A spinoff in proper "Rhoda" style of my patented e-mail blastograms, this blog was created with the intention of keeping friends and family updated on and amused by my life.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

到了! (I'm Here!)

Well, after a full 24 hours of travelling, I have finally reached my final destination for this week's journey: Kashgar, Xinjiang, PRC. Kashgar is the westernmost city (I emphasize city here, for there are other smaller towns and villages) in China. To put it in perspective, if I decided to walk directly south from here, I would end up in Delhi, India. And so, it has been a long trip.

I left last night from Kunming at 10:45PM, a mere forty-five minutes late. Upon arriving in Xi'an at about 12:30AM, I took the bus from the airport into town (a 37 kilometer distance!) and then a taxi to Northwest Polytechnical Institute to meet my friend Aftron, another Whittie, who is currently teaching there. We stayed up till like 4 in the morning chatting, and we had to be back up at 8AM so I could get back to the airport for my noon o'clock flight to Urumqi, a three-and-a-half-hour flight. Arriving in Urumqi gave me my first record for the day (the second being at the furthest west city in China): at 2,250km, it is the city the furthest away from the ocean in the entire world. Good thing I'm a mountain person.

And actually, it's high plains, so I was feeling right at home. It was hot (over 30 degrees), but at least it was as dry as Colorado, a welcome change. I had a four hour layover there, so I wandered around the "neighborhood" the airport was in trying to avoid the taxis who were desperately honking at me (apparently they were convinced I needed a ride to somewhere and couldn't just be exploring around the airport). I actually stumbled across a cute little park, so I parked myself there in the shade enjoying the dry air.

Then it was on to Kashgar. I arrived at about 9:45PM, but since this area should technically be like five time zones behind Beijing, it was essentially only treated like 7:45PM. I guess I'm going to have to get used to it for the time I'm here, but it's very Chinese that officially they all run on Beijing time, but actually that's just a facade. From what I understand, businesses don't open til like 10AM Bejing time, lunch isn't served until 2PM Beijing time, etc.

As for first impressions, in Urumqi, I was not able to see much of the actual city, but from what I could tell, the Uighur influence, at least in terms of architecture, is not very big. Whereas here, it does really feel like a whole 'nother country (Texas watch out). At the same time, it's typically Chinese, which just confuses my head.

I had an amazingly delicious bagel (first one in who knows how long) while exploring the streets this evening. The vendor didn't speak any Chinese, which meant we resulted to the pointing to different bills game. I was expecting that since we are technically in China that people would speak more Chinese than they seem to. Looks like I'll need to learn Arabic next (after Spanish of course).

And so far, I've only had "Hey, you American war monger" shouted at me once, so I consider that a good day. And now I'm ready for bed!

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Sunday, May 29, 2005

China Map

Here's a map that shows essentially my proposed routes for next week's trip. I still haven't decided between going to Kashgar (Kashi or Gashi in Chinese) or Turpan yet, so I decided to mark both.

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I mentioned on a forum the other day that essentially, the goal of life in mainland China is figuring out how to work around governmental restrictions, and the more I think about it the more I think it’s true. At the very least, two experiences I’ve had this week have brought it to the forefront of my mind.

Event A- The School Bus

As some of you are aware, Yunnan University just this year opened a second campus about a 45-minute drive outside of town in an area called YangPu. It’s really a lovely campus, it being all new and such, but there are still many kinks that must be worked out with regard to its new operation. I guess this is normal, but in China the bureaucracy makes change slow. Of course, the decision to move out to YangPu was not, from what I’ve heard, entirely thought through and was just part of a work-around solution that the provincial government is trying whereby it’s moving all government facilities out of the city to the YangPu area so as to alleviate traffic (…everywhere except for on the already crowded, newly constructed highway that connects the two cities that is already undergoing expansion in preparation for the future move), but I digress (we’re surprised).

Anyway, one of the rather large kinks that still hasn’t been worked out has to do with the bussing situation from the main campus to the YangPu campus. Every Monday morning, I get up at 6:45AM to trudge down to the bus stop at 7:25AM to catch the 7:30AM bus to be able to teach out at YangPu at 8:30AM. It’s an early morning, and I’m, quite frankly, not willing to make it any earlier. Last semester, they had a bus that left at 7:20AM, a bus that left at 7:30AM, and a bus that left at 7:40AM. You could get on the 7:40AM bus and get there with enough time to prepare for class. Well, this semester they decided to have a bus at 7:30AM. Not only is this earlier than preferred for sleepy heads like me, but there are no where near enough seats to go around when you go from 3 buses down to 1. This is even more true on Monday mornings when an influx of students is headed back to campus after having spent the weekend at home.

