Archive for the 'chinablog' Category
Well, I’ve been back for almost exactly a month now, and nothing has changed here in Australia since I left. But so much is different, if you know what I mean. That’s a story for another time, though. A new blog will shortly become operational, which I’m sure will be nowhere near as exciting as my time in China. My life has become terribly dull since I got back, but in a good way.
However, before we archive this little piece of my history, I should like to share a few things with you. The first is the third and final blog entry in our series of Guest Bloggers, by our very own Michael Rose. You may remember Mikey from the first six months of my stay – he is the one who recruited me originally, and kept me amused with his antics (I’ll never forget the wallet incident. You had to be there. Mikey knows what I mean).
He is a wonderful writer, much better than me, and it is my honour and pleasure to present his blog entry, the final one with any substance to be found at this address. There will be photos of the final week, and the travel from Urumqi to Shanghai, but then you can direct your Charlotte Addiction to my AusBlog, which will go live shortly…
But without further ado, here is the man himself:
Finding Dushanzi was just a lucky fluke, one which I didnï¿½t really deserve. After university I wanted to do something which was different. Not the peer group approved kind different that is smoking pot or backpacking round Thailand or spending six months in Japan, but the sort of thing that most other people donï¿½t do because they think it is impossible, canï¿½t be bothered or are quietly afraid. Iï¿½d read about Xinjiang before in National Geographic, a weird out of the way place tottering unsteadily on fault lines cultural and geographic; an occupied country with cowboys, insecure borders, boundless desert, restless natives, lost cities, mountains and gulag archipelagoes; most people (as always) wrote me off as insane, everyone said donï¿½t go, it seemed perfect.
There was only one job I could find advertised Xinjiang, and I assumed it
was in Urumqi, because it was the only town in Xinjiang big enough to register on my map. The people who recruited me in Qingdao (the very wealthy seaside city where handsome Aaron is now set up as a school teacher) didnï¿½t seem to know exactly where they were sending me either except it involved catching
the train to Urumqi.
I very remember clearly getting off the train there. Chinese train platforms are a perpetual steam scented bustle that must be similar to what a world war two evacuation was like, it was about minus ten, the snow was bucketing down (Iï¿½d never really seen snow before) and there was Kang Laoshi.
At this point I should make a note about this Kang Laoshi (Teacher Kang) his real name is Kang Shi Cai) who in the end became one of my heroes. Heï¿½s one of those guys who gives himself totally to whatever he believes in. In the world of Chinese officialdom, full to the gills with profiteering scum and petty fascists, Kang is a true man of principle- Iï¿½ve never seen a person who commanded such genuine respect from everyone around him. He is a man who believes in China, and the Chinese Communist Party (Zhongguo gong chan dang), and has dedicated his entire life its cause. In the 50s he majored in Russian at one of Beijingï¿½s elite universities and came out to Xinjiang when Dushanzi was a few homesick Russian oil technicians and Kazak yurts. God knows what happened to him during the cultural revolution (this was from 66 to 73 or a bit later when teachers and people with his sort of background really coped it as ï¿½class enemiesï¿½ and were beaten, humiliated and sent to labor camps) but it seems almost certain that he spent at least 10 years of his life splitting rocks or something worse. Whatever the case they obviously never broke him. With the reforms he took it upon himself (at age 60) to learn English, visit America, start a private school and start wearing a tailored business suit round everywhere. A incredible shift for an old man who spent most of his life being a Communist in the truest red flag waving sense of the world.
Wow, so much to say so little room. My apologies to this point to 12.2 HSC English whoï¿½s practice essays are not getting graded because of Charlotteï¿½s blog.
My life in Dushanzi was quite different from the experience of Charlotte, Pat and Christine. Believe it or not Dushanzi was noticeably smaller when I arrived, in the short time I was there at least two huge factories and a whole new suburb were built from empty desert. The main market area which had been dominated by Uyghur merchants, selling the usual Uyghur merchandise, was unceremoniously demolished and replaced with stock standard, toilet tile, shopping strip run by and for Han Chinese. The roads got busier and foreigners ceased to be quite such a surprise to people (though having said that Xinjiang people sometimes mistook me for a local Uyghur or Russian). I can only imagine that in three or four years time the place will be totally unrecognizable.
Dushanzi is situated at the very edge of what I liked to call (because itï¿½s so very X-Files) ï¿½the forbidden zoneï¿½. Thereï¿½s a photo of it at the start of Charlotteï¿½s blog. God how I loved wandering within that wilderness. I always thought Dushanzi was a little like something out of Sim City, a cuboid slice of Communist China grafted onto a desert plain and nourished with imported Kazak oil and its toxic chemical by products. But just walk past the final straight line in the sand, and five kilometers into the forbidden zone (the empty desert the edge of the untamed mountains) youï¿½ve gone back as many hundred years. Nothing but the tweeting of tiny desert birds and the empty wind. Occasionally you would pass by little Kazak homesteads, no electricity, no cars, just a mud hut, two camels, some horses and lots of demented looking goats
that look have escaped from the Old Testement. I used to walk up there every
weekend, even getting attacked by a vicious Kazak sheepdog didnï¿½t put me off, it was the army and police that succeeded in the end. One Monday I arrived at school to find an agitated looking Kang Laoshi who told me heï¿½d just had a visit from the local police and army chief, it was clear that any more trekking expeditions would be done at the risk of my deportation, and even worse, his humiliation, so I stopped.
Of course though it was the people that really made Dushanzi something special. When I arrived it was winter and there was only one other foreigner, a girl from Louisiana named Krystal who always seemed to despise me in a low key sort of way. To add insult to injury I sort of liked her, and although it did seem like a pity at the time, it was probably a good thing as it forced me to learn Chinese faster than I would have and make friends with the locals. I made so many great friends in Dushanzi, and leaving them was the hardest thing about going. Saying goodbye to one especially wonderful girl from Baijiantan was particularly horrendous, chiefly for her (my pathetic indecision didnï¿½t help), although I donï¿½t suppose she and I are the first people in the history of the world to discover the saying goodbye isnï¿½t easy. Zhao Ping Yuan (or xiao Zhao as people call him, it means ï¿½little Zhaoï¿½, a reference to the fact heï¿½s extremely tall), probably my best friend there is, though extremely restrained, one of the kindest people you would meet anywhere.
Politics? Oh could I give you politics, but I havenï¿½t the space, and probably you havenï¿½t the interest. Suffice to say, in Xinjiang, itï¿½s all about shades of gray and violence isnï¿½t the answer, although itï¿½s easy to see how people might believe it is. Respect is the thing that is lacking, we’re all people after all. As an Australian I canï¿½t help but feel sorry for the underdog, but the best future for Xinjiang (at least the northern bit) is going to be Chinese. It may be unfair, and it certainly doesnï¿½t sit easy with me, but itï¿½s reality.
And so patient audience here I sit dancing a merry procrastinatory jig around those dratted 12.2 essays. I write from that hellish Asian Babylon (or more descriptively, urban death maze) that is Jakarta where Iï¿½m selling my teaching degree along with my soul to an international school for an obscene amount of money I don’t deserve. Dushanzi seems like a pretty sweet deal from down here although I know very well itï¿½s the greener grass thing, and at any rate Iï¿½ve got a feeling I saw it at its best.
Thanks to everyone foreign (that is to say Charlotte and Krystal) and Uyghur, Uzbek, Kazak, Han and Hui that I meet in Dushanzi Iï¿½ll never forget any of you.
