For the past two months I’ve been studying at a little place called Dalian Ruiwen Langauge School (大连瑞文语言学校). “Ruiwen” means, roughly, auspicious letters, and sure enough I’ve really enjoyed studying there. I’ve found it much better than the Dalian University of Technology, where I studied last year.
As it turns out, if all you want is to learn Chinese and don’t care about accreditation, most of the Mandarin language programs for foreigners at Chinese universities are terrible deals relative to what’s also available at private language schools. A semester now at the Dalian University of Technology costs 8500RMB plus a 500RMB registration fee, or about US$1300. (I paid around 1000RMB less, but I don’t remember exactly how much and this year’s price is more pertinent anyway.) For that one gets, officially, eleven 100-minute classes per week. Should we assume that I actually studied to the end (I didn’t), that semester of 17 weeks should total to 187 classes. But, one really must subtract for holidays, test days, sports days, movie days, and mind numbing “speech competitions” (of course some of those cost the school money to put on, but I sure wouldn’t have paid if I had a choice so I count it as time wasted). That brings us to, let’s say, 170 proper classes. Each class is split with a ten-minute break in the middle. With large numbers of unmotivated students there is easily a wasted five minutes at the beginning of each class, and after each break, as students slowly peter into the classroom, sit down, and only eventually shut up. To be generous, we can say that each class is really about 90 minutes of teaching. To just finish this quantification before getting into the qualifications, that price comes out to about 53RMB per 90 minute class, or US$7.50.
That quantifies pretty cheap from an American perspective, but the qualifications are yet many. First and foremost are the class sizes. DUT promises to keep it’s classes under 14, but that turns to be only half true. It’s half untrue because after doing a poor job of student placement, many students move themselves up and down the levels, and in so doing end up clumping in some classes; the class I was in for most of last year ended up with about 20 students or so. The class size promise works out yet half true, however, because lots of people never come to class. Some students wouldn’t come no matter how great the classes were – these are mostly the Korean, Japanese, and Russian university students who are here as part of their major and really don’t care. Other students, like me, want to learn Mandarin, but sometimes don’t go to class because:
A) 8 a.m. is too goddamned early when nobody’s paying me and I’m not getting grades,
B) it’s listening class or any other class with a horrible teacher and a worse curriculum,
C) you’ve made too many friends who too often nefariously present you with more interesting things to do.
To name some other qualifications, only half the teachers are any good, the pace is very slow (albeit something that can be remedied, as I did, by skipping a level every once in a while until you catch up again), and only the most disciplined and/or antisocial could help but speak one’s native tongue with one’s new classmates and friends outside of class times, all the time.
To get back to talk of money, let’s compare the above figure of 53RMB(US$7.50)/90mins. with the prices at Ruiwen. There I’ve been taking two 90-minute classes per day, which start punctually and, with no break, really last 90 minutes. Each day I have one private lesson, at 80RMB(US$11)/90mins., and one lesson with usually just one other student, but sometimes two and often none, for 40RMB(US$6)/90mins. That’s an average of 60RMB(US$8.50)/90mins. for classes with an average of, roughly, 1.4 students total, and it costs just one dollar more than at DUT.
Of class size is also not everything. My teachers have been spectacular. My main teacher, Feng Laoshi, is a wonderful older woman from Haerbin who’s clearly been teaching Mandarin for decades. (She told me she once taught a class of 40 North Koreans, that they were very hard working students, but had very sticky fingers.) Then there’s Zhang Laoshi, the younger girl who taught the HSK prep. class I refered to in my last post and lets her best sense of humor shine when the other students don’t show up, which is much of the time. Finally, Hou Laoshi, who clearly put a lot of time into preparing a short-term character writing class specifically for my somewhat special needs; I know lots of characters, but have been writing them all wrong, ugly, and with the wrong hand.
Having worked as a teacher really changes the experience of being a student. It makes it really obvious when your teachers are doing things wrong, and also obvious when you’re faced with a teacher much more experienced than you. My teachers at Ruiwen are just that. But, and this is the really important part, when there’s only one or two of you, and you choose your own curriculum, if you don’t like something all you have to do is ask to change it.
The figure for DUT of 53RMB(US$7.50)/90mins. only reflects the real price per class attended if you actually manage to attend every class. If you miss as many as I did, calculations start going skewing strongly in favor of a private school. For the dollar more of 60RMB(US$8.50)/90mins. I’ve been learning nearly twice as quickly at Ruiwen than I was at DUT, and enjoying my classes even more than that. Most important of all, to be perfectly honest, I schedule my own classes. Unless someone’s paying me or giving me a degree I’m not waking up at 7am everyday ever again. My day at Ruiwen starts at 10.
I’m openly writing this in the hope people stumble across my page and consider studying at Ruiwen. If that’s you, let me still give you some words of caution: if you’re new to Dalian and you go straight to Ruiwen, you’ll need to be very proactive in making friends. The biggest benefit of going to one of the university programs is the social aspect. While it may take away from your Mandarin practice to run around with other foreigners, we all get lonely and everyone knows studying abroad is about more than just going to class and learning a language, it’s also about having a great time. Nevertheless, if you’re the socially proactive type, all you’d have to do is check out some of the expat websites like daliandalian.com and dalianxpat.com, start going to the listed events and the recommended cafes and bars, and strike up conversation. The expat community here is vibrant and welcoming, so you’ll have no trouble if you take those first steps!
Ruiwen is located at the edge of downtown Dalian, on a shaded street off of Gao’erji Lu, a main transit artery, only a few blocks from Olympic square. (The closest landmark familiar to any Dalian expat is Hopscotch Bar, which is only a block and a half away.) It’s a private school, and as such a business and flexible, so expect that prices can change but are negotiable and they’ll be based on how many people are in your class. If you’re interested in studying there you can find contact information at the bottom of this page, or call English-speaking Wang Laoshi at +86 13940888549.
Archive for the 'China' Category
For the past two months I’ve been studying at a little place called Dalian Ruiwen Langauge School (大连瑞文语言学校). “Ruiwen” means, roughly, auspicious letters, and sure enough I’ve really enjoyed studying there. I’ve found it much better than the Dalian University of Technology, where I studied last year.
I’ve been back in Dalian for about a month and a half, and I’ve eaten barbecue kebabs from the same street stall at least once a week. Never had any trouble. Last Saturday I wanted something quick to eat, so I headed down the block to Chengren Jie, Martyr Street. It was yet early, and my usual barbecue stall was still setting up shop. That block has at least ten other stalls and c’mon, they’re all the same. I choose the next one, and started picking vegetables-on-sticks from the big table. In a moment of daring I said, alright, screw it, I’ll try the green eggs.
