Monday, December 24, 2007

How Santa saved Christmas... on Mars?

For all of you film buffs out there, how many of you are familiar with the movie Santa Claus Conquers the Martians? Let me tell you something! It is NOT a classic Christmas film. It should NOT go on the top 10 list. I don't recommend you watch it. Unless, of course, you're up for an hour and a half of bad movie. The experience is much more pleasant if you're eating white chocolate coated popcorn and watching it with some friends, but the movie itself is nothing to get excited over unless you happen to have a club dedicated to bad movies.

Christmas Eve, that wonderful day before Christmas that gets you so excited you're finally willing to sneak open one of your Christmas presents. Unless, of course, you already broke down and opened one. This year Christmas Eve was very misty and gray, and very very cold. Not cold enough to snow. Yet. Jessica keeps telling me that it's going to snow tonight. I came to find out that she wasn't watching the weather channel or anything, she just believes that God will make it snow so she'll have a white Christmas and be able to have peace in her heart. She told me she feels saddened at my lack of emotion for snow because I told her snow cannot make peace. Now I feel the need to reexamine my life and figure out where I went wrong in my relationship with freezing precipitation. I'm confident that with dedication and a good shrink, next Christmas I will be waiting for snow so that I can feel like God has sent peace to the world. Seriously though, I like snow. It's great! Wonderful! We don't get much of it in the Mississippi Delta and what we do get isn't really enough to hide the grass. But apparently I don't love it as much as other people. I'm kind of jealous.

Tonight the entire foreign language department went to dinner, courtesy of the school administration. It's kind of an awkward experience. This year they actually told us before it was time to go, but last year we arrived at the end of the dinner because they didn't tell us we were going before they came to pick us up. Well, the way it works is that the foreigners all go outside at the predetermined time to pile in the car that is provided for us. Since there as 2 Japanese here this year, there are 6 of us. Instead of getting in the school's car we walked down to the street with the representative from the Foreign Affairs Office to catch a taxi. Of course, we were leaving exactly at taxi shift change time, which also (for some unknown reason) falls in the middle of rush hour and everyone else getting off from work. There was not a single taxi to be seen on the street. We ended up taking the bus, which stopped two different times (5 or 10 minutes each time) so the driver could yell at everyone on the bus to go towards the back because people were hanging out the door, and also one time because for some reason it took us 10 minutes to get through a traffic light. We arrived to the dinner over an hour late, but luckily the foreign teachers don't get to sit and eat in the same room with everyone else. We had a room down the hall for ourselves. No one really knew we were late because they were all partying in another room with 7 tables. We didn't mind too much, though. We got to play majiang while we waited and didn't have to toast with every single teacher at the party, only the ones at our table. Despite my slight sarcasm, the dinner really was good and it was nice to be taken out by our school for once. Since we arrived and left so late we weren't able to participate in the Christmas caroling at the medical school.

I didn't really do much more than that today. I did a little shopping, but just down at the bottom of the hill. Fruit, milk, things like that. By the way, the supermarkets all changed their prices to account for the newly released inflation numbers this past week. Yowza! Milk went from 1.6 for a small 250 mL box to 2.7 per box. That's a big jump! Anyhoo, I didn't mean to get off on a grocery tangent. Tomorrow is Christmas! I can't believe it! Three Christmases away from home (with one in the middle at home). That's kind of weird. I miss all you folks! Even though I talked to you just last night (some of you) it's not quite as awesome without you. But I'll try not to let it spoil my fun! :-P Tomorrow for breakfast Angelyn and Jessica (and maybe some others) are planning to prepare a delicious feast of quiche, cinnamon rolls, and whatever else their minds can imagine to treat us to. I provided fruit, but I didn't manage to make it into a fancy looking bird or anything. Sorry everyone! You'll just have to take an orange, eat it, and be happy with it. We'll also have stockings stuffed with goodies, and then tomorrow night is the first annual Shiyan Tacky Christmas Sweater Progressive Dinner Party Extravaganza. STCSPDE for short. I bought the most amazing tacky Christmas sweater ever in Chengdu from some guys selling things in the middle of the crosswalk. You have to see it to believe it, and I'm pretty sure I'll be embarrassed when you see it. So, until that moment, have a Merry Christmas. Joy to the world!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Chengdu Trip

I've discovered that I'm really bad at telling about a trip or anything that lasted more than one or two days. I start to write about it and then it gets so long and drawn out that I promise to come back later and finish. Then I never do. So today I'm providing you with a link to Angelyn's blog. She lives across the hall and was one of my travel companions to Chengdu. If you CLICK HERE you will be directed to her blog entry about our Chengdu trip. I'm sure you will find it just as fascinating and fulfilling as anything I could write. Probably more so.

Broken promises

I'm going to start out by apologizing to everyone. I totally forgot to pick up my camera on the way out this morning so I have absolutely no pictures to show you from today. :( If it makes you feel any better, I'm way more bummed about it than you are because now I have no pictures to add to my personal collection. :( :(

If you're wondering how today went, I would have to say it went very well. There were about 50 people there this morning, and quite a few people didn't even get to come. We had a great morning meeting with lots of singing and merry making. Lunch was good, as we crammed all those people around 4 tables. The real entertainment, however, was the gift exchange. We always play "dirty Santa" or "white elephant" or whatever name you might have for this game. Everyone brought a small gift of some sort; funny, serious, useful, useless, doesn't matter. We then drew numbers and took turns opening gifts. When it was your turn, you could choose between opening a new gift or stealing a gift from someone else. The game went on until the last person opened a gift. I ended up with a pair of girl's gloves about three times too small and a bar of Dove chocolate. That's okay, though. I had fun! I gave the gloves and the chocolate away, so it didn't matter to me.

The rest of my afternoon was spent with Jessica and two Chinese (Andrew and Athena) at a new coffee place called Box Coffee. It's the first coffee place in town that actually has a coffee house atmosphere. Every other place in town that calls itself a coffee house is usually too fancy and they all, without exception, have gross nasty coffee that is overpriced. Box Coffee actually has decent coffee, ground and brewed when you order, that is only 10 yuan per cup. That's compared to the 30 yuan price at just about any other place. We spent a while hanging out and mulling over what it would be like if we owned and operated our own coffee house in Shiyan. It would be quite the opportunity for community outreach and, if it made enough money, could possibly fund a free medical clinic that some of the medical students are interested in starting. The possibilities are astounding! Of course, none of us has the capital to get something like that going, so it's only daydreaming.

After coffee Jessica and I raided the grocery store and headed home. The weather turned very cold and rainy since this morning, so Jessica was inspired with thoughts of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Luckily, we keep a supply of cheese in the freezer for just such an occasion so we thawed it out and I cooked up a couple of sandwiches. Around 7:30 Angelyn and Jessica had some students come over to hang out so we all sat around in Jessica's apartment and enjoyed some no-bake cookies (thank you Jessica!), talked about our Chengdu trip from last week, and then watched You've Got Mail. We were looking for a Christmas movie and somehow that was as Christmasy as we could get and feel like the students would enjoy it. We really need to work on our collection of Christmas movies!