I’m writing this from a seedy internet bar in Shanghai (is there any other kind?), and apologise for not having blogged regularly since the Heavenly Lake – I intended to, but then was thwarted by utterly unreliable internet.
Let me catch you up on my last few weeks in China.
Class ended, my friends went home, and I found myself in a Dushanzi that was rapidly becoming empty of things – the college was becoming empty of people, the apartment was becoming empty of foreigners (we never really see Dave that much – he’s a busy man, and Aussie Pat’s moved on), and my apartment was becoming empty of things. The walls had been stripped of the paintings that had hung there for a year; the couches which had once been draped in Uyghur and Tibetan cloth had been stripped naked.
Then came one of the hardest things – emptying my house of my cat. The trip to Borla was a long drawn out affair, and a little stressful I fear, for my darling boy. We had originally planned to take him on the train, a relatively short, easy ride over smooth rail tracks – only 4 hours away. The only train from Dushanzi to Borla left at about 3am – you read right: three in the morning. So the four of us – Christine, Cameron (Mushuk’s new carer/acquisition), Mushuk and I trekked out to the Kuytun train station, about a 20 minute taxi ride from our home.
However, luck was not on our side, as we discovered when we went to buy the tickets, me getting more and more stressed by Mushuk’s irate and scared caterwauling from inside his box. He was actually so loud and scary sounding that the Chinese people around were actually jumping backwards in in fear.
I put his box down on a ledge, and was about to go join Cameron in the ticket line, when a rail police woman asked me in Chinese “whose cat is that?” I smiled ruefully, and said, “he’s mine.”
She shook her head, and said something that sounded suspiciously to me like “you can’t take a cat on the train!”
Alas, my Chinese is getting better, because that was indeed the correct translation.
So here we were, all ready at 3 am to take the cat to Borla by train, only to discover that Chinese bureaucracy would not allow it.
“That’s it,” I thought to myself. “I have to find him a home in Dushanzi within just a few days – there’s no way I can get him to Borla.”
But on the way home in the taxi, it seemed that all three of us had the idea at the same time – we could hire a TAXI to take us to Borla.
So we did. We got a good night’s sleep that night, and the next morning, I packed up the Darling Mushuk in a sturdier box – he’d managed to claw his way out of the one the night before. We negotiated with taxi drivers at the bus station, and came to an agreement with one, to take us there for 450 yuan – divide by 8 for USD, by about 5 for AUD.
Now, if I was inclined to downplay events, I’d tell you that the road was bumpy. The prize would go to me for the understatement of the year. There was SOLID road works between Kuytun and just outside of Borla. Poor Mushuk, even though he had a nice big computer monitor box with holes punched in it, even though he had a lovely soft cushion to sit on… It seemed to me that with every outward breath, he cried. *breath in – MEOW – breath in – MEOW – breath in – MEOW*
His crying got less spirited the further along we got. He really only cried for four of the five hours. But at least the car was airconditioned.
When we finally reached Borla, Cameron directed the driver to his family’s “town house”. His family has a “town house”, a “village house” and a “farm house”. They are farmers, and Hui, which is a Han-looking muslim minority in China – I feel safe leaving Mushuk with them, because I know that chances are he won’t get eaten by them – Muslims don’t eat cats.
Cameron’s family’s “town house” consists of a building with three rooms on one side – a large square kitchen, connected to a living/sleeping room with a raised platform for sitting on and eating from a low table, cross legged. When it’s time to sleep, they clear off the small table, and sleep on the platform. The third room is Cameron’s room, large and square with a red brick floor. The bed is larger than any kingsized bed I’ve ever seen, and I think that when his brother goes to stay at the town house, he also sleeps in that bed. Cameron works very hard at studying for uni, and so his holidays will be spent studying in that little room (“I like it, because it is quiet”), and helping his father on the farm.
On the other side of the small square block that the town house sits on, there is a small stable where there are two cows and their calves. We had fresh milk that day – my first and only fresh milk in Xin Jiang.
I put Mushuk’s box in Cameron’s room, and opened it up. An exhausted Mushuk cautiously creeps out, and then before any of us realise what’s happened, he’s zoomed under the very large bed. There’s just enough room under that bed for a cat, but nowhere near enough for a human to go under to coax the cat out. I shone my torch under there, but all I could see were two great glowing eyes. Those eyes were the last I saw of my Mushuk – he refused to come out, and I had to go. I’m getting teary as I write about it, so I shall move on.
Cameron invited Christine and I out to the farm, and we finally got to see a bit of the rural China that we’d previously only seen from the train, or from the freeway. The whole thing was nauseatingly picturesque – the land a patchwork (I have to use that description, because it’s just so apt) of different crops – corn, wheat, potatoes, and my favorite, sunflowers. Gorgeous sunflowers in full bloom, sometimes whole fields of them, sometimes just at the boundary markings of some of the other fields, fallen seeds which have been allowed to grow, because they don’t pollute the neighbouring crop. Chris and I took plenty of silly photos together in the fields, which I will post once I have access to a computer with a CD drive.
Cameron’s family were the epitome of hospitality, cooking up a wonderful dinner at their village home – freshly slaughtered chicken, home made steamed bread, and more dishes than we could hope to finish. We ate outside, under a trellis with grape vines creeping up and over, and listening to the sounds of the cows in the nearby stables. It was maybe the most pleasant afternoon I can remember, and certainly the loveliest outside dinner I’ve had in years – the last one I can remember that evoked the same feelings of contentment was the evening I met Katie in France, when my host family and hers had dinner in her host family’s back garden. I was happy that this family would take good care of my kitty, and so life became all of a sudden less stressful.
But too soon, it was time to go. The train trip home took place in the wee hours of the morning, and I really don’t want to think too much about it – that was one LOOONG day.
To avoid keeping you in suspense, I’ll jump briefly forward in the story, to tell you that I called Cameron just the day before yesterday, and he told me that Mushuk is happy, and is sleeping ON the bed now, not under it, and is happily eating and drinking. So all is indeed well.
Another one of the many goodbye sessions was to my friends in Kelamayi. I went there, just for one night, and had a fab time with the very good friends that I’ve made there – Pat, Stu, Rob, Krystal, Maggie, Sophia, Faruh, and the newbies who seemed so very cool, Gary the New Crazy Canadian (ridiculously awesome guy, I just wish I had got to know him better), and yet another Aussie Christine.
Pat and I had a superb jam in the afternoon, and that night, got up on stage at Culture of September, and played the best mini-set that I think we’ve ever done. Pat, mate, I can’t wait to hear what you do to that song once you get home – you know the one I mean.
So then, all that was left was to pack up the remainder of my apartment. The time passed all too swiftly, and it was time for my final farewells to my remaining friends in Dushanzi – Barbara, Yilham, Scandar (the not-so-little-anymore boy from the night market) and Robin. It was a quiet affair at the night market, nothing as rowdy as Aussie Pat’s last goodbye, where we had to keep adding new tables as more of his students showed up. I’m not much of a one for goodbyes. I hate them. I much prefer, as Mr Wickham and the French would have it, Aurevoir.
Soon, it was time for Christine and I to make our way to Urumqi, where I said goodbye to my wonderful boss, Kang Laoshi, and then said goodbye to Xin Jiang.
Christine and I took the sleeper train to Xi’an, and were met there by a sunny faced man, the driver that Kang Laoshi had organised for us. He drove us through hot and muggy Xi’an to one of the swankiest hotels in town, something we were not at all expecting. We began to think that the driver had taken us to the wrong place. We got in there, only to discover that they only had us booked in for two of the three nights that we were due to spend in Xi’an, and what’s more, the money that Kang Laoshi had given me for accomodation in Xi’an only covered two nights at this place anyway.
