Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Next Big Trip

One of the best parts of teaching in China is that every year the winter break is really long giving me enough time to take a big trip. Two years ago it was to Harbin in the North of China and then to Vietnam and Laos. Last year it was to Thailand, with a little stop over in Cambodia, then to India. This year I've finally made all my plans, and boy it's a dozy. Starting in about a week I won't be in any one country for more than two weeks until school starts again. I'm traveling with Sarah and Sean, who taught last year in Changzhou and are still there, I traveled with them a little before and it went great. First on the 4th I'm flying from Aksu, the city near where I live, to Urumqi, the capitol of Xinjiang. I have about two days there, I'm really hoping to see a Chinese basketball game as Urumqi has a team. On the 6th I'm flying from Urumqi to Hangzhou, a big ancient city a little south of Shanghai where I'll be meeting up with Sean and Sarah.

Since I'll still have all my winter cloths there I'm planning on mailing them to someone in Beijing, and picking them up once I get back into China. On the 7th me, Sean, and Sarah are all flying to Kuala Lumpur, the capitol of Malaysia. I'll be in Malaysia until 19the When I fly to Jakarta, the capitol of Indonesia. I'll then travel around Indonesia until February 2nd when I have a flight from Bali to Singapore. I'm then in Singapore until the 7th when I fly to Hong Kong and then on to Beijing. From Beijing I'm probably flying back to the US on the 8th of February and I'll be home until around the 18th when I go back to China. From there I still have to fly back to Urumqi and Aksu. It's a lot of countries, and a lot of flights, but it should be fun. Unfortunately it's the rainy season in Malaysia and Indonesia but I hope that only means you get a few hours of downpour a day and then it clears up. At least when it's off season the prices are usually cheaper.

Monday, December 27, 2010

It's All About China

I finally had my Peace Corps interview, it actually had to be rescheduled the first time as for some reason they couldn't seem to call me in China. Eventually though they allowed me to call them, used that terrific new Google "call phone" thing and the connection was fine. Most of the questions were about how I would cope with different situations, and pretty much all my answers came back to China. Part of that was intentional, since I wanted to stress my China experience, but partly it was just easy to answer the questions with regards to China. I got questions like, "name a time when you had to organize something," for this one I just talked about the Christmas party since it was on my mind anyways. I was also asked something like, "talk about a time you had to deal with things changing unexpectedly," I think I laughed at that one since that is everything in China. The interview went well in the end and I through to the next stage. I have a bunch of medical form to fill out now, I'm going to be back in DC for some time in February so hopefully I can get them all done then. They didn't exactly tell me a country yet, and apparently it often gets changed anyways after the medical stuff due to what's available at the time, but right now they were talking about Sub-Saharan Africa. Ken tried to do the medical forms in China, he went to a really expensive hospital in Shanghai but it still wasn't enough so I'm not even going to try to do them in China.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Worst Wines in the World

I'm not really a big wine drinker, but I like to think I can tell at least the difference between good and bad, and most wine in China is decidedly on the bad side. It's not 100% though Slav found some red wine, they don't seem to make any white in China, that I thought was pretty good, and Slav, who drinks more wine than me, agreed. But over the last couple of nights I've had what are the undisputed worst wines in the whole world. First it was something called "Vmi Merceles" which I think is just French looking gibberish. I could tell something was off with this one just by looking at the color. It was the color you'd get if you mixed grape juice and lemonade. The smell was also awful, and nothing like the smell of any wine I've ever had before. The taste was like what would happen if you took grape juice mixed in four parts of water and then added baijou to the unholy mix. I was reminded of stories of people in Russia making vodka with antifreeze. The next night I had another red wine which reminded me of the wine people drink on Passover. For those of you who don't know kosher wine is for some reason awful, it's so sweat that it just tastes like grape juice, I actually had to check this one to see if it was in fact alcohol. So while there are in fact drinkable wines in China there aren't many of them.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Hand Turkeys

Thanksgiving can be one of the loneliest times in China for an expat. Your friends and family back home are eating Turkey and drinking too much wine. How do you duplicate that here?

Last year, when I was teaching English to college students in Changzhou, a city just and hour outside of Shanghai, me and the other five American teachers had a big Thanksgiving feast with a lot of our Chinese friends where we even managed to whip up apple pie and stuffing.

But in rural Xinjiang, I’m probably the only American in hundreds of miles, so a feast of any kind was out of the question. I thought I’d celebrate by teaching my classes about Thanksgiving. It’s tough, though, when the only the only turkey the students know is the country and their English skills are very basic.

I started by telling them the old stories about cooperation between the Native Americans and the early settlers, though I also felt compelled to note that things didn't go so well between them later. I talked a little bit about the kinds of food people eat during the family feats, but I couldn’t simply name the food. I had to describe the ingredients and how they are made. My students eat plenty of potatoes but none of them mash theirs, and butter is something only used by the ethnic minorities It seemed like a copout to just say something tastes like chicken. Maybe if Columbus had actually made it to Asia Thanksgiving would involve a lot more rice.

But I knew that this wouldn't really capture the spirit of Thanksgiving. I decided that even though my students are college sophomores I’d do what my grandmother used to do with her kindergarten class. I had them make hand turkeys.

I bought colored paper, scissors, glue and crayons from a local store and brought them to class. I told the class that when I was in elementary school we used to cut out paper in the shapes of our hands and then decorate them to look like turkeys.

I made an example of one for my oral English classes but my skill hadn't improved much since elementary school and my turkey was mess. The students, though, got the idea.

Soon everyone was cutting and pasting intricate designs. I don't know what they teach in Chinese elementary school but arts and crafts is probably a priority; all the students knew exactly what they were should be doing. I hadn’t bought extra paper, so they cut scraps to make legs and feathers for their paper turkeys.

Some students made their gobblers very personal. One added a cartoon to the side of the page saying she shouldn't have argued with her father. Another student titled her picture "Love Story" and made two turkeys one bearing the message, "I am a gentleman," while the caption below it read "Dear, give me a chance to take care of you forever!"

Since the students probably don’t know exactly what a turkey looks like—other than it looked vaguely like a hand-- many of the turkey were quite interpretive. A number closely resembled chickens, while others looked like phoenixes or characters from Chinese legends. Some students inverted the colors so that the paper was orange and the turkey white. A few students imagined their turkeys as enormous beasts and drew small people ridding on top of them. One turkey appeared to be on fire and more than a few were glowing.

On Thanksgiving in my home in Washington D.C., we talk about what we’re thankful for. I tried that too. I asked each of the students to say, in English, one thing they were thankful for.

A lot of them named their families and friends. Several said they were thankful for their country. A few, with a mixture of earnestness and brown-nosing, said they were thankful for their teacher. One said she was thankful for the Chinese Communist Party, while another who I think is a Communist Party member said he was thankful for God., Maybe most appropriately for Thanksgiving, one girl was thankful for good food.