Since they left, I've showered, blogged a little, been interrupted by a Skype call from my family, and now I'm finishing up this blog entry. All in all a good Sunday. Tomorrow I don't have much planned, but considering how rainy and freezing cold it is right now I don't imagine I'll be wanting to get out much tomorrow. Our school is taking all of the faculty from our department to dinner tomorrow night and then some people are planning to go caroling around the medical school campus. Fun times will be had!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Kids are so cute

So today was one of those days where I was regretting not carrying my camera around with me. First of all, this afternoon we went to the annual city-wide Christmas party. Christmas in China is a strange time for me because every year there are more and more decorations and parties and various celebrations, but there is absolutely nothing about it that makes me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. There are no people calling out "merry Christmas" when you leave a store, there are no warm, good smelling places. None of that. Mostly there are an overabundance of Santa Claus faces hanging in every window, an increasing number of Christmas trees lining the store fronts, and all kinds of tinsel and decorations hanging in places they don't really belong. One of the yearly things that sort of halfway gets on my nerves and halfway makes me laugh are the parties. The city has a Christmas party every year and invites all the foreigners to attend. Of course, there's not much Christmas feeling to it past the decorations, but it's full of kids singing, dancing, and playing traditional Chinese instruments. It also has a smattering of foreigners singing songs because, as is the custom, you can't be invited to a party without being expected to sing a song when you get there. Luckily our school has figured out that we don't particularly enjoy this custom so they don't ask us to sing anymore, but other schools still sometimes force their teachers to perform. So this afternoon was filled with an entertaining hour of singing, dancing, and music. Of course, all the little kids were so cute and adorable and I totally forgot to take my camera. Oh well, there's always next year's party.

The rest of the day wasn't without it's own cute little kids, either. After the Christmas party was over I went to do some (sort of) last minute Christmas shopping. I spent at least an hour browsing around in the Korean market looking for what I needed, but I'm pretty sure I got it all. At one point, two little boys (about 4 years old) kept coming up, poking me, and staring up at me to see what I would do. I'd say hi, they would say it back, and then they'd walk away until about a minute later when they would do it again. They also kept yelling "foreigner!" at me when they weren't poking me, so I would say "No, I'm Chinese!" and they would kind of laugh at me for a second. After three or four times of that, one of them yelled "foreigner!" and the other looked at him and said "No, he's Chinese." Then they actually spent the rest of the time arguing back and forth about whether I was a foreigner or Chinese. I have a hard enough time understanding some little kids who speak English, so I was quite proud of myself for understanding all of this in Chinese, plus I was cracking up at what I heard.

After I got home I waited until the dinner rush was over and went down to Happy Guy's for dinner. If I wait long enough he's usually not too busy and can sit and hang out with me. We were talking about my Chengdu trip and Christmas when his nephew came in. He's 4 and doesn't really like me at all. I guess he thinks he's too good for me or something because he doesn't seem to even know that I exist. Well, Happy Guy kept bringing his over to say hello to me but he wouldn't open his mouth. I eventually started asking him questions in Chinese like "what's your name? how old are you?" and the usual stuff like that. He wouldn't even answer until I hit upon the magic question of "can you speak Chinese?" He answered with a swift and definitive "No!" So then we asked him what language he could speak and he informed us that he "forgot every language so he couldn't speak" to me. I hate it when that happens. It usually happens when I'm talking to a pretty girl, though. Anyhoo, after missing all those precious moments because of my lack of a camera, I feel like I should take my camera out right now and hunt up something worthy of a video or snapshot. Of course, now it's midnight and there's nothing to see out there.

In the morning we'll have our Sunday meeting followed by a big Christmas party dinner (Chinese food only) and a gift exchange game. It should be a lot of fun and I've already set my camera out, so this time I should get some good pictures. Merry Christmas everyone! I'll let you know if I get anything good at the party tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Checking in

Well, we left for Chengdu last Thursday around 11:30 PM and set foot back on Shiyan soil today (Wednesday) at 11:03 AM. I must say that we were all excited to get back. Chengdu was a nice change from everyday life but we agreed that we spent too long away or else should have spent our time differently. I'll put up more details later, right now I basically just want to let everyone know that I'm back. I'm tired and hungry and I have one last class in the morning that I need to plan something spectacular for. Spectacular!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Quest for the Giant Bear Cat

Tomorrow night I'm going to Chengdu with Angelyn and Jessica. This trip serves several purposes ranging from just an excuse to get out of town, Jessica's birthday trip, and knocking one more place off my list of places to go in life. The thing Chengdu is probably best known for? Pandas. Sichuan province is basically panda central. A few quick facts: The Chinese word for panda is 大熊猫 which translates to "big bear cat." The panda was mainly unknown to the Western world until 1869 when a French scientist brought a pelt back to Europe and described the panda to the scientific community. There are thought to be only about 1000 pandas left in the wild today. Pandas live on a diet exclusively made of bamboo. Bamboos flower and die en mass every 25 years or so, which led to more than 130 pandas starving to death on just one mountain in the mid-70s. There's a panda breeding facility in Chengdu with more than 50 giant and red pandas, which you can hold and have your picture taken for a price ranging from 50 yuan to 1200 yuan (depending on whether you want to settle for a red panda for shell out the dough for a cute baby giant panda).

A few other quick facts that important for completely different reasons: Chengdu has 7 Starbucks locations. It also has 2 Mexican restaurants. Chengdu has good shows... last year my friend Jeremy was chosen from the crowd to be the one who stood against a wall and had knives thrown at him. Chengdu is the 5th largest city in China. It's close to several good mountains known for their good views, hikes, or other touristy things.

We really don't know exactly when we'll come back, but we'll definitely come back Wednesday at the latest. That would make the trip a full 7 days from start to finish. I'm excited about it! I didn't get out of town in October holiday so I'm ready for this. Then we'll come back, have Christmas a few days later, have New Years a week later (which I'm going to Yichang for), and then around January 14 I'm going to Kunming for language school. Yay!!! It's going to be a busy time.

As for today's news, I had no class today so I didn't too much official type stuff. This morning I got a call saying I had two packages (woohoo!) so I ran down to the post office to get the wonderful boxes of goodies mom and grandmother sent me. I had fun opening those and sorting through them with Angelyn. So many good possibilities for Christmas goodies! I went shopping with Jessica and Angelyn after lunch, mainly so I could buy our train tickets to Chengdu. Then Jessica and I had to come back so we could record this week's campus English talk radio segment. We don't go on the radio every week, but sometimes they invite us for an interview. Every time I've done it before, I was the only one being interviewed. I've decided that it's 50 times more fun with someone else because we can just goof around and talk for 40 minutes then they edit it down to 15 or however many they want and everyone has a good time. Christina, the student in charge of it, promised to give us a copy of the unedited version of our interview. You'd have to hear it to understand how stinkin' hilarious it was, but I plan to somehow distribute it on here if I can. There's one part in the middle where Christina stops to answer her cell phone (there is nothing in existence that can stop a Chinese person from dropping what they are doing to answer their cell phone) so Jessica and I go off on a tangent about Christina's new boyfriend and I end up wishing her a long, happy life with him. She came back right at that moment and, only hearing the part where I wish her a happy life, said "thanks!" Later when we got her to play it back she was so embarrassed because she didn't know what she was thanking me for. Like I said, you have to hear it to appreciate it. Jessica and I also got into an argument over some song lyrics for "Winter Wonderland". I'm pretty sure the words are "in the meadow we can build a snowman" but she sang "in the weather we can build a snowman." Anyhoo, moving on. After the show we went home and Jessica was kind enough to make us all fresh salad with chicken breast, ranch dressing, and *GASP* bacon!!! Bacon almost never happens here in Shiyan. Actually, it never does. You have to go 7 hours to Wuhan to get it. But we got some and it was amazing! Also, ranch dressing doesn't happen here either, unless you have a mix someone sent you from home. Thanks someone! Zoe and Halley ended up coming over and eating with us, then we all hung out with some of Angelyn's students who came over for a movie. After all of that you would think that the night would be over. But it wasn't! Jessica, Zoe, Halley, and I went to the track and ran for a while. I coached Halley through her first time ever running 8 laps while Jess and Zoe did a fun mix of power walking, running, jazzercizing, and playing on the parallel bars.

