August 07, 2004

From China?!?

First I'd like to tell you about my train ride from Dunhuang to Terpan. This travelling season is horrible for trying to get tickets. It seems like everyone who couldnt travel in China last summer is travelling this summer, in addition to those who planned to travel this summer. So the traffic is twice the normal rate. This makes it twice as hard to get tickets. We hardly have been able to get the tickets we wanted at all this entire trip. From Dunhuang to Terpan was no exception, instead of hard sleeper, which is 6 bunks to an open room, and is quite comfortable, we got a hard seat, which is packing many more people into straight-up-and-down seats. Our train ride was from 7:40PM to 5:00AM the next day, almost 10 hours. We were making friends very quickly on this train. In fact almost too quick. Before we had even left the train station, some mid 30's looking Chinese man took a seat next to us. He was extraordinarily friendly. We all had an extremely bad feeling about him. We talked about normal things, where we're from, what we're doing here in China, what we think about Taiwan, what line of work we're in, etc. He noticed that both Sal and I have hairy arms, and he was extremely fascinated... in fact so fascinated that he began to stroke Sal's arm hair. He was very touchy feely in general, and would touch our arm to get our attention and interrupt all our conversation between each other. We were all trying to be friendly but he was starting to get a little weird for us and we were thinking of ways to get rid of him. Soon a kid from across the ways came to sit next to us. He sat on the same seat as this man, and the man was touching this kid in ways that made me feel very uncomfortable. We somewhat had a three-way conversation, but in the middle the man started asking if I had a girlfriend or not. I said yes I do, but she's in Brazil. He asked if I missed her or not. I said Dangran! ("Of course!"). A few sentences later he asked "Do you want to make love right now?" OMG WTH WHO IS THIS GUY! I don't remember how we got rid of him at that time but we did. He asked Sal the same question before me, and Sal doesnt have a girflriend so he said no. He then asked if he could, would he have sex with a prostitute? Sal said no again, only because that goes against every moral fiber in his being. Once the guy moved to another seat, just one aisle in front of us, I began talking to that kid in Chinese for as long as I could... .because I knew as soon as a seat became available that that man would come back to harass us. I talked to him for 1.5 hours all in Chinese. It was amazing, I didnt know I could do it, but with a weird guy one aisle away hornily thinking about our hairy arms and ready to hump both me and Sal, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE! So nonetheless, at some point Michelle had to use the restroom. Within 30 seconds the guy had come to sit by me. He started to try and talk to me. I didnt respond, I looked ahead. I motioned to the kid with my face to show that I thought he was extremely weird. He tried to get my attention by touching my hand. I said, "Do not touch me" in an angry tone. He said, "uh oh someone got mad." He tried to touch my arm again. I said, "Do not touch me again." I was thinking if he tried to touch me again I'd punch him so hard he'd fall unconscious. In fact, I don't know if I've told you guys, but ever since I've got to China, I've got a bit of aggressive behavior into me. I've been waiting to sock someone for a very long time, and have no problem doing so. Anyways this guy knew that I wouldnt have gay sex with him so he tried to get rid of me. He said, "Hey, there's someone over there who wants to talk to you" I was like whatever. He just wanted to get rid of me to get to Sal so he could feel up his arm and ask him for sexual favors. I wasn't moving. He left. And we never saw him again.

I think that there are gay people in China, and the only acceptable way for them to express their gayness is to foreigners, who are much more tolerable of them. Hey there might even be gay foreigners travelling throughout China who would be more than happy to oblige. This guy was ridiculous. I was ready to blare to the whole train (in chinese) that this man was gay and he was harassing me. That would've gotten rid of him. In fact the whole train probably would have gotten rid of him for us.

Well I just had to tell you guys about that negative story. In Terpan, we had a great time, the weather was great (20-30 degrees cooler than normal due to rain), the grapes were delicious, and the sights were interesting. Its a very quaint city with very friendly people. They even had soft-serve ice cream vendors on the side of the street! Only McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken have ice cream like that here. And getting a 3 hour bus-ride from Terpan to Urumqi was quite easy and cheap (30Y per person).

Now... Am I in China right now? I have no idea. This place has fewer Chinese by percentage than the San Francisco Bay Area or Los Angeles. We are now living in the city of Kashgar, known as the foremost and largest marketplaces in all of Central Asia with a population of about 200,000. There are people from every Islamic country here: Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Khyrgystan, Kazakhistan, even from Iran and Iraq and so on. Most of all though the people here are Uyghers pronounced Wee-gers. On Sundays is the big market. The towns population swells by 50,000 people just on Sundays all just for the marketplace. Tomorrow we will go and see what its like! Mostly you can buy silk, clothing, jade, other precious stones, knives, and even white leopard skins (an endangered species).

Uygher food is unlike Chinese food altogether. We have lamb kebabs at every meal, accompanied with a bread known as nan (same way india calls bread). You can think of this bread as somewhat of a cross between Indian bread and a New York bagel sprinkled with interesting spices, and sometimes with spice and curry. Then you have noodles with tomatoes, (eggplant?? maybe not sure what this one is), and other greens. Then they serve tea in a HUGE bowl so you have to sip your tea with two hands. For the three of us we paid 20 Yuan (less than $3) for an absolutely huge lunch. THey also have some special desserts that we have yet to been able to find.