In the end I told them they could bring the turkeys back to their parents, a time honored tradition, or I would be happy to keep them. I'm planning on putting them up all over the walls in my apartment. I might not a have a real Thanksgiving turkey, but I think these will do.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Christmas Extravaganza

I tried to avoid planning it since planning things in China always leads to frustration, but I got sucked into the planning anyways, for this big Christmas party we are going to be putting on for the students in Alaer. Originally me and Slav were just going to sing some songs but as soon as the school head about that they wanted to do a whole big production. Now we are teaching a couple of different groups some Christmas songs. We said we didn't want many students so of course their were 50 hanging about last night but after a long and confusing discussion with Lake, I constantly get the sense he isn't actually listening to me when I speak, we got it down to three groups of about 12. One group will do the 12 days of Christmas, with different students signing different parts, one will do We Wish You a Merry Christmas, which proved not too difficult when we tried it out last night, and one will do Jingle Bells, after Silent Night seemed to be too hard. I have no earthly idea how to teach a group of Chinese kids to sing, since I can barely sing myslef, so we are just going to go with a lot of repartition and hope that works. There are also supposed to be some games for the party but there isn't exactly a big budget so we may only end up with 10 apples for apple bobbing. I hope it works out but I think the school is being really unclear and sort of expecting us to pick up the slack without ever really explaining what is going on.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Ministry of Truth Will See You Now

I've written before about how China seems to view 1984 as some sort of instructional manual but the recent propaganda around Liu Xiaobo the Chinese dissident and scholar winning the Nobel Peace Prize really takes the cake. Besides portraying him as some sort of an evil figure in the Chinese press, not a new tactic they call the Dalai Lama a terrorist, they also have cajoled and threatened every country they could to ignore the award. Liu Xiaobo is the first Chinese winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, unless you count the Dalai Lama as Chinese, and I don't, most famous for a letter calling for more democracy in China. For that horrible crime he'll probably spend most of the rest of his life in jail.

But not content to merely arrest and smear Liu Xiaobo the Chinese have really gone off the rocker. First there was the World Harmony Award given to general Chi Haotian who is most famous for shooting students in the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Give a peace prize to a man most famous for murdering student protestors shows both that they communist party has no idea what irony is and also no idea how their actions play to an international audience. I think they are really surprised by how people respond to all this. We often make the mistake of assuming that other people think like us, or at least understand how we think, but that is often not the case. The communist party really views the world through its own prism and is surprised by what is going down.

Finally there was the Confucius Peace Prize awarded to a Taiwanese guy Lien Chan who favors closer integration with China. This is not only funny because they clearly just cooked up this award in some pack room at the Propaganda Department, that's its real name, remember no irony, but because it was so clearly a sham. Lien Chan the guy who supposedly won the award didn't know until a newspaper contacted him and wasn't there when the award was presented. Well at least Liu Xiaobo can take comfort from the fact that he wasn't the only one not there to receive an award, and also from the fact that the people in charge of the Propaganda Department seem to be stupid.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Trip to Aksu

A few weeks ago me and Slav had to go with Ma Ming into Aksu to get our residency permits. There is a bus between Alaer and Aksu, but since this was official school business Ma Ming got the school car and driver to take us. There's only really on road from Aksu to Alaer so we were constantly passing slow trucks and farm equipment. There were a few really small towns along the way that were set up at crossroads. Ma Ming also brought a girl who I thought was his girlfriend, since they had only been going out for a month or so, but it turns out she was actually his fiancée. That's how things work in China you find someone acceptable and you don't waste any time.

She also works for the school in another department. She's not a teacher but I'm not sure exactly what she does. In Aksu we got a quick lunch at a beef noodle restaurant before going to the various police stations to get the permits. Mostly that just involved Ma Ming talking to people while me and Slav sat around. In one stations we noticed Ma Ming's picture was on the wall. I joked that he was on the most wanted list but he said it was just because he worked in the foreign affairs department. He was even nice enough to take a picture with his picture. I should have realized it from the maps but I was surprised to see that Aksu is close enough to the giant mountains that ring the Tarim Basin to see the actual mountains, which gave a nice look to the town.

After we got our permits, annoyingly they don't cover our whole stay so we have to do this again some time late next semester, we went shopping for a new cell phone for Ma Ming's fiancée. The cell phone store was actually about 30 little kiosks all selling different cell phones. I have no idea how any of these place make money with so much competition. She looked at a bunch of cell phones but didn't see one she liked so we went to another store with another 30 kiosks. There was even one place that sold, what I think were real, iphones.

Finally, after what felt like forever she picked one she liked. We went to look for some English language moves but the selection was terrible and the price the guy was asking was laughable so neither Slav nor I bought any. For some reason after this Ma Ming insisted on eating another meal, despite the fact no one was hungry. Actually my stomach wasn't feeling well, a constant issue in China, so I didn't eat much. We looked in a big supermarket for butter but couldn't find any. So that was our trip to Aksu, it took all day and we didn't manage to do much.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Don't Shoot the American

A little bit ago Niel, one of my students, and one of the class monitors, invited me to play what he described as CS, Counter Strike a shooter video game, in real life. After a series of questions I determined what he was talking about was some sort of laser tag. When I was a kid I loved playing laser tag at the place not far outside of DC. He arranged for it to be on a Saturday and invited a lot of his classmates. Most of the students who came I knew, but a few were their friends or girlfriends and not my students. The place where they rent the equipment was not that far from the front gate of the school. When we biked over there there was only one problem, no one was around. Niel said he had arranged the time with the people who ran the place but we were a little early. Finally the guy who ran the place showed up, he turned out to be a gym teacher from the school. The problem now was that we had so many people that we had to wait for another group to finish or we wouldn't have enough equipment.

We waited for almost two hours. I thought the whole thing would have been over at that point so I had go soon. Finally the other people finished so we got suited up. They had these camouflage suits and helmets with little sensors on them to tell if you shoot what you were aiming at. The whole thing then worked together over a network to see when people had been shot and by who. We biked over to a wooded area near the river to play. First of course we took about a hundred pictures, because what's the point of doing anything in China without a mountain of pictures. Finally we actually played a little. We divided into two teams and basically just chased each other through the underbrush. The funniest thing was that the laser guns couldn't really shoot through the bushed very well so you would be trying to shoot someone five feet from you and getting no result. I played in two games before ripping my jacket pretty good on a tree. I decided that since it was getting late anyways that was enough for me. I talked to Niel and offered to pay but he said that Ma Ming had already gotten the school to pay for it. It was a lot of fun in the end, despite the waiting, and I got my jacket fixed when I got back.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fall in Pictures

Out of the back gate of campus is a road that runs away from the school into the endless cotton fields and small towns which are really the life of this region. I took a trip down it once with Ma Ming not long after I got to Alaer, but recently I decided to go down again to get pictures of fall in Alaer. It has gotten quite cold here recently, I've taken to wearing gloves and a hat everywhere, and the leaves are almost entirely off the trees. If you look back on my blog, or on my Flickr page you'll see pictures and a video of some of the same stuff as here but looking decidedly more alive. I don't really have anything much to add to the pictures, all the fields you see are cotton fields, now mostly bare, and the road is one of the few in the town.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Uyghurs have the Hot Pocket

Every day I'm becoming more and more impressed with Uyghur culture. First it was their mastery, or possible invention of, the bagel, but today Slav discovered that they also have the hot pocket. I have long believed that every culture has their own version of the burrito, some meat wrapped in bread, but to find dead ringer for Hot Pockets was, to say the least, unexpected. The only real difference between these and Hot Pockets, is that Hot Pockets have cheese in them. The Uyghur version is minced meat, lamb I think, and fat, people in Asia love fat, steamed in a bread shell. It may have a small amount of tomato in there. The way things are going I'm just waiting until I discover that just around the block is some place that does a Uyghur version of pizza. Probably not, but I can dream at least.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Peace Corps