We were a tad unhappy about this whole arrangement, but our driver offered us a tempting alternative. We could go stay at the hotel where he was based, for three nights, for less than the cost of two nights at the swanky place. After agreeing that we’d at least go and LOOK at his hotel (and after confirming that it had airconditioning), we were chauffered again through Xi’an’s confusing grid of one way streets. The alternative hotel, as it turned out, was infinitely better than any Holiday Inn style hotel could have been – we found ourselves in a suite with a lounge room with comfy couches, three bedrooms, a private bathroom, and an arctic blaster of an airconditioner.
Xi’an’s best known attraction is probably the Terracotta Warriors. So we went there, and took plenty of semi-illegal photos. It was pretty cool, but nothing like the Great Wall, or the Heavenly Lake. For me, the other highlight of Xi’an was the market – the Chinese knickknack shopping was probably as good, if not better, than the Qianmen alley markets of Beijing, just south of Tian’anmen Square. I bought far more than I can sneak through the airline’s weight limit (I guess the 300 dvds in my suitcase don’t help either), AND I managed to get my Kasghar painting – the one with the camels and the donkeys – mounted onto a scroll. It is just gorgeous, and the guy in the store who organised it for me – Modest Liu was his name – said that the “teacher” who mounted it said that it was very fine work.
Impressions of Xi’an: a pretty cool place, regardless of the rain. Everything that is not obviously new is old an quaint, and it is one of the only cities in China where the city walls are still visible – Xi’an was the ancient capital of China, and I read somewhere that within the city walls, which had a circumference of 14 kms, was the Forbidden City of the Tang dynasty, which was at least three dynasties ago (four, if you count the current one as the Mao Dynasty). Chris and I took a stroll along the top, which was wide enough for perhaps six or seven cars to drive along in line, and leaned over the inside edge to watch the world go by.
One thing I’ve noticed out here in the East of China, which I had thought was just something the Xin Jiang people said to justify their living out in the boonies – Eastern Chinese people, at least the ones in Xi’an, just aren’t as nice as a whole, as the Xin Jiang folk. In fact, some of them were quite rude, mocking even, of us westerners. It’s one thing to be stared at in Xin Jiang – it’s quite another to not be stared at in the East, but instead be given the cold shoulder without the benefit of the doubt. I guess that Westerners come through Xi’an regularly – I think I saw more there than anywhere else on my travels in China, even in Beijing. They stare at we westerners in Xin Jiang, but at least once you engage them in conversation, they are almost always warm and welcoming.
So then, the final farewell, yesterday afternoon, to Christine. She headed back to Friendly Xin Jiang, and I boarded my train to Shanghai, where I barely said more than a handful of things to my train folk. From Xin Jiang, you can’t get them to shut UP, to stop asking you questions. But no, they left me blissfully alone to contemplate the rest of my journey. There is noone here in Shanghai who I know, so I suppose the goodbyes are all over, thank god.
Now, all that is left is the (HOORAY!) going home part. I’ve made the decision to NOT live it up in Shanghai, to save the last remaining Chinese money I have to pay what may turn out to be HUGE excess luggage fees. People are estimating that my suitcase is 45 kilos, 25 overweight. I shall suck it in, and put all the heavies that I can into my carry on luggage…
I’m not sure if I’ll blog again from Shanghai, so this may well be the final chapter in this blog. I shall bulk out this entry within the week, adding photos once I’m back in Australia, but I imagine that unless something amazingly exciting happens, this is the end of my Chinablog.
But it is not the end of the blogging – oh no, it is just the beginning. For now I have the taste for the blog, and will be sharing with you all the juicy gossip of my return, the reverse culture shock, the reminiscing, and general tomfoolery of my new beginning of my old life.
Thank you, friends, for listening. Your kind comments and emails have helped me keep a handle on my flimsy sanity, and I hope to see many of you soon. And the rest of you, within the next 18 months – Browncoats will converge, then I shall attempt to get to the UK once I have time and money…
Love, Peace, Out.
I’ll start again with a legend. In Chinese mythology, it is said that one day, a Chinese goddess was washing her feet in heaven. When she was done, she tipped out her basin of bath water over part of the Tianshan mountain range, and the water pooled in a long valley, to form Tianchi, or Heaven’s Lake.
And Heavenly it certainly is. I just got back from three days hiking and horseriding around the lake and in the mountains above it, and I have to say that life back on the ground seems pretty dreary by comparison.
We dropped Aussie Pat off at the airport on our way to Urumqi, bidding him farewell and safe journey – he’s doing Tailand and India before going to do a semester at Georgetown in Washington DC. But by the time we got INTO Urumqi, it seems that all the buses for Tianchi had left already, so Christine and I had to hire a car to take us up there. The driver was not too talkative, which was actually a blessing, because it meant that we could enjoy the countryside heading up into the mountains.
Xin Jiang has returned to how it was when I first arrived – fields of sunflowers and corn, tall poplar trees marking the field boundaries in gorgeous green. I remember the euphoria I felt when I first arrived, and it brings on a kind of bittersweet melancholy when I think about it now. But at the time, I was excited to be heading up to the beautiful lake, and looking forward to staying plenty of time there, rather than when I’d visited it almost a year ago with a Chinese tour group.
Once we reached as far as our car could take us, we switched to the cable car, up a steep slope of temperal forest. The ground below was green, and dotted with pine trees. To one side was the river, whooshing down and swollen with snow melt. Here’s me and Chris, showing our happiness:
Once we got to the end of the wire, we began to walk the rest of the way to the lake, perhaps a 15 minute walk. An old Kazak man began to walk with us, asking us if we wanted to ride a horse, or if we wanted to stay in his yurt. But we’d studied our Lonely Planet, and in the short section on Tianchi, there’s a mention of one Rashit, a Kazak who’s been hosting travelers in his yurt for years and years. I told the old Kazak man who was walking with us that we had plans to meet friends at Rashit’s – Pat The Crazy Canadian and friends were up at the lake, and we had arranged to meet up on the one night of overlap of our stays.
Anyway, this old Kazak dude knew exactly who we were talking about, and told us that that was fine. Then he promptly asked again if we wanted to ride horses round to Rashit’s (a good 45 minute walk around the lake), at only 30 Yuan a pop. Christine and I consulted a little, and then we eventually drove him down to 10 Yuan each. Silly me, though, I had not anticipated a horse ride on the first day, and had worn a skirt that morning. So here I was, riding this horse with my skirt hiked up around my knees, baring my pearly white (unshaven!) legs for all to see. Have you ever tried to climb onto a horse with a skirt on? Suffice it to say that Christine was considerably more dignified than I… But I did feel a little like a troubadour though, with my guitar on my back and my bag tied to the saddle knot. I wish that guitars were smaller, so that one could easily spin them round to the front and serenade the forest. I suppose they call small guitars mandolins. Or perhaps ukeleles…
A twenty minute horse ride later, through forest that was strangely reminiscent of Myst Island (have any of you played that game?), and we were greeted by Rashit, who’s English was waaaay better than I had imagined. He’d been told of our coming by the Kazak folk at the entrance to the lake area, and had come out to meet us.
Let me just say, that Rashit is The MAN. He’s open, and friendly, and interesting, and funny, and helpful. He understands western humour (a rarity in China), and has the language skills to appreciate irony, sarcasm, and even the self depreciating Australian humour. We liked Rashit a lot.
