Friday, September 28, 2007

Back from my Central Asia Silk Road trek! I kept a really detailed journal during my trip, so I plan to retype a good deal of that onto here. This may take me a few days to do, although I will be abridging a bit. So, pretend you're reading the entries in real time, because I won't be changing any tenses. I think I've figured out how to back date them, so hopefully they'll appear the way they would have if I had time to spend at wang ba's all up and down the Road. I wont know if it works, since China wont let me look at my own blog, but I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Enjoy, and keep me posted on your lives!


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hard Words: Australia, Track and Field, Handsome.

Xiahe Day 3

7:30 Breakfast
8-11:30 Teaching English at a Middle School
12-2 Lunch
2-6 Bus, boo
6:30-8 Free time
8-9 Huanghe Visit
9:50 Train

We had to wake up pretty early for breakfast because we had to make sure we made it to the middle school on time. I still regret not getting up just a bit earlier to circumambulate the monastery with the pilgrims. So far this trip, that's my biggest regret.

For the first 45 minutes of class (8:10-8:55) we observed a Tibetan middle school's English class being taught. The teacher's accent was horrible, and at times the words were really wrong. It was also obvious that the kids really didn't understand much of what was going on, despite their frequent affirmative responses. It was fairly frustrating.

After a short break, we took over class (from 9:15-10). Our theme was Olympic sports and countries. I started out by taking several minutes to teach them some major countries and what to call people from those countries (which is significantly more difficult than just saying 中国人, think about it). Then the boys taught them some sports vocabulary (track and field was particularly hard to say) and after we attempted to play charades with the vocab. This went as well as could be expected, considering that Chinese classrooms are never interactive and the kids didn't know what to expect (plus charades is a hard game to explain if you don't really speak Chinese and your students don't really speak English - or Chinese. I really don't speak Tibetan, at all). For the last portion of class we broke into three small groups and just tried to chat with them. That's when we realized just how bad their English really was (despite their supposedly high level). We eventually had to give up on English and resort to Chinese conversation and showing them pictures and songs on Sean's computer. They loved it.

At the end of class the kids kept asking us to come to recess and play basketball with them. It took us a few times, but we finally agreed to 5 minutes (b/c we didn't know if we could stay). However, when word leaked out to the rest of the groups about what we were doing they joined us on the playground for about a half hour. The boys played basketball, and the girls had to join the Tibetan girls in a circle game that was similar to hot potato, but without the challenge. One person would skip around the circle singing a song that went something like "找,找,找朋友, something something " and then when we got to a certain part of the rhyme they stopped, turned to whoever they were in front f, shook their hand and said "你是我的好朋友, 再见!” When you said zaijian, they waved goodbye and that person became the new skipper. Basically the most boring game ever. I'm too competitive for it.

After the Zhao Peng You game the girls taught us a dragon game (I missed the full name of it - just caught dragon). Everyone lines up conga style and grabs the shirt of the person in front of them. These people are the dragon. There is one person who is it who is trying to catch the tail of the dragon, but the dragon tail avoids them while the dragonhead tries to catch them. It's like crack the whip - sorta. It was really fun though - a massive improvement on Zhao Peng You.

Then we tried to teach them some American games. Duck duck goose went pretty well, although it was exhausting - I'm clearly incredibly out of shape (and a favorite goose). Freeze tag did not go so well. That game is much harder to explain than one would expect. A few of them got it well enough in the end though. Playing with the kids was really fun and rewarding. I hope they continue to play the games we taught them.

We met up with B2 for lunch at the same place we went to the day before. It was so bad, though! Incredibly disappointing, considering how amazing that apple soup was.

Following lunch we embarked on a lovely 4-hour bus ride. It was relatively uneventful and uncomfortable.

When we arrived back in Lanzhou, Terra, Taylor, Reggie, Van and I went out for dinner. The boys got the beef noodles that Lanzhou is apparently so famous for (our tour guide Kiki/Candy is OBSESSED with food!) and we went with my old favorite: maladofu. After dinner we went on a quest for moon cake, since it was the mid autumn festival that day.

Got on the train around 9:30 after visiting the yellow river and this statue of a "graceful lady and a lovely lovely boy" that "represents China's relationship with the River." Note: Terra crowd-surfed in a bush here.

The train was more horrid than usual - I had a top bunk and discovered that I'm pretty badly claustrophobic, since I just freaked out and hyperventilated every time I woke up. Actually, I shouldn’t think about claustrophobia, because I can’t spell it, and I'm on the train now, and I'm starting to get pretty panicky just writing about it.


Monday, September 24, 2007

So we like jumping on giant mushrooms...what are ya gonna do about it?

Xiahe Day 2

8am Breakfast
9-12 Grasslands
12-1:45 Lunch
2-3:30 Free Time
3:30-5 Burial/Cremation Visit/Hike
5 -> Free Time

The grasslands hike was absolutely beautiful. I took soooo many pictures. All the hills were covered in wildflowers, mostly these wicked pretty blue ones, although purple ones appeared near the top. It was pretty difficult to climb, mostly because of the altitude, but it as most definitely worth it.

At the top of the first ridge we climbed was a Tibetan prayer flag set. Each of the flags represents a different family. On the next ridge there was a set of huge arrows. Our tour guide did explain the arrows to us, although I didn't really underestand much except that during some holiday Tibetan men carry arrows up the mountain and drive them in while for 15 days the women can only eat one meal per day before sunrise.

The grasslands hike ranks as one of my favorite activities on the trip (along with tianshan and the camels). It was just so so so beautiful. There aren't really that many words besides breathtaking (which also applies quite literally, altitude makes things so much more fun - the oxygen pillows came out today).

For lunch I had the most delicious soup. It was mostly apple and really sweet, but it also had ginger, carrots and cucumber. Mental note: figure out how to make apple soup.