This means that I sometimes have problems, and it has come to a head twice now—once about a month ago, and once last Monday. A month ago I arrived at about 7:25AM to get the bus, but alas there were no seats. After a reassuring (not) “等一下” (literal translation, “wait a moment,” actual translation “wait until the Earth enters its next ice age”), we were forced to sit in the cold waiting a half an hour for a minivan to come collect the fifteen stranded teachers. We were therefore about half an hour late to class, as traffic is worse at this period of time. I screamed bloody murder, and the university SEEMED to take action. The next week the minivan was ready and waiting next to the other 7:30AM bus.

Well, as time progressed, people found out about this and apparently stopped taking the 7:15AM (or something like that) bus in favor of the 7:30AM bus, so the university was forced to upgrade to two full buses on busy days. Two weeks ago, I’m down at 7:25AM and both the big bus and the little bus were full, so we migrated to an empty large bus. Last week, again arriving around 7:25AM, as I think I’ve shown I have wont to do, and finding the big bus previously departed, and the small bus full, the obvious solution to the driver was to put a sack of dirty towels on the floor for me to sit on. I grudgingly accept (but am not so happy about it as I was feeling very sick at that point and was on about one and a half hours of sleep at that point). Then two more teachers come running up to the over-full bus. The solution: go to the empty big bus next to us? No. Put oil-stained towels in the stairwell for these two nicely dressed female teachers to sit on? Yes. At that point I point-blank asked the driver if he was kidding and got off the bus to go to bed and sent a texto to the office saying that I refused to go to the YangPu campus until the bus situation was resolved. I made the mistake, however, of telling them that I was sick, and that’s kind of what they heard as the key part of my story.

In any event, the School of Foreign Languages seems to be taking this situation somewhat seriously, as they called both me and M-L (the French teacher) into a meeting with the head of the school (aka high muckity-muck). They have passed my complaint on to the transportation department, but seem to not expect much of a result. Therefore their solution was: have the secretary of the English department go to the bus at 7:15AM and save me a seat. If the bus is too full, then they will pay for a taxi to take me to the campus. I told them that this solved nothing, as my point was not that I shouldn’t have to sit on the floor, but rather that nobody should be forced to sit on the floor. Especially since the solution is not hard—on Monday mornings take two big buses at 7:30AM. I mean, if they are going to force teachers to go out to that bloody campus, the least they can do is make sure that everybody has a seat! The thing is that I know that the uni couldn’t care less about its own teachers, but when it comes to us foreign “treasures” I figured they’d listen. And actually, I’ve since heard that the party has become concerned about the situation and that I am to write an official report on the matter. We’ll see if that gets us anything!

Situation B- The Import and Export of Dogs

This is a long story that I will save for another post, as I’ve already gone on for like 1,000 words, and I don’t know about you other ADHD and ADD folk out there, but that’s a lot.


This week is Labour Week for my sophomores. As far as I can tell this is a holdover from the commie reeducation camps of the Cultural Revolution whereby the university rotates all the schools through one week of forced labour cleaning classrooms and toilets and whatnot. Fun for them, but even more fun for me, as it means that I essentially have a week of vacation.

So, another teacher suggested we take a little trip in Yunnan this weekend as she had a long weekend. But since I have from Monday afternoon till the following Monday off, that I would take a longer trip and maybe visit some friends in Xi’an (middle of China). Then I was in this XinJiang-style restaurant eating dinner one night, and I was like: “Hey, why not go there and eat the real food?!” So, I texto my travel agent while eating dinner and arrange tickets to Urumqi for this week. Yay for spontaneity!