As some of you know I'm pretty far along in applying to the Peace Crops. I don't have an exact date yet but I'm supposed to have a phone, or Skype as the case may be, interview some time in early December. The process is already surprisingly long. Besides a huge application and several essays I needed a number of letters of recommendation, thanks again to everyone who did them. Recently they also mailed my a card where I had to get my fingerprints taken and then mail it back to the US, all this for something that wouldn't happen before late summer at the earliest. This isn't nearly the end either. Even if they say yes the medical forms are famously complicated. When I first came to China the Peace Corps wasn't really on the list of things I was interested in but my opinion changed over time. Partially it was how similar a lot of the Peace Corps stuff was to what I was already doing, actually I wouldn't be too surprised if a Peace Corps person turned up in Alaer some day. Also Ken and Dave are both now in the Peace Corps, Dave is in Kazakhstan and Ken is in Costa Rica. I put down that I wanted to go to Africa on my form, though they aren't big on letting you pick. All in all it definitely seems interesting and something worth applying to.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Test Time

Since two of my classes end on Monday I've been working up tests for them. For the oral classes there's not really much of an option besides an oral test. Like I've done in previous years I gave them a list of questions and allowed them to cross off some and I'll pick one of the remaining ones. This might be a little too hard for the Uyghur class so I'm going to try t grade more easily than I usually do as long as they seem to be giving it a good go. Mostly I'm worried they won't be able to talk for the full three minutes, but we'll see how it goes. What I really hate about that test is how long in takes to go through the whole class. Sitting their listening to one after the other can get really draining before the end. In my listening class I divided the class into two parts, since trying to make sure 40 students aren't cheating is really hard. The test will have some of the grammar we've done, mostly basic parts of speech, and then their will be a video, actually I'm just using a class video we haven't watched yet, which I hinted to in the last class for anyone paying close attention, and a few questions about what is happening in that video. Also I'm going to play an easy song and have them do some fill in the blank. I've never given a test in a listening class before so we'll see how that goes.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Beginning of the End

Net week about half my classes end. Unlike my last school which sent an ending week on classes this school just told me how many times I had to have each class. The standard number is 20. Now that's more than the usual number of weeks in a semester but for two of my classes I've been having them twice a week. So next week will be the end of my listening class and one of my Uyghur oral English classes. My schedule was really full for a while so it will be nice to have a little more room. Having a set number of classes makes me feel a little differently about some things. The other day I wasn't feeling very well, but I wasn't so sick that I would have canceled classes in Changzhou. There it just becomes a giant hassle since I have to reschedule them some other time. But in Alaer I just basically push the end back a week. Also the school told me they want me to submit my grades in two numbers, the 30% which is supposed to be for in class work, and the 70% that is supposed to be for a final. But making the final worth 70% is just crazy to me for an oral English class so I'm now going to have to do more work to make sure the numbers I give them match up with the grade I actually think the student should be getting.

I'd also like to direct you over to Ken's blog for a great post http://ken-j-ferrell.blogspot.com/2010/11/if-you-can-imagine-it-its-on-internet.html

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Do You Do When This Happens?

Yesterday I was supposed to have two classes, one was going to be a final exam where I had scheduled each student a specific time to come in for their oral exam. The other class was going to be the last one before the final where we would review and I would discuss the final in more details. Neither class happened. I showed up to the first class, where we were supposed to have the final, to find the whole class sitting there. Now since had told them, quite a few times to make sure they understood, that they should only come during their times I was pretty confused. At first I thought I had my dates confused and that I was actually supposed to give the final on Wednesday, but after reviewing my notes I saw that yesterday in fact was supposed to be the final. I asked the class what was going on.

They said that a number of the students were absent since they still hadn't come back from the break, one also said something about a big Chinese test the other day. Now if they had brought this up last time it would have been fine I just would have had the final a class later but no one mentioned it, despite the fact that this should have been something they would know. I was left trying to figure out what to do. Rather than have the whole thing piecemeal I decided to wait a week for the final but I wasn't happy about it. Since this was supposed to be the last class I just sent them home because I hadn't prepared anything besides the final exam.

In the afternoon class, which was supposed to be the last class before the final. I showed up to find only six out of 42 students there. What's more they seemed really surprised to see me. I eventually figured out that they had only come to the classroom to watch a movie and the whole class thought that there would be no class today and the final on Wednesday. While I had planned on giving the final on Wednesday I still hadn't told them an important detail so I have to delay the final until next Monday. This one at least seemed like an honest miscommunication but now next Monday I'm going to be giving finals all day which is not pleasant.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fa Piao

I've been wondering about these pretty much as long as I've been in China. When you go to a restaurant or store, make that a nice restaurant or store, you get this little receipt for your purchase, a "fa piao" in Chinese, that has a scratch off part where you can win money. This always seemed like a strange practice to me. I got some partial explanations about it, people said it had something to do with taxes, but I never really understood. I was never that interested in the fa piao since you almost never won anything. Ken liked them a lot more and was really excited when he won 5 Rmb at a Pizza Hut once. But recently I stumbled upon this article which clear the whole thing up, http://todayilearned.co.uk/2010/11/17/taiwan-collects-sales-tax-from-businesses-through-the-national-lottery/ Yes, it talks about Taiwan but the same must be true here. Basically it says that in an effort to get businesses to actually report their sales taxes they make them give out little receipts which verify that there was a purchase made. The idea is that the businesses would have to give them out since the customers would want their chance to win.

True to form when I ate with someone more assertive like Qin Chen she would always make sure we got our fa piao, which the restaurant wouldn't always give at first. She once even got us a discount when the restaurant said they were out of fa piao. This may seem like a small thing to those of you back in America but I've been wondering about these things for years. Interestingly for whatever reason I've yet to see a single one in Xinjiang but then again they don't have Pizza Hut here. With this mystery solved now I'm just left wondering what is up with the "China Welfare Lottery," and yes that is an accurate translation.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Unlike Changzhou where it seemed to stay warm forever it got cold here pretty quickly. For quite a while, or at least it felt that way, they didn't turn on any of the heat either. I had one heater in my apartment, and I bought another, the problem with them though is that they don't have a fan attachment and they make a lot of light so they don't really work in my bedroom when I'm trying to sleep, unless I want a night light, and they don't heat the biggest room in my apartment very well. Finally they decided to turn on the radiators there are a ton of them in my apartment, but they don't produce exactly a lot of heat. Often in my small computer room I shut the door and turn on my little heater which helps. Also I've just taken to almost always wearing my shoes indoors. I don't feel as cold as I did in the beginning though, I think that's partially because I've just gotten more adjusted to it being colder indoors than I usually like. I know it gets down right cold here in the winter so I hope they turn it up some, that or I'm not against buying about 10 heaters and just making my own heat, hell I don't even pay the electric bill around here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Every society has classes, while Americans always like to downplay the role of class the American dream is more about class mobility than a classless society, but in China it's much more obvious than it is in America. Most Americans know that even people who have it not as well off in America have it better than people in large parts of the world, but it's one thing to know that and another to experience it. I've written about this before but I instantly went from another random college graduate in America to a upper middle class professional in China. My students sometimes ask what I make here, that's not a rude question in China, and while they are very impressed with my salary I'm not sure if I should tell them that it would put me way below the poverty line in America. But it's not just my sudden change in status it's also how much clearer class lines are in China.

