Wednesday, November 14, 2007

no fun to be sick sick

For the few of you who still check this blog every once in awhile: sorry for the lack of updates recently! I've been sick and out of commission for a few weeks now. Sad to say inspiration and motivation have been quite lacking. However, things are on the mend, if slowly. Hopefully I will get up the rest of my Tibet travels soon!

Friday, October 12, 2007

media matters

Lewis Black and Stephen Colbert comment on recent ridiculousness surrounding a certain pin that a certain politician didn't wear. And on general hypocrisy and distraction in the Congress.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

journey to the west, part one

The first week in October was “National Day” (which was actually a week long), a holiday which doesn’t seem to have any particular significance outside of school being cancelled and everyone taking off to visit family or to do some sightseeing.

I decided to spend the week with a group of fellow CSA people going to visit an orphanage which CSA supports in Qinghai. Despite warnings that the trip would not necessarily be fun, that it could be “miserable,” I thought it would be a great opportunity to see more of the country and get a foot in the volunteer wagon.

The trip began with a 24-but-actually-turned-out-to-be-26 hour train ride from Beijing to Xining (city in Qinghai). We eight quickly got to know each other and assume our roles for the trip: The Han (the token among us), The Activist (one of my roommates in Beijing, also known as The Provider because she cooks for me), The Pacifist (because he never picks fights), The Belgian (aka Mama G), The Documenter (perhaps the instigator? he filmed it all), The Californian (“cool mom”), The Indian (she is also Pretty, for the record), and finally, The Yak (me).

The train ride was actually relatively comfortable if you could get past the squatters and the less-than-friendly staff. We met two young Tibetan monks (sharing an ipod) in the dining car who told us that Tibetans can eat meat if someone else kills the animal (and that someone else is apparently usually the local friendly Muslim butcher).

I was surprised to see that the majority of people in Xining appeared to be Muslim. Everywhere there were men wearing white skull caps and women sporting colorful scarves to cover their hair. Similar to Beijing, Xining seemed to be a city in transition – sidewalks torn up, uncovered manholes, construction sites with tents for the workers set up nearby. And yet there were many large and beautiful mosques, lots of shops and cafes, and plenty of areas where you could swear you were in any other modern city.

During our short stay in Xining (our final destination was Golog, a much smaller city that required an additional 12 hour bus ride) we visited the local temple, made friends with a Tibetan monk (who explained his choice to become a monk in quite practical terms—he wouldn’t have to worry about fighting with a wife and he could make enough money to get by), and visited one of the more upscale bars (where two of our group took part in a dance contest and won face cream, as well as local celebrity status—The Pacifist was recognized by two different people the next day at the temple).

It was in Xining that I first discovered that not everyone in China can speak Mandarin. For some reason I had been expecting that everyone would have at least limited knowledge of Chinese. However, when I tried to speak to monks at the temple I was usually greeted with a friendly smile and a headshake, "ting bu dong" ("I don't understand")--they only spoke Tibetan.

More to come about the trip soon – I’m behind on sleep, homework and blogging for the moment but I have every intention of catching up (in that order).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

wire mesh extravaganza

Having decided that tutoring English is most definitely not my calling in life, I've been searching for other means of supporting myself.

Last week I took a short, ahem, business trip, to attend the wire mesh capital of the world's 7th annual convention. Yes, I answered an add online to "earn 1000 rmb in a day" to pose as a Western businesswoman interested in wire mesh.

Nine other exotic foreigners and I were loaded onto a bus Thursday afternoon, carted to this little town of 320,000, put up in a fancy hotel, 'baijiu* and dined' with local businessmen, stood on stage for the opening ceremonies the next morning, toured the wire mesh convention, attended yet another banquet, got back on the bus and were back in Beijing by Friday evening, a taste of the *real* China under our belts and 1000 rmb richer for the trouble.

Thursday evening we went out on the town in search of KTV and wound up at the local evening dance party. They have these outside my apartment building as well -- kind of like a neighborhood get-together with ballroom dancing. Except when we showed up to this one someone changed the music to this awful rave techno music. A small mosh pit of sorts formed (with a larger circle of curious onlookers) around us. When we broke away the crowd actually followed us, taking pictures and trying to get us to come back.

I had more people come up and ask to take my picture in those two days then in all of my travelling in Asia thus far. I keep thinking -- where are all these pictures of me ending up?? I guess keep your eyes out on the internet...

Honestly I had mixed feelings about the whole experience. On the one hand I met a lot of interesting people (including one Swede who's lived here for almost 3 years and never had a real job, and at least half of them had been to this type of convention before). I also made a good amount of moolah and got to see a bit of the countryside. But at the same time, I couldn't quite kick the nagging feeling of guilt for leading these people on. Every time some hopeful-looking young person came up to me at the convention, handing me their business card and information packet, eager to practice their English, sometimes asking for a picture, they inevitably asked for my contact information...

On the other hand, it wasn't my idea -- someone much higher up than me was running the show. In the end we were just a form of entertainment, something to be gawked at, to play with. Now who's being objectified, who's being taken advantage of? Well, in the end I can't say I'm too worried about it. I think it was an interesting experience for everyone involved.

* baijiu is a Chinese liquor that tastes something like glorified rubbing alcohol. Apparently, being able to hold your baijiu bodes well for success in the business world here -- guess I won't be going too far.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Word: "na na-na na na"

Stephen tells it like it is.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

general betray us

"General Petraeus has actually said American troops will need to stay in Iraq for as long as ten years."