Here he is, at the front of the lake. His village is in a cove sort of just below his left ear. His left, not yours.
Anyway, Rashit’s village is tucked into a cove about halfway around the lake, and as he walked us the short way from where the horses dropped us off, he asked if I could play the guitar I had slung behind my back. I demurred, saying that no, I was not such a good player, but that our friend who we were meeting at Rashit’s that night could play up a storm. We got to comparing notes, and Rashit told us that Pat and co had indeed been at his village the night before, but had left that afternoon. Christine and I managed to contain our disappointment somehow… (Pat, you piker! *grin*) As it turns out, the guitar did not go to waste – there were a few other backpackers hanging out who could pluck a note or two, and Rashit is quite a lovely player himself.
We rounded the final corner, and there we saw Rashit’s village, made up of round yurts in the traditional Kazak style, and more functional square ones, covered with tarpaulin to keep out the rain:
There was only one other guest at Rashit’s that night, a German bloke called Stefan, so Chistine and I got a whole big round yurt to ourselves, and Stefan would sleep in the other, smaller one. We were served with tea at an outside wooden table, and Chris decided that it was time for her to brave the icy waters and go for a swim. I couldn’t actually see the shoreline from where I was sitting, writing in my diary, but I did hear the screams that told me just how cold the waters of Tianchi really were. Brave lass, that.
After Chris had dried off and regained feeling in her toes (perhaps I’m exaggerating a little…), we took a walk around the lake, to the far end where it is fed by the rivers of melted snow. To give you an idea of just how big the lake is, Rashit is more than a quarter of the way round the full circuit of the lake, but with the two hours that we had to stroll around and get back in time for dinner, we didn’t even make it to the beach at the far end. Granted, we did stop to take lots of piccies:
Dinner that night was Lamian (lah-mee-en), which is just a type of flat noodle, kinda like linguine, with ratatouille type sauce, a traditional Turkic people’s dish.
A little guitar playing happened after dinner – Rashit played some traditional Kazak music, some of which I recognized from a Kazak wedding I went to weeks ago. But we didn’t stay out long – it gets cold fast up in the mountains, and Chris and I found ourselves getting to bed before the dusk had passed. But bear in mind that there is still sunlight here at 10.30pm (Beijing time). Rashit’s wife had built us a merrily roaring fire in the little pot bellied stove in the yurt, and that night, sleeping involved kicking off most of the blankets that we thought we’d need.
The next morning, we were awoken to the sounds of wind in the fir trees, horses whinnying, cows lowing, and sheep baa-ing. I ask you, is there any better way to awaken? I lurched out of the tent, pashmina wrapped around me, thinking that it would be cold outside, but the sun was already beating down on the lake, and I found that being cold in the mountains, at least during the day, was not something I’d have to worry too much about.
We spoken with Rashit the night before about what we should do the next day, and Chris and I were keen to do the horse trek up to the snow line. So, we ate our breakfast with Stephan, noodles in a lamby broth, and were greeted by our two Kazak guides. Each of them was standing next to the horses we would ride that day, and Chris and I realized to our dismay that they were planning on *leading* the horses all the way to the top of the mountain.
But we clambered on anyway, and started on the day long journey. Rashit had told us that it could take anywhere between 8 to 10 hours round trip, so we got comfortable, and took in the breath taking scenery. I got to talking to my guide in Chinese (SO glad he could speak Chinese – there are stacks of Kazaks and Uyghurs in more remote areas, or less Han areas, who can speak worse Chinese than I can, like in Kashgar!). His name was, as close as I could understand it, Hkalhkan (I’ll write it Kalkan, cause it’s easier), the “hk” being a back of the throat kinda lurgie sound. He looked about thirty, but we got to talking about how old we were, and it turns out he’s 2 years younger than me, only 23. I guess that the mountains and harsh conditions age people quicker. He was singing a song in Kazak as he walked, and I asked him to teach it to me:
Bileh-shi, bileh-shi, halva hunder tiumeshi
Bileh bileh halva hunder, tiumeshi
All I know is that it’s about dancing, and blinking. I then tried to think of a good Irish song for traveling, but all the “rambling” songs have been crowded out by Chinese. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.
Our horses were lead around the lake, well above the semi-tasteful concrete path that rings the shore, dismounting at one point to scrabble over a particularly steep rocky part of the path. Then we finally reached the beach, and our guides began to argue with each other as to the best way to cross the river that needed to be crossed, without getting their feet too muddy. Kalkan turned and handed the reins to me, and saide, “you cross by yourself, I’ll go up on these rocks”.
Oh, the JOY, Torgat (the horse’s name) and I finally free to go as we liked. We went on, Torgat and I, and he knew the path like the back of his hoof – he’d been doing this same trek for years and years. Chistine’s guide was a little more anal – at one point, we asked him if he could do the same for Chris and let her ride her horse herself without being lead, and he basically said “no”. I’m not sure if it had to do with a lack of faith in his horse’s capabilities for being sensible, or a lack of faith in Chris’s riding skills – a tad unfounded, cause she’d had plenty of horseriding experience as a kid, just as I had. But at any rate, it wasn’t until much much later that her guide gave her the reins, and then only because he had to cause he couldn’t lead.
The entrance to the long, zigzagging valley that we would follow up to the snow line was broad and flat, and was filled with fir trees and other deciduous trees. There was grass wherever it could take root, all cropped short by goats and cows, giving the place a spotlessly manicured look:
That’s Chris on the horse in front.
Up and up the river valley we climbed, and we were joined along the way by Rashit’s brother (who’s name I never quite got), who was busy trying to train a five year old horse, who obviously was not as experienced in following the path as Torgat was, and was infinitely less willing to carry someone up the mountain. Kalkan decided that if Torgat and I didn’t need leading, he’s jump on to Rashit’s brother’s horse too, so there he rode for much of the rest of the way, sitting on plastic grain sack behind the saddle. At the same time as being joined by Rashit’s brother, a Kazak girl of maybe 17 or so joined us for part of the walk up. The road became steeper, and the valley narrower, and soon we came to a small yurt tucked into the mountain on one side, and an old Kazak couple came out to greet us. The girl, whose name turned out to be Anar (ie Anna) went to each of them and gave them each a hug that said “I’ve not seen you in ages”. Rashit’s brother explained to me that she was actually their daughter. I can only imagine that she’d been at school down the mountain, and had just got back for the Summer break.
Anyway, this old couple laid out the welcome mat for us in the form of a rug on that spotlessly manicured lawn, and served us salty Kazak tea with fresh milk, solid bread, and soft white cheese, kinda like pretty hardened cottage cheese. They were really something, these two – they were Russian, but had moved up to Tianchi decades ago.
Christine and I talked a little about what it would be like to live this lifestyle, isolated in the mountains, living in a yurt with no electricity, no running water (unless you count the rapids of the river outside), but with such serenity as could make you cry. What do you get up for in the morning? What do you do with your day? It was like they were living in their own little private time capsule, and I found myself envying them.
We sallied forth again after our break, stopping only once at this amazingly picturesque little area, grass cut short, fir trees giving shade, and the river whooshing by over massive rounded boulders. Here’s Chris with our three guides:
L-R: Chris; Rashit’s brother; my guide, Kalkan; Chris’s guide.
Here’s the gorgeous bloke who was kind enough to carry me up the mountain, the 13 year old Torgan. He was a most obliging fellow, and totally knew his stuff – whenever I was unsure as to which path we should take, I could usually just let him do his thing, and he’d pick the best path.