The green eggs were disgusting, I swallowed only one bite. The color was clearly not the only problematic result of some kind of microorganism’s handiwork. Sam-I-Am was right to be freaked out all along by these sorts of things, but I believe in trying everything once, even green eggs from a street vendor. The lesson here learned, however, is that one should perhaps not be too adventurous when the next morning one has a standardized test for which one has been preparing, on and off, for months.
The next day I took the HSK and of course I had explosive diarrhea.
H, S, and K are the Pinyin initials (Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì, 汉语水平考试) for the People’s Republic of China’s official Chinese Proficiency Test. Every standardized test in the world must be known by its initials and must test nothing so well as one’s ability to take that test. The HSK fully conforms – even Chinese people call it “HSK” – and I can’t imagine doing well on it without what I learned in my prep class.
Take for example the reading comprehension section. The reading section, at 60 minutes, is the longest of the test’s four sections. On the elementary-intermediate level test one can score from a 3 to an 8 (the so-called basic test is 1-2 and the advanced is 9-11). To get an 8 one should probably know at least about 3000 characters, and 1500 characters should be enough to get the minimum score of 3. (I’m guessing I’m somewhere in the low 2000’s.) The reading comprehension texts love to be about science and nature just to throw people off with lots of specialized vocabulary and characters they’ve never seen before. So what do you do? Look at the questions first, see what characters you don’t know, since they’re the important ones, and then scan the text for those characters. The sentences immediately around those almost always have the answer. This is much faster than slogging through texts you don’t understand just to forget what little you did understand when you get to the questions. An hour might seem like a long time, but there are a lot of questions and time management is everything on these kinds of tests – especially when you miss the first few minutes after racing through the grammar section for a semi-supervised sprint to the bathroom and back.
Here, give it a try:
Full sample test materials here.
My original, rather-high goal for this test was a 6. A month and a half of practice questions made me lower that to a 5 in the name of warding off too much disappointment. Considering my intestinal distractions during those three long, break-less hours of testing, my score might be lower yet.
I had a high, delirious fever that evening, but I’m all the stronger for it now. I’ll be getting my scores in a few weeks.
[UPDATE: I ended up getting a 6 overall and an 8 on the reading.]
A Few Pictures
The troops all look about 16 years-old. They’ve been marching up and down Yushu’s main street 24/7 for more than a month. Full riot gear, their bodies in are in rigid formation and their adolescent faces show no fear. Just boredom. Until, that is, they see my white face obliviously breaking Chinese law and taking pictures of them. Then they just look confused, curious as any country boys at seeing a foreigner. But they are guardians of the Harmonious Society and its right to set up shop on the Tibetan plateau, 12,000 feet above Beijing, and so on they march.
The Tibetans eating breakfast nearby did not share the expression of boredom. As I obliviously snapped a few pictures, the look on their faces was much more that of “who the hell does this white asshole think he is coming here and provoking the Chinese?” I was too busy to notice, but Wayne made sure to let me know what kind of looks I got. And how he thought about being associated with me at that moment.
Wayne is a 53 year-old mountain climbing Lakota from Brooklyn. If it weren’t for Wayne, I probably wouldn’t have come here. But given that I did come here, if it also weren’t for Wayne I probably wouldn’t be alive.
Really, I didn’t plan to go to Tibet until I was basically there. After Hohhot I continued West, until I decided in the middle of a train ride to save a trip to Xinjiang (Chinese Turkestan) for sometime that I could keep going further into proper Central Asia. I abruptly changed course, South towards Xining.
Reading how sparsely populated and mountainous the province of Qinghai was, I expected Xining to be far more of a dusty outpost town ringed by brown-red mountains. But Xining, the last major stop on the new rail line to Lhasa, has been subject to the Central government’s relentless pouring out of investment and infrastructure into China’s western frontier – and the pouring in of a Han majority that falows. The city of Xining is less than 4% Tibetan, despite the surrounding, poor, countryside remaining overwhelmingly so. The village birthplace of our current bespectacled Dalai Lama is less than two hours away.
Xining, at more than 7000 feet above sea level, is a fairly bustling provincial city of two million with several shiny new shopping malls and an appropriate scattering of sprouting high-rise apartment blocks. It is 20% Hui (who only count as a minority ethnicity because they wear skull caps and veils, believe there is no god but Allah and Mohamed is his messenger, and really because the communist party says so). The other 1,500,000 odd-people are all majority Han Chinese.
I hoped to head through Southern Qinghai and into Western Sichuan and to Chengdu – avoiding entering the north-east corner of the currently forbidden Tibetan Autonomous Province by 20-odd miles. When I started making inquiries in Xining about the route ahead I was told that officially these and all other Tibetan regions in the surrounding provinces are entirely off-limits to foreigners.
The day before I left for Yushu, soon after meeting Wayne and being emboldened to join him at an attempt to go, Chinese media reported the discovery of a large stash of weapons in a Western Sichuan monastery. These decades-old grenades and machine guns, it was reported, were hidden behind the holiest sutras of the temple’s central altar. It was speculated, among Westerners with whom I spoke in Xining, that security forces have known for years that the weapons were there, that they where just waiting for a politically advantageous time to “find” them.
Talking this over, I learned that the Tibetan population in what used to be the Kingdoms of Kham and Amdo – the exact aforementioned regions through which I hoped to pass – were still fighting the Chinese until the the seventies, twenty years after the boys in Lhasa surrendered. They stopped only when Nixon walked The Wall, said it was Great, and told the CIA to stop giving the them guns and money. Now, despite the lack of media coverage and my own ignorance, the same areas have seen far more violence and armed conflict than Lhasa, and continue to do so.
“Whole towns can burn in Sichuan, but if someone sets off a firecracker in Lhasa, that’s what fills all the western papers,” said Jamin, a travel agent from Seattle who’s lived in Qinghai more than six years. While Western media, as much as I’ve been able to keep up on it, righteously scorn the harsh military response in Lhasa, there are only a few mentions here and there of what appears to be continued, intense fighting in Western Sichuan, and likely elsewhere.
The policeman told me there was live fire in Ganzi. But that was only after he called his boss. At the very first it seemed like they were going to let us through this, the first police checkpoint after leaving Yushu, about 30 km into Western Sichuan.
The sign at the pass between Qinghai and Sichuan said 4700 meters above sea level, 15,420 feet. Strung beside and across the steel Chinese road sign were hundreds of colorful prayer flags. The road dropped away to each side into brown mountains that looked from such a height just rolling hills. There are a few trees down in Yushu, clearly planted and carefully coaxed into growing so high above timberline. At this pass there is only lifeless brown grass and the yaks who love it, extending to practical infinity.