This is a country that still calls most of it's farmers peasants, and where the term "worker" suggests a pretty crappy job. The people at the low end of Chinese society, and there are a lot of them, work on extremely poor farms, a number are basically subsistence farmers, or in really low paying factory jobs, jobs the government purposely keeps low paying through currency manipulation. You can tell these people just by looking at them most of the time. They are shorter, especially in the older generations, their cloths are almost always somewhat dirty, and their skin and hands are hardened from years of hard work. The next class is the emerging middle class. This is basically where all my students fall. There is a big difference between students in the little town here and in Changzhou, which is in the richest part of the country, but they all fall roughly into the middle class. They know they'll be able to get some job that is broadly white collar, and have enough money to own at least an apartment. They dress better than the workers, and they avoid spending too much time in the sun least they be mistaken for peasants. Finally there are the rich. Fancy cars, drivers, suits, and the way they boss around everyone in a ten foot radius makes them pretty easy to spot. Around here you don't see as many but in Changzhou their kids were easy to pick out as well with American fashions and electronics they don't even sell in China. It just makes me much more conscious about class living in a society where it is so constantly on display.

Monday, November 8, 2010


I've talked about Lake before but I think he deserves his own post. Lake is, in addition to being a teacher, in change of assigning classes and everything teaching related when it comes of the foreigners. Steve had a job similar to this back in C-zhou. To increase the Steve parallels Lake has a young son he often brings with him, I don't think his son has an English name, or I just can't remember it, but I suggest Pond. When I fist saw Lake I thought, "oh he must be a big shot he wears a suit and a jacket all the time." It actually turns out that his one suit may be the only cloths he owns. When I first saw him on a weekend and he was still wearing the same suit, it's not that he has two similar ones either, I asked him if he was working or doing something important that day and he just said that no he really just wears the suit all the time. Now I have this image of him sleeping in it. Lake is really into traditional medicine and remedies. When my stomach was bothering me he told me this story about how his grandfather used to put a brick in the fire then wrap it up and tie it to his stomach when he slept.

Lake has also told me that I should never have my bare feet on the floor as it's bad for my chi. Lake's a nice guy, I genuinely like talking to him but he has a problem with going on for a long time once I already understand him. Words like "OK," "sure," or even "I understand," don't derail his sentences. Besides classes he also in charge of English corner which is more interest than I saw any teacher take in the two years I was at JSTU. Lake was also the one who organized the day people came over and made dumplings, more on that in another post. He is one of the few men in China who cook, since his wife is a graduate student and really busy, and he is always on me to cook more.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Two Sons

Of all the difference between Changzhou and Alaer the biggest is easily the presence of the Uyghur students. I teach two classes of Uyghur students but their English is on a lower level so it can be hard to just chat with them. One day though I ran out of stuff to do a little early so I just tried to ask them some basic questions about Uyghur people which they were happy to answer. I first asked about the scarfs that some of the girls wear on their heads. They said it was a Muslim thing, which is what I thought, but I was also interested why not all of them wore it. They said it had something to do with family and tradition, which I interpreted to mean it basically depended on how religious your family was. The scarfs were also many different colors, from mostly black to bright yellow, which the students told me was just a matter of personal taste. Also unlike some religious Jews the head covering had nothing to do with being married or not. Also I find it interesting that unlike what I see in pictures of some other Muslim societies the girls don't seem t worried about some hair showing around the edges or of taking them off and adjusting them in class.

I asked a number of other questions about religion. Sometimes the answers I got were a little contradictory, especially when I asked both classes but I tried to figure out exactly what they meant. I don't think there is a mosque in Alaer, or if there is it's not anywhere near the school. I did read online though that Aksu has the second biggest mosque in China. The girls said that women don't usually attend mosque as it was mostly for the men. What was really interesting though was that they said that students weren't allowed to attend mosque, and I think that holds true even during breaks. They gave me the impression that once they were done being students the men would attend mosque. I also wasn't sure if this was only in college or all through out their student careers. This was especially surprising to me as I know a lot of the students didn't eat during the day during the month of Ramadan, and that they all follow the Muslim dietary restrictions, the biggest being no pork. There are separate cafeterias for the Muslim students due to the dietary restrictions and they say that sometimes the Han students eat in their cafeteria but they never eat in the Han ones.

I've been to a few cafeterias at the school. One older Uyghur one was really run down and crowded. The older Han one was old but not in as bad shape. There was also a brand new cafeteria with one floor for the Han students and one floor for the Uyghurs which was sparkling and new. I also found out that the Uyghur students like Bollywood movies and were quite impressed I knew of so many of the big stars and had been to India. One interesting thing was that the class wasn't entirely Uyghur it was about 70% Uyghur with most of the rest of the students being ethnically Kazakhy. In one class one girl was Uzbeky as well. They said that they all lived in the same dorms, which were seperate from Han dorms. They also said that it was common for Uyghur and Kazakhy people to intermarry but that they almost never married Han people. The last thing I found out recently is that there is a big holiday on the 17th, not that the school felt the need to tell me. It's called something like Eid al-Adha and celebrates when Abraham also sacrificed his son but instead sacrificed a goat. They said they really liked the holiday because it involved a big lamb dinner with friends and family, traditionally the lamb is a sacrifice. One last interesting note is that the story of Abraham differs slightly between the Christian and Jewish version and the Muslim version. In the Christian and Jewish version Abraham almost sacrifices his son Isaac, who is later considered the father of the Jewish and later Christian people. In Islam Abraham also sacrifices his son Ishmael who is traditionally thought of as the father of the Arab people.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Shooting the Moon

Changzhou had a lot of western food. Obviously not as much as home but it had a number of pizza places, a couple of McDonalds, and even a Subway. Alaer has none of that but it does have bagels and after asking my friends in Changzhou to send me a toaster, as Alaer has none of those either I now can eat toasted bagels. To make it even better Slav was able to find butter recently. So now I'm sitting in my apartment eating a bagel with butter. That's certainly not something I was able to do in Changzhou. Hell most places in America it's hard to get a decent bagel. It seems the father I go from home, and this is about as far as it gets, the more stuff I'm able to find. With this logic I just need to randomly wander into the desert and I'll find a guy with creme cheese and locks.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What's the Frequency Kenneth

Well I finally have my cable TV. After bugging Ma Ming for a long time to get it set up I got it just in time to watch one playoff game before the Yanks were eliminated. That's slightly better than my prediction of getting it the day after the playoffs end though. The problem now is that the three channels I have basically suck. I have the normal CCTV, state run, channels including the sports channel CCTV 5 where I can watch all the pool I've ever wanted to see, and the English channel CCTV 9 where I can see a round robin discussion about just how imperialistic the US is, somewhat or very. I also get three more normal channels. I get international ESPN which was great during baseball but now seems to show soccer 22 hours a day. I get something called Star Movies which has every B horror movie, and C action movie ever made. I never new Steven Seagal made so many movies, and I feel bad for Cuba Gooding Jr. who must have made some deal with the devil to win that Oscar that now he has to be in so many truly bad movies. Finally I get the National Geographic Channel which is OK but has way to many programs that basically involve people talking about fish. So I got what I wanted but I didn't really want what I got.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


There are a lot of things I could get in Changzhou that I can't get out in Alaer. That includes a lot more Chinese things than I would have thought as well. But there are a few things that I can get in Alaer which I never really saw in Changzhou. I've written before about the bagels but recently I found a great popcorn place. Slav noticed the place originally but the problem was that they only did that weird sweat popcorn that people in China seem to like. I've gotten sort of used to it but it's far from ideal. I noticed two things about this place though. One, they had actual butter. It took a while to find out where we could get some but we now have honest to god butter. Second, I thought that since they were just making it sweat by adding a spoonful of sugar couldn't we ask them to use salt instead. We finally did and they actually had some salt around and obliged us and made regular popcorn. With real butter and slat it actually came out great. So there's something interesting. I couldn't usually get real popcorn in Changzhou but in Alaer it's right down the street.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


It's 4am I'm sitting in the dark listening to the Yankees and thinking about my grandfather. In his life the Yankees won a World Series almost every three years on average, and while he was only two the first time I feel he probably heard that one as well. He sold insurance to one of the players on some of the great Yankee teams and had a ball signed by the 1961 Yankees, the same year Roger Maris hit 61 home runs. I don't know how many games he watched in an average year but if someone told me it was more than 100 I wouldn't be surprised.

