What is conventional to one may be perceived as unorthodox to another. In 2006, Choo Waihong was at the top of her game, working as a corporate lawyer at a top law firm. But pulling long hours at the office – including on weekends – left her running on empty. Deciding that she had had enough, Waihong quit her job, with no real plans except to visit the village her grandfather had come from in China’s Guandong Province. While traveling around China, she witnessed for herself the matrilineal culture near Lugu Lake and realised that it’s nice to think about how a world could be so different - thereby deciding to share it with others in writing.
For the past seven years, Choo Waihong has spent six months a year living with the matriarchal tribe at the foothills of the Himalayas. For the Mosuo, marriage traditionally doesn’t exist, and men are mere studs to impregnate the women. Women head the household, and men only own land that’s passed down to them.
For Waihong, it was a refreshing departure from the life she had led as a corporate lawyer, always having to work harder than the male colleagues to prove herself. The tribe’s glacial pace of life also taught her some important life lessons.” With the tribe, time is measured by the seasons, and the chores they have to do,” says Waihong, adding that this way of living taught her to stop watching the clock. “When work piles up, anxiety builds up. It took real effort to drop what I experienced every day.”
So charmed was she by her time with the tribe, she decided to build a traditional Mosuo house to stay in whenever she visits. When she’s there, she helps out during the harvest season, and sometimes waits tables at a friend’s restaurant.
Waihong has since chronicled her experience in a book called The Kingdom of Women, documenting the tribe’s distinct culture, and her personal journey with them. She was dogged in getting her book published. When she found out that many big publishing houses in London do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, she browsed the bookshelves of Kinokuniya’s travel section and jotted down the names of six publishers. Google searches helped her narrow the list down to two that she liked, and she submitted two chapters and a synopsis of her book to them. Three days later, one publisher called, eager to bring her story to life.
She says she’s had no regrets giving up corporate life, as she now has time to give back. Waihong currently volunteers with a group that helps foreign workers here, and one day hopes to build a vocational school for the Mosuo.
Photography: Zaphs Zhang, assisted by Angela Guo
Art Director: Alice Chua
Styling: Bryan Goh
Hair and Beauty: Using Keune HairCosmetics Singapore
Makeup: Toh Xiao Hui/27A.Co
Jacket and Top: Michael Michael Kors
Jeans: Waihong’s own
This story is the fifth of a six part Super She-ro series for August and was originally published in the August 2017 issue of Her World.