After a large valley, and a pause to meet the photogenic inhabitants of a string of large, white nomad tents, the road climbed up again and led to a small Tibetan village of about 20 reddish mud houses. One wood hut stood beside the road, flying the flag of the People’s Republic. A pole in front of it could have blocked the road, but was left raised. The taxi driver Wayne and I had hired drove slowly through the road block, only to stop a few meters later as a young policeman in a black-blue uniform noticed the car and, waving out of the hut’s front window, beckoned us to stop. The cabbie reversed, parked, and we all got out; Wayne, I, the driver, and another taxi driver who had come along for the ride.
We only had 30 km left until Sershu, or Shiqu by its Chinese name. (All towns here have two names.) At first the police said merely that they were going to register us. We entered the small wood cabin in which were two police officers and about 10 soldiers. The soldiers all looked like they were 16 years-old. In the back room some of the green-uniformed kids were cutting up peppers, potatoes, and yak meat. We were beckoned to sit and another young soldier was sent to fetch us tea. On the TV was a program about Thailand’s rain forests, in Spanish. Nobody was paying attention to it.
The older police officer asked, “do you have tea in America?”
“Yes, we import a lot of tea from China.”
“Do you often drink tea?”
Wayne nudges me, “what’s he asking?”
“He’s wondering if we drink tea in America”
“Oh? In fact, I do drink a lot of tea.”
To the police officer, “my friend says he drinks a lot of tea, but I usually drink a lot of coffee.”
“Ah, I’ve heard Americans like to drink coffee.”
The younger police officer interrupted, holding a portable phone in his hand, “sorry, I have to make a phone call, OK?”
What am I going to say, no, that’s not OK? He steps into the back room with the vegetable cutting soldiers. It wasn’t OK, the wonderful impression that they were going to let us through means nothing when we start asking our commanders. One of the adolescent soldiers, pointing at the TV, “do you understand that?”
“Yes. It’s in Spanish. Why do you have a program in Spanish on?”
The younger police officer came back with a grave look on his face. “There’s fighting in Ganzi. Shooting.” He sat down, and I realized he was younger than me. The older cop looked up from copying information out of our passports – to add us, for all I know, to the likely-spy registry. The younger one looked me in the eye. “Please understand, I cannot let you go on. It is very dangerous. If I let you go and you get hurt, it will be my fault. Please understand: this is my job.”
The police and our taxi drivers talked calmly for a moment in Sichuanese dialect, then switched back to Mandarin. “Even your drivers also cannot go. It is not only that you are foreigners. It is too dangerous for Chinese as well.”
I translated for Wayne and he echoed the understanding. Everybody was very reasonable, agreeable. This is for our safety. I don’t want this young, responsible policeman to get in trouble as much as I don’t much want to get shot myself.
His face lit up, “you could go through Aba!” The cab drivers look up, immediately nod agreement. “Come on, let’s look at the map.” He led us into the cabin’s third, side, room. One wall had a large portrait of Deng Xiao Ping and a motivational poster about responsible police behavior. The back wall had a 5 foot Chinese flag hung not quite taut. The closest wall had a map, and the two police officers, the two cab drivers, and several onlooking young soldiers began discussing alternate routes, saying Tibetan village names in Mandarin, evaluating them in Sichuanese, and pointing wildly around the map.
“Make sure to get everything they’re saying!” ordered Wayne, excited at a second chance.
I thanked the authorities for the tea. The younger cop shook my hand. “If I’m wearing this uniform,” he puffed up his chest, looked me in the eye, then exhaled in an exquisitely empathetic gesture, “then I have to keep you safe.”
As we drove back over 4700 meters and returned towards Yushu, Wayne demanded to know what I had learned about the alternate route. But my eyes had been focused somewhere beyond the map, the Sichuanese had flowed out my other ear, and I only remembered “Aba.”
Our two taxi drivers wanted to go back home to Chengdu themselves. One of them had his mother’s birthday coming up. They were pushing hard for us to come with them, and offered us an amazing fare at a quarter of what it would usually cost to hire a taxi all that way. About $180 for three days’ driving – for the two of us, and plenty of time to enjoy the sights with them. They completely believed our young police officer friend’s advice to try going through Aba, and took time to explain the route to us back at the taxi company’s office. They eventually offered the same price as before, even at the alternate route’s added 500 miles.
But after all that, I could not believe that cop had any idea. I truly believe he really believed what he said, but in fact nobody knows anything, even the cops. This is why people in Xining said I could not go to Yushu, and why nobody in Yushu knew I couldn’t enter Western Sichuan. It is no accident. Despite our officer friend’s conviction, his total trust in whomever he spoke with on the phone, for all I know there is no fighting in Ganzi.
“Maybe there is no more fighting in Ganzi. They just don’t want foreigners to see the cities locked-down, the mass arrests,” said one foreign volunteer living in Yushu, later that evening. In fact one of the taxi drivers told me on the drive back that he wondered if the cops didn’t just say that he and the other driver also could not pass just to make us feel better, that maybe if we were not with them they could have continued. While we were there the police let a civilian looking jeep go through after only a few unheard questions.
Even the news on Aba, which had slipped through in person, conversely contradicted. “I know someone who escaped from Aba recently and came to Yushu. He said they were really fighting hard there. He and his friends had to hide in the mountains for days,” I heard even later that night from a Tibetan I won’t name.
As much as we like to think everything revolves around us, and love the opportunity to criticize the morally inferior, I do not think China’s disinformation policy in Tibet is primarily about keeping secrets from the outside world. The thing most Westerners cannot understand is just how religiously the Chinese believe that Tibet is Part Of China. So it is none of our damned business. The Chinese similarly cannot understand that we’ll make it our damned business anyway. By keeping the West in the dark, by feeding the few foreign correspondents allowed in feeble propaganda, China allows Western opinion to assume the worst. Western opinion self-righteously loves every minute of it, and ad revenue soars.
As much as the press thinks it’s all about them, I think China’s real goal is to keep the disperse Tibetan population in the dark about their brethren’s situations. By turning off the phone network, keeping out the foreign press, and controlling the local press they can prevent other regions from getting ideas and keep the resistance unorganized.
China’s disinformation policy only makes sense on the local level because internationally they’re shooting themselves in the foot. Keeping the story simple and fostering indignity sells, the media love it and China feeds it to them. US papers call demonstrations what the Chinese call riots. But it’s not just the Chinese who are biased. The most shocking story I’ve heard, coming only second hand by word of mouth, is a of tourist’s video and pictures of Tibetans in Lhasa beating a Han girl of about 14 years to death. The video and pictures were bought up by several Western media companies for tens of thousands of dollars, and never published. Was she so as evil as her most evil of governments?