Moveon.org published an add in the New York Times calling General Petraeus on his lies and inconsistencies regarding the "success" of the surge and the level of violence in Iraq. All independent sources in Iraq, as well as the Iraqi government, report that violence has increased and sectarian tensions have worsened in recent months. Actually, I'm amazed that the Times ran the add at all. See the add here.

FINally, voices for peace (which consist of at least 60% of the population according to recent polls) are making their way into the mainstream media and what does Congress do? Pass a resolution condemning the add. Absolutely ridiculous. The Congress is supposed to be a representative body, one of the representative bodies, of US citizens and yet when people everywhere are demanding that troops come home and we end this disgraceful war Congress doesn't just ignore those voices, they take it a step further by actively condemning them.

Go www.moveon.org and sign a statement to be sent to Congress to say that you will not be silenced.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

a clear day

My bike was stolen! Well. It would be more accurate to say, I can't find it. So I had to buy a new one. Apparently the "turn-over" rate for bikes is pretty high here. I have to admit I wasn't upset though for the excuse to go back to the bike seller down the street and attempt at conversation. *sigh* But, as new roommate A pointed out, it would never work -- two different worlds and all that.

The weather's been nasty these past few days. Rainy and chilly and with even more of the yellowy smoggish tint to the atmosphere. But today it finally cleared up and I had the lovely experience of looking up on my bike ride to school to see the mountains in the distance. It's easy to forget that anything exists outside of the city when you literally can't see past the city most of the time. I haven't decided if it was refreshing or depressing.

Back home furniture has been re-arranged and the icky rug that was in my room has somehow found it's way down to the front entrance of the building where it will no doubt start sprouting something soon what with all the rain and mud getting trecked all over it now.

Also, I'm making a concerted effort to stop going to Western-style restaurants/cafes as a crutch. There, now it's written down and there's no backing out.

Some advice ~ If you ever decide to post an add on a website for English tutoring, some people may interpret that to mean you are looking for a date, and if someone responds to your add calling himself an odd name like, oh I don't know, "Joker," and says he wants to be your "friend," do yourself a favor and don't think that he might actually just want an English tutor and agree to meet with him. It will turn out that he is just creepy. Seriously, it's not a good idea.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Kucinich 2008!

The only presidential candidate (with the possible exception of Mike Gravel) worth listening to. Click here to see a speech he gave back in January -- sure he could use a speech delivery coach at moments, but ultimately his message is important. A candidate who actually says something when he talks. And backs it up with action -- read example here.

Here is an interview he did with Maher in April. I'm not sure if the video will work or not since as I mentioned before, I can't view this blog. Someone let me know...

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Sunday, September 9, 2007

me and my bike

So I've traded in my metro card for a bike lock and sore legs. It's good exercise and honestly it seems like the fastest way to get around (if you know where you're going and it's not all the way on the other side of the city). Imagine New York city traffic but with less attention to detail -- and by detail I mean red lights and stop signs and driving on the correct side of the road, that kind of thing -- plus a bike lane -- and by bike lane I mean bikes, cabs, the occasional bus -- and you get the morning/evening commute picture. It is rather chaotic at times but people seem to make do and while there is an excess of honking, it seems more ornamental, a gesture perhaps, just letting everyone know you're there. So far I haven't seen any fists shaking or people yelling at each other.

I've made the trip over to Chao Yang, the Northeastern part of the city, twice now, the first time it took 2 hours to get there (see above note re knowing where you are going) and the second time it took about an hour and twenty minutes. It is an eventful ride though. I get to bike past a bunch of Olympics-related construction (is it really possible that it will all be finished in less than a year??), including this, the National Stadium, which just so happens to resemble a spaceship. Vaguely reminiscent of the space transporting machine from Contact. Anyone?

Something new to get used to -- getting stared at all the time. When complaining about this to a friend here the response was a good-natured, well at least you're not blond. Getting looked at so much wouldn't be as bad I guess if it weren't for the fact that half the time I get the distinct impression that I'm being looked at more as a funny lab experiment gone wrong than anything else -- what is wrong with her hair? What's with all the spots on her face?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

a night owl in beijing

After about 3 days here in the city where the sun shines but you just can't see it I've spent more time awake in the wee hours than during the day. That is to say, I broke the cardinal rule of waiting until the evening hours to go to sleep and thus avoid major jet lag. My first day here I was silly enough to think I could take a "nap" at 2:30 in the afternoon and the next thing I know it's 1am and I'm wide awake.

So I've made good use of the early morning hours unpacking, cleaning, reading, and attempting to re-learn Chinese characters. Re-learn because at CU we were taught traditional characters, which are used in Taiwan and Hong Kong but not in China, so I now have to go through the tedious process of re-learning characters in their simplified form. I suppose I could rant a bit more about just how tedious it is but the truth is I do get a weird kick out of learning characters. They have a term for that here -- "shu daizi" (book nerd).

I found out that classes don't actually start for me until the 13th so now I've got a couple weeks to explore. I bought a new bike yesterday on the street. Actually, my roommate B and another friend J haggled for it while I watched and tried to follow along. It turned out to be 215 kuai, lock included (less than $30). Not too bad. Also I just have to mention it because I still can't get over it -- yesterday at lunch I had a big bowl (more than enough for lunch and dinner) of noodley soup with egg and tomato that was 5 kuai, which is like 60 cents. !!

Had a chance this morning to upload more recent photos from home. Hope you enjoy looking at them because I can't. For some reason (perhaps the same reason that I can post on my blog but can't seem to look at it?) I can upload photos and organize them but can't look at them.