All in all a good day, filled with goodness and friends. Tomorrow morning I have a final exam to administer, followed by a lunch of banana pancakes to enjoy for Jessica's birthday. Then tomorrow night is our weekly Thursday night Study, slightly altered to accommodate a birthday cake party for Jessica, then an 11pm train to Chengdu. Woot! Since I don't know exactly what my internet situation will be, I may or may not be on in the next week. I'll play it by ear. Until next time, peace, love, and pandas.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Just to make you aware

There's a group departing for China sometime around February 14-18. If anyone is interested in coming to visit me *big loud cheer from everyone because everyone is interested in coming to visit me* then let me know and I can help you arrange your tickets with that group. Then you would have travel companions on the way over! Of course, if you're not available to leave at that time then you can always come on your own at any other time. I'm willing to pay all in-China expenses (minus souvenirs of course) in exchange for someone actually coming to visit me. Just so you know.

Also, some people wanted to know my number and address so here they are:

(615)653-4594 is a Skype number. You can call that number in America and it calls my computer!

Brian Neal
c/o Foreign Affairs Office
Hubei Automotive Industries Institute
Shiyan, Hubei 442002
P.R. China

I'm always happy to get letters, but if you want to send me a package then you might ask me first so you don't spend a fortune sending me something we can get in the store here. Like noodles. Don't mail Ramen noodles. It's happened before.

Crazy Awesome Weekend

As predicted, this past weekend was crazy awesome. Carole and Danielle came in from Wuhan about 1:30 in the morning Saturday. I had a wushu lesson at 9 so I didn't meet anyone before I left for that. I DID, however, get a thumbs up from one of the instructors at the gym. So far we've been taught by a girl who has been studying wushu about two months longer than us. They say after I practice one motion 100 times then one of the instructors will take the time to correct my mistakes. Needless to say, the fact that one of the instructors was actually paying attention and gave me a thumbs up made me really excited. I'm pretty sure I kept bringing it up the rest of the weekend. Anyhoo, I was out and about until after lunch, so around 12:30 I got back and found that the weekly ladies' brunch was wrapping up. That's when I got to meet our guests. Little did I know, the fun was just beginning.

Someone arranged a 2:30 trip to the orphanage Saturday afternoon, so we all piled on the bus and went to meet everyone else at the gate of the medical school. It was a cold and rainy day, so all the windows on the bus were fogged up. Of course, what could we do but draw baby feet and turkeys? Little known fact... apparently turkeys go "mrr mrr."

In this picture: (back l to r) Jessica, Megan, Danielle, William, David; (front l to r) Carole, Angelyn. Just a portion of the crew that went.

I've never been to the orphanage here because everytime I've tried to join in the trip got canceled. I was nervous about going this time because I didn't want to jinx it again, but we actually made it and were allowed in to see the kids. Unfortunately instead of 50 kids we were greeted by about 5 because the others had all been moved to a middle school with dorms that they could live in. We sang songs, passed out gloves, made a shopping list for our next visit, and just enjoyed visiting with so many people.

After we were done there, we all split up. Angelyn went to return the train tickets that I so painstakingly bought the other day and they decided 10 minutes later they didn't want. (just kidding, there was no pain involved) I went with Priscilla (in the pink in the picture above), Carole (the small one in the middle), Danielle (the tall one crouching in the front), and Jessica (has her hand on Danielle's head) to the bus station to buy new tickets and then behind the bus station to the Korean market for some Christmas shopping. I got some lights and they all bought hats. Priscilla actually bought a normal hat she could wear any day, Danielle and Carole bought some wicked awesome Russian/Chinese fur hats. I would have bought one except I had just bought one a day or two earlier. (If you remember, just before Halloween '06 I bought a big green army coat. Well, the hat matches it!) Afterwards, we went back to school and had dinner at Happy Guy's, followed by a night on the town with some other foreign friends at the disco in town. I have discovered that with a strobe light I can almost fake dancing ability. Almost.

Sunday we had our weekly meeting and then in the afternoon I went to teach English to the people who teach me wushu. (We pay each other with our respective teaching.) At 5 a bunch of us went to KTV. The K stands for karaoke, which is the unofficial pastime of China. We got an awesome room that had English lyrics that were mostly correct. Whitney Houston was singing some song about "blittersweat memories" but other than that it was just about right. My favorite was John dancing to "My Humps" (which is not a good song when you actually have the lyrics on the screen by you, be warned). I was devastated that we didn't discover the switch to turn on the strobe light until we were leaving, though. I could have practiced pretending to have dancing ability some more. Here you can see William and me holding on to John in front of a coffee/KTV place. It was actually the wrong place so were really just totally confusing the ladies in charge of opening the door and yelling welcome. They couldn't figure out if we were coming in or not, then we ended up walking down the street to the right place. Oops.

After an hour of singing we went around the corner to UBC Coffee (not the place in the picture above) and enjoyed a rare treat of fried ice cream balls, coffee, and spaghetti. Unfortunately it was in that order because the waitress thought I was joking when I ordered in Chinese so she only brought the stuff we ordered in English. We had our ice cream and then I had to ask where the spaghetti was. I couldn't finish it since I'd already had the ice cream, but some of the girls helped me out. I'm pretty sure I could have finished all of it if they had brought the spaghetti first. I know it's the same amount of food, but it's all in the order in which you eat it. I learned about it in physics in high school, trust me. Around 9 we were leaving and as we walked past People's Square we noticed that the nightly dance party was still going on. Basically every old person in town comes and makes a huge conga line and walks in a circle for three hours. We needed to work off that fried ice cream, so we all went and joined in. Jessica and Carole made a lot of new friends teaching the electric slide. I'm pretty sure if I go back tonight they'll all be practicing the "new American dance".

After line dancing ourselves to exhaustion, we all went back to our respective schools. At my school we ended up watching a movie and falling asleep with our cool new Russian/Chinese fur hats on. It's the best way to stay warm!

This morning Angelyn and I saw the Wuhan gals off at the bus station. And 5 minutes later we were bored, lonely, and sending them text messages to come back to us. So we went DVD shopping to distract ourselves. All in all, this weekend was a bit of a splurge in just about every way. We had an overdose of just about every good thing in life this weekend, and it was GREAT! Of course, what you don't get from reading this is all the hilarity and interplay between people. Or things like when Danielle played Mary Had a Little Lamb on the piano at the coffee shop and got yelled at by the manager. I will leave you with two photos in memory of our guests. The first is to show why I'm the designated umbrella carrier when Carole is walking by me. The other is a glamor shot they took in front of William and Priscilla's building at the middle school.

Friday, December 07, 2007

An attempted new look

As you may have noticed already, I'm back into blogging. I've been trying to update all of my links and whatnot that I display. Well, a few days ago I got a haircut and was thinking that if I can improve my image, why not try to improve my blog's image? So I started searching for a new look for my blog and I thought I had found it. I saved my old template so I wouldn't lose anything, and put up the new one. I didn't like it. So I changed it back. Of course, most of the stuff on the sidebar of my blog was instantly lost. For example, the wicked awesome map pinpointing Shiyan's location. And now I can't find the website where I originally got those maps. I'm so upset! I'll never change my blog's appearance again! Not really, but I'll definitely be more careful next time and back up all the custom pictures.