Here is Chris and the blokes, relaxin’. Chris’s horse is tied to the three in the background, and Rashit’s brothers untrained horse was just hanging around, tethered by a long rope. Torgan was just left to wander around, not tied up at all. He was such a good bloke.
Rashit’s brother, and the “naughty” horse. Rashit’s brother’s horse was a bit of a “scallywag”, as my mum would say. Delighted in doing just what they didn’t want him to. And he was skittish as all hell
It’s not a blog entry without the obligatory self-taken two person headshot…
Next came the really steep climb, and the fir trees just stopped once we got above a certain point. The hillsides were slashed with goat and sheep tracks, and we randomly followed them up the valley’s edge, going higher and higher. The sides of the hills were steep as steep can be without becoming grassy cliffs, and I kept telling myself, “the horse wants to fall even less than I do… the horse wants to fall even less than I do”.
We saw few people, but plenty of goats. These guys looked like they had seen postcards and had been practicing how picturesque they could be:
Finally we reached a point where our guides said, “no more riding, this is as far as the horses can go, cause it’s too craggy from here on in”, and that if we wanted to go further up, they’d wait for us, and have tea in the yurt where we’d stopped. We could just go on until we felt tired, and then come on back down again.
So we did. We started climbing. And climbing. And climbing! The snow line was in view, but every time we came to the top of a rise, another rise presented itself for the climbing. We finally reached the point where we felt on top of the world, even though there was a little more world above us, and here we stopped for water and photos, and general contemplation. As Chris pointed out, there was something surreal about being up there, away from civilization, away from distractions. All that was there was the wind, the sun, the mountains and the occasional goat.
Looking at the photos, you really can’t understand just how high up we were, and how much of the world we could see. But here they are anyway, images from a magic time:
Chris coming up the mountain.
The lichen and moss on a lot of these rocks were so pretty, I couldn’t help myself.
Chris, with the snow behind her, looking serene.
My first foray into the timer function on my camera. Thanks to Aussie Pat for the idea.
Here’s me on the mountain. No commentary necessary. I was awestruck.
These people fed us some bread, hard cheese, and tea at the top of the mountain. Can you IMAGINE waking up to this view every morning?
They also had a camel up there. Chris spent some time bonding with it, from a distance – I’d seen a camel spit several metres in Kashgar, and so we both kept our distance from this magnificent gent:
My god, I just have so many photos that I want to share, but I know that if I make this blog entry any longer, certain people with attention span problems will tune out. So I’ll publish this now. I’ll try to do some more blogging about Tianchi later on, but I’m rapidly running out of time.
Today marks the two weeks mark, until I get home to Australia, and only one week till I leave Xin Jiang. And with the nights I’ve got spent away from home, visiting folk, taking my cat to his new home, or the couple of nights that I’ll be spending in Urumqi, I only have three nights left in this apartment. Wierd…
Cheers, Charlotte6 comments
Chris the crazy Canadian was planning on coming down for a visit today, on his way out of the country. He’s heading home to Calgary, more than a year after he left, older, wiser, and with one special change made in his life. Although he says he is not, he is a Browncoat.
Chris, there are Calgary Browncoats who you can contact, if you’re feeling like you need to talk to someone about your obsession (I can hear him saying to me now, “Charlotte, I’m not obsessed!!” I know better. He may never talk about it, but in fact, all he can think about is Firefly.)
But here’s the thing. Pat the Aussie is heading home in one week. Pat the Canadian has made the huge decision to move back to Canada, after having set his sights on a life here in China. Good luck to you, my friend. At any rate, he’s heading home a few days after me. Apple is moving to Urumqi, and within the week, Dushanzi will be back to the ghost town that it was when I first arrived. All of the teachers will have gone home. All of the students will have gone home. I’m leaving myself in less than three weeks.
And I find that, instead of looking back on the year and contemplating how it’s all coming to an end, I am actually looking ahead, thinking about all the things I will do when I get home (first thing: Latte at the airport at 8am!), and about my next plan for travel.
The year has just gone so quickly, and I will never never EVER forget my experiences here. People in China often ask me, “are you used to/accustomed to “this place”? (Interesting, they don’t often say, “are you used to China?” They say “this place”.) The answer when I was fresh off the plane was initially a bright smile, saying that everything was new and strange, but very cool. Soon, my answer became, “yes, I am used to everything.” I think back on that answer now, and think “no, four months into it, you really weren’t used to it.”
I think I was truly “used to it” in about May. Then I started thinking about going home, and all of a sudden, my perspective changed.
When Michael Rose (long time readers will remember Michael, the guy who was here when I first arrived – I have an excellent guest blog entry from him, which I will post soo) was preparing to leave, something strange happened to the way he behaved. Michael, I know you’re reading this. All I can say is that now, I understand.
When Michael was preparing to go home, I saw him go through many stages of attitude. He was a very open person, so I think that a lot of what he was going through was right there on the surface. I remember, first, about a month and a half before he was due to leave, he went through a euphoric phase, where he was listing all of the things that he would do when he got back to a Western country. Then a month before he left, I think he started to realise just how much of what he was looking forward to was NOT in China. He began to get easily frustrated with things, and impatient with people who he usually treated with the utmost of civility. I think, he was just impatient to LEAVE.
At the time, I wanted to just tell him to CALM DOWN, and give the people around him some slack. I couldn’t understand why he was so grumpy.
Well, now I can. Since I booked my flight home, I’ve been thinking more and more about what I will do on my first day home, what I will do on my first weekend, what I will do next year. And I find myself getting irritable at people here. I find myself getting frustrated with just little, tiny, silly things that had not bothered me all year.
Things like, STILL meeting new people (my inner demons are saying. “you’re going home, what’s the point of meeting any new people!?”), and having to be gracious and attempt to be charming. My inner angels mutter at me, “they might be the 100th person to ask you “do you like China?”, but you’re one of the first foreigners they’ve ever asked?.
Things like having people stare at me where ever I go. It bothered me first, but then I got over it. And then I started going into “go back home” mode, and thinking how nice it will be to be ignored when I walk into a shop. Thinking how nice it would be to be able to walk down a street without people exclaiming when I walk past. All of a sudden, people pointing at me, starring, strangers who say “hullo!” to me, people muttering “Laowai” (semi derogatory word for forienger) to their friends as I go past – all of a sudden, I find myself getting unduly angry at China as a whole. Instead of being the “lovely” person that people first knew when I came to this marvellous country, I’ve become a grumpy old scrooge who just wants to be left alone.
It’s such a bad thing, that everything has become such an effort. I’m sick of the effort. Getting back to Australia and regaining the independance that goes with the total language comprehension. Language deserves a blog entry all of its own, I think. But not today.7 comments
You’ve all known for a while that I’m just crazy over Joss Whedon’s Firefly. You may have gathered that they have begun filming at Universal for the MOVIE!! There is a flurry of online activity, cast members posting blogs, Browncoats in the LA area getting to be extras, so I thought I’d just post this entry.
For any who are interested, but not yet aware, the official Serenity Website is now live. It’s been breaking sign-up records, a testament to the power of an online community, and to the incredible resource that an internet savvy fan base can be for the producers of a show. We are an unpaid, volunteer army, ready for guerilla marketing exploits.