I also think that in all his years watching baseball he never once found a game, a player, or a coach, he entirely agreed with. If the batter swung he should of held up, if he held up he was too cautious, and if he hit a home run he should have listened earlier. I think he would have made a great sports columnist since he could find fault with any baseball decisions. Watching a game with him I didn't need any of the TV commentators since he would tell you exactly what should be happening and why. Telling this to other people may have been superfluous as well.

I am thinking of him because I was going to call him this morning to chat about the game, and hear what the Yanks could be doing better, but last night he died. Listening to the games it can be easy for me to feel like I'm right back in American in the stadium, but when this happens China might as well be on the moon. E-mail, cell phones, video chat bring me right back home, but not really. I'm told he passed away soon after last night's game, and it was a good one. The Yankees were down five runs almost immediately and their pitching seemed erratic. But somehow they held on, the bullpen didn't give up anymore runs, and in the 8th they scored five to go ahead and win in dramatic fashion.

I know it sounds like this is all about baseball, but it's not at all. I don't know how to describe my grandfather. He was married for more than 50 years, he was a veteran, he was a school teacher, I think he like that I was teaching in China, he had four kids, and nine grandchildren, he was a good person, and he liked baseball.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I've finally gotten most of my classes down but my beginner Oral English class is giving me nightmares. I tried to do a game I thought was pretty easy. I broke them into groups and asked them a few basic questions all about sports, we'd talked about sports in a few classes. It was going OK not great but mostly people were trying to talk and were giving some sort of answer when called on. Then I got to the last question, "Is it better to be fast or strong?" I don't think this question is particularly difficult especially as I spent some time making sure people understand that the students understood what "strong" and "fast" meant. But when I asked people for their opinion one answer was simply, "Tiger." I'm not sure what exact lack of understanding confused them enough that tiger seemed like an appropriate answer but I'm sort of at a loss for what to do. Slav joked was that at least they were thinking outside the box, the problem is we as a class can't seem to locate the box.

The listening class with them is going better since it's more structured but this class is more free form which makes it a lot harder. In another class with them I tried to have them write dialogues, something they understood but it was just hell trying to keep people focused on task and working. And I'm worried that since we ran out of time half the groups will not have their dialogues with them next week when they are supposed to perform them even though I tried to stress that. The class has really three different compounding problems. First, despite being college aged they have about as much English training as some Chinese students get in primary school or middle school. Second, honestly they just aren't great students the number of people trying to surreptitiously look at their cell phones or sleep is higher than any class I've ever had, and I just don't have that much practice enforcing much stickier discipline. I got annoyed when I was trying to take role one day and everyone was just talking so I couldn't here who was there. I ended up having the class sit quietly for four minutes to practice "being quiet." Finally, it's a really big class 41 student is a lot when trying to get people to pay attention and make sure people are on task. Well mostly I just needed to rant. I wasn't sure what to expect when coming out to Alaer but having the most trouble with classes really wasn't it. I feel like all this focus on classes is making it harder to really see how Alaer is different from Changzhou which is really why I came out here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

For I Have Known Them All Already

I know over the course of my years here I've talked about this a lot but I think it's one of the most common, most annoying, most different, and most uniquely Chinese things. I, of course, am talking about things changing at the last minute. After that whole big thing yesterday about classes changing and having to work all weekend, today Fish comes up and asks if I can be a question master during the competition. He said it wouldn't add on any more time so I say sure. But not two hours later I get a call form him telling me that they no longer need me to do anything. I have no idea why this is happening, and no explanation was offered. It's just China where plans made one second can be unmade one second later. I'm reminded of T.S. Elliot's line "In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will revise." Also I have no idea if there will be an English corner tonight or where it might be. I actually felt bad when one students asked me and I had no idea.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I'm Not in Changzhou Anymore

I always knew that the hours I worked in Changzhou were crazily low even for teaching in China, but I've been a lot more busy than I thought here. This week was odd since after the end of the holiday last Thursday I worked Friday and then the weekend. My schedule started out as 17 hours a week, with more on some weeks and less on others, but after taking another class at the request of Fish I was up to 19 hours on average. This week I also agreed to judge some contest, I don't really understand what it is, later today for an hour, and speak to one of the other teacher's classes for an hour tomorrow. Lake came to my apartment yesterday and asked me if I would judge some really big contest they had this weekend. He offered some extra pay for it but I really didn't want to since next week I have 22 hours of class, and I need to get a bunch of lesson planning done over the weekend, and I've agreed to do a bunch of extra things for the school already. I especially was ready to refuse when it conflicted with a Yankees game on Saturday. Finally he offered to have me judge half, which is still about six hours on Saturday and Sunday, and said I could take off Monday and Tuesday next week as compensation. This doesn't result in less classes since I end up doing 20 periods with each class no matter what but I finally agreed. I just hope the school remembers how far I'm going out of my way for them. I think they basically just don't ask Roy and Olga since they jut say no.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Chess with Ersen

During one of my first classes I asked students to tell me something interesting about themselves. A lot of students didn't really know what to say and I just got a bunch of the same stuff about where they were from but one student Ersen in my beginner Uyghur class mentioned that he played chess. I though at first he meant the Chinese version of chess which I see so many older people sitting around playing but he said that no he played western chess. After I got my schedule more figured out I arranged to meet him to play a little chess. I've never been very good at chess but I've been learning some based on a computer chess program which has a really nice learning program. I don't have a chess set here but Ersen had one and we met at my apartment to play.

Ersen is a nice guy and he tries in class but just trying to have a conversation with him showed just how little English he has. We could talk a little about chess pieces and the words for them in English. I learned that he had learned chess from his family and that a lot of people where he was from played chess. People often ask me a lot of questions about the Uyghur students but with many of my Uyghur students have so little English it can be hard just to talk to them. I won the first game against Ersen with pretty much one good attack when I was in a tough position he won the next two games without too much trouble though so I think he's definitely a better player than me but at least we're close enough to make it interesting.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

It's All About Timing

Things in China have a habit of breaking at the worst possible moment. I know there is a tendency for people to ignore any time something works and just remember the times it doesn't but it seems amazing how often the only thing I need doesn't work. We got cable recently but the school told us it was only temporary and if we wanted more we would have to pay for it. Well I get up at dawn this morning to watch the first Yankee playoff game and low and behold the cable isn't working any more. I asked Ma Ming to get it working again but god only knows how long that will take. Of course it was working just fine last night, but now nothing. Well at least the Yanks won. Tomorrow's game is at 6am and I don't have much hope of getting the TV working by then.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My Apartment

I've been meaning to do this one for a while actually so today I'm going to post a series of pictures of my apartment and make some comments under each picture. This is a little bit of a different format for me so please bear with me.