On a side note, there are two girls coming into town tonight from Wuhan to visit Angelyn and Jessica. I haven't met them but I've heard they're crazy hilarious so there could possibly be some zany pictures on the way soon.

And now the fun story of the day. Every Friday the guys try to get together for lunch. Oddly enough, we call it Guys Lunch. Every week a different person gets to choose the restaurant so today we were eating across the street from the medical college. After lunch I was walking with John and William through town and we passed some people on the sidewalk selling various things laid out on a blanket. This is a perfectly ordinary thing to see here, especially as winter comes on and a lot of people migrate from the north and/or west to warmer regions. It's also perfectly common for people to yell the one English word they know as you walk by, trying to attract your attention. Today that word was "tiger." We were walking and this guy starts going "tigerrrrr, tiger, tiger, tigerrrrr" over and over. Sure enough, we look down and he's got a dried up tiger paw for sale on his blanket. It was pretty huge! I'm not sure where this guy was migrating from for the winter, but it must be a cool place if it has tigers. Does Tibet have tigers? I'll have to Google it. The guy also had various other pieces of wild animals like a furry goat skull. We didn't buy anything because we weren't sure if we would be supporting the poaching of endangered animals or not. As I was leaving for lunch I contemplated whether or not I should take my camera. I decided nothing fun would happen on an ordinary day like today. I will never leave my camera at home again. After we had passed by, we were standing around talking in front of the bus station and we noticed that the peddlers were now in an argument with the police. They had drawn a large crowd already so we figured we could hide in the back and catch the action. They yelled back and forth for a while and then the police left. I'm not sure what happened, maybe the police wanted them to buy a permit to sell things on the sidewalk or maybe the police just don't like nomads hanging around town. In the end the police were back in their car and the others were sitting back on the sidewalk.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A selection of quotes

Living in an English speaking environment in China can be very frustrating. At the same time, it can have some hilarious moments. Sometimes students just don't throw out the word you were expecting them to throw out, something doesn't quite translate, or people are just much more candid than you expect. Here is a selection of some things that I have heard here in China. The names with an asterisk (*) belong to Chinese people.

"You're the same as last year, cute and huge. So huge! I only come up to your lungs." - Wind*

"Man, we learned a lot of English from that movie. Like 'Kill the Japs!'" - Jakie*

"Who's under that blanket?" -David*
"Brian. Or else three Chinese people." -Angelyn

"He's so tall! He must never get cold." - Christina* talking about me

"In English, how do you say a head with no head?" - Zoe*

- text message from Happy Guy*

"Egad! His car is a very expensive sports car and yours is so ugly! I know... you pay him $5000 or........ I will beat you." - student* performing an improv skit in my class

"It's like a furnace!" - Willie* after warming her hands on the top of my head

"You're a bad boy! As your publishment, you must carry me down the hill." - Jacob* (he meant punishment)

"I'll be there on Saturday."
"Okay, so we'll stay here a few days and meet you in your hometown on Saturday."
"Okay. I still haven't bought the tickets yet. I'll be there Sunday."
"What? Is it Saturday or Sunday?"
"Okay, we'll be in your hometown on Sunday."
"Okay! See you Monday!"
- Orange* trying to tell me when she could meet us

"Dude! Duderonomy! You're a crazy white dude!" - Jakie*

"Later player." - Sean*

"My name is Fish because I like Fish." - Fish*

Of course, funny quotes work in reverse. Like the morning I asked a Chinese friend if she wanted to "eat a muffin" and discovered that "mafen" in Chinese means horse poop. Or that "right turn" sounds suspiciously like "monster" and the day my friend wanted to say "I would like an iced drink" and instead said "I killed a soldier." Yay for language!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

We're expanding our services

In an attempt to lead lives of more action, the Shiyan group is trying to open up new routes of ministry throughout the city. I will share with you one such endeavor today.

Many big cities around the world have famous red light districts. In some countries, prostitution is even legalized. Well, Shiyan also has a couple of large areas that we call "pink light" streets, even though it definitely isn't legalized here. Around 6 or 7 in the evening most hair salons in town flip a light switch and the ladies sit around waiting for customers. It's so blatant and out in the open for all to see that I have to wonder how much the police make under the table each year. Well, Priscilla and Jessica feel called to reach out to these pink light ladies and are in the process of talking with the Chinese Sisters and trying to draw up a plan of action.

After visiting Wuhan (capital of this province, about 7 hours away) they learned that Wuhan and Beijing already have groups doing this sort of outreach. The Family in Beijing has had success in that some of the ladies have stopped working in the pink light district, are going back to school, and are making money for themselves by selling crafts on the internet. Jessica and Priscilla took notes and asked questions in Wuhan and now are in search of a Chinese Sister here in Shiyan who has the same passion to work with these ladies. It's important that this work not just be something weird that the foreigners want to do, it needs to rely on Chinese involvement. Jessica sent out an email last week that lists their needs and concerns better than I ever could, so I'm including parts of that email here:
Last weekend when I was in Wuhan, I had the opportunity to meet the foreign women who are leading a similar effort in Wuhan's pink light district. I got to speak with Kelli and Heather, who had begun the MNSTRY 1 year ago. The spoke to me about the logistics, how they go about each day, and the success/troubles they have been faced with. Heather shared a really encouraging story with me about a visit to the Beijing MNSTRY, where 4 women have left the pink light work and are living in a rehabilitative house. They go to night school, and support themselves by making jewelry that they sell online. Its called the starfish project, if you would like to Google it! I was also blessed to speak to two girls who had just joined the work there, and they gave me such a unique insight into what we were undertaking. I am so grateful that Abba gave me the gift of meeting with them, it really opened my eyes to what we were about it begin!

In light of lessons learned from meeting the women in Wuhan, and PRYRful consideration, Priscilla and I have a fresh outlook on the work we would like to do. First of all, the next two months will be filled with constant PRYR and careful preparation. I never want to underestimate the seriousness of what we are undertaking. There are a number of very serious things to consider, and so here is where we are in need of PRYR warriors such as yourselves! Please keep the following in your conversations with Him:

1. The LRD will raise up leadership among our Chinese sisters to take control of this mnstry, it would be impossible without them. (We are looking specifically for one sister who really has a heart for this work to join with us in leadership, but we are also searching for all others to help!)
2. The LRD will give strength, dedication, and insight to Priscilla and me as we try to be his hands and feet
3. The LRD will prepare the hearts of the women in the pink light districts to be open to our friendship
4. The power to overcome in the spiritual battle we are about to enter into
5. The pink light MNSTRYS already underway in Beijing and Wuhan

The actually logistics of the work as still very much up in the air, as we would really like to have our Chinese sisters leading in the preparation stages. There are a number of possibilities that are looking promising, such as offering free medical checks, or giving clothes or other basic necessities. There will be various roles to play in the MNSTRY; women actually going inside to talk with the pink light ladies, PRYR teams out on the side walk, and PRYR assignments throughout the city to cover us. (A great way for the men to be involved!).

