February 28, 2005
Xinjiang Mountain Movie
I have finally managed to upload a short motion picture I recorded while travelling through the mountains of Xinjiang towards Korla. You can view it by clicking here or by visiting the "Xi'an to Korla" section of the Journey to the West gallery. Enjoy.
posted February 28, 2005 at 10:58 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (2)
February 24, 2005
Alright, alright. If you're interested in contacting me, here's my mailing address. Just be aware that letters can take from 1 to 8 weeks to arrive and packages will take 2 to 12 weeks...so don't send me a turkey sandwich, even though I'd really love to eat one.
Michael Manning (Circle English)
c/o Tang Ling
Bazhou People's Hospital
If you'd like to reach me by phone, you can try my home number. You'll probably have to add some sort of code to dial outside of the country before this number, but I'm not quite sure. If you figure it out, let me know and I'll add the information here.
+86 (China's Code) +996 (Korla City Code) +8888330 (My phone number)
If you're going to call, please be aware of the "unofficial" time difference: GMT +6 hours, New York +11 hours, California +14 hours, Hawaii +17 hours. I look forward to hearing from you.
posted February 24, 2005 at 03:51 PM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (10)
February 22, 2005
And so it has begun...
Alright, well, I've finally managed to squeeze every last ounce of computing power out of this country's underwhelming PCs. You can see the result of a week's effort searching out Internet Cafe's and USB ports over in the photo gallery by clicking here. The latest crop of pics includes my trip from Xi'an to Korla, a few shots of my apartment and the surrounding environment, as well as a ton of photos from my trip to Kashgar.
In other news, I started teaching yesterday...a far more difficult task than I had imagined. Basically, I keep talking and most of the students keep looking back at me with blank, dumbfounded stares. Hopefully I'll manage to improve their English in the 17 weeks we'll be together. I had forgotten how difficult a classroom of 40 twelve to fourteen year olds can be. Actually, thinking back to my attitude and the behavior of my friends in our early teen years, I can see that I should have expected difficulties. Sigh...
For those of you that want a better look at my Chinese hometown, Korla (Kuerle), don't fret. I'll get a more comprehensive survey of the town up in the gallery as soon as I can muster the energy.
February 13, 2005
Snow in Kashgar
Appologies to all for not updating the blog sooner, but as I'd expected the chances for Internet access have gotten fewer and farther in between as I've headed west. And I'm mean REALLY far west...
I finally made it to Korla after a 45-hour marathon train journey from Xi'an that took me through the absolute nothingness of Gansu into the mountain-desert nothingess of Xinjiang. The train accommodations were actually quite nice, and I'd recommend the upgrade from hard to soft sleeper for anyone who's weighing the two classes. Travelling right before the Chinese New Year was also helpful (despite advice I'd received to the contrary) as the train quickly emptied as New Year's Eve approached. I was even given a small gift of some candies on New Year's morning by the train staff.
I arrived in Korla at around 3PM on New Year's Day, and having unfortunately lost the sheet of paper with the phone numbers of my contacts, scrambled to first find cash and then an Internet cafe where I could retrieve the numbers from my e-mail. My taxi driver was happy to meet a foreigner and went to great lengths to help me, first picking up his English speaking friend (well, a little English), taking me to the only bank ATM that was open on New Year's Day and then to an Internet cafe, and then calling Mr. Tao, my contact, and arranging for me to meet him. When I tried to pay the driver for his services, he refused, saying in Chinese that we were now friends and that payment would be unnaceptable. Nice guy.
So, having settled into my edge-of-town Soviet-style apartment in Korla and having explored the town for a few days (it's suprisingly flashy and modern), I've come to Kashgar for a few days with some of the other new teachers. We've still got about a a week until classes begin, and as Kashgar is only a 12-hour overnight train trip we couldn't resist doing a bit more exploring.
Kashgar is China's furthest west outpost with only a 20% ethnic Han Chinese population. The rest are Uyghurs, Muslims who are ethnically a mix of Kazak-Tajik-Persian-Afghan-Russian-Mongol-etc. This place certainly has an exotic feel, as donkey taxis fight for space with automobiles on the roads and sheep are led through the streets to their slaughter. It started snowing here last night while we were out for dinner, producing quite a bit of mud. Despite the conditions, however, we ventured off to Kashgar's famous Sunday market (Lonely Planet calls it by far the wildest bazaar in Asia). A good time was had by all, much mutton was consumed, and many photos were taken. I even managed to pick up a few of the souvenirs I'll be expected to bring with me when I return back home.
The Seman Hotel where we're staying in Kashgar is the former turn-of-the-century Russian Consulate -- the site of much Great Game intrigue -- but despite the ornate lobby the rooms are rather dingy. Case in point: hot water is available, but requires running the tap for about 15 minutes before things warm up a bit. Sort of strange to be wasting water like that in the middle of the desert, but what can you do? Besides, you can't beat the price at Y70 per room, or about $4.50 per person per night.
So, it's back to Korla in two days, where I suppose we'll all finally figure out exactly what it is and how we'll be teaching our young Chinese students. From what I gather, the students have five English classes each week, four with their Chinese English teacher and one with a foreigner. The details of when and how many students I'll be teaching still elude me, but I'm not that worried. My English pronounciation is superb, especially compared to all these Irish, Canadians, and Brits I'm stuck with (just kidding guys!). I'm the only American in town as far as I can tell.
But back to the present... Kashgar's Internet connection speeds, unfortunately, leave something to be desired, so I'll have to wait until I'm back in Korla to upload photos of my trip west from Xi'an to Korla, and further west to Kashgar. Much of the scenery was pretty stunning...all jagged snow covered mountains stuck between vast expanses of alternatingly sandy and rocky desert. The market here in Kashgar is also famously photogenic, although blue skies would have helped. Until then, I bid you adieu.
