Archive for September, 2007

Did I just eat what I thought I ate?

Here in Western China, the concept of cheese, which I consider to be one of the staples of an average Western culinary lifestyle, is completely alien. I’m told that it smells too bad, which is ironic, because the Chinese have a popular snack called “Chou Doufu” which everyone thinks smells terrible; this is a fact, because the “Chou” means stinky. Anyways, I can’t get a decent pizza out here, but I’ll be damned if I can’t get some FABULOUS KETTLE CORN!

Mm, that wonderful luster of suger and salt! Much to my surprise, this kettle corn is delicious. Back in Los Angeles, I would eagerly anticipate the monthly arrival of the “Kettle Corn People” to the courtyard in front of the library. Here in Xinjiang, I can get it any time I want. I just mozy on over to the local supermarket and there’s that wonderful lady. With her kettle. And her kettle corn.


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The figurative dust kicked up by my transition from the US to Xinjiang has settled, so to speak. I’ve already confided in a friend of mine that I really believe, after four weeks here, I can safely say I’ve settled in, made a “home” (though we’re all still is waiting for a beautiful Uyghur carpet), created a job routine, and forged connections with my students. This is a good thing.

However, as the figurative dust settled, the real dust rose. Weather.com describes the current weather, which started about two days ago, as “Widespread Dust.” I couldn’t describe it better myself. While I know from some of the veteran expats of Korla that there is a such thing as a “Dust Storm,” a phenomenon that is apparently forthcoming, this gentle cloud of dust that has blanketed the city is a new enough experience for me to be tickled. The violently howling wind and the BB-pellet swathes of high-speed sand are absent for the time being, but still, the dust is everywhere, just floating. If my mind were stubborn enough, I may be able to convince myself its really, really small snow. Anyways, what do we do when there are millions of tiny particles loitering in your breathing air? Bust out the ultra-sensitive, expensive photography equipment, of course!

The sand filters the sunlight unlike any other light-hampering weather I’ve encountered. I’m sure a physicist could explain this is scientific terms, but all I can say is that the way the light colors objects and the way the sky is tinted is “unnatural,” to me, in that my world has never been illuminated in this manner before. The sun, too, is different, a perfectly defined, perfectly white circle, dimmed enough so I can break the ancient elementary-school-science rule of never look directly at the sun. Unfortunately, the picture I took doesn’t capture the circle-ness of the sun too well, but you can see, everything is sort of… blah. Still, if we’re on the subject of weird weather, this situation still takes second place to the hellish apocalypse scenario given to us back at USC when I think every single tree in Southern California was on fire. At least here in Korla it’s not raining burning ash.

So, when the desert is roused from its sleep and is aggressively invading all openings, be they on inanimate objects or living things, what do the Chinese students do? They hold their high-intensity, all-student-body exercises in preparation for sports day, of course! So when I trotted outside to take a picture of the incoming dust cloud, I was blessed with the oppurtunity to take pictures of my students in action. Apparently, for Sports Day, the sophomores and juniors have been assigned grade-specific activities which they must partake in (flawlessly! This is China!) when the actual ceremony rolls around. Ergo, they are practicing every day. The sophomores get to do this awesome activity which I can only describe as “synchronized, simultaneous mass jump rope.”

The juniors, my students, get to do this stupid activity which I can only describe as “a three-legged race with a lot more legs” which looks silly even when they’re doing it right. When they mess up…well, it’s pretty funny.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the actual Sports Day when everything is polished to perfection… although I’m definitely going to miss the hilarity that ensues when one person in the human chain tumbles over. Just like dominoes, but I guess such an activity does impart a distinctly communist moral. More pictures from the sandy day and Sports Day Practice here.

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I’m in Xinjiang

When I last posted, well over a month ago, I was in Indiana, sort of glowing over the fact that my paperwork finally got through and that my upcoming stint in Xinjiang was no longer hanging by a thread. Now, I’ve been in Xinjiang for three weeks.

Needless to say, a lot has happened since I last posted, but I don’t want to make a long, meandering post describing the transition in excruciating detail that will ward off readers. I’ll keep it nice and succinct. Here goes.

My experience here so far has largely been a whirlwind. I hit the ground running. After a nice, disorienting flight from Los Angeles to Beijing followed by another from Beijing to the provincial capital followed by a much shorter one from the capital to my city of residence, I was immediately told I would teach the next day. As I’m being told this by my boss (Lisa, or, alternatively, MASTER LIU in Chinese – talk about different cultural systems of address), I’m sort of staring out the window of our car blinking profusely, trying to wink away a combination of bad jet lag and newbie awe. Go figure, Lisa wasn’t kidding. After sitting in on a class held by the other foreign teacher, I taught 4 classes the next day. Poor me. Jetlagged, I woke up at 6 in the morning that day – which in reality is 4 in the morning, because Xinjiang is on “Beijing Time” although the province is located a good two timezones west of Beijing. With nothing to do but wait, I braved the darkness and ran two miles at the track right outside my dorm. Unfortunately, my victory over jetlag means that I haven’t ran since then. D’oh!

Every other day or so I make forays into the city to buy stuff to make my cozy little corner of the world something worthy of the name “home.” I replaced my uncomfortable dining room chair with a plush rolly office chair that I paid a little over 20 American dollars for. I printed out some pictures, put them in frames, and hung them on the wall. I bought new sheets for my bed, and now am perkily ensconced in blue flowers every night when I go to sleep. Next on the list are a little table to do work on and a carpet. Thank God I’m on the Silk Road; I’m going to by an awesome Uyghur carpet. It’ll blow your mind. Stay tuned.

That’s it for now. I’m teaching and trying to settle in. My brain’s operating system is painfully being converted to Mandarin Chinese with a little Uyghur add-on here and there. I can sense it in the air – I’ll eventually start talking more and more to interesting people. And of course, I’ll let you guys know what happens when I can.

In the meantime, I’d love it if you could swing by my flickr account and take a looksie at the sporadic pictures I’ve been taking of my new situation. There should be a little flickr box on this blog’s sideboard that you can zap yourself through, otherwise, here’s a direct link. Once I become a fixture rather than a novelty here in Korla (despite being Asian looking, I still do get a lot of attention. Probably for speaking poor Chinese), I’ll start busting out the Canon and I’ll have some sweeter pictures heading your way.

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