Zhang and her husband trade off cooking meals
  • For breakfast, she will often make mi xian (noodle soup) or baba like the baba in si fang jie
  • They never go out to eat, but sometimes she buys fresh steamed buns
  • Her son knows how to make the cheese but does not do it; sometimes he will help his parents roast the cheese
  • Mrs. Zhang likes the cheese and her favorite way to eat it is fried, especially with extra oil


  • Cows are milked every morning, producing about 3 buckets full of milk
  • Sour water is extracted from the milk and used in the making process
  • The wok is turned to 40-50˚C
  • A bowl-full of fresh cow milk is placed in the wok with a small amount
  • She stirs first with a deep wooden spoon, then once it begins curdling she uses a strainer spoon, then once it is soft and moldable she uses two large wooden sticks, like chopsticks
  • She picks it out of the wok with her hand and kneads it before wrapping it gently around a chopstick
  • The cheese is then spread out across two 6 foot long poles and hung up to dry
  • Drying process takes about half a day when sunny
  • It can be served dried, fried, or fresh usually with brown sugar and/or rose pedal jam
  • The excess mixture from the wok is used the next day as sour water and the process begins again

Mrs. Zhang is very nice and seems to love sharing and talking with me. Of all the processes I have seen since in XiZhou, simple and complex, her's is the one I am most interested in watching. It is fascinating to watch just one ingredient, milk, turn into such a delicious snack. I admire the work and expertise she demonstrates when creating her signature, and only, dish. I will definitely go back  there and chat with her more, while getting some cheese to snack on. 

Mrs. Li (5/3/15)[20]

Life Story:

  • Born and raised in XiZhou as the youngest of six kids, four sisters, one older brother
  • Dropped out of school at 16 and went to Kunming
  • First four years she lived with her uncle and took care of an elder relative
  • Fifth year she spent studying proper Mandarin, because she had a thick XiZhou accent
  • Sixth year she worked at a restaurant for her uncle's wife
  • Seventh year she worked for the army, where she met her husband, an active duty soldier
  • She got married at age 25, which was late because most women got married right after school, by 18
  • She had her daughter at age 26, and took one year off of work
  • In her ninth year she was a sales clerk at a clothing store
  • Her husband went on active duty near the Burmese border, so they do not see each other much
  • After five years, when her daughter was six, she got pregnant again. She and her husband had not wanted another child, however his family has extremely strong feelings about the importance of having a son.
  • When she got pregnant, she came to XiZhou, because having a second child is not allowed, and she was worried about forced abortion
  • Her husband's parents moved to XiZhou to help out Mrs. Li in raising her kids
  • After she gave birth to her son, whom is unregistered, her older brother (Mr. Li) and his wife opened up a restaurant (Yard Entrance), where she now works as service and sometimes helps to cook
  • Her husband is coming off of active duty at the end of this year for good so they will then register their son and probably have to pay a 10,000-20,000kuai fine
  • If she can save up enough money and sell her land in Kunming, she wants to open up a guesthouse in the near future

Specific Details:

  • She saw her husband only twice last year and once this year for five days. It is an eight hour drive to visit him, on very dangerous trails, so she did not bring her kids. Normally, she has no days off work so this was a huge exception. Her husband did not see his son until almost a year after he was born.
  • For the rest of her life, she must take care of four people, her kids and her parents-in-law
  • Two of her older sisters married into families in Dali Old Town; the other two are fishermen
  • She loves hearing perspectives form different people in order to understand others, especially about food
  • She wants her kids to live happy lives, have good health, study, and wants to provide opportunities for them to succeed in life


  • Her favorite dish is sour-spicy fish; she has been eating it since she was a little kid
  • She also enjoys shredded chicken mi xian (cold rice noodles)
  • In the morning she eats er si
  • She enjoys salty XiZhou baba; 4 people in her family like salty and 2 like sweet
  • She has a saying "4 different people equals 4 different opinions" and she likes hearing feedback from customers

Mrs. Li was extremely kind and open about her story. Her story was so different than most of the people I have talked to. Most of the restaurant/ food vendor owners spent nearly, if not all, their whole adult life running this business. However, Mrs. Li has experience in a number of different occupations. Also, she is younger than most of the people I have talked to and so I was able get a different perspective and also was able to meet her kids one of whom I was already familiar with. She has very nice views of the world and people as well. I love that she enjoys hearing different opinions and is so open minded. 