So tomorrow night I’m off to Xi’an for a one night layover (which, rather conveniently means that I will have time to visit friends there), then the next day I fly from Xi’an to Urumqi. You have to understand that XinJiang is in the FAR northwest of China. The majority population there is actually Uighur, not Han, so I’m expecting it to have a more of a Turkish feel (the Uighurs are Muslim). If I’m lucky I’ll be able to follow the Silk Road as far as Kashgar (really close to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan) which is supposedly the capital of the bazaar (somewhere between 50 and 150 thousand people come to the town for the Sunday Market even from the surrounding countries). I’m expecting it to feel somewhat like Fez, Morocco, but who knows! I’ll keep you posted from the Middle Orient (that’s a term, right?)

I’ll also try to post a map for your reference! ;o)

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Through the Wilderness

For you observant types, you may have noticed that I have not posted in quite some time. Actually, looking back at things here, it appears to have been over a month! I actually had a post for 20 April 2005 as a Columbine Memorial as well as short discussion on hate (in China at that time relations with Japan were at an all time low and it was showing), but due to technical difficulties, it never made it up. Maybe it’s for the better.

But that was still almost a full month ago!! Where have I been, you ask? Idly lazing by the pool sipping margaritas of course…er, or so I wish. Actually, it’s been an extremely busy month of flying all around tarnation (which is a word, right?). It all started on the 21st when I flew to Shanghai (we’re keeping in mind that the distance from Kunming to Shanghai is roughly that of San Francisco to at least Chicago if not Cleveland). I spent a few days there making final preparations for the Foreign Service Written Exam before actually taking it on Saturday morning, April 21st. The test went well enough, though I’m not really expecting anything. When it came down to choosing the mission statement of the World Bank in one section only to find another question asking me to identify the mission statement of the IMF later, I just couldn’t help thinking if there wasn’t something else I could be doing with my time.

After that, it was time to check in to a new hotel, then head out to the international airport in Shanghai to pick up my mother who has been visiting for the last three weeks or so (she’s back home now :o( ). In brief, we picked up one of her friends arriving from Taiwan the next day, then visited Hangzhou (known for its beautiful West Lake), Suzhou (has famous gardens. My mom bought embroidery), and Zhouzhuang (a little canal town just outside of Shanghai), before returning to Shanghai to visit the tailor. Then it was off to the Yunnan Province to see Kunming, Dali (home of the Bai ethnic minority. There’s a big lake there. And a mountain. And marble. And we bought some), Lijiang (home of the Naxi ethnic minority, who has a fairly famous orchestra who has preserved ancient Han music of all things), and Zhongdian (AKA Shangri-la, where I got the rockingest cowboy hat in the West…of China), not to mention Kunming. It was really good to see both my mom and her friends that came to visit, but it was lots of coordination, bargaining, and translating for one month, so I’m kind of glad to have a small chance to rest now.

After my mom left, and one trip back to Shanghai to see her off later, I came back to Kunming to do a demonstration class for a school at which I am applying for a job next year. Don’t know if I really need the job due to several reasons, but it meant that I could have fun with the demonstration. To me, that meant that I dressed up as a cowboy, à la Simpsons, and got to try the Mr. Goldstein (or whatever his name was) routine. I had a really good time, and I look hot in a cowboy hat. Who knew?!

It also helped me establish an interesting Chinese fact: after class I was walking down the street in complete cowboy attire (we’re talking hat, shirt, jeans, and boots), and I noticed something. Not only were people not staring at me any more than normal (which for Kunming is still an “important” number of people to use a French word), but I actually got less attention dressed as ostentatiously as I was. Do the Chinese just expect Americans to dress like cowboys and when we’re wearing normal clothing it freaks them out? I honestly cannot tell, but I think I’m going out dressed as a cowboy more often just to see if it’s true, even if it’s something I’d never do in the US. In social research it’s what we would call a breeching experiment (which is to say experiments wherein standard social norms are broken and/or taken to the extreme), but like I said before, maybe this is what is expected of me so I’m not breeching squat. We shall see. We shall see.

Anyway, the next day was the HSK (Chinese Level Exam), which I somehow managed to survive, though I’m sure I did not do well on it. I don’t think there was a single question on it where I was like, “oh duh, clearly it’s this one.” It didn’t help that the reading comprehension was bout Toni Morrison and texts that are just better left in English…at least I could figure out who “Tuo ni * mo li sen” was!

But now I am free at last, free at last! And that means that I get to sleep for a change. For example, on Monday I fell asleep at around 2:30PM after class, and didn’t get up until almost 7PM! Boy was that a little disorienting. But at least I had an interesting dream!