Of course, no matter how violent the Tibetans have been these past few months, Chinese rule has been systematically violent for a half-century. Things need desperately to change, the Tibetan people are indeed losing their land, their culture, and their language, as they have already all but lost their freedom. But to dumb the situation down, to cast the players into narrow, dramatic roles is counterproductive, and does nothing more than sell news, make people feel good about their ideologies, and create endless email chain-petitions that do no more than prove you have a better sense of moral indignity than your friends.
“If you are chasing a sick, hurt dog he will run from you. But if you chase that dog into the end of an alleyway, he knows he will die and he will jump up and try to bite you anyway. He has no other choice.” The tone of this Tibetan friend’s voice implied this was not a justification of violence but a resigned explanation.
Yushu’s Pride And Shame
I also learned from the same friend how it was that I managed to get so far as Yushu. Why the area has been calm and how I passed unhindered through four military check points. “Kham is traditionally a warrior kingdom, and Yushu used to have some of the fiercest resistance to the Chinese. So, when the demonstrations broke out thousands of troops were here before people could do anything. In fact, many people in Yushu feel shame that nobody fought here. People in other areas have been saying that we are cowards.”
The tension sits in Yushu’s thin, dusty air and everyone looks like they feel they’re being watched. Not counting the young soldiers, the population of Yushu Prefecture is 97% Tibetan, compared to less than 50% in Lhasa. What few Han and Hui there are all live in Yushu city; shopkeepers, restaurateurs, taxi drivers. I estimate the city at 100,000, spread out across this valley at almost 13,000 feet about sea level. The city, as any valley around here, is ringed by rolling mountains, only the very tops of which – at likely over 17,000 feet – had snow.
The city is very brown, many of the residential streets are unpaved and the construction sites – much smaller and slower than those in China – have big piles of fine, loose dirt. When the wind blows, and it can blow very hard up here, a column of dust lifts up from the city and disappears over the mountains. In the city center looms royally a large statue of Nyetri Tsanpo, the legendary first Tibetan King. He looks fierce on a rearing horse, and it ironically seems he could kick the ass of any Mao statue in most Chinese city squares.
The cost of getting construction materials and the small local economy major limiting factors, the architecture in the central city is mainly plain and Chinese. But, the buildings are painted very colorfully and all the signs are bilingual.
Tibetans themselves are very colorful, one of the reasons why I suspect they are so much more loved than other less well-dressed tragically oppressed peoples. The way they dress reminds very much of Native Americans, topaz and silver jewelry, long braids, leather and cloth with complex, abstract patterns. This is so much in contrast with the April scenery. Aside from snow topping distant mountains, everything is brown, cold, and at first sight lifeless. The mountains do not look too steep or too big, but relativity taken into account everything is in fact huge, steep, and higher than you’ve ever been outside an airplane.
The only person I heard call Yushu “Jyekundo” was an American in Xining. Of course, most of the Tibetans I spoke to I spoke to in Chinese, if not English. Most young people in Yushu speak Chinese as well as or better than they speak Tibetan. When I asked a well educated young man how to write “Adam” phonetically in Tibetan script, he had to ask a friend, who then couldn’t get it quite right without asking a third. In the public schools, taught entirely in Mandarin, for their second language students have to choose between Tibetan and English. Most choose English. Of course outside the city and down the deserted mountain roads many people cannot, or will not, speak Chinese.
My first day in Yushu I tore the two pages of Tibetan phrases out of the back of my Lonely Planet China and shoved them in my pocket. Walking around after breakfast, I tried out a few phrases. At first I assumed it was the combination of my bad accent and Lonely Planet’s arbitrary transliterations that were getting me so many confused stares. So after the third or fourth failed phrase I switched to Chinese and asked how to say what I’d been trying to say. With the exception of ‘Hello’, Tashi Delek, the responses were wildly different from the phrasebook and I clued in that this must be a different dialect.
Turns out there are three major dialects of Tibetan, what my friends in Yushu called Kham, Amdo, and the written standard Lhasa dialect. In my ear they sound like properly different languages. Some well-educated people in Yushu speak fluent Kham, Lhasa, Mandarin, and English. I met one Tibetan who could only speak Amdo, while the other Tibetans present could speak the above four. I wondered at their friendship until this same guy, several beers later, was suddenly fluent in Chinese. While sober he had refused to speak Chinese even if it meant not speaking at all.
The Giant, the Monk, and our Angel
Wayne’s and my stone-faced jeep-driving Angel also at first refused to speak Mandarin.
He had an old green jeep with broken door locks. He had rounded sunglasses over his serious, sharp, and handsome Tibetan face. He had blue jeans and an entirely unmemorable shirt. He had gas cans in the back seat. He had perfect timing.
I’m sure our Angel knew just from the way we flagged him down that we were not in a good way. Easily twenty miles out of town, down an ever more deserted road leading off into the silent mountains, Wayne and I had just jumped out of a taxivan and run across the street when out of nowhere swooped down our Angel.
The taxivan driver had been so friendly. Smiling and laughing, he wanted us to be sure to notice the air freshener. Air freshener that he may indeed have stolen along with the van.
After buying gas and picking up two more ‘passengers’ at the edge of town, he stopped and bought us all chewing gum. By the time Wayne refused my naive trust and demanded I tell the driver to stop, the driver had already become too quiet, too anxiously angrily nervous. From the beginning Wayne picked up the bad vibes, but I’d been naive. I forgot that this was not China. No matter what the maps say and how religiously the Chinese people believe it, this ever more deserted mountain road was not China.
I’ve gotten complacent. In Mexico or Brazil I would never let myself get even close to such a situation. In China I’ve never worried about more than pick-pockets, and certainly not bold robbery. Chinese robbers – even suspected robbers – are simply shot. The Chinese shoot Tibetans with even less reason. This is why, were these guys indeed planning to rob us, in retrospect it becomes clear that they would have been quite wise to kill us and leave us to the sacred vultures of the traditional Tibetan sky-burial.
After stopping to buy gas, the two ‘passengers’ came up one at a time. The first was a giant. He was 6’5″ easy and his hands looked like grownup hands used to look when you were a kid. He wore black pants and a Tibetan jacket like a fuzzy Kimono bunched up at the waist; dark cloth and an intricate pattern embossed in shiny purple thread. He first came up to the driver’s window, joked with him for a minute. Next came the second man. Smaller and older, he was dressed as a monk, but he is now in my memory far too rough mannered, far too scruffy, to be a man of Buddha. A few more words with the driver and they both climbed in the back seat.
