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January 30, 2008

Escape from the Tibetan Icebox

Me, standing on Jinyuan Township's central bridge.

Helping people is nice, but sometimes you've got to look out for numero uno. After spending a month sleeping in a room where our washing water froze solid every night and the food was... umm, edible... I decided enough was enough and caught the first 4x4 out of town. (Did I mention that a landslide last year knocked out the only road into Jinyuan?)

All of us foreign teachers had been experiencing various cold/flu symptoms almost the entire time we'd been in Jinyuan, with the addition of a mysterious dry cough that prevented us from getting a decent night's sleep. I had hoped to stay for Losar, the Tibetan New Year. But I'm happy to be currently relaxing in the relative comfort of Xining, awaiting a train back to Korla that leaves from Lanzhou on Friday. I'll even get back home in time to watch the NY Giants win the Superbowl on Sunday!

Most of the Tibetan kids I was teaching were absolute terrors, but the university students were the exact opposite: intelligent, funny, and fantastic singers. I asked two of my more talented students to sing a traditional Tibetan song for me while I recorded them with my camera's crappy video mode:

For those of you who miss my frequent uploads of Uyghur music videos in years past, I've posted a decent Tibetan video that I copied from one of the student's VCD collection (also available on my YouTube channel). I don't know what this Tibetan hottie is singing about while plowing the fields below Mt. Kailash, but the tune is catchy:

One thing... why did they have to mess everything up by sticking a stupid-looking laowai in the middle of an otherwise fine video?

Anyway, my final word on the Tibetan volunteer experience is this: don't do it in the winter. You'll freeze your ass off and you won't be happy. It's one thing to live in a frozen city, where your warm apartment awaits you every evening, and quite another to live in a small brick hut with a barely working coal stove. Also, if you're going to be teaching English to Tibetan kids, make sure that they've been screened in some way before you arrive. I've taught a lot of poorly behaved children before, but these ones were complete animals.

It sounds harsh, but the program would have been much more effective if 75% of the kids had been eliminated from the get-go, sent back to their unfortunate destinies as poor farmers in the barren mountains of southeast Qinghai.


posted January 30, 2008 at 02:22 PM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (46)

January 19, 2008

A Terrible Joke

Another week teaching the unfortunate children of Qinghai... another batch of photos for my faithful readers:

And now for a dangerous and inappropriate joke that I repeat here only so that the vigilant among you can seek out and destroy similar humor should you stumble upon it.

A Japanese guy, an American backpacker, a Han Chinese man, and a local Tibetan are riding on a bus.

The Japanese guy is listening to the latest and greatest mp3 player, but after a short while he tosses it out the window. The Chinese man asks him, "Why would you throw out a new mp3 player?" To which the Japanese guy responds, "In my country we have so many mp3 players that the one I got rid of was basically worthless."

A few minutes later, the American is observed opening a carton of expensive American cigarettes. He cracks open a single pack, smokes two or three of them, and then tosses the whole carton out the window. The Chinese man asks him, "Why would you throw out a whole carton of imported cigarettes?" The backpacker responds, "In my country we have so much tobacco that a single carton is basically worthless."

Having overheard these conversations, the Tibetan local grabs the Chinese man and throws him out the window.

Don't even think of laughing, punk! Once again, this joke is not meant to be funny... it's only meant to serve as an example of the sort of humor you should never, ever engage in. Tibet is not a country and throwing Chinese people out of windows is ill-advised.


posted January 19, 2008 at 09:31 PM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (102)

January 13, 2008

The People in My Neighborhood

After a week spent teaching English to Tibetan kiddies and generally increasing the pungency of my body odor, I've managed to make it to a town large enough to offer Internet access and a hot shower. I'm writing from Dahejia in Gansu Province (click for a centered Google Map), a truck stop along the Yellow River just over the border from Qinghai. It's about 60 kilometeres southeast of Jinyuan Township (aka Szer Dzong) where I've been transmiting the ancient wisdom of the USA to the locals whilst freezing my ass and fingertips off.

I thought it would be best to convey the atmosphere in Szer Dzong by posting a few photos I snapped this past week. It was a good week for photography, as our (there are four foreign teachers) first full day in the town coincided with a Bon religious festival. As luck would have it, a Bon temple is located just 10 minutes up a hill from our school in a nearby village:

Are there any religion experts out there who can tell me what the name of this festival is? All I can tell you is that it took place on January 7th and that the ceremony involved lots of dancing deities, the mutilation of a small representative demon, and the blessing of the village's young children through the blowing of long horns.

That's all for this week. More updates when I can.


posted January 13, 2008 at 07:00 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (45)

January 03, 2008

Wot's... Uh the Deal?

Boarding pass from Beijing to Korla, Xinjiang.

I'm sure it's become clear to those of you who visit this site regularly that I haven't been posting much lately. I'm not making any excuses, but I've just returned from six weeks in the U.S. (and Canada) and while there I just didn't really have the drive to blog. But, now I'm back in Xinjiang and I'm gonna try to be a better blogger... more on this promise later.

So, what's first? Well, I finally managed to catch one of the ultra-obscure direct flights between Beijing and Korla that China Air Force Airlines runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. (The only other CAFA destination is some air force base on the border between Gansu and Inner Mongolia.) I'd recommend this option to anyone traveling to Korla, as it cuts at least three hours off of the usual route through Urumqi. The flight was only about 20% full so there was lots of room to stretch out, and to get tickets you just have to show up at Nanyuan Airport in Beijing before 8am. The current price of a ticket is Y1350, which is a bit steep for an airline that's obviously not running to make money, but it's worth it. (One of the pilots told me that the airline's main purpose is to transport air force personnel across the country.)

Boarding an early morning flight to Korla at Beijing's Nanyuan Airport.

Best of all, CAFA has replaced the old Tupolev 154s that have a nasty habit of falling apart in midair with more reliable Boeing 737-300s. I was even able to determine from the interior of the plane that it had previously been used by Continental Airlines in the US. Remember those old shag-carpet logos on the divider between first class and economy?

An old Continental jet now being used by the Chinese Air Force.

The jet was so retro that it still had a lounge-style first class section with a big couch and four seats facing each other across a large table. You can see a picture of how this jet would have looked when in service for Continental thirty years ago by clicking here. A word to the wise: don't take any pictures when you exit the aircraft in Korla. I had to wait for half an hour before an air force official senior enough could be rounded up to watch me delete my photos. Gotta love the military! Also, you'll need to have someone pick you up at the airport as taxis don't bother showing up for these flights.

And now on to the immediate future...

Those of you excited by this entry have a lot to look forward to but will be sorely disappointed over the next month. That's because I'll be leaving tomorrow for a small mountaintop Tibetan village in Qinghai where I've volunteered to teach English for a month. I'm looking forward to getting away from the modern world for a while, and maybe even losing some weight.

The village is somewhere up above 3000m (read chilly), has no Internet access, no bathing or showering facilities, and no other foreigners. On the plus side, my living accommodations contain "a bed, a desk, a chair, a coal stove for heating and an electric light and socket." Awesome! Oh, and the outhouse is conveniently located only 20 meters away. Here's a picture of the village that was sent to me by the Tibetan guy running the program:

A small Tibetan village in Qinghai where I'll be teaching English for a month.

Looks remote, eh? So, I may have difficulties blogging from Qinghai, but know that in the end it's all for the good of the blog. I may try to work up some entries on my laptop and head to the nearest village with an Internet cafe if possible, but I can't guarantee anything.

Happy New Year's everyone... I hope that you'll all have great adventures in 2008. I know I will.


posted January 03, 2008 at 06:27 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (49)