During our free time, most people took naps but I wasn't tired, so while yla slept I watched Chinese soap operas with subtitles (in characters of course) and no sound. But then, randomly, Kyla woke up, walked over to the TV, UNPLUGED it, and pluged in her cell phone. When I ave her a what-the-hell-was-that?! look, she just looked at me and said "I need to charge my phone" and went back to sleep. So I, clearly offended, decided it was probably time to go for a walk instead. I waslked about a mil up and down the street checkin stuff out. It was really hot, but nice to get out and move.

At 3:30 we met our grasslands uide again to walk up to a place where Buddhists are cremated. It was really sad. I can't imagine having my final resting place being in such a dismal lace. It wasn't particularly pretty, especilly for the are, and there was a ton of trash/litter all over the place. We also walked past a freshly burned area where our guide told us that some babies had been burned that morning. There was a skull in the pile of ashes, it was so sad. The only encouraging thing was a trail of white prayer flags leading from the site to the top of the mountain to help lead the souls to heaven.

A lo more encouraging form of burial that we learned about is called sky burial. In sky burial they pack the body under clay for 3 days. Then they break it out and cover it with ghee (yak butter), chop it into several pieces and take it to the top of the mountain. At the top they burn wood and incense for the protective smoke I talked about earlier, and then leave the body, after which eagles and hawks eat the body and in dowin so carry the soul to heaven. Besides the chopping part, I find this to be a bit alluring and very romantic.

After visiting the cremation site, a couple of us decided to climb up the neighboring ridge and we afforded a georgous panorama of the city and monastary. Labulengsi is huge! Terra and I found a small cairn on an outcropping, so we added to it - it felt appropriate.

Wen we got back everyone went on a mass shopping spree, followed by dinner on your own. I got several souveniers for people. I also got monk boots. How many people do you know that can say they have boots made for them by a tibetan monk? They look pretty ridiculous, but they're incredibly comfortable, and they have that sweet back story.

For dinner we went out for western food at this place called the Everest Cafe. My dinner was fine (and super tasty - I miss sandwiches like you wouldn't believe), but Savanah got yogurt with hair (copious amounts!) in it twice! When we complained, they informed us that it was yak hair (in yak ogurt) and therefor nothing to worry about. I can't really put into words how or why this was funny, but I haven't laughed that hard in a while.

Afterwards everyone was oing to this "bar with performances" that the tour guides reccomended to us. We were supposed to leave at 8:30, so my dinner group made it just in time. It was only just across the street, thought. The bar pretty much blew. The performances included traditional Tibetan singing, which was more painful than impresive, and Kevin had his toenail ripped off, which was vile. We had to wake up early anyways, so I left fairly soon.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Labulengsi and Yaks Galore

[[note: blogger is having pictures issues - the rest from this entry will be up soon]]

9:30 am Get off the train
12:30 pm Arrive in Linxia for Lunch
4:00 pm Tour Labrang Monastary
8:00 pm Buddhist Talk

Got off the train and onto the bus. Our tour guide IS Candy (in a few years) - it's absolutely uncanny.

We had lunch in the Hui Muslim capital of Linxia, at a restaurant called the Red Garden. We had a spectacular peppered onion and carrot dish. I also ate lilly root for the first time - not bad.

We finally pulled into Xiahe around 4. Something I should have mentioned earlier is that everything here - from Linxia to Xiahe is gloriously green and mountainous. The mountains themselves are covered with rice paddies and goats. For this reason alone, Xiahe is my favorite spot so far. It really is just absolute beauty as far as the eye can see.

We toured the Labrang Monastary for the afternoon (Yellow hat sect). We weren't allowed to take pictures indoors, so I'll have to see if I'm able to find some postcards because it really was quite incredible. Everything was amazing. Every inch of the interior of every building was absolutely covered in teh most colorful artwork imaginable. We first ent into a chanting hall. It had rows of carpets for the monks to sit and chant on. It also had statues of several Buddhas, including the living Buddha who founded the monastary, Siddhartha, the Buddha of Wisdom, etc. There were even a few statues made out of yak butter, to represent transience. They were incredibly detailed. And made of butter. Just think about it. I'll post pictures down below - by the new years statue paragraph. Connected to the chanting hall was a stupa room. It contained the remains of all the living BUddhas of the monastary, as well as some of the favored teachers.

Next we went into a hall that was filled with monks chanting. I think our guide said it was part of the medicinal college. Labrang monastary has served as a university (with several colleges) for thousands of years. The chanting monks were all wearing ornate headresses. In the back was a room containing a huge Buddha statue (the medicine buddha), some pictures of living buddhas associated with he field, and some medicinal mandalas (as well as the typical artwork and silks everywhere).

Next we went into a building containing another giant buddha, although no chanting hall. From the outside you would never expect that these buildings contained such beautiful, colorful and intricate art. This buddha was the buddha fo knowledge, and we were informed that students seek inspiration from him when they're having difficulty studying.

Next stop - a room filled with yak butter statues from each new year. They were in various stages of melting. Apparently a new one is made for each new year celebration. These statues are so intricate, you would never believe that they were made of butter! This picture is of BUTTER. It blows my mind. Luckily, we were allowed to take pictures there, so I can share this phenomenon with you.

We made a quick jaunt through a small museum and then went to watch the students have a "debate." This involved a group of students asking one or two others questions about sutras etc. If they got it right they would clap in their faces, wrong and then would smack them on the head. I have pictures and video.

Our last stop at Labulengsi was the home of a monk, where a former monk who used to live there and speaks English spoke to us about monk daily life. He also spoke about how he left the monastary for what he thought was love and then had his heart broken and now he eternally regrets leaving since he can never go back. It was really sad.

At 6:30 we headed off to a Tibetan home for dinner. The layout was much the same as the monks. They have a stupa in the courtyard where they burn wood each morning because they believe that the resulting smoke with protect inhabiting spirits.