Wayne’s forearm tattoo was showing, and the Giant, like a child, simply started touching it. Used to attention at his tattoos, Wayne uncomfortably tried to laugh it off. As we drove out of town, Wayne already said he had a bad feeling. I told him this is normal. We passed the turn for the temple to which we had hired the driver but kept going. Seeing the look on my face, the driver said that he was going to drop them off 3km down the road and turn around to go back to the temple. 3km is two miles is only a few minutes and, translating for Wayne, we reluctantly agreed. If couldn’t have read the sign, I would never have known we were going the wrong way.
It was already more than 3km when we stopped, but only the Giant got out. He ran over to a farm house, exchanged a few words – and who knows what else – with an unhappy looking woman, and got back in the taxivan. The driver started again. Irritated, I asked the driver where he was dropping them off. He pointed down the road, his face snappy and nervous, “down there.” We passed “down there”. I told him we passed “down there” where the hell are we going and he pointed “down there” again. I told Wayne. In a tone of voice that I could never doubt Wayne just said, “tell him to stop the car.”
“Stop the car.”
I don’t know how my voice sounded, but for an instant the driver slowed and Wayne, in that same voice, “Get out!”
We ran across the road and into our Angel’s jeep.
Shaking as everything unraveled in my mind and fit sinisterly back together. “Thank you thank you thank you… are… are you going to Yushu?”
He nodded at “Yushu” and waved away any other Mandarin I tried to speak.
The taxivan came roaring back, honking its horn wildly. The Giant and the Monk were nowhere to be seen. I gesticulated wildly to keep going, to ignore the honking, pointing at the taxivan and miming him slitting my throat. Our Angel pulled over anyway. The taxivan driver got out and ran up, fuming. I locked the door. He opened it anyway, the lock was broken. He wanted the money we’d agreed on to take us to the temple. I told him he didn’t take us there and he could fuck off. He started reaching for me, so I said fine and gave him ten yuan. Not satisfied he threw it back at me “Forty!” Our Angel stared ahead, trying to stay out of it. I resumed my pathetic gesticulations for him to drive away. He turned around and said, in perfect Mandarin, “just give him the damned money.”
I shoved twenty yuan into the taxivan driver’s hands. He let go of the jeep’s door for a second, and our Angel drove away. I thanked our Angel profusely in Chinese and explained what we had concluded was about to have happened. Our Angel, expression yet unchanged, simply said “I know. They aren’t locals. They are bad men.”
The White Scarfed Lining
We brushed off death, determined to get on with it, and hired a licensed taxi. The driver was Han and I felt racistly safe. He took us everywhere for a good price, and we bought him dinner. He led us to a spectacular new restaurant, the owner of which wanted to introduce us to an Anglophone friend. This friend then introduced us to the small (six people) expat community of volunteers and invited us to her friend’s traditional wedding the next morning.
In my imagination a traditional Tibetan wedding should be out on the high plateau surrounded by jagged snowy peaks from which the bride and groom should arrive galloping on handsome strong horses while monks chant and et cetera. Of course that’s impractical and the plateau is brown, cold, and windy in April. So it was in a large hall of a nice hotel. There was a projection screen over the stage so everyone could have a good view.
The hall had at least 400 people, eight plus people to a gold table-clothed table. In all there were only two obvious Han Chinese present. Most people were well but not overdressed. I was wearing dirty jeans and a dirtier t-shirt for lack of anything else. There was a plate of cigarettes on every table, Chinese baijiu liquor, beer, yak butter tea to drink. As the ceremony proceeded pounds of food were piled everywhere, a mixture of Chinese and Tibetan cuisine; Yak, vegetables, sweet rice, fish. After the ceremony at least half was left uneaten, the feast too large.
Tibetan weddings are very quick: Some, I assume respected, older man gets on stage and says something in Tibetan. Everyone claps. Some singers perform a few traditional songs. Another sings some Tibetan pop songs with synthesizers and a style a little India, a little China, and another entirely his own.
The bride and groom come out. Somebody says something else, everyone claps. After that, every guest in attendance forms a line and one by one places a thin white scarf on the groom and another on the bride. I pulled the two bunched up scarves that I had been instructed to buy out of my pocket and did the same. Bride and groom, upon becoming fully draped in a cloud of thin white cloth are apparently now married and everyone leaves to go get drunk, uneaten food lying everywhere.
After the wedding we hired another licensed taxi and a second driver came along for the ride. We met a serious young police officer who didn’t really know where there was or was not fighting but believed his boss and turned us around for our safety. Please understand, it’s his job. And so for me it’s back on the horrible, horrible dirty smoke-filled sleeper bus. It’s 16 hours back to Xining and along the way bus is sliding backwards and sideways around overturned trucks in a blizzard at 3 in the morning and 14,000 feet above sea level. Riding away in our Angel’s jeep, Wayne had shrugged and said that he knew it wasn’t his time to go anyway. And so do I as the road disappears into snowy Himalayan nothingness, the bus drivers laugh it all off, and I fall back asleep.
2008-4-10, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia
The Nervous School Teacher
The suited young man was visibly shaking in his nervous approach. He was clean shaven and wore the ovular wiry framed spectacles of the educated Chinese. I’d already finished my fried pancake breakfast (think chewy with garlic and hot sauce, not fluffy and Aunt Jemimah), and was sipping my instant coffee in this dirty-as-expected train station canteen. [as I write this，ten minutes out of Hohhot on the sleeper train to Yinchuan， an old lady just emptied her daughter‘s catheter into the trash can and pushed the trash can right back my way] After numerous firtive glances, Mike Lee, as he styled himself, worked up the confidence to come over and ask me the usual tired questions the answers to which, if it were not for pity on all the English learners out there, I would be tempted to have printed out onto a multilingual fact-sheet. Mike Lee’s English was worse than usual and his nervousness made me really uncomfortable, and this was by far the most intersting thing about the second least intersting person to approach me in Hohhot. When he, explaining he was also visiting Hohhot for the first time, asked if he could see some sites with me, I declined as politely as I could and ran away. A more graceful exit than the one I would perform a few hours later, surprsingly drunk and feeling very out of place in an illegal but not much hidden card room in a converted first floor apartment near Hohhot’s main mosque.
The lost Ghanian
Not a minute and 50 meters away from Mike Lee,
“Hello, do you speak English?”
No Chinese person has ever asked me if I speak English in English – it is assumed that the languge is inherited with my skin color. A very pasty color these days, wholly in contrast to the dark brown of the young African man approaching me.