~Therefore, behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness, and I will speak tenderly and to her heart. There I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor to be for her a door of hope and expectation. And she shall sing there and respond as in the days of her youth and as at the time when she came up out of the land of Egypt.
~And it shall be in that day, says the Lord, that you will call Me, Ishi [my Husband], and you shall no more call Me, Baali [my Baal]. For I will take away the names of the Baals out of her mouth, and they shall no more be mentioned or seriously remembered by their name. And in that day will I make a covenant for Israel with the living creatures of the open country and with the birds of the heavens and with the creeping things of the ground. And I will break the bow and the sword and conflict out of the land and will make you lie down safely.
~And I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy.
I will even betroth you to Me in stability and in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.
(Hosea 2: 14-20)


This is a big step that would not be possible without our Father's help, but it also needs the help of everyone in the Family. Please be Mindful of this and everyone involved, and please Ask that a native Sister can be found who will take up a leading role in this. As we've tried to become more action oriented and involved with other things such as the poor and beggars in town, some of the Family here has balked at the idea of being that close and involved with those kinds of people. But they are slowly realizing that we are called to do exactly that. Of course, it's not only the Chinese who are hesitant to make such a big change to lives of action, most of us foreigners are just as reluctant, held back by laziness or bad habits. But we're all working together so we're gaining ground bit by bit.

Wushu and Hotpot: A typical Tuesday

Today I got up and went to William's apartment at 9:30 to meet him and John for our weekly (in theory) wushu practice. In case you missed it, wushu is the general name for Chinese kungfu. Wushu is the art itself, kungfu is any wushu that focuses on fighting. There are other kinds of wushu that focus on art or health. We learn it every Saturday morning and have set aside Tuesday mornings as a practice session since all three of us are free that morning. John didn't come, and we still don't know why. I'm sure he'll give us some excuse involving butter (last time I was at his apartment, he and his wife had 31 sticks of butter in the fridge). I had fun practicing with William. He put on some traditional Chinese music, most of which was played on a pipa, a stringed instrument. At some point he decided to switch from traditional Chinese music to pop music which made for a hilarious sight. Us practicing wushu to pop music. It struck me as being so funny that I just had to video it. And here it is! Possibly the best video in the history of all videos. You be the judge...

So I left William's place just before 12 and walked to McDonalds so I could meet the girls for hotpot at 12:30. It was Angelyn, Jessica (both American), and Alice (Chinese). If you don't know, hotpot is when you get a big pot full of whatever you choose to eat for lunch, cook it over a fire in the middle of the table, and just eat straight out of the pot. It's usually a good way to die from an overdose of spicey food, but today's was mostly just hot from the fire that was in the middle of the table.

Here's the fish hotpot before we started eating.

And here it is after...

And to give you an idea of how dangerous this meal could have been, here's the pile of millions of fish bones on my plate at the end of the meal.

After lunch we headed back to school. At the bottom of our hill we stopped to pick up some milk tea to drink. Since Alice was still with us we decided to take advantage of her multilingual skills to find out exactly what all the different flavors are. She was tired or didn't want to lean through the window to read them all, so she just went in and sat down behind the counter. For some reason we found this incredibly cute so I got a picture of the booth and one of Alice taking our money like she worked there.

Every Tuesday at 3 Jessica and I go play majiang with Mike, an older man at our school, so we made our way to his apartment. Here are Mike and Jan. I'll let you guess which is which. (hint - Jan doesn't have a combover)

Jessica left at 5 to go prepare for a new class that began tonight, but I stayed for another hour so I could learn the basics of Chinese chess. I'm pretty sure that I could learn to love xiangqi (the Chinese name) more than majiang. How can you not like a game with elephants and cannons? There's even a palace and a river. Yeah, it's way cooler than normal chess.

I came back home at 6 to Study with some students, but they forgot to come so they will come over at 9 with another group that always comes on Tuesday nights. And that, after going all semester without a single class on this day, is a fairly typical Tuesday for me.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Winter holiday plans

We always look forward to the winter holiday here because instead of one week of overcrowded travel in order to get visit one city, we get 5 or 6 weeks. And only a few of those weeks have overcrowded trains and stations, so it's easier to plan around such things. Well, this year I somehow lucked out and my classes are ending around December 20th instead of sometime in January. That means that from December until the first week of March, I'm free to do whatever is within my budget. I definitely won't be traveling that entire time, but I do know what I'll be doing most of that time. Attending language school in Kunming!

What is language school, you ask? It's a place where you go to learn a language, of course. In this case it's a place in Kunming (down in the southwestern province of Yunnan) that will give me a place to live and teach me one-on-one for four weeks. It's kind of expensive but I should be able to afford it by the time the middle of January gets here. I've always toyed with the idea of going to a language school, but I never wanted to skip going home in the summer or anything like that. Most of the ones I could find online either required that I enroll for a full semester or were just too expensive. But after William hunted up this school in Kunming and he started talking about going there, I couldn't get the idea out of my head. Four weeks of one-on-one tutoring is about the same price as if I were to fly home for the holiday, but I think it will be worth it. It should really advance my level of speaking, which will be helpful for the times I want to ask people on the street why they are staring at me so intently. Is there something on my face? Do I look like your long lost brother? Not really, but I often daydream about saying things like that. I usually just smile and wave or completely ignore them. Anyhoo, back to language school. You can click here to go to the school's website. They give you great accommodations and I actually met a guy on the sleeper bus once who went to this school for three months. I noticed him in some pictures on the school's website. William and Angelyn are both planning to go, so it will probably be the three of us. Since William finishes classes later than us, we'll have to wait around until he's done.

Angelyn, Jessica, and I were thinking of going to Chengdu for a few days in a week or two. That's the panda capital of China. We'll get to pet a panda and then go across town to one of the rarest of rare things in China... a Mexican restaurant! I'm excited. Other than Chengdu and Kunming, I don't have any big plans for this winter holiday. I may go on a few other short trips, but nothing too big since language school with cost two months' salary ($950). Those two cities are pretty big names on the list of places to see while in China though, so even if I don't go anywhere else I should see plenty of cool things.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The school where I teach has the foreign English teachers give a 2 hour lecture every Friday night. Since there are 4 of us, we can rotate and do one a month. This past Friday was my turn, so I prepared a lecture on the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I figured the Chinese would love it because they always want to know how to get ahead in life, plus it's easy on my part because all I had to do was summarize something that had already been done.

I read this book in college, but I forgot that the first part of the book focuses on the difference between character and personality, and how important it is to focus on having a foundation of good character rather than focusing on skills, personality, and techniques. After I began to prepare the Powerpoint presentation for this lecture, I began to get excited about what kinds of questions might surface after I was done. In general, the Chinese don't learn any kind of ethics associated with business, so they don't see a problem with cutting a few corners here and there, pocketing a bit of money that no one will miss. Of course, those kinds of practices can come back to bite you in the end so a lot of people with common sense stay away from that sort of thing. But to have good character values plainly laid out in a presentation was something that these students hadn't had before. After finishing my lecture, I didn't really get any questions about the 7 habits. Instead, all of the questions were along the lines of "How important do you think it is to have good character?" "What kinds of traits do you consider to be good character?" "Do you really think honesty is important in business and other relationships?" "Do you think having a faith of some sort is important for success and happiness?" "Everyone has their own idea of the world and you can't force someone to follow your faith, so why do you think having a strong faith is important?" "I don't think it's possible for someone to change their mind about what they believe. Have you ever know someone who doesn't believe in religion to change their mind?"

Needless to say, I felt like the questions started some good conversations. Even though the conversations didn't last very long because we all ended up leaving soon after, the smallest seed can bear up a giant tree.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Month Discrimination

I realized today that I must hate November because I totally refused to blog during the entire month. It wasn't a bad month, I'm not sure why I unconsciously avoided blogging about it. We must have had an argument once and now I'm having trouble forgiving November for all the things it said about me. Forgiveness is a hard thing to dish out sometimes, I guess.