February 06, 2005
Stuck in Xi'an
Well, I made it in one piece from Beijing to Xi'an. The hard sleeper compartment in the train really wasn't that bad, except for an occasional cockroach or two. I really hate cockroaches.
Unfortunately, when I arrived here in Xi'an I discovered that no tickets were available for the same-day train to Korla, and that I'd have to wait until Monday for a soft sleeper compartment. Finding a hotel room was not a big deal, and it gave me a chance to wander around the city a bit.
I had wanted to check out the famous Army of Teracotta Warriors site east of Xi'an, but was feeling too tired from the train to make the trip today. Complete and utter exhaustion is becoming a familiar theme in my China travels.
I did, however, get to check out some of Xi'an's famous sites, including the Muslim quarter and the city's Great Mosque. Xi'an was the beginning/end of the Silk Road in days of yore, and I'm definitely noticing changes towards the exotic as I inch closer to Xinjiang.
So, I leave tomorrow at 6:15 pm for Korla. I booked myself a soft sleeper compartment, so I'll have to wait and see if it's any better than the hard sleeper.
Wanted to try to watch the Super Bowl, but it starts around 6 am tomorrow, and I doubt I'll make the effort to find a place where I can see it, if such a place exists here in Xi'an.
I've uploaded some more photos of my wanderings in Xi'an, so check it out. Don't get spoiled with all these photos though, as the further west I travel the less likely it is that I'll be able to find a decent wangba (Internet cafe).
February 05, 2005
Great Wall at Simatai
Woke up at 4:45 am yesterday to catch a 6:00 am bus to Miyun, where I caught a minibus taxi to the Great Wall at Simatai. Total travel time, about 3 hours. But it was worth it.
In China they say you're not a man until you've visited the Great Wall, so I just had to visit. I hadn't counted on the climb to the top being so arduous, or the weather being so damn cold and windy, but the views were spectacular. If only a certain someone out there had knitted me the scarf I was promised...you know who you are! You can check out the photos, and a little silent movie I made, over in the gallery if you have the time.
I only have a few hours left in Beijing, as I'm catching a train at 4:50 pm today for Xi'an. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to secure tickets for a soft sleeper compartment, so I'm riding hard sleeper. I suppose I'll just have to grin and bear it. I'll also have the additonal pleasure of trying to figure out how to get tickets for Korla when I reach Xi'an.
In other news, I broke down today and went to McDonald's. I'm just not used to eating Chinese food for every meal, and the temptation was just too much. The good news, for McDonald's fans at least, is that a Big Mac Value Meal only costs $2 over here, and the apple pies are still fried like they used to be in the U.S. when I was a little kid. Yumm. I'm not expecting to see much in the way of American food once I head out west.
So, that's the end of my Beijing adventure. Next stop, Xi'an, and on to the wild, wild west!
February 02, 2005
Well, I made it. And what a whirlwind few days it's been so far.
First things first: the Air China flight from JFK was uneventful, if a bit loud. I learned a few things about the Chinese in mid-air. (1) Whereas Americans tend to act like they're in a library once the plane gets up to cruising altitude, the Chinese talk and talk and talk...and talk somemore. It was impossible to get any sleep. (2) The Chinese basically eat the same sorts of things at every meal. Dinner was spicy chicken with rice; breakfast was spicy beef with rice. (3) Equal opportunity employment has definetly not yet reached China. The flight attendants on my Air China flight were young and beautiful to the last one. It reminded me of images I've seen of American stewardesses in the 1960s.
Unfortunately, I arrived in Beijing after dark and didn't get to see that much on the ride from the airport. I was mightily impressed, however, when I got to my old-fashioned hotel in one of Beijing's hutong (narrow alleyways of yesteryear). General Zen Ge Lin Qin, who would later crush the Taiping rebellion, built the hotel in the 1830s. The single-level structure is built around a number of courtyards, and the ambiance is wonderful.
Yada yada yada, it's two days later and I've already been to most of Bejing's most important tourist destinations. I woke up before sunrise yesterday to watch the raising of the flag by a PRC military honor guard, briefly visited the Forbidden City, and got my picture taken with a group of young Chinese soldiers in front of Tiananmen Gate. I took a taxi out to the Summer Palace northwest of Beijing, walked across its famous man-made (frozen) lake, and to the top of the hill that was piled up from the digging of the lake. I've eaten Beijing's famous crispy-delicious duck wrapped in thin pancakes. I have witnessed the spectacle of the Beijing Opera. I opened a bank account at the Bank of China! I even managed to buy a train ticket to Xi'an, where I'll connect to Korla.
Ah, Beijing West Rail Station. How frustrating you can be, how unfriendly to waiguoren (foreigners) you are. After asking about twenty different people, who each directed me back towards the last person I asked, I finally figured out where I could get a train ticket from someone who spoke a little English. For anyone who might be reading this who will have to someday buy a train ticket in Beijing, head left at the top of the escalators and into the room at the end of the hallway. Go to window number one. Hopefully it'll save you four out of the four-and-a-half hours it took me to get a ticket. Of course, Chinese New Year's (Spring Festival) is next week, and the place was packed with frenzied Chinese heading home for the holiday. I kept looking for a knowing western face who might be able to guide me in the right direction, but all the faces were Chinese from the moment I arrived to the moment I left.
It's off to Xi'an on Saturday. I'm sure it'll be another crazy adventure. Hopefully I'll be able to post some pictures before I leave Bejing, but it's not working from this internet cafe.
P.S. I ate something interesting yesterday while drinking tea. I though it was going to be candy, and well, it kind of was...beef candy. Wacky, wacky food they've got over here.
[UPDATE] The photos are in the gallery, as I was able to get the uploading to work at another internet cafe.