The first picture above is the area in between my bathroom, on the right, my kitchen, straight ahead, and my computer room and living room, behind the picture. There's a microwave and a refrigerator, but besides walking through here I don't use this room much.

This is the half of my bathroom with a sink and a washing machine. The bathroom has a sliding door as a whole and there is also a sliding door between the two sections.

This is the toilet and the shower. As you can see there is no division between them so when I shower the whole room get really wet. I usually just shut the door between the rooms after and open the window on the far side which helps dry it out. The hot water comes from the water heater near the top of the picture and isn't available in the sink. The shower head also doesn't really go anywhere so I have to hold it when I shower. This is probably my least favorite downgrade from Changzhou.

My kitchen is a long thin room so this is only half of it with the cabinets and the dishes. I don't really use it much.

This is the other half of the kitchen with a sink and a gas stove. There is a big propane tank just off picture here.

This is where I spend most of my time. The desk is nice but a little high. That's the famous chair that caused so much difficulty. Behind the chair is the heater I use sometimes in the morning and night. The light in this room is really weak so I have to desk lamps to help out.

This is my living room with the TV. The couch and the chairs and quite comfortable and as you can see I've already made a mess in there. On the middle table is a bunch of fruit that some students brought over that's going bad before I can eat all of it.

This is my second bedroom which I don't really use. I use the bed as a hamper. That bed doesn't have a mattress it's just a blanket over wood. The small room beyond that is where I hand my cloths. Given the hanging racks attached to the ceiling I think that was the intended purpose of that room.

This is another room I just don't use at all. I guess if two people were living here each person could have a computer room. It's just where I store some stuff.

Last but not least this is my bedroom. There's a dresser off camera. I used the fan when it was still hot out but now it just sits there. There is a mattress but it's pretty tough. The blanket is warm though which helps on the cold nights. Well I hope you enjoyed my little virtual tour of my apartment.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What Do You Want to Know?

Well I've been on a big posting kick recently but what I'm really curious about is what you want to know more about. Sometimes when I'm talking to people in the US they'll have questions that I just never thought of or ask about stuff that has become somewhat common place to me but is still interesting if you're not here all the time. So I'm asking for some comments on this blog item to tell me what sort of things you'd be interested in hearing more about. If you've never commented before, and I know by what I hear and what I see on my trackers that there are some people who never comment, it's really quite easy since I have anonymous comments turned on, just go down and post a questions or an area you want to know about, and I promise to get to it soon.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Yellow Card

So the other day me and Slav were talking about keeping discipline in a class. This isn't something I've actually had a lot of experience with. When I first came to China I thought I would be something of a hard ass as a teacher. I'd seen for myself in high school how a class could literally devour a teacher who couldn't keep control. But in China all the students are so nice and well behaved I never really got in the habit of cracking down hard on behavior I didn't like, talking Chinese being the best example. I didn't exactly allow it but I could tell when I substituted for one of Dave's or Ken's classes how much less Chinese was being spoken since they were much stricter about it. This semester though with my Uyghur classes there's not only a language deficit but somewhat of an academic deficit as well. There are just too many students talking in Uyghur and Chinese, and way too many people trying to whisper to each other when I'm talking or taking role or something.

Slav jokingly suggested that I pull out a yellow and red card like a soccer referee and after thinking about it seriously for a while I think that is exactly what I'll do. I already got a whistle and I can find some red and yellow paper. I think this will help a lot since it draws a lot of attention to the infraction, while, I think, not putting to much pressure on the students since it's done in a somewhat humorous way. I think the punishment for getting a yellow card will be extra homework while a red card will be that I read your homework to the whole class. I think this will help keep some more order especially in my more unruly classes.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Moon Cakes

About a week ago it was a different Chinese holiday, Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival. During this time the traditional gift and food are called moon cakes. Moon cakes are a desert, a round pastry stuffed with semi-sweet filling. Despite receiving these pretty much every year, from either students or the school, I've never really liked them. They just aren't sweet enough. They just seem like their missing something when you bight into one expecting a desert and instead come away with something that's like a cross between a cake and just a doughy piece of bread. I know the Chinese think I'm crazy for not liking them but I can just never get over the taste. Here's a picture of the box I got from the school this year, I manged to give most of them away so they didn't go to waste.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Searchers

Today is the weekend, and day two of the seven days I get off for Chinese National Day. I wanted to get another heater for my room since the real heaters haven't come on yet, about another month I think, but it's still pretty cold at night. One student who I knew lived to far away to go home for the holiday agreed to come with me to look for one. We biked down to a big bizarre about two kilometers from the school. We looked in a number of shops there but couldn't find anything. We eventually found one heater but it was far too big and expensive. While we struck out on the heater I got him to show me where the biggest supermarket in town is and they had peanut butter and jelly. Slav had shown me a little restaurant/bakery where I knew they had something like western bread so we biked over there and picked some up so I can now make PB&J sandwiches.

While we were there I treated him to a burger and fries since he said he'd never had American food before. He's a nice kid and while we were eating he told me some interesting things. His girlfriend, who is in another one of my classes, is spending the break picking cotton to make extra money. She gets paid one RMB for each kilogram of cotton she picks. He said that yesterday she made about 50 RMB in about 8 hours. That by the way is about half of what I could make in one hour working for private company in Changzhou. I suggested that he probably shouldn't mention to her that he spent the day eating hamburgers, which cost about 25 RMB wih fires and a drink while she worked in the fields. While we were discussing how in America no one ever uses the word peasant for a farmer he told me that his grandfather had been a low level official with the Kuomintang, the people who ran the government and fought against the communists before '49.

He was essentially the mayor of their village as I understand it and probably a property owner. I asked if he went to Taiwan when the rest of the Kuomintang did but he said that his grandfather was at far too low a level for that. He was though executed when the communists finally took over their town. This also meant that his father couldn't get an education, or probably any opportunities. He said his father only taught himself to read later in life. He expressed a lot of support for Deng Xiaoping who ended a lot of these policies and opened China up. It's amazing in China how fast you can go from the normal, looking for a heater, to the truly remarkable, stories of family struggle and world changing events.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Don't Drink Baijou

This post is a little old actually the banquet I will describe here is actually from before the most recent two banquets. For the first several weeks here I was pretty much the only westerner. There were Roy and Olga around somewhere but they seem mostly concerned with there own things and are a lot older than me, though they seem like nice people. It was much harder than I thought it would be though to go so long without talking to other foreigners. There comes a point where you see something crazy, or amazing, or even just really unique to China and I very much want to turn to someone and say "you saw that too right?" Ma Ming had told me a long time ago that there was going to be another foreign teacher around my age in Alaer but there were some issues with his visa so even a week or so before he came it looked like he might not be able to come. But finally in the middle of September Ma Ming announced he would be arriving really soon. I was never exactly sure how to pronounce his name, I'm still not 100% on it but he just asked people to call him Slav.