Getting here was a huge pain. For some reason, we've been having a LOT of trouble getting hard sleeper train tickets to whatever destination and time we choose. So instead we had to take a 26-hour bus from Urumqi to Kashgar. There were 28 people in one bus, and there were bunk beds aligned in 3 rows throughout the bus. The bed was alright, but quite dirty, looking like they only cleaned it every week or so or longer and of course the people who sit on these buses wash themselves in about the same time frame. One Chinese woman got mad at Sal because he put his shoes near her bed. He was like WTH, my shoes/feet are definitely not the stinkiest thing on this bus and you have to complain about my shoes!!! I basically read/studied Chinese and took naps intermittently. The bus was too loud, and the layout was too awkward to carry a conversation with either Sal or Michelle. It was a little awkward lying on my bed because I have to carry my backpack with my laptop in it all the time. So my backpack took up a significant amount of my bed space, making it more difficult to sleep. Anyways, I think i may have been able to sleep between 6-8 hours total on the bus, though I was not able to count. Also the road conditions were not great at all. They are in the process of building a large 4 lane freeway between Urumqi and Kashgar, but it wont be finished for another year or so. Instead we had to take all sorts of detours around the construction. For a large portion of the time on the bus we would be on dirt roads with the bus rocking back and forth because of the rough terrain. We only stopped several times to eat, and several times to use the restroom (of which I took EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO DO SO! =) You know me ).

We got here around noontime on Saturday. The weather is extremely hot and dry. I will be here until Monday, then I'll be taking a flight back to Beijing and San Jose. I apologize for the length of this one, and for the length of complaints (but there were some interesting things we had to deal with in the past few days). I look forward to seeing you all back in the states.

Posted by peter at 02:37 PM

August 01, 2004

My Camel says "Hello"

Sorry for not keeping in touch for the past few days. Friday was our last day of teaching at Qinghai University. We've also been working on compiling a final report which will turn out to be about 40 pages, and will provide not only MIT OCW with tons of useful information, but also future MIT-OCW teams that come to China or other countries with invaluable recommendation. I was extremely sad to leave. My last words to my students was something along the lines of: "Invent your future." but it was difficult to say and I had to fight the tears. The students were sad that we were leaving. They couldnt believe that it had gone by so fast. A lot of the students who were shy and never asked us for lunch or dinner, were asking us to stay another couple days so that they could spend time with us. I hope that we made a significant positive impact on their lives. Above all, I hope that they learned how to ask questions about everything in their lives and how to be optimistic.

Friday night we slept over at our favorite teacher's house in downtown Xining. That night we treated her out to dinner and a massage, because she deserved it! She really took care of us during our stay in Xining. We went to sleep around 1AM and then woke up at 7:20AM to catch our 8:40AM train from Xining to Lanzhou (a 4 hour train ride due east). We paid 17Y ($2), but we were not gauranteed even a hard seat. We ended up standing for a little over an hour and people were extremely nice and gave us seats because we were foreigners. The seats were dirty, and the people were even dirtier. But we got to our destination and then caught the next train to Urumqi, though we got off at the Dunhuang station nearly 14 hours later. It was 3:20AM when we arrived. We all had slept maybe 4-4.5 hours. Unfortunately the dunhuang station is about 1.5 hour car ride from Dunhuang, so we had to grab a taxi for 25Y per person to get there. Not only were we tired, but our driver was fairly tired as well. So we all had to stay up and make conversation with the driver just so that we could get there safely. The sight was beautiful as we were driving across the moonlit desert. We could not tell if what we were seeing were hills or sand dunes. It was quite mysterious. Im here to tell you the story, so that means we arrived here ok.

Dunhuang is a very touristic spot, with plenty of foreigners to be seen. Dunhuang is known for its 30+ caves containing Ming Dynasty wall paintings and the ability to explore the sand dunes of the Gobi Desert. While we are here we will try to go parasailing off of the dunes, sand surfing, ride camels across the desert... or at least try and roll down the dunes. This is Yiqun's last stop before she leaves for Beijing, so we will be interviewing her on top of a sand dune about her experiences here in China. We will be staying here until Tuesday, after which the remaining of us (Michelle, Sal and I) will be headest west to Terpan, Xinjiang province. Terpan is an oasis in the middle of the desert and is well known for its wineries and grapes. It is also the hottest place in all of China, with all-time high temperatures of 124 degrees fahrenheit and the second lowest point on the Earth (just slightly higher than the dead sea). After a couple days there, we will head west to Kashgar via Urumqi. Kashgar is the western-most city in all of China and was an important trading-post on the Silk Road. I will be interviewed in a night market there. We will stay there until the 9th of August, then I will be flying back to Beijing via Urumqi and the others will fly to Chengdu, Sichuan Province. I will arrive in Beijing at nearly midnight, and then my flight back to San Jose via Tokyo departs at 8AM the next morning. I will probably try to stay awake in the Airport with my stuff, because its just not worth it to get a 300Y hotel for aout 4 hours and run the risk of missing my flight.

This is the home-stretch, I will be seeing you all in less than 2 weeks! Let me know how you're doing! I'd love to hear from you. Sending you lots of love from the eastern edge of the Gobi Desert.


Posted by peter at 11:02 AM