If I wasn't aquainted with yak before this visit, I am now. On the dinner menu: Fresh bread and yak butter, yak milk tea, yak buttermilk tea (totally different), beef noodle soup (what?), yak meat dumplings, yak yoghurt, and this amazing stuff called somba. Somba is about 2 tbs. yak milk tea, a dollop of yak butter, 2 tbs barley flour, 1 tbs crunchy stuff [[I thought it was millet, but was informed later that it was yak cheese]], and a tsp. of sugar. You then knead this mixture with your fingers in a small bowl and eat the dough it produces. I really liked this dish, although the majority of our group did not.

After dinner we checked into our hotel which is amazing. It's like a glorified garage, and it's just so colorful! There's even art on the ceilings! I'll post some pictures but they will not do it justice. When we first checked in they draped white silk over our shoulders in the traditional form of Tibetan greeting (very similar to being leid in Hawaii, but with textiles and Tibetans). This happened to me several times in Xiahe.

From 8-9:15 we had a research expert give us a talk on Tibetan Buddhism. It was really quite facinating. Among the interesting things I learned: 1. Population growth can be explained by the fluctuation of the distribution of spirits throughout the different realms (spirit, half spirit, human, animal, demon, hell). Population is up because there have been good things, so spirits are being reincarnated as peple. 2. Mahayana looks down on Hinayana because they are individual and not group focused, and Hinayana doesn't accept Mahaana because they added more scriptures to what the Buddha originall offered.

I'm going to wake up at 7 tomorrow for my first hot shower in about 5 days, and a promised "western breakfast." I'll let you know if there's spam.

I love beautiful Xiahe!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Of Camels and Cotton


Dunhuang Day 1

10:40am Arrive
11:00am Hotel - Broken
12:00pm Lunch
1-5pm Mogao Grottos
5:30-9pm Camels
9-11pm Night Market
11-1am Hallway Chess

We got off the train at about 10:40 am. I hate riding on overnight trains. It's the most unpleasant experience ever. Hot, cramed, dirty, loud, smelly. It blows.

We got to the hotel around 11, and were told we had an hour to shower etc. (Important stuff, since no one had been able to shower since before climbing the sweaty flaming stairs of death). However, upon arriving at our rooms, we realized that about half of us had no water whatsoever, and those that did had freezing cold water only. These problems were not fixed unti 11:50, eliminating the nice shower possibility. Nothing spells relaxation like a 3 minute shower. In addition, our toilet was incapable of flusing and was backing up for no reason (we hadn't even used it). They kept telling us that this was normal for that toilet, and didn't fix it until midnight. Basically, the hotel was miserable, and I wouldn't reccomend it.

In the afternoon we went to the Mogao Grottos, a series of caves filled with Buddhist art and sculpture dating back to around year 0, athough most of the art was from the 14th century. It was all pretty spectacular. We weren't allowed to bring cameras in (they were incredibly strict about it) so I bought a pack of postcards. But you should google image this place. It's wicked cool.

Before they allowed us to tour the grottos, Ai Laoshi told us he had a "special treat" prepared. This turned out to be a 1 hour and 15 minute speech (in Chinese and translated by Ai) by the head of the research institute on the history and preservation of the grottos. This was at times interesting, but mostly excruciating, and if you looked around you could see that most of the students were sleeping.

After the grottos, we stopped at the hotel for a few seconds to change, and then went to the edge of the desert to ride camels. It was awesome! The dunes were just like in the movies. I'll post some pictures. We rode up to the top of one on our camels, and watched the sunset. At the top we paid to ride a slide part way down, which was expensive but pretty cool (although very sand intensive). Then we rode the camels back down adn over to an oasis called Moon Lake. It was dark by then, so most people didn't venture out to the lake, but Sean, Drue and I did. It wasn't really worth the trek, but walking barefoot in the desert sand was pretty incredible.

When we got back we went out to dinner (and I had the best ma la doufu ever) and then to the night market. The night market was the classiest market we've been to yet. I bought some apricot and xiangfei fruit. Xiangfei fruit is really sweet (I think it might actually be a flower), you just have to get past the fact that it's called xiangfei. We met up with Lila, Saskia, John, Kim and Dan in the Laduzi Market (which is what I've pet named the weird cafeteria/food stall area) and walked back with them. When we got back I complained about our toilet again, and while I waited for them to fix it a bunch of us hung out in the hallway and played Chinese chess - much to the amusement and excitement of every Chinese person who walked by. I think I might buy a set here and attempt to master the game. The pieces are much more fun than normal chess - there's a cannon that can only capture by jumping peices, and an elephant that is the only piece that can't cross the river because he's too fat (except for the pieces that can't leave the castle - they obviously can't cross the river either).


Dunhuang Day 2

11:30 Wake Up (so late!)
12:00 Checkout
12:30 Western Lunch
2-3 Wangba
3:30 naan and bus
4-5 cotton picking
5-6:30 Dinner/B2 anger
7:20 train
8-12 hearts

We were free till 3:30 in the afternoon, which everyone was pretty bitter about, since once again, B trip proves to be better. However, I somehow managed to sleep till 11:30, which is so late. Usually I like sleeping in, but this was extreme, especially for a trip that I should be awake for so I can experience everything.

After we checkout out of the hotel, a ton of us went out for a Western stye brunch. It was fabulous. I had 咖啡, 法试面包, and 面包跟米饭 - coffee, french toast, and toast with honey. 15 kuai worth of satisfaction.

After lunch, Terra, Savanah and I went to a wangba - internet bar. 2 kuai and hour seems to be the going rate throughout China. I was able to catch up on some email, which was wicked nice.

At 3:30 we went cotton picking. I'm not sure how they expected us to do that without overwhelming amounts of slavery jokes. The bus broke into a "swing low/follow the dipping gourd" medley on the way there. Our tour guide LOVED it. No one had the heart to explain American slavery and cotton picking to her.

Cotton picking was not as hard as I had expected. Don't get me wrong - it was backbreaking work and I can't imagine doing it all day, but it did not hurt to pick. I had expected prickles galore, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a very soft experience. I kept a handful of the cotton we picked, and I intend to research the process that goes into making cloth. I'd also ike to look up how many bags slaves in the states were required to pick, since I now have some perspective. It took us about 30-40 minutes to fill one in a team of three.