“Can you maybe help me? I arrived here yesterday after a 40-hour train journey from Guangzhou. I was expecting to get in contact with a friend of a friend who can offer me an English teaching job. Unfortunately, I continuously call and call， and it continues to say his phone is not working。”
“I’m sorry, I just got off the train, I’ve only been in town twenty minutes. I guess if you call the number I could listen to what it says?”
“You understand Chinese?”
“Sometimes,” I smile. He dials up the number, hands me his phone.
“Duibuqi, ni fada de dianhwa yi wufei…”
“It says his account is out of money.”
“I don’t have anything but this phone number. Do you know anywhere I could find a teaching job here?”
It seemed at first very strange that he should imagine that I, some random gringo who got off a train and ate breakfast would have any such idea. But it occured to me not just that in his present position it could only hurt no to try, but that, in fact, I did have an idea. On the sleeper train from Beijing I met a student of the Inner Mongolia Agricultural University. A nice girl named Haiting who cannot for the life of her pronounce her future profession: a veterenarian. She said a friend of hers might have some time and be interested in showing me around town to practice his English, so I took her phone number.
I called Haiting and asked if this friend of hers could meet us, thinking it easiest to explain in person my lost Ghanian friend’s predicament. As we waited for her to contact this friend and, we wandered around the area of the train station．So far, Hohhot looked like any other medium-sized Chinese city, if perhaps more spread out. Dusty in a more natural, yellower sort of dustiness. I was looking for a China mobile store at which I could add money to my phone. The first three mobile stores all told me to go to down the block and turn left. Until I completed the circuit and met with success. As we walked in this big circle, I learned that he had orignally come to China with a business partner who was then deported – something to do with a Chinese girl gone sour. So this guy was now lookig for a teaching job – but why in Inner Mongolia he could hardly explain as well as I could.
Haiting called back and apologized that her friend was busy, so I explained the situation over the phone. She knew of a private English school and agreed to track down and text the contact information. Soon enough we got in contact with the school, who said they’d call him back. I left him waiting by the station, and will forever wonder what became of him.
The curious Shanghaiese
He beat even Mike Lee as the least interesting person to approach me. But I liked him better, as he didn’t try to speak more than a few words of English at me. Instead he followed me around the Dazhao Lamasary asking every detail about application procedures to American graduate programs, costs of living, and ranges of salaries for different levels of education in San Francisco. These are not the oldtiredquestions and I enjoyed hearing his perspective on my estimated answers as I admired the Tibetan art and the trilingual inscriptions in Mogolian, Chinese,and Sanskrit. This lamasery dates from the Silk Road days, when Tibetan Buddhism flourished in what was then the Barbarian capital of all of Mongolia, centuries away from becoming a civilized part of the Middle Kingdom.
The Mongolian MInotLF
I ran off not because Tana was hitting me up for money, and not really because she was lying to me, but because she was lying to me insultingly poorly. Tana is a 37 year-old Mongolian single (or perhaps not?) mother who works for Hohhot’s water utility and likes to spend her Friday afternoon drinking Baijiu with her coworkers and soon enough with young American boys from the next table over. She also, it must be said, had the face of a 27 year-old and a singing voice far more suited to the steppe than a public utility office.
Refreshingly, Tana and her two coworkers did not want to practice their English. As a group, all they wanted was to share in the, ahem, refreshing delight that is Baijiu with their new friend. Tana, however, it later became clear, also wanted thirty yuan to finance a bit of gambling. And for me to take her to America. And, it increasingly seemed, was going to want something else from me soon enough which, it must also be said, was also involved in the decision to run away. Question my masculinity if you must, but I was unwittinly force-fed Baijiu after finishing my lunch of Mongolian oat-noodles. After polishig off the rest of the current and the the next bottle, I could not refuse their invitation to come play Mahjong. I don’t know how to play Mahjong. The illegal but not much hidden Mahjong-room stuffed into a first floor apartment was terribly crowded. I was promptly kicked out for not knowing how to play and taking up space in which someone ele cold be losing their money. Tana followed me out and led me further into the somewhat delapidated apartment complex of grey dust-stained seven story blocks, cracked roads, and school kids in P.E. suits running around, screaming. Outside the next gambling operation Tana stopped and batted her eyelashes.
“If I lose money in poker, can you give me some more? Like, maybe 30 yuan?” while all the wile tryng to hold my hand, etc. I told her no, and she said let’s go anyway.
While the name of the game, pouke is a sinicizatin of Poker, the game they were playing in this second crowded smoke-filled apartment was not poker as I know it, but rather something very much resembling that gold-old drnking game “asshole”. From what I could quickly gather of the rules of the game, and the expressions of the other players’ faces, my good friend Tana was doing quite well, in fact. Until suddenly she looked at me, big Monglolian pleading eyes, and said “oh no! I’ve just lost! I need, um, thirty yuan. Okay? So you need to give me thirty yuan.”
“I don’t think you just lost.”
“Oh no! Really, I just lost. I owe the others thirty yuan, if you don’t pay I’m in trouble.” She smiled, and grabbed my hand, squeezed it suggestively.
I refused again, and she shook her head, stood up, and stepped into the next room. A minute later I was acrosss the river and eating beef dumplings beside Hohot’s main mosque, wondering at the grey areas between putting out and prostitution.
The irl who an’t say Gs
I wandered over to the Inner Mongolia Museum, only to find it very closed and myself with nothing to do for five hours until my ten o’clock train onwards. Wandering back in the direction of where I thought I’d seen a coffee shop, a diminutive girl dressed in the plain style of the Chinese college student appeared out of nowhere.
Her tone was that of an old friend bumping into another on her way home. This startled and confused me until I was distracted by those oldtiredquestions. I think if I print that fact-sheet I’ll have to laminate it.
But, Suzy, as she styled herself, was not akwardly shy, spoke both good English and patient Mandarin and was, unlike most random people who cross the street to come speak English at me, pleasant to talk to as we continued down the street and past the where- what- and how-…-are-yous yawn. Suzy didn’t know where the coffee shop was – the average Chinese college student cannot afford the relative luxury prices of real coffee. This I understand. I found it anyway, and possibly more to my own surprise than to Suzy’s I asked her to join me for a cup.
As we sat and compared studying each other’s language, it became clear that she has a fairly limited but severe speech impediment. My limited training in phonetics allowed me to pretty easily understand the symptoms, but my total lack of training in speech pathology left me at a loss to explain it. Since I was still drunk, I perhaps did not consider that I might have just been blowing her a bubble only for it to be burst by the reality of the fact that not only are speech therapists in China few and far between, but like hell she has the money to pay for that. And if you don’t get at something like that until adulthood it can take years of hard work to retrain your mouth.