Well, to sum up November, it started getting cold for a while. And then it warmed up until we could wear short sleeves in the middle of the day. And then it got really cold again. One of the warm parts was Thanksgiving. It wasn't really cold at all on that day, and it was nice and sunny. We had a big dinner that night with two turkeys someone collected the weekend before in Wuhan, lots of homemade pies, various stuffings and gravies, more rolls than I ever imagined could possible fit in one room, and (of course) Chinese food. Since there were at least 70 people at the dinner, it took quite a while to get everyone through the line for turkey and western dishes. But I did manage to snag two pieces of pecan pie since I don't imagine we'll have any more of that this year. Unless someone mails us more karo syrup and pecans! Feel free.

Last night, to celebrate the last day of November and to bring in the Christmas season at full swing, Jessica came up with the idea of chopping down a real, live Christmas tree. She won't settle for a fake tree and none of the plant markets in town plan of having Christmas trees this year. It's a tradition in her family for them to all go out together and get a tree, kind of like the Griswald family Christmas or something. So she scouted a tree on the hill behind us and then we waited for dark to settle before we set out. Lacking a hatchet or saw, Jessica brought along her trusty kitchen cleaver to do the chopping. I just went along to provide light with my cell phone and to witness the possible hilarity. Nothing too out of the ordinary happened other than us chopping down a small pine tree in the middle of the night with a kitchen knife and nonchalantly carrying it back to our apartment building.

William and me sitting around before the caper. He didn't actually go, he stayed behind to keep our escape route clear. i.e. - fall asleep on the couch.

My cell phone in one hand and the cleaver in the other, Jessica is ready to lay into that tree. It was pitch dark out and we really couldn't see anything at all. The camera flash about burned our eyeballs out of their sockets.

After getting the tree, Zoe was trying to chop my head off.

Angelyn and Jessica were psyched about this tree. If you'll notice, the trunk is bristling with trillions of little death spikes. I didn't notice that in the dark, but luckily I didn't close my hand all the way on the tree.

I had fun whacking other trees with the cleaver. It cut into them better than I expected!

The finished product was a bonafide Charlie Brown Christmas tree. I'm considering getting one for my own apartment, except that it'll be dead in a week. Maybe I'll wait until the holiday is closer.

And that brings us to today. Today is December 1. It was in the city news last week that everyone was turning on their heat today, and sure enough when I woke up this morning there was hot water in the radiator pipes. I don't know if it's regulated by the city because it's such a large energy investment, but I think it's funny that the city decides when everyone in town gets hot radiators. It's good that they turned it on when they did, though. Today I woke up and it was a brisk 30 degrees out. That's -1 for you celsius people. I think right now it's up to about 47. The forecast for the rest of the week is a bit colder, so it looks like winter is finally here to stay.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

October at last

Well, it's October. I really don't know where the last month went. I've had visitors and lent out my computer, partly explaining my prolonged absence, but the rest of the time can't really be explained away. The best I can do is just say that when I actually had a chance to write something, I had absolutely no desire to do it. If you thought I was dead, I'm sorry. There are a lot of people who have been wondering about that, but I just wasn't around my computer nearly as much lately. So here I am more than a month later trying to figure out exactly how much stuff has happened that I need to tell you about.

Our school had their annual sports meeting last week. Once again, I was not invited to participate in any events. I guess I don't look like I could qualify for the 100 meter dash, long jump, shotput, or jump rope competitions. I do happen to know students competing in all of those, though. I arrived late Friday morning for the festivities, so some students were already waiting at the gate for me so that they could entice me to go into the press box and yell a cheer in Chinese for the foreign language department. They actually asked Angelyn and Jessica to do it, but the job was passed on to me because I'm the only foreigner crazy enough to yell Chinese over a loudspeaker without too much embarrassment.

The first week of October was a holiday. We got the entire week off, but I opted not to travel this year. After traveling to Xinjiang, I'm low on money and just don't feel up to the challenge yet. I spent most of that week relaxing and doing not much of anything since just about everyone else I know was gone. I spent one day watching movies with Angelyn and introducing her to the Lethal Weapon movies. Last year I introduced her to Die Hard and I had to show her that there are movies that guys like that are better quality than Die Hard. Another day during the holiday I rode bikes up toward Sai Wudang again, like I did back in June. We got started about 3 hours later than we expected due to last minute bike repairs, so we rode to Peach Blossom Lake, which is about halfway to the top of the mountain. The weather was great that week, just right for a long bike ride. The weather has gone from just right, to cold, back to just right, to rainy, to cold and rainy, and now back to sunny and almost warm. I'm not sure what to expect in the mornings anymore. Supposedly this summer was mild so they're expecting a colder winter this year, so I'm dreading when the weather turns cold and stays cold.

Yesterday I used my laptop in class and today it won't start. I keep getting a message saying that Windows has encountered an error and needs to shutdown. I can't even start it in Safe Mode! You know it's serious when safe mode doesn't work. Anyhoo, because of that I can't get any of the new pictures off my computer to put on here. Hopefully today or tomorrow I'll be able to figure out what's wrong with it. For now I'm having to use Angelyn's computer. It's a fine time for me to not have my computer, when I'm finally blogging again, but I'll hopefully be able to keep this thing updated with or without my own computer. Until I do get it fixed, I won't be able to receive Skype calls (which I've been getting a lot of lately, but always when I'm not at home). You'll have to start calling my house phone again, folks. I'll let you know when I'm back on Skype, though.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Latest news

I've spent a lot of time trying to catch up talking about my trip, but I haven't told anything that has happened in Shiyan recently. Since I came back, things seem to have been fairly slow and yet I feel like I am consistently doing something. We were expecting to have 10 foreign teachers in town this year, but due to problems at a new school two hours from here we have an additional 2 teachers teaching at a middle school here in town. So now we're up to 12. Two more teachers in Xiangfan are having trouble with their contracts because of a health exam so there's a possibility they'll be moving here in the next week or two. Then we'll just be bursting at the seams with foreigners!

The past few Sundays have been pretty good. We've spent a lot of time talking about grace and love because of some personal struggles that have come out recently. My mind has really been occupied lately with how I can best help the Chinese here. It's kept me up at night a few times. Sometimes I feel so unqualified to be teaching anything here because sometimes I just don't feel like I can relate enough to their culture and present situation. But then I remember that I don't really matter, I'm only a medium through which the Father works. Then my mind feels more at ease. At least until I start worrying about it again. It's motivated me to work on my Chinese, though.

The weather here turned cool rather quickly this year. The first week was hot and muggy, but then it turned cooler and it has been fairly clear most of the time. The last two or three days were cloudy and rainy, but today is sunny and warm. Almost too warm after the last week and a half of cool! Tonight there are some new folks coming into town from Danjiangkou. It's the first year that we've had teachers in that city, which is in the same county as us. It's actually smaller than Shiyan so they'll be coming here to find the good shopping and to go to McDonalds. It's weird since we're usually the ones traveling 7 hours to Wuhan for shopping and food. It will be good to have people in two cities that are within 2 and a half hours of us instead of nothing closer than 6-8 hours. Good opportunities to get out of town for one day or one afternoon or whatever.

I was assigned my classes for this term and I'm teaching on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I don't know how I pulled that off, but I have two days of no class. That's amazing! I've already filled up most of my nights with class or Studies with students, so now I'm looking for things to fill up my afternoons and mornings. Last year I was able to study Chinese with a lady in our Foreign Affairs Office, but this year her boss won't let her teach me unless I pay her and we hold our lessons after office hours. She would rather teach me for free in the mornings but he insists that I pay her. I'm never free after office hours except on the weekends so I'm not too keen on the idea. I guess I'll have to rely on students to help me study. Helen was such a good teacher, too. As the Chinese are fond of saying, "What a pity!"