After cotton picking we met up with B2 for dinner and the rivary resumed. Then we rushed to the train station - time was pretty cramped and I've never eaten so much so fast in my life. I think that's what resulted in my horrific stomach cramps later that night which was more miserable than it should have been since I was on the stupid train. This train was a bit different than the other. All the bunks had much more headroom (although this didn't matter much to me, since I had a bottom bunk this time and lived like a queen), and the bathrooms were a bit nicer. It was still a fairly cramped and unpleasant experience though, and this train was really rocky. I learned how to play hearts on the train and had a wicked long game. It lasted like, 3 hours. I got second place, which I figure was fairly respectable, but I fully intend to beat my score (47) next time. I'm now addicted. [[note: a few days later I did beat this score, my best is now 10]].

Seafood restaurants in Central Asia make me nervous.

Just a quick hello from a wangba in Dunhuang...

I'm about halfway through my trip. It's pretty awesome. I'll be posting a ton of stuff when I get back - I'm keeping a pretty detailed journal.

Keep sending me emails! I miss everyone, and I do get internet now and again (even if I do have to fight world of warcrafting monks for it).


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Jackie Chan could hook you up with drugs..I mean, he might know people


Day Three in Urumqi (rhymes!)
7:25am Fuyuan knock
7:30am Breakfast
8-11am Driving
11-2pm Hike Flaming Mountain
2:30pm Lunch
4-7 Grape Valley Tours
8:30-9:30 Dinner
10:30 -> Train

Our wake up call was suppoed to be at 7, but it never came and we woke up to the fuyuan pounding on our door and yelling “吃饭下楼!” So we got ready in 5 minutes, literally. Thank goodness we showered the night before.

After breakfast we took a three hour bus ride out of the city to Turpan. Turns out that inflatable neck pillow was an excellent purchase. I felt a little ill after breakfast, so I spent that whole time sleeping.

We finally drove up to this really awesome sand dune town. If I were talented, I could replicate the entire thing on the beach. It even had giant statues of Buddhas and Chinese dragons. I'm really mad I didn't get a picture, but I was sleeping on the way in and bandaging on the way out.

Anyways, we pull up to the flaming mountain which is actually a gigantic sand dune with a rickity staircase leading to the top. I fondly christened this staircase the "flaming staircase of death." I'll post a picture that you can see it in. From the bottom this did not look intimidating. However, about a couple hundred incredibly steep steps in I was corrected. I was still feeling pretty nauseous from breakfast and I hadn't had anything to drink in the morning because I was sleeping/paranoid about having to pee on the bus ride, so I had to make a system where I stopped every 50 steps to stop myself from puking (and to catch my breath). It didn't help matters that it was about 90 degrees out.

Once we finally reached the top, however, it was pretty awesome. Despite my pathetic performance, I still was in the top five to reach the top. The view was incredible, and (like some of the boys pointed out) it really did look a lot like Tatooine (minus the whole two sun thing). I did manage to hurt myself immediately though. I tried to scramble onto this final ridge, but ony stepped onto the very edge, so the sand crumbled beneath me and I scraped up my shins pretty badly. Here's a picture of me I'd like to call victorious death. Notice the lovely sunburn, despite extreme sunscreen reapplication.

At the top of the dune we climbed you looked out at a parallel dune that was covered in all sorts of messages and phone numbers in both Chinese and Arabic. They were huge messages - the letters were at least 10 feet high, if not drastically higher. So, of course we had to write A2 (our group's name) in the dune so the other group would see it once they reached the top later on. A handful of us (the first few to reach the top) wen't over to do it. Obviously we also realized we had to write some smack about B2 (the other group) which Drue suggested that we write on the dune we had originally climbed so they would see it only as the went to write B2 on the writing dune or desecrate our A2. This is confusing - so there is an illustration in my journal - but I don't know how to draw on the internet. I'll post a picture of the dune with all the writing. It's kind of hard to see, so I tried to mess with the contrast a lot. Hopefully you'll get the idea. For scale, there are two little people over there carving A2 into the dune.

After the flaming mountains we went to lunch, and then took a tour of the Grape Valley. First we stopped at Amanti's house. Amanti was like the Robin Hood of the Uyghers. Here's the story of Amanti: A man walks by a restaurant and smells the food, then tries to continue on, but the restaurant owner stops hims and demands that he pay regardless because he smelled the food. Frustration ensues. Amanti then comes up and shakes his monkey bag saying "I will pay for this man." The restaurant owner agrees to this, but then Amanti starts to walk away. When the owner complains, Amanti shakes his bag again and says "you heard my money, therefore I have paid."

Next we went to a model Uygher village - no comment, I've seen the real thing.

Next was ancient Jiaohe. Jiaohe was a city that was huge in the 5th-8th century, and was eventually abandoned by the 14th century. The name means "where two rivers meet" and that's exactly where it is. It's on a raised plateau between two rivers, so when you look down from the edges of the cities, you look into lush green valleys (which seem so odd because it's such a deserty location). The houses were dug into the earth, cave/hobbit style. Military defense was a huge priority, and the fortifications were everywhere. However, because the city was built on a high plateau, there wasn't a conventional city wall, just gates over the stairs that cut tunnel like down to the regular ground. Each gate opened up into a foyer type area, so if the enemy broke in they would be jammed up in this foyer which was surrounded by archers. There was also a pretty impressively preserved Mahayana temple on the grounds. The central pillar was still standing, but most of the statues had eroded away.

Our last stop in Turpan was to learn about the irrigation system in the grape valley. They get the water from snow runoff from Tianshan. The flaming mountains make a natural dam for all of this underground water. The people discovered this by making a shaft well at the foot of the flaming mountains. They then conducted the water to the grape valley by digging a series of shaft wells and connecting them with underground aquaducts. It was immensly impressive.