I’m not sure if giving her false hope makes me a bad person.
Suzy bought me some sweet, dried goat cheese that I didn’t like until the third time I tried it and walked me to the train station, another night on the train for me.
I kept saying that I was going to find a ‘village’, but I never imagined I would end up somewhere quite so small as this. According to the signs, Cuandixia has 76 old courtyards. I can’t believe it’s that many, but I have not tried to count:
Cuandixia is located 90 km west of Beijing’s urban area and covers an area of 5,33 square kilometers. Conservative development and construction has been carried out here since 1995. Established 500 years ago in the Ming Dynasty, the village boasts the best-preserved historic folk dwellings. There new remain 76 courtyards and 656 houses built during the Ming or Qing Dynasty.
The village faces the south. It is established by the mountain, taking Longtou (dragon head) Mountain as its axis, and extending in a fan shape. The layout is compact in picturesque order looking like an ingot, and forms the hilly country courtyard dwellings which show unique features. The style is unrestrained, delicate, and exquisite with unique decorations which are rare cultural classics of historic villages in northern China attracting numerous domestic and foreign tourists. It has become a qualified shooting base for movies & TV programs, as well as a base for still-life painting. The tourism resources of Cuandixia are abundant. The green valley, clear spring, old roads, and divine ponds all add to the natural aura to the historic village. After fully enjoying the style and features of the historic vilalge, you can also stay in the old residences of the Ming and Qing Dynasties for some days, experiencing their richly tasteful charm. The four seasons of Cuandixia are beautiful. You can feel the spring charm of the historic residences in the spring, enjoy the mellowness, freshness and coolness in summer appreciate the red leaves in autumn and welcome the Spring Festival with auspicious snow in winter. The village is now a historical site under national protection, a national grade-A tourist attraction, the most valuable historic village of tourism, and one among the first group of famous villages of Chinese historical culture. [muy sic.]
I have been here for ten days and only plan two more. When I first set out to study somewhere smaller and less Anglophone than Dalian, I never really had a ‘village’ in mind, to tell the truth. I more had in mind a small city. Regardless, this village was recommended to me, so I decided I had to try. Its proximity to Beijing was a selling point – it is, in fact, still in the Beijing municipality. When I realized that this was listed in the Lonely Plant China guide (just barely a mention, but its there!) I worried that it would be too touristy. I’ve found that it is nothing but a tourist village. While many tourists do come, they are all coming from Beijing and all on the weekend. I’ve barely seen more than a handful here on each weekday. The most immediate benefit of this being a tourist town is that it is clean and beautiful. Really, very beautiful, which is something not to be said about most of well, all of North Eastern China. The other benefit is that, as far as lodging, these old courtyards have mostly all been turned into guesthouses. Within one minute of arriving in town, an old man was making head-on-hands-as-pillow motions at me, and beckoning. I followed him down an alley and found myself in a gorgeous little old courtyard. For 50RMB I got a room with a giant bed (intended for four people, in fact) and, of all things, a computer with DSL (on which I now write this). I told the mother and daughter who run the guesthouse that I was thinking about staying for a while if I could find a teacher. They told me no way, there are no teachers here, sorry. I went for a walk that afternoon and asked a few of the random old locals I saw the same thing. They all said no. I decided I would at least stay the night and then think about trying another town in this region.
The next morning, I slept in until ten-ish to hear a knocking on the door, “wake up, your teacher is here!”
Turns out, the mother and daughter had made some phone calls and found a friend of theirs in the bigger town about 5 miles away whom they thought up to the job, a woman of about 30 years of age. I, groggily, went out and met her. She said she’d never taught before, but if I wanted to, I could try a lesson that day. So I got out my books and spent a little while getting ready. The lesson went decently and I thought, whatthehell, I’ll give it two weeks.
And now its been two weeks and I’m ready to go.
I don’t dislike it here. The mother here made a deal with me that I can eat what they eat when they eat, rather than ordering food from the guesthouse’s menu, and I’m getting three meals for 35RMB per day. And it is absolutely some of the best food I’ve had in China. I honestly cannot remember the last time I’ve eaten regularly like this – my edges are softening by the hour. The room I’ve got is very comfortable, with the big desk to study and all the internet access I want for 5RMB a day. The studying has been very productive. While I’ve not added to the wixicon hardly at all, as I swear someday I’m gonna get doing, I have been practicing a fair amount, and I’ve been really hitting the characters hard. I must have stuffed a good few hundred more up there by now. Finally, the hiking around outside town is wonderful (and the only thing helping counteract all this the regular home cooking). Into the mountains that shoot up on every side, the stone-paved paths pass old temples as you leave town but then become windy foot paths that pass little caves and lead up – much scrambling later – to wide the views of the tops of enormous cliff faces.
All these great things aside, I can’t stay here. For one thing, I’m not really practicing much Mandarin outside of my 2 hour lessons each day. The ladies of the house are busy all day, and everyone else in town, well, I don’t really have anything to talk about with them. If they’re not workers busy with rebuilding ancient Qing courtyards with red bricks then painting those red bricks grey to look like stone, then they’re too old and so don’t speak proper Mandarin and I can’t understand a word they say.
If there’s anything these past few weeks of travel in Northeast China have shown me, it is that Dalian really is a very nice city, and I’m tempted very much to go back and study there. If I did that, I would be hard to do it right, but it could be done. In the meantime, I’m meeting my parents in Hong Kong in a month, and I don’t think I can resist taking the scenic route to get there. First I have to go back to Dalian to shuffle my snowboard and other associated crap to Beijing so it’s ready a month later to force upon my poor parents on their way home. After that, maybe I’ll go to Hohhot in Inner Mongolia, check it out to see if it’s a good place to study, and then I’ll start journeying south towards Hong Kong. So, if you enjoy reading me blag on and on, the good news is you should have a lot more to read than if I were to stay here in Cuandixia writing characters all day.
There’s something about Dalian that I just can’t write anything while I’m there. I didn’t write once in the four months I studied there last year, nor once in this last week that I very well did not study there. When I feel that things are familiar and routine, I don’t feel like I have much to say. I know that this is a mistake, as just about anything I could write about China would be neither familiar nor routine to my loyal readers (all four of them).
