or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Body

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I usually think about myself as two distinct entities: my body and my brain.

This is certainly not a new idea. We humans have a long history of thinking this way. Religions emphasize this mind-body duality as the divide between holy soul and mortal flesh. Self-help books will sell you a three-point plan for tricking your body into following your mental goals, using tools like keystone habits and early morning cold showers. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

I absolutely thought my body was worse than my brain. I was not blessed with any impressive athletic talent. In high school, I was mediocre to average at best at all the sports I tried — swimming, running, tennis. Even worse, my body often rebelled at being put through it’s athletic paces: I quit the swim team after a year because repeated chlorine exposure caused a nasty eczema reaction on the skin of my face. I switched to drama after that, and even then only being solidly in the middle of the pack in terms of group choreography performance and vocal ability. …

How can a centuries-old culture deal with Communism and increasing exposure to the modern world?

This is the fourth post in a four-part series about Mosuo culture.

In part three, we talked about the unique attitude that Mosuo people have towards love and marriage. Now we shift our focus to how outside influences have endeavored to transform these traditional practices, and how future changes may lead to rapid deterioration of the Mosuo matriarchal culture.

“One husband, one wife”

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The Mosuo town higher up in the mountains where our tour guide lived

The last day of our trip, our tour guide invited us to visit his family home. We drove fifteen minutes away from Lugu Lake to another Mosuo town further up in the mountains. Here there were no giftshops or loud signs advertising tourist attractions. …

How does love work in a matriarchal society? We find out how to court a Mosuo woman and when couples are considered officially married.

This is the third post in a four-part series about Mosuo culture.

In the last section, I discussed how the foundation of the Mosuo family unit depends on an individual’s relationship to their mother(s). Concepts of parenthood, inheritance, and household work differ significantly from what we in mainstream societies accept to be the norm.

Because an individual in the Mosuo community spends a lifetime living with their maternal family, this inevitably changes how they conduct romantic relationships. In this section we dive into what love and marriage look like in the matriarchal society.

Monogamy within the Mosuo

There was a common misconception among Chinese tourists that the Mosuo people are polygamous. This was one of the first parts of Mosuo culture that our tour guide, Baima, felt compelled to address as we traveled to Lugu Lake. He emphasized that marriages and relationships are always monogamous. Baima would often play pranks and mislead visitors by telling them: “There are seven women in my life.” Only after a meaningful pause would he finish, “… my mom, my aunts, and my sisters.” …

How the definition of family is radically different in matriarchal society.

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This is the second post in a four-part series about Mosuo culture. We explore the role of biological parents, inheritance, and how the head of the household is always a woman.

Before I visited the Mosuo, I thought matriarchal societies would be a mirror image of our own societies, with women in power instead of men. It is thrilling to understand how truly differently a society can be structured. In Mosuo culture, it’s not just who holds the power that’s different. The entire way that society is organized has been shifted to focus on women. …

Notes from my journey to visit the Mosuo, China’s last matriarchal minority.

In late April 2017, I traveled to Yunnan province in China with my family. I expected it to be a standard family trip where we saw some beautiful scenery and ate delicious regional Chinese cuisine. I was completely surprised when we ended up in a remote region in order to learn about a radically different way of life.

This series is a summary of my experiences and also a reflection on family and love in modern society.

A lake in the mountains

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Lugu Lake (泸沽湖) is a freshwater alpine lake that sits at 2,000 feet above sea level. The water is clear to a depth of 10 meters and can be drunk straight from the source. Mountains surround the lake on all sides. Legend goes that a woman fell in love with a man who abandoned her, riding away on a horse. It was the horse’s hoof that stamped the horseshoe-shaped basin of the lake. The woman found the hoof print and knew she had been abandoned. Grief-stricken, she collapsed to the ground, her tears filling the basin and creating the lake. …

The local’s guide to “The Happiest Place on Earth”

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My first visit to a Disney theme park as a 1-year-old

One of my earliest childhood memories is watching my father take off at a dead sprint as we passed the ticket gate and entered into Main Street boulevard at Magic Kingdom. Clutched in his hand were our park tickets. He was running away from his wife and two daughters in order to secure a precious commodity: the earliest FastPass ride reservation time for a popular ride, usually Peter Pan Flight. This brilliant man had the insight that the other families didn’t. My father knew that Magic Kingdom was a game and he was playing to win.

Game theory is the study of strategies for competitive situations where the outcome of an individual’s choice of action depends on the action of other participants. My father did what any rational engineering professor would do: viewed his day at Disney World as a game theory optimization problem. How could he maximize his family’s enjoyment of the park by minimizing the amount of time spent waiting, while competing with others who were trying to do the same? …

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Photo by Park Troopers on Unsplash

Privacy concerns are more common than ever. People are worried about how companies will gather and exploit their data. The outcome of this tracking ranges from relatively benign (“Amazon’s Next Big Business is Selling You”) to potentially impacting our civil liberties and the basic functioning of governments (“What Facebook Did to American Democracy”).

It’s not an exaggeration to say that companies need to proceed very carefully with data tracking these days. But how did Disney World, which tracks tremendous amounts of guest data, escape our attention and suspicion?

Back in 2010, the New York Times covered Disney World’s quiet evolution into a surveillance state. A newly built command center already used satellites to provide “minute-by-minute weather analysis” and make predictions over the course of guests’ entire vacation time, from the moment of reservation booking to the final crowd levels in the park. The command center then could dispatch solutions to problems predicted by their…


Vivian Qu

Full-time software engineer 👾 part-time agent of chaos 🎢 I write the blog Simulated Annealing. Previously at Pinterest.

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