Finally, we got on the overnight trian to Dunhuang. I had a middle bunk. The overnight train is absolutely not as glamorous as it seems. I hate overnight trains now. Even thinking about them makes me feel clausterphobic and freaked out. Ugh.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Goat Snatching, Girl Chasing, and the True Meaning of Whips

Day Two in Urumqi

9:30am Breakfast
11:45-5:30 Riding in Tianshan
7pm- Free Time

After breakfast (thank goodness, eggs and coffee again!) we drove out to Tianshan to visit the Kazakh People and ride horses. The drive was 30 km, and about 1 1/2 hours, so during that time our tour guide told us a bit about Kazakh horse riding traditions. Two in particular stood out:

Goat Snatching: Goat Snatching is like bacon, but on horseback with a headless, footless goat carcass.

Girl Chasing: Kazahk mating ritual, A guy asks a girl if he can ride with her. She cannot say no. They go riding side by side during which they can chat and he'll say things like "you're pretty" and "you should be my wife." He can also touch her hair or her clothing. At the end of the ride the girl can show her approval by swinging her whi in the air and gently tapping the boy, or her disapproval by actually whipping him. If she knocks off his hat during this whipping it's incredibly humiliating.

Getting off the bus at Tianshan commenced the most confusing and frustrating experience ever. Basically you had to get a whip which would then match you with a horse, but there were so many incredibly agressive whip givers and you didn't know which one you ought to be taking a whip from. When we finally all had whips from the correct people we were herded onto a concrete circle where they selected horses for us. I was last, and even though I told them I could ride, this man lept up behind me, uninvited. He was super crepy and would only let me have the reins after a fight. He also refused to get off nad said something like "this horse can only carry two, not one." I'd like to think the horse would beg to disagree. He would also confiscate the reins from me whenever we went over a walk. So the first horse ride was no fun, just cerepy and frustrating.

On the first ride we rode alongside a creek to get to a steep waterfall. To reach the waterfall we had to leave the horses and go over this insanely steep rainbow bridge. It was pretty cool, and my pictures don't do the steepness justics.

After the first ride we had lunch in a yurt. There was a really low table on a raised platform and we had to sit on carpets and cushions around it. We had to sit crosslegged because apparently it's quite rude and insulting to point your feet at anyone. [Interesting fact: it takes four hours to build a yurt, and two to take it down.]

For lunch we had this really good rice wtih carrots in it, a couple veggie dishes, and of course, chuanr. We also had Kazakh salted milk tea. They like it salted because it's so sunny and hot and the salt helps them retain water for their long horse rides.

After lunch we went on another ride. This time I demanded to ride solo, and it was so much fun. We didn't use a train for the seconde ride, instead we went through the grasslandsa nd up the mountains through all these pine trees. My horse was really good and we spent a lot of time running. We climbed all the way to the top of a peak and had an absolutely gorgeous view of a valley. But then it turns out that a few of the horses weren't cooperating and they made us go back after 45 minutes of a supposed 2 hour trip. This caused quite a rumble later on when the laoshi refused to pay full price (since we didn't get the full time) and there was a bit of a mob scene. All was well though and we headed on back to the hotel.

We went to the Bazaar, which was a classed up version of the Market in Kashgar, although it had some minarets and towers that were really pretty at night. They were selling all the same handicrafts though.

Then we went to the night market which apparently Urumqi is known for. It was kind of like the silk market in Beijing in terms of merchandise. It was a lot of outdoor stalls. There were also hundreds upon hundreds of pomegranates and pomegranate juicers (mideval torture devices). It was a good night and cabs are cheap.

Tomorrow I have to be up at 7 (Urumqi time: 5) to drive out to Turpan and hike the flaming mountains. We're also meeting up with B2 tomorrow.


p.s. went to carrefour and got LIP BALM (yay!) and sunscreen )although I had to ask for men's because everything has skin BLEACH in it which just sounds horrifying).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I'm not a married man, I don't know why there is blood on the sheets.


Free Time in the Morning
2pm Cultural Exchange
4pm Idkah Mosque
6pm Bike Kashgar
8pm Dinner
11pm Plane

During my AM freetime I slept, tried to go to an internet bar (and failed) and went out to hot pot for lunch. The hot pot was a lot of fun, although literally quite hot, and I think it may have made me a bit ill (I haven't been able to even think about mushrooms since).

Around 2 we checked out of our hotel and went to the People's Square for a "cultural exchange" with some students from Kashar Teacher's University. We basically had to make small talk for an hour. It was a bit awkward, but it could have been much worse. We split into groups of 4 Americans and 4 Kashgar students. We did most of the talking and then on the way out this girl who didn't really speak at all attached herself to me (in a creepy way) and kept pressuring me to call her and hang out whie I was in Kashgar and to continue calling/writing after. But she doesn't speak! English or Chinese! It was pretty weird. But otherwise our talk went fine, and Kashgar students are like students anywhere, except for the misconception (that everyone in China has) that we all have guns in the US. They also refused to talk about marriage or dating (it was too scandalous at such a young, 20-26, age).

After that we went to the Idkah Mosque. It's apparently the biggest Mosque in China. At first I found that hard to believe since I was envisioning it as an indoor facility, and the building was quite small, but once I realized it was an outdoor mosque things became much more believable. The place had a lot of pretty foilage and the buildings were painted pretty colors or were covered in centuries old mosaic artwork. Aside from the holiest prayer room, the rest of the prayer areas had at least one open wall, or just a lean-to like ceiling. There were also a bunch of pools on the property where, in ancient times, people would gather to wash themselves before prayer. Now one is just a fenced in pool and the other is filled with flowers. The front entranceway is a brilliant yellow and has a minaret on either side.

After our visit to Idkah (which, by the way, means festival - "id" and square - "kah", there was a huge open square outside the mosque) we went to a bike rental place to pick up some bikes. Once everyone was fitted for a rental, we too to the road and biked the outskirts of town. It was really interesting how quicky the area became rural. Literally a five minute bike ride out of downtown we were surrounded by farms and tons of little stucco-looking neighborhoods. It was like old town but on a country scale. I tried to take some pictures while biking, but I don't think I did a very good job at capturing the feeling of the area.