Just as I thought when I looked his name up it is Polish in origin, though he's British. He's actually taught in China for a couple of years going back to Britain in between to get a masters in Ancient Chinese History. I asked him why he came all the way out here and he said that it had a lot to do with studying a version of Manchu, the language spoken in the last Empire, that was still used in some remote parts of Xinjiang. He seems like a nice guy overall and it's just nice to have someone else around who I can talk to. He actually hasn't started classes yet since most of his students are freshmen who have been doing military training. As soon as he arrived there was a banquet for him, which he was a little tired for having just flow from England via Russia. It was around noon and even though it was the middle of the day Ma Ming insisted on us drinking Baijou. It's not that I had a ton of stuff to do that day, or even that compared to later we drank that much Baijou, it's just as soon as you start drinking Baijou the rest of the day is ruined. I had to go take a nap after, even though I don't like naps I just couldn't stay awake and by the time I got up it was almost time to go to bed again.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Somehow some way this is the 300th post of my blog. I'm as shocked as anyone that I've done so many. This is going to be a pretty short one though as after feeling fine yesterday this morning my stomach has been bothering me again. I wish I knew exactly what it was. I've been changing around what I'm eating and doing everything I can think of. I'm just a little sick of being sick at this point. Well at least tomorrow is my last day before a 7 day holiday so if I can just make it through a few more classes I can take as long a break as I need. Maybe I'll just show a movie or something in my listening class today. Unless you count the Coventry class back in Changzhou I don't think I've ever actually shown a movie in class. I always felt it was sort of cheating, but on the other hand I feel like cheating today and it's pretty easy to do.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

ESPN and Hamburgers

Well things have taken a turn for the American here in far off Xinjiang. First I got ESPN international. Despite the fact that about half the programming is soccer this is actually better than normal ESPN since it has the whole baseball playoffs. I think the school had a better version of cable for a while but it wasn't until a Chinese teacher told us about it that they bothered to give it to us. I might have to pay a little extra to keep ESPN but it's worth it at least for the playoffs. I also have a movie channel, though the sort of movie channel that like to show Bio Dome, and the National Geographic Channel which I love. Slav also just showed me a place that does hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, and fries, not far from where we live, the hamburger is basically tasteless since they cook it to death but with some weird ketchup it's not too bad. Gaining a few little comforts of home is always nice. I also just completed my Peace Corps application, so there a chance I'm going to be doing that next year.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Well I finally missed a day yesterday being quite sick. I'm not exactly sure where it all began actually. There's the old saying correlation doesn't imply causation, old enough that it can be found in Latin "cum hoc ergo propter hoc," so some of this may just be coincidence but who knows. My stomach had actually been feeling a little bad for a few days now, but on Thursday I was feeling fine. We had yet another banquet, this was the fourth or fifth and I expect at least two or three more this semester. As I posted before I was a little pissed at Ma Ming for bugging me about drinking so I pushed him pretty hard. I was toasting him every chance I got and I got Slav to do the same. Even using all his tricks of deflecting it onto other people I could tell he was pretty sick by the end. We drank around seven or eight small bottles of baijou, and by we I mean there were only four people drinking baijou. So as you can imagine, double so for those of you who got the drunk Skype calls, I was feeling a little sick on Friday. That was fine though there were no classes on Friday because of a Chinese holiday but there are classes this weekend. I didn't eat much all day Friday but I had one regular sized meal late in the day when I started to feel better.

On Friday night though I felt terrible. I spare you the details but I slept very little since I needed to run to the bathroom constantly. I called Lake and Ma Ming and canceled classes yesterday. I pretty much did nothing yesterday but sit in front of my computer and watch movies while drinking water and eating a few bananas that Lake was nice enough to bring over. Today I'm still not feeling very good, I got through one class but I was feeling sick the whole time. Hopefully I'll be back to 100% tomorrow, but I don't know if it was something I ate, something I drank, one bottle of diet coke I had Friday tasted a little weird, or some delayed reaction to drinking but being sick in a foreign country is no fun at all.

Friday, September 24, 2010

More Classes

Well this guy names Fish just came to my apartment, and people laugh at my Chinese names being Panda, and convinced me to take an extra class. I didn't really want to do it, who wants to work more, but it was pretty hard to say no. It's just sort of hard to turn down a guy who's being so nice and is only asking two more hours. I did insist that if I did it it wouldn't be in the morning but now I have another class on Friday. The students are graduate students of some sort but I don't think their English is supposed to be very good. The downside is now on some weeks I end up with 22 hours of class. I didn't agree to do it permanently though so if it's too much I can cancel it. I suppose I could also move it to Tuesday on the weeks when I don't have classes on Tuesday. On Friday morning I have one class already but I elected to have this one on Friday afternoon even though that means a bigger gap between the classes. I'm never sure if it's better to do the classes in one go through or have time off between them. Fish initially called me when I was still in bed this morning and after ignoring the first three calls I finally picked up the fourth time he called. In China if you don't get what you want just keep pushing until you do.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Classes

I just thought I'd share with you these pictures of my classes:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Where Are They Hiding the Bodies?

So Slav, the other young foreign teacher here, I'll do a separate post about him, comes down to my apartment saying he's looking for a tape player and Ma Ming said there should be one somewhere in my apartment. Well I haven't seen anything like that but I humor him and start randomly opening drawers. The first thing I come across is a collection of DVDs that some one left behind. Great, I think, I almost left some DVDs in my apartment I guess I lucked out since I get exactly zero English TV stations here these will come in useful. I don't find anything else in the other drawers, a few drawers in one desk are locked but Ma Ming said they lost the key years ago. In my apartment there are two bed rooms, only one has a mattress so I pretty much ignored the other one. In the other bedroom there was a closet that was for some reason taped shut. I basically figured that it was just probably broken or damaged or something. Having not found a tape player yet I decided to cut into the tape and see what's in the closet.

When I open it I'm stunned to discover that it's filled with a huge amount of stuff left by previous foreigners. In the smaller side compartments I find a Scrabble set, two tape players, a few papers on learning Chinese, a couple of bibles and some candles. There are also what I'm pretty sure are selections from the bible translated into Chinese, I guess I know one of the previous tenants was an undercover missionary. The top of the closet I'm shocked to find has not one but two guitars, a sleeping bag, and a duffel bag, still with airline tag, filled with cloths. The main section of the closet is literally packed full of blankets, cloths, and a small suitcase. It's at this point I start wondering if the school is secretly murdering foreigners and I'm finding all there left over stuff. I even google the name I find on one bag to see if there are any stories about missing people. I'm a little reassured when I don't find any news and when I see that the cloths actually belong to a number of people, one bag is filled with women's clothing. I guess this closet is just filled with years worth of the left over possessions of previous foreigners. In Changzhou the cleaning people just take that stuff but I guess here the school protects it for some reason.

The picture is of Slav making a face as he takes one of the guitars out of the closet, it's useful to have some one tall around. Also on another note this now marks the longest I've ever gone on my blog without missing a day. See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bucket of Change

In Changzhou I had a bucket of change. When I finally added it up at the end of the year it was more than 300 RMB worth of 1 RMB 5 mao and 1 mao coins. I would always get change from stores and not wanting to port it around with me I'd put it in the bowl. Sometimes I'd take some out to pay for lunch or dinner or what not but usually it would just keep growing. Here in Alaer I have yet to see one coin. Not a single store, vendor, or person, has had any coins. They always end up giving me the really small 1 mao and 5 mao bills that are almost never seen in Changzhou, or anywhere on the East coast of China. But here they seem to love them. I don't know why this is exactly, I wouldn't even really know who to ask. Maybe for some reason the banks just don't give them out here. Maybe there some reason that has to do with farmers, Uyghurs, or where they're made, or maybe there is no reason at all. All I know is that I love it. It's wonderful to not have to worry about carrying around coins anymore. The bucket of change is gone and good riddance.