Now, I know that many of you think I am a geek, and I am the first to admit that my geekiness is fully developed. I’m just one stormtrooper costume short of being fluent in Klingon. So, I’m asking you to click on the link below, if you’ve not already followed it from somewhere else, and have a snoop around. Read the blog, and marvel at the fact that this site is only four days old, and already has 4350 members.3 comments
So, this week I had the last two official contact hours with my students – written exams for Kindergarten 3 and Kindergarten 4. The end of the year has kinda taken me by surprise. I knew it was coming, and I had been looking forward to it in some ways, but now that it’s here, I feel like there should be something more, like I should be doing more teaching, or something…
There were Children’s Day celebrations a few weeks ago, where Pat and I were asked to go dance with the kids at a special gala concert. The whole thing was put on film, and since then, I’ve had people saying “oh, yes, I saw you dancing on TV!” I’m a TV star. Just call me a Big Damn Hero…
On Children’s Day itself, the school had a massive sports day, which I was expected to attend. I woke up that morning, and thought to myself, “eh, it’s a sports day, I don’t have to be RIGHT on time, do I? I can be ten minutes late or so…”
So, I arrive at school about ten minutes late, camera in hand for happy snaps galore, and I get nabbed by King as I was about to go through the center doorway of the school.
“Charlotte, don’t go that way!” He said urgently. “Come round the side.”
So around the side I go, and I’m so glad that I saw King when I did, cause if I had have gone in the center door, I’d have walked right into the podium for the school awards ceremony. I was late for a TOTALLY formal occasion. Some children were doing a ceremonial flag raising – grade 3 kids, I might add. Raising a flag, doing the ceremonial march, as if they were in the military. Kinda scary.
I was given a look of disapproval by the head mistress, a lady who can make you feel as big as a bug with a single look. I felt so bad. She’s a lady I totally look up to, and I’d hate to think that I’d disappointed her.
At any rate, once the flag had been raised, and the Chinese national anthem had been sung, 5-8 year old children saluting left right and center (actually, I think I’m supposed to only say, Left), something interesting happened. Kang Laoshi came to give a little speech, and then the names of some children were read out. All these kids were amongst my best students in grades two and three. They all went galloping up to the podium, and then an equal number of students’ names were read out, these ones corresponding again to my good students, but only grade one kids. These children ran out, and the first group tied red scarves around their necks.
I asked Guo Laoshi to explain to me what was going on (fortunately, King the SHHH-man had gone away – ever time I asked him a question, he shushed me!), and she told me that it had to do with the children at the school who wore red scarves round their necks.
I’d seen some kids wearing red scarves at school, but I’d just assumed that those kids who didn’t wear them were just not wearing their uniforms properly. It turns out, though, that the red scarves actually signify membership in the Young Pioneers, which is essentially a youth branch of the Communist Party.
I was trying hard not to think about Hitler Youth at this point.
So, the second group of children to be called up, about 8 in total, were the children who had just been admitted into the Young Pioneers. I gather it’s a bit exclusive – you have to be invited to join, and can only do so after showing “excellent academic achievement and leadership skills”
I have about 180 photos of happy smiling kids from that day. The sports day was a huge success. What I love most about this kind of event is that the parents, instead of sending their kids in in sensible sports clothes, dress their little darling girls in their Sunday Best Finery. It’s all lace and frills and sparkly shoes.
Here’s for of my favorite grade threes. These four girls are the top for English speakers in the school, and I absolutely adore them. I’ll miss them terribly when I go. Left to right is Ellen, Kristi, Katie and Rose.
My remaining three weeks in Dushanzi are beginning to be booked solid with dinners with folk who have been kind to me over the year. And on top of that, I plan to go up to Tianchi (you remember, the mountain lake I went to when I first arrived) for a few days with some close friends. We’ll hang out by the lake, avoid the tourists, ride some horses, play some music, and generally have a good time.
Then it’s off to Borla for Mushuk and I. Borla is about 8 hours away by train, and Mushuk’s new family live there, in a SINGLE story house with an outside area. I’m delighted to report that Mushuk will be in more danger of wandering away and getting lost than he will of being a putz and falling out of buildings. In Borla, I’m looking forward to visiting a Chinese farm, milking the odd cow (I promise to put my hair in plaited pigtails and get a photo taken…), drinking some FRESH milk for the first time during my whole time in Xin Jiang…
I’ll keep you posted.
Cheers for now!
The next day after the Sunday Market, we found ourselves at a bit of a loose end. We’d seen all within Kashgar that we had wanted to see, and yet our flight back to Urumqi wasn’t flying out until Tuesday. We eventually decided to hire a driver to take us out to the Mor Pagoda, where it is said that the great Buddhist monk, Tripitaka (you remember, the calm guy dressed in yellow in that old Japanese TV show, Monkey? Except that I think that Tripitaka was actually played by a woman in the show, to make him look younger and more virtuous).
There are many versions to the story, but here is the one that I like.
Long, long ago, in the far east of China, the old Buddhist scriptures had long crumbled to dust. All that remained were imperfect translations into Chinese of lesser scriptures, and those were kept by corrupt and lazy monks who cared less for the teachings of Buddha than they did for filling their stomachs with the fruits of others’ labour. Buddha was aware of the problem, and asked one of the Chinese lesser Buddhas, Guan-Yin (a patron of compassion and caring) to do something about the problem.
“I have three full baskets of Scripture on Earth, waiting at the Temple of the Thunderclap for someone to collect them,” he said. “Could you find a pilgrim to travel the hundred thousand leagues from China to India and back?”
Guan-Yin thought to himself, “I guess I could go get the scriptures myself, but then the Chinese people will not really appreciate them.”
Instead, he found a young and devout monk, Xuan Zang , who had joined the priesthood in search of enlightenment. Xuan Zang was the ideal candidate for the job felt keen betrayal and disillusionment when he saw what the far Eastern Buddhist religion had become. Guan-Yin convinced the Emperor to send the young monk on the quest to far off India, and at this point, Xuan Zang changed his name to Tripitaka, which literally means “three baskets” in Sanskrit.
Along the way, Tripitaka picks up his traveling companions – Monkey (the handsome man above on the right), Pigsy and Sandy.
At any rate, the claim is that on his way to India, Tripitaka stopped at the Mor Pagoda, which was once a temple, to rest and pray after the arduous journey across the Taklamakan Desert.
So. We hired a car and got ourselves a handsome young driver, a guy whose name now escapes me. He was slow to warm up, but once we got him talking, he was cheery company.
You’ll remember that the rain had been pouring down a few days before, turning any surface previously covered with dirt into mud. The road out to the Mor Pagoda was generally pretty good, and the sun was shining. The air was warm and soft, and our Han Chinese driver was impressing us with his language skills – he spoke fluent Uyghur. In my part of Xin Jiang, this is utterly unheard of. Most Han would subconsciously consider learning Uyghur to be beneath them, and not even bother to learn as much as I’ve picked up (I can’t say much, but it’s more than many Han who live here). So imagine our surprise to hear the driver respectfully ask the Uyghurs on the way out to the Pagoda for directions.
We finally emerged from the trees that cover the fertile land to the East of Kashgar city, obviously and suddenly reaching the end of the oasis that is the reason for Kashgar’s existence. At this point, the road swiftly and determinately became practically undrivable. I say practically, because our brave driver didn’t bat an eyelid at the dirt road, which alternated rapidly between dusty dry and foot deep bogs the size of yaks (oooh, the evil yaks that kept me from blogging, a curse on them!).
Not much further along the road, we see off in the distance, the indistinct double towers that make up the Mor Pagoda.
And of course, at this point, the road becomes utterly undrivable. I say utterly, and I mean it, because our driver gets out and inspects the truck sized bog ahead, with a dubious expression on his face. He is about to go and pick up some stones to chuck in the bog to attempt a crossing, much to the slightly incredulous amusement of we three westerners (“we only have to make sure we’re on the plane tomorrow!”).