There were these streams with intricate dam systems that ran alongside the roads (sorta paved) and then each house had it's own drawbridge over them to get inside. Some homes had dams that would divert the streams to work as crop irrigation. I saw some kids swimming in one and a woman getting water from another. I thought those dam systems were so clever.

After biking we went out for diner. Because it was our last night in Kashgar, our tour guide ordered the area specialty, an entire lamb. I'm not quite sure how it's cooked, but it's served whole and then hacked up in front of you. The whole thing was pretty nauseating, but the meat eaters seemed to really enjoy it (though not quite on the chuanr level).

Next, the airport. At the airport I used the worst bathroom I have used yet in China, which is saying something, because I have used both trough and no door hole. This one had such a horrific stench - and there were fies - and - oh my God, I feel like I still smell like it. It was so dirty.

After a few games of tag and MASH, our plane finally landed around 2am and we were told we had to be up at 7:30am. Ugh.

Day One in Urumqi

8am Breakfast
9am Cultural Exchange Dance Lessons
11am Visit music museum at the school
1pm Lunch
3pm Museum
Free Time

This morning the hotel treated us to a "western breakfast." This means: tons of bread, flat fanta, warm milk, horrible coffee, assorted jam, fried eggs, plenty plenty of spam, and cucumbers and tomato. It was quite the spread. The egg was good though, I forget how little protein I get here. I also forget how reliant I've become on caffeine.

The dancing cultural exchange took place at the Xinjiang Arts University. At first it was a bit intimidating. We went into this dance studio and about 20 girls demnstrated various types of traditional Uygher dance. It really reminded me a lot of Kuchipudi. Then we paired off and tried to learn the dances. I don't think I did too badly. After they taught us some moves, they asked us to teach them an American dance. Somehow I ended up leading the electric slide. From there we just launched into some general dancing and shared our favorite middle school dance moves. They were really interested in learning hip hop, which made Reggie's pop and lock ability really popular. On the whole, the dancing was fun.

After dancing we went to the school's music dept. to learn about Uygher insturments. There were a lot of guitar and cellos-like items.

Lunch was pretty much the usual fare, except for these corn fritters, those were pretty interesting. The boys also had make-your-own-chuanr, meat on a stick over an open flame is incredibly manly.

Then we went to a museum on Xinjiang history. There was a lot of really interesting stuff. The first exhibit had a section on each of Xinjiang's ethnic minorities (kind of like the native american museum in DC). The second exhibit was on prehistoric era Xinjiang through the Qing Dynasty. There was some interesting stuff on religion, and I learned about a new religion that I'll have to research. It was an early Christian sect. The final exhibit was on Xinjiang mummies. The desert is so dry that these 3800 year old mummies are perfectly preserved (hair, skin, everything) with no mummification process. It was really cool.

The rest of the day wasn't really thrilling. I did find a prostitute's wallet, and everyone (from the police to the prostitute) was overwhemlingly shocked that I returned it. (In case you were wondering, I assumed her profession based on appearance and the contents of the wallet: wads of hundred dollar bills and countless condoms).

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Day Two in Kashgar
8am Wakeup
9am Breakfast
10am-12pm Animal Market
12pm-4pm Bazaar
4pm-8pm Siesta
8pm- Dinner and a Show

We started today off at the livestock market. I didn't get as many pictures as I should have. It was so sad. There were so many cows and sheep and donkeys and horses and they all looked so incredibly unhappy. I even saw a cat on a leash. The horses seemed the happiest, albeit malnourished. I suppose that's to be expected - they were the only ones that wouldn't be eaten (probably). They would prance about and wore bells and headresses. The cows and sheep were just so melancholy.

The place was one giant dustbowl. It was so dusty that when we blew our noses it came out black. We started using tissues as masks. There were long rows of metal poles that went on for ages with animals attached to them. Taylor saved me from stepping in the mother of all cow pies, but the poo was pretty much unavoidable.

We were supposed to be speaking with the Uyghers there, asking them questions about what they were selling and etc. but none of them spoke Chinese and none of them were very friendly. Probably because they knew were weren't actually in the market to buy anything. We had to give up that assignment pretty quickly. One little boy even whipped Kang Laoshi's hand!

After the livestock market we went to the Bazaar. Its like the silk market, but outdoors (sorta) and on crack. I can't remember quite how big he said it was, but we walked around for 4 hours and barely saw 1/4 of it. It was absolutely crazy.

The first thing we did when we got off the bus was to try that merengue thing. It'sso sweet and think and wonderful. We were incredibly wrong about the cornbread part. It's like a yellow cake. So good.

First we went to a pashmina dealer. Next, a knife place. After thart we wandered a bit, ate some figs and naan (requisite) and marveled at all the things for sale and all the colors! You could get everything imaginable, and in every color, at this market.

We hopped back on the bus to drive back to the hotel for our afternoon nap. On our way the tour guide and I got off early and went to the post office so I could mail home the oriental rug I got for my mom. Thank goodness he took me, because Chinese post offices - especially in Kashgar - are incredibly intimidating, and there's no way I would be able to figure it out on my own. There were three options for shipping overseas: fast (15 days), medium (30-40 days) and slow (5-6 months). Gotta love China. I hope my rug makes it home.

Dinner was pretty crazy. We went to the "Apple Garden FouristSite," (I <3 Chinglish)- which is actually an outdoor pavillion covered in grape vines and not an apple in sight. All the tables surrounded a dance floor. During the meal there were several dance and tightrope performances. Apparently dancing with stacks of bowls filled with water on your head, and tightrope, are longstanding uygher traditions. Of course the Americans joined in on the dancing after the performances, much to the delight of every Uygher present. The second we hit the dance floor the Asians made a circle and the DJ switched to rap and fake Billy Joel. This happens every time we go out in China. They love their fake American covers, almost as much as they love asking us to teach them how to "hippity hop." The Shopping Cart was big here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


8am: Chinese Test
11am: Leave for the airport
3pm: Board plane for Urumqi
6:30pm: Disembark and go find food in town
9pm: Back to the airport and fly to Kashgar

First Full Day in Kashgar!