If you didn't read my previous posts, I have a new Skype number that you can use to call me from America. It's a 615 area code number and it will just call my computer. As long as I'm around to hear my computer ringing, I should answer. You might need to call twice to give me time to answer. There's also a new way for me to call the States for 5 cents a minute, compared to the 35 cents a minute it used to cost for me to call from here. And I can use my cell phone instead of going to a special phone station. So drop me your number or just call my new number, which is (615) 653-4595. So far only Greg, my mom, and Jennifer have called me. The rest of you are all bums! By the way, I said the first one to call gets a prize. Greg was the first one to call me but my mom called as I was going to answer Greg's call and I had to make a spot decision and I ended up taking her call first. Next time I see Greg I guess he'll get the mystery prize since he was the first to actually dial the number. Now I just have to figure out what the prize is. Any requests, Greg?

The Silk Road, Part 2 - Kashgar

Sorry for the delay, we've been settling in for the last week. I believe that last time I left off with our arrival in Kashgar. Now, 6 of the last 7 nights had been spent on an airplane, bus, or train. Four of the last 7 nights had been spent sitting in a seat. Thank you Nancy in Xi'an and Chinese sleeper buses. We arrived in Kashgar and my watch said 7:30. Since all of China is in one time zone instead of 3 or 4, then it can be really confusing to be a couple thousand miles west of Beijing and still be on Beijing time. Because of this difference in longitude, they have two times in Xinjiang, oddly enough called Beijing time and Xinjiang time. Xinjiang time is two hours behind Beijing, so my watch said 7:30 but the locals were thinking 5:30. The sun wasn't up yet and there was absolutely no one out in the streets yet. Angelyn and I got a taxi to a hotel mentioned in our Lonely Planet guidebook (couldn't travel without it!) and secured lodging for one night. I don't know how, but we ended up with zero pictures of this place. It's a big place that has everything from cheap dorm style rooms to fancy rooms in the old Russian embassy that makes up the back part of the complex. The wall behind the reception desk was worthy of a picture in and of itself, but I guess we were too tired to dig out the cameras. Anyhoo, we cleaned ourselves up a bit and set out to explore the city. When we started walking a lot of the street vendors were just beginning to sell breakfast so we began experimenting with the bread they sell. Let me tell you, Muslim bread is usually covered in sesame (at least in this part of the world) and that just makes for awesome bread. The following are pictures from around the city.

It was good to see that the government was trying to stamp out poor driving.

The first half of the city that we walked through was just a typical Chinese city. We were a little disappointed. Then we came to People's Park. Every single town in China has a park named People's Park. The park in Kashgar has these wonderful tree-lined paths. The park seemed to go on forever. We made a mental note that this would be a great place to play Cops and Robbers sometime, if only we didn't live so far away.

We came out the far side of the park and were greeted by this sight as we passed over a bridge. That's the Old City of Kashgar, which definitely has more of the traditional desert/Muslim culture feel to it.

One of the first places we sought out when we reached the older part of town was the Bazaar. Kashgar is supposed to have an amazing Sunday Market that knocks most people speechless. We weren't there on a Sunday so didn't get to experience it. It's supposed to spill into the streets for blocks and blocks in every direction. We did get to experience the Sunday bazaar in Hotan, but that comes later.

The architecture in the Old City is definitely not traditional Chinese. It was great seeing something so different. If you're having trouble reading the signs it's because Arabic reads right to left. Try it that way.

The buildings went from mostly shops to mostly residences. The traffic practically disappeared and we were able to just stroll down some side streets and soak in the sights.

Most towns we went to had a new Chinese City and an Old City that was usually centered around a mosque. We knew that we were coming out on the street with Kashgar's big mosque, so here's the picture we took of it.

See the man in the red hat taking a picture of something off to the right? It turns out he was taking a picture of the mosque while we were taking a picture of the mall next to the mosque. Here's the actual mosque.

Here's a nice camel sitting outside the mosque. Their humps were a lot floppier than I expected. I guess they're filled with fat so what should I have expected?

After we walked around we found a place to eat lunch at had some nice kebabs. There are five different kinds of kebabs and I'm pretty sure one of them is sheep heart or kidney. The other four are really good, though. Meat and bread are 90% of the diet here, so most Americans would love it.

Two of the things we had in mind to do in Kashgar were to take a trip to Karakul Lake and to take a trip into the Taklamakan desert. We spent the afternoon scouting out travel agents who could help us arrange a trip. In the process we met a German student named Fabian. He had been studying in Shanghai and was taking a grand tour around China before returning home. We teamed up to split the cost of a trip to Karakul Lake and planned to leave the next morning at 6, local time, 8 Beijing time. And that is where I shall pick up next time. I'll leave with a teaser photo to pique your interest.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A note about Skype

If you use a computer to call me you can at least see if I'm online, which means my computer is on, even if I'm not around. If you call it's just hit or miss and you really don't know why you missed me. But we can always make an appointment! Just wanted to say that.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

My new phone number

Well, after being behind the ages for awhile I finally got a SkypeIn number. If you're wondering, Skype is a computer program that lets you call from computer to computer for free, and the quality is like you're just using the phone. Now you can pay $5 a month and get a phone number so people can call from their phone to your computer, or you can even call from your computer to their phone. But that last one costs more so I'm sticking with people calling my computer. Anyhoo, if you're reading this, you know me, and you know the rules about talking to me on the phone or in email while I'm in China, then feel free to call 615-653-4595. It's a Nashville number (or middle TN at least) but it will actually call my computer. If I answer but you don't hear anything it's because I'm pulling my microphone headset out of the desk drawer, so please be patient while I plug it in. If I don't answer and you get voicemail, I'm either not at home, my computer volume is turned down so I didn't hear it ringing, or you called in the middle of the night and I'm asleep. I'm exactly 12 hours ahead of New York City right now, so just switch the AM and PM to figure out what time it is here. Now all of you who never got around to buying one of those international calling cards can just call me like I'm in the States. Yay! First one to call gets a prize, so I'll be here waiting.

Monday, September 03, 2007

An experiment in video

I'm hoping that my internet will cooperate and I'll be able to upload some videos and put them on here to enhance my blog stories. This one isn't too exciting but it fits in with the part of the trip I've already told about. This video was taken at some point on the second day of the 34 hour train from Xi'an to Urumqi. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Silk Road, Part 1 - Nashville to Kashgar

Well, after a few days of not being able to connect to the Blogger website I'm finally back. I'll be telling about my trip in parts so as not to overwhelm you with a twelve mile long blog entry. This is what I did for a lot of the time just before leaving for China... played Nintendo. It was fun, but I never did beat Zelda. HOWEVER, it turns out that James, one of the guys at my school this year, has a Wii. So I'll get a chance to finish without having to wait a year. I'm not sure if that's good or not. I might end up wasting way too much of my time. Good thing it's in another apartment. Moving on. I told some of this already, but it won't hurt you to read it again with pictures. Angelyn and I had planned to come back to China early this year so that we could explore the western end of China. It's home to the ancient Silk Road that led from China to India, Persia, and even to the Mediterranean. The events that follow are perhaps one of the events in my time in China that truly qualify as a full adventure.