But fate and Uyghur foresight is on our side. For who should come galloping up but a donkey cart with a young driver (again, handsome – what a great day! *wink*), with the cart set up with blankets to take passengers. We’d asked any number of folk for directions out there, and this enterprising young man had obviously predicted that we’d not be able to get past this point in the road.
So, our driver negotiates the fee, and all five of us jump on this cart, our legs dangling over the edges, as the most adorable donkey in the world tirelessly (or not so much – I can see where donkeys get their reputation for being stubborn from!) pulls us along the desert track to the Pagoda.
However, we cannot possibly expect all to go to plan. For what should happen towards the end of the trip, but the donkey cart get a flat tire!!
So off we all hop, within an easy ten minute walk of the pagoda, and saunter across the crusty desert, spirits high and full of amusement over the transport situation. Our two drivers tell us to wait while they go get the tire pumped up, but we just laugh and say that we’d prefer to walk. But off they go anyway, to get the cart up and running again for when we’re ready to go back again.
The desert floor was an incredible sight: it was snap dried after the rains, and the whole thing was a maze of cracks:
Once we got to the Pagodas, our drivers car and donkey had climbed the northern-most tower, and were beckoning us to follow.
Here you have to understand something about the Pagodas – they are essentially mud-brick ruins. I don’t know if they’re still hollow on the inside, but the elements have certainly shown signs of having taken bites out of these ancient structures. They are worn, and the sides of the Northern tower are showing signs of water erosion, like what you’d see somewhere where the vegetation has been torn away and the rain runs down in rivulets which become deeper and deeper as the water carries away the dirt.
So, initially I was quite appalled at the idea of climbing the structure, and contributing to the damage. But then curiosity, and the assurance by the drivers that it was quite forbidden to climb the South tower, got the better of me, I am ashamed to admit.
Debbie and I clambered up, with the help of the gallant lads (gallantry is alive and kicking in China – it used to annoy me and prick my pride, but I had since laid that aside in exchange for the assurance that I wouldn’t stumble on the steep slope, and a) get covered in desert dust or b) damage my camera) and before we knew it, we were viewing the Taklamakan desert from our private lookout.
What a view!
I’m wearing the scarf over my head cause despite how cloudy it looks, it was actually very glary, and I would have burnt like a sausage on Australia Day otherwise.
This photo, I thought, was brilliant not just cause of the view (in fact, not so much for its artistic value at all) but because it perfectly captures the three cultural groups represented, and in particular their attitudes towards photos.
On the left, we have the traditional Chinese rabbit ears shot from our driver. In the middle, there’s Deb, naturally posed to my eye, but smiling. Then on the right, we have the Uyghur donkey cart driver, composed and stern faced.
It’s hard to get Uyghurs to smile in photos. I’ve not worked out why yet. I’ll get back to you on that one.
After we’d done our Mor Experience, we sauntered back to the place where they’d parked the donkey, but the driver suggested that with a flat tire, one of us should go back on his friend’s motorcycle (who knows where the friend came from!). I’m not sure how it was decided, but before I knew it, my mum was perched on the back of this dirt bike, and then she was speeding away while the rest of us clambered back onto the cart. Oh, how Debbie and I laughed.
I’m not sure that my mum’s been on a dirt bike since she taught my brothers and I how to ride my grandpa’s little 50cc. Actually, I’m not even sure if she rode it then. Snaps for her, I say!
We eventually got back to the place where we’d left the car, to find Sara (who had been waiting for at least 20 minutes, I’d say) being kept company by a car full of policemen. Not in any threatening way or anything, but she was utterly unable to tell them why she, a lone foreign woman, was waiting by herself by a car on a muddy road. So they stayed there, just to make sure that everything was OK. Nice of them. As soon as they saw us coming, and made sure that we were in the same group as Sara, they sped off.
We thanked our donkey driver for his services, and were preparing to fork over the agreed amount of money, when he began to attempt to negotiate for more dosh, using the obviously irrefutable logic that the tire was flat, and we should pay for it.
The cheeky thing, he was just trying to see how far he could push it. He grabbed me by the hand and dragged me over to the tire, trying his best to make me understand, and I just grinned at him had shook my head, saying with mock indignation in English, “no way, mate! It was probably already flat when you offered us the ride, and you wanted us to pay for it!”
Eventually, our driver had had enough of the cheeky young donkey driver, took the money that we’d agreed on from our hands, placed it on the donkey cart, and herded we foreingers into the car. As we began to drive off, we heard a massive yell behind us, and like greased lightening the donkey and his driver sped past us, in a last attempt to impress us with his prowess, standing up like a Roman chariot driver:
And on that note, my friends, I shall end this long running commentary on our adventures in Kashgar. We return to our normal Dushanzi programming shortly. Thank you and goodnight.4 comments
I’ve been held hostage by evil genetically enhanced yaks from the Forbidden Zone, and have only just escaped with my life. They did heinous experiments on me, and kept me from writing more blog entries. I swear, it’s the truth. That’s another story though. For now, I want to tell you about the rest of my time in Kashgar…
One of the best things that Kashgar is known for is the Sunday Bazaar. It’s one of the biggest weekly markets in Central Asia. And to understand the scope of how big it is, you really have to be there. You can keep walking for hours, in a straight line, and still be at the market. Of course, that does include browsing time, but STILL! It’s quite something.
This is the place where you can buy practically ANYTHING. From cats to camels, knives to nails, pashminas to pigments, this market’s got it all. Thanks to Debbie for this brilliant photo:
This is all Chinese medicine – dried animals (lizards, snakes, starfish, scorpions) for grinding up and putting in food, mushrooms, and god only knows what else. Christine is big into the Chinese Medicines (or more to the point, she has a friend who takes her to all these places for checkups and massages and stuff) but I’ve never had more than a cough lolly. Which is not to say that I think it’s nonsense. But when I’m in a restaurant and I’m hungry and I KNOW that I like the Caesar Salad, I’m the type of person to shy away from ordering the Brazilian yellow tongued yak steak. If I’m sick, gimme the western drugs all the way! I know that an Aspirin will take away the pain, so I decide to refrain from ingesting ground up bat entrails.
Anyway, what Kashgar possibly best known for are the Pashminas and silk scarves, and the beautifully ornate Uyghur knives. If you see ornate knives anywhere in China, chances are they’ve been made in Kashgar.
And, it would not be a Kashgar market without the scarves. Shops and shops, rows upon rows of scarves of every colour, shape, texture, size… The only problem is making a CHOICE!
So. Shopping. By the end of the day, it felt like I’d bought a STACK of things, but when we had gone back to the hotel and taken stock of the day’s purchases, I’d discovered that I’d only bought two knives. Then it hit me – the illusion of having bought out the entire market stemmed from having done most of the bargaining for Sara and Debbie. At one point, I was bargaining for knives from one seller, and we had a huge group of amused Uyghurs gathered around, to watch the girl-foriegner go head to head with an experienced store owner. I have no idea how well I did, but we did managed to get him down to about a quarter or a fifth of the starting price. Who knows what his profit margin was, but we were happy, and he was marginally so, so I suppose we did OK.
I’m starting to realize that with Uyghur goods, I’m actually a better bargainer than a lot of Chinese people. I have my patter to start negotiations, and it goes like this:
Charlotte: How much is this _____?
Seller: It’s X yuan.
C (looking disappointed): Oh, dear, that’s more than I had imagined.
S (looking eager): How much would you pay for it, then?
C (uncertainly): Oh, if I told you, I’m sure you’d not be happy!