8am: Wake up
9am: Breakfast
10am-10pm: People's Square, Xiangfei Tomb, Handicrafts Market, Lunch, Nap, Old Town, Dinner

Kashgar time is wicked confusing because all of China is officially on Beijin time, but - because of distance - Kashgar is technically about 2 hours ahead. This means that waking up at 8 is really waking up at 6, so it was quite dark out still.

Whoever said (coughAiLaoshi) being a vegetarian in Kashgar as difficult was probably lying. Or maybe they meant Xinjiang and have just never been to Kashgar (although as the saying goes: "You will never be in Xinjiang if you do not go to Kashgar.") Breakfast was absolutely delicious and a vertitable veggie feast. It consisted of every veggie Chinese dish ever, various pastry, veggie baozi, pretzle bread, tea and warm milk. Assuming I wouldn't be able to eat much the rest of the day, I ate until I couldn't breathe.

After breakfast we went to the People's Square. There's a juge statue of Mao saluting on one side of the square and on the other there were a ton of carnival rides (I swear, I'm not in Central Asia - I'm in Epcot). A couple of people rode them, althouh I refrained. 5 kuai for a kiddie ride seemed a little pricey ad pointless to me. The square also had flowered columns, giant red lanterns, a huge peacock (that I think lights up), a performance space, and an elaborate fountain (that was turned off, just like Bei Wai).

After the People's Square we went to the Xiangfei tomb. Kashgar is pretty small. Our tour guide is always sayin "X is about 15 minutes away. During this short time I will tell you the history of the Uyghers/Marriage Customs/etc." So it took us about 15 minutes to get to Xiangfei. Xiangfei translates as the Fragrant Concubine. The story is that during her lifetime (Qing Dynasty) she was so beautiful and wonderful that butterflies would follow her around. After her death a wonderful smell (xiang) would come from her tomb (for years and years) which was often surrounded by butterflies.

The tomb complex was pretty amazing. You'llhave to reference my pictures to really get an idea of what the architecture was like. I'm really not in China anymore. It's much more like Persia.

There were several Mosques on the complex as well as a building that functioned as a Muslim university for years (dating back to the 13th century). The village graveyard was also next door. The round tombs are for families and the rectangles for individuals. The big ones are for men, medium for women, and small for children.

A few of the mosques are still operational, although some only on Fridays. The big one had all these pillars holding up the roof. Each pillar looks different because they were each carved by a different artist who was asked to showcase his own unique talent.

After Xiangfei we walked down the street (about a block) to visit a local home. The people there were ice merchants. Every winter they collect tons of ice from a river and store it in this straw pit in their yard. They just sold out of their ice stores (which they usually make into a sort of slushy ice cream that they sell at markets). This family earned about 20,000 kuai a year farming ice. The homes are all amazing. They're each a secret garden. The outside is so unsuspecting, but then there are these absolutely lush courtyards within.

Next we went to a handicrafts market and saw so much stuff. Everything they make ehre is by hand, it's really amazing. Among the highlights: pounded tin, wooden pots, musical instruments, collapsable wooden baskets, round hats (like Aladdin's - they're supposed to make you clever), rugs, knives, etc. We also ate naan (mmm) and bagles (oh how I've missed them!).

Next: lunch. Since it's Ramadan, we had to go to a touristy restaurant because the city isn't eating. Lunch was delicious, though: yogurt, tea, fruit, noodles w/ stuff and tomato sauce, rice noodles, chuar and pilaf.

3 hour nap. Impromptu, unexpected, so necessary.

Around 6:30 we left to go to Old Town Kashgar. Old Town is spectacular. From far away it kind of looks like pueblo village. It's all of these secret garden complexes like I mentioned earlier. Every once in a while the monotony of pueblo and solitary door is broken by a glimpse insede, a brightly and beautifully painted entryway, or a gorgeous minaret soaring over it all. Again - pictures. We also walked through a few markets where you could buy everyhting listed above, plus all of this wonderful food! (Notice a theme - I ate my way through Central Asia). There were baskets and baskets and baskets of fruit, vegetables, dried chilies, freshly ground spices, all sorts of naan variations - it was amazing. A lot of stalls were selling this merengue type thing - whipped egg whites and sugar - often served with what looks like cornbread or dates. I'll definietly be tryin it. I don't have much time to write since my roommate went to bed, but I've got so much to tell. Quite wrap up: Dinner was in an Old Town home w/ a spectacular view of the neighborhood. We had so.much.fruit!! Watermelon, melon, grapes, pomegranates, dates! Also frut juices and naan. THen the meat eaters had some specialty mutton dish, and us veggies had pumpkin baozi. It was indescribable. All topped off w/ sweet tea. I'm never eating again.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

This morning I biked Beijing. It was ridiculous, for several reasons:

1. My calligraphy professor led the trip. He doesn't speak English.
Fang Laoshi is, however, pretty awesome. He knows alot, although he rambles forever, so it's hard to understand what he's getting at. Today he wore a panama hat, a fanny pack, and a cigarette permanently attached to his mouth despite our strenuous ride. Fang Laoshi is also decended from Qing royalty, so he sometimes can't talk to people because they "rank below him," and it's not ever pretentious, because he's actually aristocracy. I guess he got pretty beat up during the cultural revolution. He doesn't really like to talk about it.

2. Beijing traffic is scary.
Every time I get on my bike I risk death. I have had so many near death experiences in the past week while biking that I've quite lost count. I now bike into oncoming traffic without so much as second glance. I'm also willing to take on and cut off busses. We also witnessed several car crashes. Stupendous. One of the cars cut us off, hit a taxi, wrapped itself around a tree, and then flipped over literally 5 feet from me. This is all normal in Beijing. There really aren't traffic laws. That's why biking past a huge building labled "Beijing Traffic Regulation Building" was hilarious. I'm pretty upset I didn't get a picture.