It is impressive how little I can achieve in a week. I arrived in Dalian Monday morning off the sleeper train from Harbin, a ride that was quite a bit more comfortable than the train I now ride (but twice as long and ten times the price). I had grand plans to figure out a way to ship my snowboard back to California, to buy a new camera – continuing my long series of finanicial contributions to Canon corp. – and to get lots of work done on this website (you’ll notice I’ve started importing my Central American travelogue and soon my Indian one as well), and to get something onto my and Chris’s yet-incubescent (why is incubescent that not a word?) grammar-wiki, wixicon.org, as well as get some financial stuff in order and maybe look into planning the rest of my life. Some of those things I sort of did and some not all. I blame the smokiness and slowness of the various net-bars at which I attempted productivity. My current plan, to study in a “village” somewhere, involves a good deal of use of an internet connection somewhere, but what I’d failed to realize was just how depressing Chinese net-bars can be. The have a policy of putting them in basements or else covering the windows, lighting them poorly, and encouraging smoking. What’s more, many of the other customers are engaged in networked video gaming with each other, and as such must, in all reasonableness, shout insults at each other across the room. And don’t you forget that shouting in Chinese is a special kind of shouting. I won’t need a good internet connection, most of what I plan to do is entering text, but I’m very much realizing that if I’m going to be at all productive at doing so, I’m going to have to search well for the least terrible of PCs to use.
As far as the other things I wanted to do in Dalian; I found out that private shipping companies would only be a reasonable deal if I was shipping one thousand snowboards to California, and China Post won’t accept something so long. So, the board, along with various other junk, I’ve just left in Dalian. Luckily Shinji and Nali have a new big bright orange apartment and have agreed to store it for me (even after storing my body on their big orange sofa for a week). Buying a new camera I did achieve, but disappointingly so. Canon, and other non-Chinese, non-crappy brand cameras are quite expensive in mainland China. The basically equivalent camera to the one I just lost would have been more than US$100 more than what I paid on Amazon.com. I just couldn’t bring myself to spend that much, so I bought a lesser model for only sightly more than what I’d paid before. While it’s a fine camera, I’m starting to think I should have just bit the bullet and paid for the better one. But now it’s too late. Better to not lose things at all!
From Dalian I grabbed the bus to Dandong on Sunday (after failing to get up early enough and pack fast enough on Saturday). I decided to try something I’d never done before, namely surf a couch listed on couchsurfing.com. I first heard about this website a year and a half ago, while hiking the John Muir Trail. The idea is that welcoming people list their couches, or spare beds, or floor space, or whatever, and before coming to their town one can contact them and possibly stay at their house. The more people whom you successfully host, or the more times you stay with someone without any trouble, the more references you get on the network, theoretically assuring your trustworthiness to random strangers.
I had my place in South Korea listed, but no one ever came there, so this time in Dandong was my first experience using the site. I stayed with Xiaoxu, a.k.a. Brian, and his eleven year-old daughter, Hui, a.k.a. Anna. Brian is fluent in English, and extremely kind. He said he’s never stayed with anyone on couchsurfing.com, and has hosted people once before, reportedly and American, an Estonian, and a Pole all traveling together. He was very keen on practicing his English, and it seems he wants to expose his daughter to English and to make foreign friends. In the bargain I got a really good experience of staying with his small family and he and his daughter walked me all around town.
Dandong (and I’m not sure what all Chris sees in it) is itself not very exciting. My main motivation to go there was, to be honest, my obsession with North Korea. Dandong lies on the Yalu River, and sports one and a half bridges to the DPRK. The half bridge is thanks to long-ago American bombers, and rather than tear it down, the Chinese have left it as some kind of political statement. One can walk out to the end of it – but only after paying 20RMB. Brian, Anna, and I ate lunch at one of a few restaurants in Dandong owned by the North Korean government. Moral questons aside, the food was quite delicious, and the Kimchi was, reportedly, Made in the DPRK. And besides, who am I to miss a chance to talk to some North Korean waitresses. Also at the restaurant was a man claiming to be Chinese, live in Italy, and to have studied in Pyongyang 20 years ago. He said he was in town to sell raw materials to the North Koreans, and asked my held deciphering the English on a poorly imprinted Chinese customs stamp. There was also a Spaniard and his hisponahablante Chinese associate, with whom I did not speak, and whose shady business with Kim Jong-il I can only imagine.
As far as North Korea itself, all I could see across the misty river was some old docked boats, some buildings that, for all I know, aren’t even real, a still Ferris wheel, and absolutely no movement with the exception of periodic Chinese trucks rumbling back across the bridge. At night, The Chinese side of the bridge is brightly lit with colored Christmas lights. Then the lights stop, and there is all but darkness. The North Korean riverbank had perhaps 20 dim lights, spread out, and a truly eerie lightening-like flickering, illuminating the low clouds from behind a hill. Brian suggested it was a malfunctioning transformer. He should know, as when he was “my age” he worked in a transformer factory.
This morning I visited the Cenotaph of the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea, a large museum and monument built on a hill overlooking downtown Dandong and the Yalu river.
The bilingual exhibits venerated the courageous Chinese “Volunteers” Army, and offered many interesting distortions of history. But the opening up of China seems to have lessened the ability to brain-wash. Brian for his part refused to go into the museum “because it’s all just propaganda” and when I asked Anna, who accompanied me through the exhibits, if she believed everything, she told me “oh? Sorry, I wasn’t reading the signs.”
I lost my camera.
This sucks balls.
When I first left Korea for China, I debated whether or not to change the name of this blog. As clever a name as “skorea” is (thanks Marzee!), does it really apply if I’m not in S. Korea?
Of course, as some of you may have noticed, I never did end up writing to the blog while I was in China, so whether or not to change the name of blog became a moot point.
Now I again find myself leaving S. Korea, and I’ve already resolved not to change the name of the blog. I’ll always be Skory (with some margin allowed for various transliterations) and so the world through my eyes might as well always be Skorea.
Now please allow me to give a meek apology to anyone out there who has been feeling a lack of the world through my eyes. Allow me to catch you up:
I took the slow boat to China. I studied a semester of Mandarin at the Dalian University of Technology. Dalian was fun. I lived with this guy. I made friends. I can even speak a modest amount of Mandarin, read an even more modest amount, and write a very very modest amount of it.
Missing the last two weeks or so of classes and the final tests, I didn’t quite finish that semester. China being however so accommodating to those who pay, I got my certificate anyway. I spent Christmas with my family back in Berkeley and then new year’s with the ol’school crew in San Felipe, Baja California del Norte. The rest of January involved lots of not once studying Mandarin, configuring my new toy (on which I now write), learning how vulnerable to and unprepared for avalanches I am, and following www.crossfit.com.
And then it was back to Korea, where most of my friends from last year no longer are. But I still managed to see a few old friends, and make a few new friends.