Mr. Ma (5/5/15)[21]

  • He and his wife run a rolled Erkuai shop out of their house
  • Erkuai is a flat dough, like a tortilla, made from rice. In it, they can put meat, potatoes, spicy sauce, and/ or sweet sauce. 
  • Out of their house they sell 10-20 erkuai rolls per day, but in the mornings he goes in front of the school gate and sells around 200 per day
  • Each one is 1.5 kuai
  • Every day he eats rice, ersi, mi xian, and XiZhou baba
  • He prefers salty baba
  • The tourists prefer sweet food while the locals prefer spicy foods
  • His mom was a peasant and his dad was a police officer. They live in Dali
  • Mr. Ma is Muslim
  • He has been married thirty years and has a 21 year old son, whom is disabled
  • Mr. Ma had nine years of education
  • He was in the army for four years and then was dismissed
  • He wishes he could travel around China

Mr. Ma is very nice, yet straightforward. He answered my questions and then would wait expactantly for the next one. It was a bit awkward because I had to think of things to ask him on the spot. I do not think he remembered, but I have met him, his wife, and his son once before with Mr. Tafel. They are very welcoming and friendly, and the food tastes great. I also heard about someone else's project on this family and how people take care of their son. I watched a few neighbors come in and out, just to sit next to Mr. Ma's son. I like the sense of community, especially just on this little street. 

 Answers to Previous Questions (from Phase 1):

Most of my ten questions from Phase One are particular to a certain person or business. Therefore, each person gave me a different answer for those, such as why they opened their business and their take on happiness. Along with this, a few of the questions seemed unimportant and/ or invalid once I arrived, so I got rid of those. However, a couple of the questions were able to retrieve one specific answer. 

What are some reoccurring flavors in XiZhou cuisine that are favored?
The locals like all flavors, but seem to favor sour-spicy flavor for meals and sweet for snacks, such as XiZhou Baba.

Have the food or flavors changed at all since XiZhou has become more prone to tourists? What has changed and why?
The original foods and flavors have not changed. However, the tourists seem to prefer slightly different verions of each dish. For example, they prefer salty Baba, instead of sweet like the locals.

Now, I know I am ready to move on to Phase 4, because I have gathered a large amount of information and have more than enough to begin sharing ideas. In Phase 4, I will begin to think about how to share and present my knowledge and why. Soon after, I will be creating my Final Product.


1. Online: Pictures with captions of XiZhou Cuisine  (Accessed in January 2015)
2. Online: Information and reviews about being in XiZhou (Accessed in January 2015)
3. Online: Specific to describing XiZhou baba (Accessed in January 2015)
4. Online: About people losing their small businesses in rural China (Accessed in January 2015)
5.  Online: The Linden Centre website (Accessed in January 2015)
6. Online: A website showing different types of XiZhou cuisine (Accessed in January 2015)
7.  Alexis S.'s Phase 3 in January 2015)
8.  Kyra L.'s Phase 3 (Accessed in January 2015)
9. Vincent C.'s Phase 3 (Accessed in January 2015)
10. Webster's Dictionary (Accessed in January 2015)
11. Ms. Mai 3-to-5 (Interview conducted by Anna G on April 20, 2015)
12. Mr. T 3-to-5 (Interview conducted by Anna G. on April 21, 2015)
13. Mrs. Zhao (From Old Town Snacks) (Interview conducted by Anna G, accompanied by Mr. T, on April 23, 2015)
14. Mrs.  Song (from Glass Noodle Factory) (Interview conducted by Anna G, accompanied by Ms. Mai on April 24, 2015)
15. Mrs. Li (from Glass Noodle Factory) (Conversation and watching with Anna G, Ms. Mai, and Mrs. Li on April 24, 2015)
16. Mr. Yang (from fruit stand in morning market) (Interview conducted by Anna G, accompanied by Cecily on April 27, 2015)
17. Mr. Shi (from popsicle shop) (Interview conducted by Anna G, accompanied by Cecily on April 27, 2015)
18. Mr. Li (from Yard Enrance) (Conversation with Anna G and Mr. T on April 28, 2015)
19: Mrs. Zhang (Cheese Lady) (Interview conducted by Anna G, accompanied by Ms. Mai on May 2, 2015)
20. Mrs. Li (from Yard Entrance) (Conversation conducted by Anna G, accompanied by Mr. T on May 3, 2015)
21. Mr. Ma (from Erkuai stand) (Conversation with Anna G, accompanied by Evy on May 5, 2015)

I am 14 years old and have been living in Shanghai for about four years now. I go to Shanghai American School in Pudong and went to XiZhou as part of the Limitless group in the Spring of 2015. I learned about the people in XiZhou as well as their role in the cuisine. Microcampus was an amazing experience for me and I will always miss the beautiful views, the people, the amazing food, and I will remember the countless life lessons Mr. T taught us. If anyone needs any advice for their Inquiry Project or going to Microcampus in general, please contact me!