3. Our bikes cost $15.
Meaning that they're pieces of crap, that were not built to withstand more than 2 miles at a time. We went 17 miles. Within the first 15 minutes someone's tire popped. Actually, shredded into a million pieces is terrifically more accurate. My pedals fell apart. Several other similar incidents occured along the way. Luckily, everytime we broke down, we were next to a bike repair shop. It helps that there's one about every 2 blocks. They're like the Starbucks of Beijing. Near the halfway point a couple of us realized that the metal poles that hold up our seats were bending. Like really bending. Mine was practically at a 90 degree angle when I realized that I wasn't going to make it home. In despair, I asked Fang Laoshi what to do. "没问题!" and he grabbed the seat and, WITH HIS BARE HANDS, bent it back and then, WITHOUT UNSCREWING ANYTHING, and again WITH HIS BARE HANDS, pounded the pole/seat back into the bike. It was amazing! For a 60 something man, this guy is crazy intense. He's like superman.

So yes, that is my crazy story of the day. I will not be able to sit down for weeks.


p.s. can you guys read characters if I post them?
p.p.s. my roommate went to a karaoke bar from midnight until 6 AM last night.
p.p.p.s. the chinese translation for Baskin Robbins is 美国风味冰淇淋: American Flavored Ice Cream.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

I just got the itinerary for my trip to Kashgar, so I thought I would post it in case anyone is interested. I figured it would be easier than typing it all up again. Note that I will be traveling by plane, bus, OVERNIGHT train, and HORSE.

So, in a little over a week, I'll be in KASHGAR. Eating grapes. (When I told my tongwu that I was going to "kashir" she said "GRAPES!" and when I told my fudao she said "oh! so many grapes!" So, be jealous of the many vineyards at my fingertips).


p.s. my tongwu is my roommate - the most bubbly and bedazzled person ever. Her name is Candy, after all.

p.p.s. my fudao is my tutor - Sherry. She's awesome and really smart and incredibly artistic.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Kung Fu Master

I had my first Kung Fu class yesterday. It was crazy intense. My instructor trained at the Shaolin temple where he's still part of the exhibition team. I didn't think much of his demonstration was physically possible (till now), and I also never thought that you could ever have muscles like that. Here's to hoping I get awesome legs out of this. It's entirely possible, since on the first day he had us running laps, doing crouching tiger hidden dragon leaps and actually doing all three splits. When you couldn't do them, he just pushed you down till you were. Nuts. I won't be able to walk tomorrow. A bunch of us are going to get together today (Kung Fu is on Tuesdays and Thursdays) to stretch and weight lift in preparation for our next class. A bit dorky, but totally necessary.

I am currently eating an apple, which, in true Chinese tradition, is a complicated affair. First it had to be washed in cold water, then hot water, then with soap, then peeled before finally being sliced and run through a final rinse. It's like going to the store where you have to pay for pencils at one cashier, pens at another, and erasers at a third. Or when you buy something over 100 kuai, and then you get a receipt at the first counter (who keeps your item) and then you take your receipt to a second counter where someone stamps it and sends you to a third counter. At this counter you can pay, and then are presented with another receipt that you take back to the original counter to claim your prize. It's all very exhausting. But, I haven't been sick yet, and I intend to keep it that way, so I'll go on peeling my apples.

In other news, my roommate finally arrived yesterday. She did apologize for being a bit late. I guess she was waiting for a truck to come and drive her things here. Anyways, her Chinese name is really difficult to pronounce, so she has me call her by her English name: Candy. Her English is about on par with my Chinese, so we've had some pretty silly conversations that involve huddling around a dictionary. She seems really nice, and she's totally full of energy. All of the roommates are. The girls just stand around and giggle at us. Apparently everything Americans do or say is hilarious. It's probably just that our tones are horrible, so we're most likely saying rediculous things that we don't think we're saying.

Today I have a few seminars on my silk road trip. So exciting! Before you know it, I'll be in Kashgar! (or, Kashir, as Candy has corrected me. She's also informed me that it's full of grapes.)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

A Banana and a Stawberry Walk into a Bar

Yesterday I hiked up Xiang Lu peak in Fragrant Hills park. It was pretty strenuous, especially considering that it was 80 degrees and a high pollution day. There's a ski lift that takes you to the top that I was tempted to take, but on weekends it cost 50 kuai per ride (100 kuai round trip) which is absolutely outrageous. Granted, the exchange rate makes that out to be about $6, but my average meal costs about 2-10 kuai, and the 1.5 hour bus ride there cost 0.8 kuai. I'll post some pictures, but they'll be pretty dissapointing. If it were a clear day, you would be able to see all of Beijing from the peak. However, it was a polluted day, so you can see some vague outlines, but mostly smog in all of my pictures. I've tried to clean them up as much as possible on my computer. Since cleaning them up, I'm actually able to see a lot more in my pictures than I could when I was actually there. It's hard to believe that these were taken on a very sunny day.

I'll also post a picture of my yogurt. Everything in China is cute. There are fun little cartoon characters everywhere. All over school supplies, billboards, busses, and even food. Reference my happy yogurt.

My absolute greatest discovery at the grocery store has been oatmeal. Chinese people must love it. There are two rows devoted to oatmeal! Thus, I've been thrilled every breakfast.

My new roommate comes in about 2 hours. I don't know much about her. All I know is that she's planning on studying abroad in an English speaking country next year, and that she's a business student. I don't know what her Chinese level is, or whether she's from the area, or what she's interested in or anything. I'm afraid that it'll be pretty awkward when she gets here, since my limited vocabulary will make conversation a bit short. I guess we'll see how it goes.


p.s. At 7 pm tonight I have to give up English till Christmas. Wish me luck!