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!