I left Nashville on August 7, met Angelyn in Los Angeles, and we set off to China via Hong Kong and Xi'an. We landed in Xi'an the morning of August 9 and made our way to Nancy's apartment. Nancy is a lady who has been in China for 9 years and she always opens her apartment to visitors when they come to town. It was great to be back after 6 weeks and we were both excited to be on our way to the Xinjiang region of China. Our first day in Xi'an we walked around town a bit to wake ourselves up and try to get over jetlag. Nancy lives just down the street from the Big Goose Pagoda. (Side note: I took my mom here when she came to visit a few years ago and we saw a guy getting beat up with a 2x4. I knew you wanted to know that.)

Nancy had been gracious enough to arrange our train tickets from Xi'an to Urumqi, but due to the crowd there were no beds left on the train, only seats. Seats are better than standing tickets, though. So on August 10, after one night to recover from jetlag (Note: this is not enough) Angelyn and I set off on a 34 hour train to Urumqi. Our hard seat tickets lived up to their name quickly. Since our train left at almost 10pm, 34 hours on the train encompassed two nights. So for the next two nights we slept sitting up. Yay!

The people were quiet enough at night, but it still wasn't comfortable unless you were a tiny Chinese person who could curl up on the floor or in the lap of the person next to you. However, I'm a huge non-Chinese person who can't do either of these.

I did manage to claim the window seat on the second night and use the edge of the table to sleep on. If you ever fly back to China early so you can travel to Xinjiang before school starts, either fly all the way to Xinjiang, get a bed on the train, or allow more time to recover from your flight. Take it from me. The second day on the train we passed the town of Jiayuguan in Gansu province and saw this sight.

This is the westernmost fortification on the Great Wall. Considering that we're a long stinkin' way from where the wall starts on the east coast, that's pretty impressive. So on August 12, at 7:30 in the morning, we finally got off that cursed train and found ourselves in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. I should tell you that more than 90% of China's population is of the Han ethnicity, but Xinjiang is mainly populated by Uighur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, and other ethnicities from Central Asia. From this point on, all signs were in Chinese and Arabic because all of these languages use the Arabic alphabet.

We have a friend in Shiyan named Orange. She changed her name to Emily last year since everyone teases her about being named Orange, but we all still call her Orange. This is her. She's from Urumqi. She was in Shiyan working at an internship, but we were going to her hometown so she arranged for us to meet up with her mom. Since we were arriving on a Sunday morning, we caught a taxi and went to the local Chinese Church. Most big cities in China actually have a registered church with a big building and everything. It was kind of weird meeting Orange's mom because she doesn't speak English and, for some reason that I still don't understand, Orange exaggerated my Chinese speaking ability in telling her mom that I speak fluent Chinese. So her mom starts talking to us, we're super tired and jetlagged, not to mention the fact that we just spent two nights on a train without showers or anything. At this point I couldn't remember half of my Chinese so we basically just kind of smiled and nodded a lot. Her mom had gotten us our train tickets to Kashgar. The train was scheduled to leave at noon so we really only had about 4 hours off of the train. We stayed for a while at church and then Orange's mom escorted us to the bus stop so we could go back to the station. We got to the station, bought some snacks for the train, which was scheduled to be 23 hours, ate some noodles for lunch, and made our way to the station entrance. At the entrance there was a mob of people pushing to get in the station, but they were being turned away by two ladies with megaphones. I can generally understand people when they speak clearly and slowly here, but there's no way I could understand something being yelled into a bullhorn. I kept hearing our train number being called so I thought that either there's something wrong with our train or they're only letting people on our train into the station to avoid overcrowding. The lady at the door would only wave me away, she wouldn't stop to answer any questions. I still couldn't understand what she was saying into the megaphone. I walked around the corner and showed my ticket to a guard and he finally told me that this train wasn't leaving today, and then he pointed me towards the ticket office. It was a tad bit crowded. Just a tad. Usually the ticket office in a train station is crowded in China, but this time the entire room was one solid mass of people because the crowd of people trying to buy tickets was enlarged by the crowd of people trying to return tickets. If you squint, you might be able to tell that the big marquee on the wall says that all train heading towards Kashgar are canceled due to weather. Since we were on the edge of the desert, I figured maybe there was a sandstorm. Turns out it was a bad rainstorm. Weird, huh? So now there we were, jetlagged, no train, no place to stay, no desire or energy to act. Obviously Angelyn was enjoying the situation more than I was. At this point my phone's battery died so Angelyn messaged Orange to let her know the situation. She then messaged her mom, who said we should come back to the church and meet her. So we did that, then she went back to the station with us to help return the train tickets. Angelyn sat outside with our bags while Li Xinhua and I stood in line for three long hours. I'm pretty sure I fell asleep standing up a few times. After all was said and done, we returned the tickets and managed to get bus tickets instead. The benefit was that instead of another long train ride with only a seat, we now had a 22 hour bus ride with beds. Yay, beds! Glory, glory, hallelujah! We set off on that bus at 5pm. We were leaving 5 hours later than originally planned, but we now had beds, plus I was in the first bed as you got on the bus so I was able to stick my long legs over the edge. If you're wondering what the side effects are from a 34 hour train ride with no bed, take a look at my swollen ankles. Yeesh!

So we set off happily with our pillows and blankets tucked around us. It was still August 12. About 3 hours into the trip the driver pulled over and a few men jumped off the bus to answer the call of nature. Since I'd had entirely too much tea with dinner just before getting on the bus, I jumped off with them. The storm that had cancelled the trains was apparently aproaching because when I got off I was hit with a gust of wind that blew my shoe down the road. I chased it down and came back to the bus to find that everyone else was back on the bus and the driver was honking for me to get on. That tea was going to wait for the next rest stop, so I was a little while longer before getting on the bus. I guess it was too long for the driver. Since the honking didn't get me back on the bus he started driving away slowly. Angelyn had seen me going after my shoe and then couldn't see me anymore so she though I had blown away and that the driver was leaving me. She was relieved when I finally got back on the bus. We stopped again at 10 at a place where we could eat, use the bathroom, and stretch our legs. At this point it's extremely windy, raining slightly, and feels very very cold. I was perplexed. I thought we were going into the desert? We got back on the bus and went back to sleep, taking full advantage of the beds to get over our jetlag. Well, the next morning we woke up and we were still at the same place. What in the world?!? When the clock said 9:50 we got back on the road. We later saw that parts of the road had been covered in water during the night, plus there had been a rockslide blocking one area, so we had just spent 12 hours at the same rest stop. On August 13 we stopped in the middle of no where twice, once for lunch and once to get gas.

Our 22 hour bus ride turned into a 39 hour bus ride. All we could think was "I'm so glad to have a bed." I think the bed made it all okay. The guys beneath us did annoy me by lighting up a new cigarette every 10 minutes. And for breakfast one guy packed some tobacco into the top of an apple, where the stem comes out. Then he rolled up a stiff piece of paper, stuck into the side of the apple, and proceeded to the smoke the apple like a pipe. Never seen that before, and don't know if I should expect to ever see it again. I tried to get a picture but it's extremely blurry because the bus was bouncing. The apple is in the right hand of the man in the red shirt. You can see the long white roll of paper sticking out of it.

We got to Kashgar at 7:3oam on August 14. By this time we had spent four nights in a row on trains and buses and were very ready to shower. Out of the 192 hours since we had left America, we had spent 150 of those on a plane, train, or bus. That's how we got to Kashgar. Considering it's taken me a couple of hours to write all of this and get the pictures to upload, and also considering that I've got to be somewhere across town in 30 minutes, I'm going to end here for now. Two more entries should cover the rest of the trip, I think. I hope you enjoyed the first installment. Tell your friends!