S (amused): No, no, I promise, I’ll not be angry. Try me!
C: No, really, you won’t be happy if I tell you!
Note that this whole section of the conversation is to force the seller into a corner – when I say the eventual price, which is around 1/5 of the initial asking price, the seller no longer has the option of using the indignant “are you kidding?!?!” response, cause they just promised to be nice about it. Sneaky?
S: Please, tell me what you’d pay for a lovely ______ like this one!
C: Well, I’d probably give you about Y yuan for it. (Y being about 1/5th of X)
S: Oh, goodness me, that’s too low! I can make it a little cheaper, if you like. Perhaps W yuan? (W being 4/5th of X)
The whole thing goes on until we agree on a price that’s about 2/5ths to 1/2 of X. I refuse to go higher than ï¿½ of the asking price. I use all of the normal strategies, like walking away VERY slowly if they are not coming around to the lowest price, waiting for them to call you back, and like saying that I/my friend bought one “exactly like this in Urumqi” for much cheaper. That always does the trick.
One thing about the market that day. It all happened just after a massive dust storm, followed by several days of rain. So, imagine taking tones and tones of desert dust, mixing it in with water, and dumping it on the streets. The roads were covered in this fine slurry of mud. Mud everywhere. I’m sure it was very authentic, but my shoes did not approve.
And donkeys. Donkeys everywhere. Noone can afford cars, and bikes cost money, you just need to put a donkey in a field to fuel it. Donkey carts are the de rigeur transport in Kashgar, especially in the bazaar area. Look, I have a photo that demonstrates my two last points – Mud and Donkeys:
In fact, to give you an idea of the sort of things these poor donkeys can do, look at this! We were driving along at one point, and Sara and Debbie yelled out, “STOP THE TAXI!!”
This was a normal sight in Kashgar!
At any rate, the day was a marvelous success, with Sara and Debbie coming away with wonderful souvenirs, mostly knives and Pashminas. The knife sellers were happy with us that day!
I have to say, there are few things better for honing your language skills than traveling. Usually in Dushanzi, if I have something important to do or buy, I take Sunny with me to help with the translating. But when I’m traveling, that’s just not an option. So I have to pull out all the stops, remember everything I ever heard or learnt, and attempt to get by. It’s even better when one travels with a couple of companions whose Chinese is limited to “hello” and “thankyou”. Sara and Debbie were asking me all these questions, and most of the time, I had no idea as to the answer. So more often than not, sitting in the front seat of a taxi, I’d pull out the electronic dictionary (god bless Palm and Pleco Software! Michael at Pleco has my undying love and gratitude for developing the first really good quality Chinese-English English-Chinese dictionary with pinyin. I utterly recommend it to all who want dictionaries on their Palm pilots: http://www.pleco.com/ ). This had the double advantage of me practicing my Chinese while being forced to learn new vocab. This gorgeous little program even incorporates a flash card feature, where you can add new words that you’ve just looked up into the flashcard section.
I was telling Webmaster Matt about why I had not blogged in ages. I think the answer comes down to this – I can’t blog while my apartment is messy. And my apartment has been messy for WEEKS!
Soon to come, seeing as I have no class and no commitments till tomorrow evening: The Mor Pagoda (it’s a great story!), also known as one-of-the-places-where-Tripitaka-stopped-to-pray-on-his-way-to-India. I’ve been looking forward to telling this story. It was stacks of fun, this trip!2 comments
Hey all! This entry is a continuation of a discussion on the Firefly board, so it only applies to those on the FF Board. It has nothing to do with China, and everything to do with an eery coincidence which I’m not going to go into, for fear of spoiling things for the Australians… “we shall speak of it no more!” *spits*
Here is a cap of the symbol of the Circle of the Black Thorn, for comparison to the real life Blue Sun logo:
Then check out the image in the top right hand corner of this page:
Bizarro, hey?3 comments
The floodgates are open! On seeing Pat’s entry, what could Christine do but submit her own perspective on life in rural China?
So here she is folks, the hero of the hour, Mushuk’s Salvation, Miss Christine!
Hey there, I’m Christine!! You may remember me from such blogs as ‘Girls build a snowman in Dushanzi’, ‘Home-cooking in Dushanzi’ or my personal favourite, ‘Mushuk nearly dies but Christine saves the day in Dushanzi!’ Yep, I couldn’t leave Dushanzi without having formally introduced myself, so a big ‘G’day’ to all of Charlottes blessed blog devotees out there.
I’ve nearly hit the 3 month mark here, being the furtherest and longest away ever from home, good old muddy grey Melbourne and i’m loving it! The people are Ace, the food is fantastic and the weather superb. Teaching can be pretty challenging, but mostly a laugh. Teaching the older kids at the college is great in terms of socializing, going out for dinner and finding out about the ins and outs on life in China in a pretty straight up and informal way. I’m constantly being surprised by this place.
The Uygher people are especially friendly. I made the mistake of telling the horde of boys who sit in front of our corner store the two words I know in Uygher, ‘Stop!’ thanks to the taxi driver who took us to the devil’s playground and ‘cat’ thanks to our resident kamikaze. So everyday I walk past now they yell, “Toc tar, Mushuk!!” I guess I’ll forever be known to them as the crazy foreigner with an aversion to cats.
While I am actually quite fond of our little Mushuk, one thing I do have an aversion to here is the politics at the local pool! Not only aren’t there any lane ropes, but people swim width ways, diagonally, upside down and practically back to front at that place! It’s chaos there on hot days. I’ve suffered many a kick in the ribs, elbow to the face but nothing beats avoiding standing next to the women in the showers who don’t mind relieving themselves at your feet. Uh huh, it really happens.
Subsequent to these times when the pool is especially chaotic, I’ve taken to splashing out instead on a massage from the talented masseurs in Dushanzi. Bona Fide Chinese massage, nothing beats it, in fact nothing beats quite like it. I’ve only ended up in bruises once after an especially harrowing experience that involved ‘equipment’. While it might have been good for my inner health as they kept insisting, I’ve since however decided to steer clear of the girls with the masochist massage tools.
While I’m missing Aussie TV here, Charlotte’s DVD collection has been exceptional. When I first arrived Charlotte insisted I give myself to Joss Whedon or forever be damned, so I hesitantly opened my DVD player to his Firefly and what can I say? I guess I was satisfied as I’m now on to series 2 of Angel. I am even a little disappointed as Charlotte no doubt is that we are missing out on the arrival of James Marsters in Melbourne in a few weeks. I’ve never been one to say no to a bit of celebrity head hunting. There’s certainly been no sign of any celebrities around these parts that I’ve seen. Going to the Devils Playground where they made Crouching Tiger has been as close as we’ve come to a whiff of Hollywood in these parts. It’s definitely been one of my favorite places to see. Charlotte and I had fun reenacting the ‘GIVE ME BACK MY COMB!!’ scene and being all touristy and taking heaps of pictures.
Yes, its been wonderful having Aussies here. Our little foreign community may be small but there’s never a dull or at least interesting moment. If Charlotte and Pat aren’t arguing Xinjiang politics with each other while I’m seemingly arguing semantics with myself [or pulling the argument so far off course that your resident blogger gives up and goes to bed, leaving the other two to argue semantics - Ed.], we’re always being entertained at least. We’re off to dinner tonight with Cameron, the winner of the speech contest a few weeks back and a great laugh to be with!! He speaks crazy English in more ways than one.
Anyway, I hope we’re going to the night market. The night market Rocks!!
That’s all from me. Laters1 comment