Monday, September 20, 2010

More Meat

Well some people in the US know but I haven't put in on the blog yet so here it goes, I'm no longer a vegetarian. I tired for about the first week I was here but I ended up eating the same thing day after day, meal after meal. I was so sick of cold noodles that I thought I was going to lose my mind. So I finally decided to scrap it. The great vegetarian experiment is over at least for now. If I am able to eventually learn a suitably large number of non-meat dishes I'll go back to it but for now I'm back on meat. Xinjiang is a pretty meat heavy place. Even thought he Uyghurs don't eat pork there is far more meat then is normal in the East coast of China. Not only is there more meat, especially lamb, but a number of the vegetarian foods I'd come to depend on from Changzhou are completely absent here. Actually I'm amazed given how homogeneous China is that there such a regional variation in Chinese food even apart from the Uyghur food.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I Swear Revenge!

Today I went out with Ma Ming and a couple of the students to see the desert but that will be in another blog post today I want to talk about lunch, and revenge. After the desert, as is fairly common in these group outing situations, we had a banquet style lunch. This is usually nice even if it involves too much food. Actually Ma Ming had been talking about going to this place for a while since it serves local fish and sits right next to a big lake. At lunch, as is also common, there was beer and toasting. I didn't really want to drink much beer since I had a lot of stuff left to do in the day and I know that it's never just one beer and that being drunk would pretty well screw up the rest of the day and possibly my week. Also we are having another banquet, that will be the fourth since I've arrived, on Tuesday so I thought I could do my drinking there. Ma Ming despite not drinking himself, he said he had too much the previous night was merciless in pressuring me to drink.

At first it was sort of funny but after two hours of being pestered to drink more I'm pissed. Ma Ming may try to do nice stuff for the teachers he but he can really get on my nerves. He jumped into a photo I was trying to take and after he said "Oh, that was rude," I tried to play it off as a cultural difference before he said again that no it wasn't just a cultural difference he was rude. Well Tuesdays banquet offers me the perfect opportunity for revenge. This Chinese machismo thing is a two way street. I know I can drink more than him and I'm not going to stop toasting him until he's on the floor. You can toast a whole table but you can also just toast one person, the trick is to essentially gang up on one person and take turns toasting him. I'm pretty sure I have the other foreign teacher Slav on board and I bet I can recruit Roy to help as well. Bring on the Baijou. On a lighter note I took a picture of all the food we had served at the banquet so you can see what one of these things is like. If you can't identify some of it don't worry that happens to me too:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

G'mar chatimah tovah

Well it's Yom Kippur here in China, for my non-Jewish readers Yom Kippur, or the day of atonement, is the most important Jewish holiday in the year which involves fasting, and in America going to synagogue. Here in Alaer there aren't exactly a lot of synagogue around so I'm just hanging out and not eating. Not eating on Yom Kippur is about the only Jewish thing I do in the average year, but I figure what the hell it's only one day. I got woken up early today to go judge yet another English competition which was just about as boring as they always are. People do way to much early in the morning around here it's starting to get on my nerves.

Ma Ming basically thought the not eating and drinking thing was funny. He kept pointing to the water bottle and smiling. I can't really tell if some of the stuff he does is just because he's Chinese or because he's a jerk. They kept asking how long it was for I think because they thought it was like Ramadan and lasted for a number of days. It's interesting to be in a part of China were they are more familiar with Muslim culture than Jewish.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I Miss My Three Day Weekends

Well it's Friday after my second week of class and I'm starting to miss my three day weekends. I know what your saying, oh poor Daniel I heard you worked a whole 14 hours this week, but I'd really gotten used to have three days off at the end of a week. It feels really truncated to only have two days off. I don't think I had five days a week classes ever in Changzhou even when I had 18 hours, my current hours are 17 a week with some weeks having 14 and others having 20. I suppose I could try to switch around a class or something though the school here seems less flexible with that sort of thing. What I think the difference really is is that just having moved here there seem to be a lot more things I have to take care of in a day then back in Changzhou. In my second year I really had everything figured out so it was a lot easier to fix things myself and find everything I need. Here I have to constantly ask for help and my to do list is starting to pile up. Also this weirdness with the time is effecting my sleep. I've been having trouble falling asleep and waking up at odd times, sort of like being jet lagged again. Hopefully as I get more things taken care of it will become easier to relax and I will deal better with these time changes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Every Day in Every Way

Well things are getting a little better with classes. I had my to toughest classes yesterday and a mix of easier activities and cracking down on Chinese and Uyghur helped make the classes run much more smoothly. I got a great e-mail from Sarah about how the school in Changzhou is requiring her to retest all the students she failed, and they basically said they didn't want any of them to fail this time. It's just a really great example of the Chinese attitude on these things. They've turned the schools into such factories, the rate at which college education has expanded in China in the last 10-15 years is enormous, that it's just easier for everyone if people are just passed along. I had a student last semester whose grade I just left blank since she was almost never in class and didn't come to the final. I didn't fail her because she was essentially doing something for the school, working at the Shanghai Expo, but you have to actually attend s a few of my classes to pass. I'm sure the school just filled in whatever grade they wanted, but at least I did what I could.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What Time is it Anyways?

I don't know what time it is. Not literally, there's a clock on my computer but time has an odd meaning out here. China despite being almost exactly the same size as the US, and therefore larger than the continental US, has only one time zone. Why that is exactly is a little unclear. If you ask them Chinese people will say something about making things easier, and I guess in some respects it does, but the US doesn't seem to be suffering too much with four time zones in the continental US. The real reason has some to do with just not caring about people further West, China is, both now and historically, a country focused on the Eastern seaboard. The West, especially the far West is the area with less development and a lot of pesky minorities. Also I believe this has something to do with the one China mania which is the most central tenant of the Communist Parties dogma. One China, one time zone.

The effects of this on life here are really strange. Time zones are always partially political, look at a map and you'll see that they follow the borders of countries quite a bit, so saying exactly what time zone Xinjiang should be in is a little hard. Probably though it should be two time zones over from Beijing so when it's 10am in Beijing it should be 8am in Xinjiang. This means that in Alaer the sun rises at around 8am and goes down at around 9pm. What this means in practice is that most things are just pushed about two hours later. In Changzhou my first class was at 8am here it's at 9:35, actually I think that changes to 10am in October. Lunch in Changzhou was around noon here it's 2pm. Dinner in Changzhou started at 5pm here it starts at 7pm or so. So you'd think this would be easy just subtract two hours to find the real time. In fact there is even an unofficial Xinjiang time which I told some of the Uyghurs use which is two hours different. But in practice it doesn't work out so well to just subtract two hours.

First it's a little complicated since they use 24 hour clocks, meaning that the clock shows 16:00 when it's 4pm which actually feels like 2pm. That can get a little confusing. Also not everything is pushed back two hours. The lights in the student dorms still go off at midnight just like in Changzhou, and most of the students get up at similar times, 7-8am even though that's often pre-dawn. On the other hard some people stay up much later as a result. Lake one of the Chinese teachers says he goes to bed at about 2am which is really more like midnight. In the end there are actually times when I'm looking at my watch trying to figure out if it's really late or early. I've also been going to bed much earlier even though I've been going to bed at my normal hours. This whole thing makes my head hurt.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Simple Exercises

I've been thinking a lot about what I need to do for my classes since the stuff I've worked out from previous years is falling far short. There are a lot of hard decisions. For one thing it's hard to tell if banning speaking Uyghur altogether will help or hurt. It might hurt since I think the only reason some of the students have any idea what is going on is that their classmates are explaining it to them. But on the other hand it might force a few more of them to ask questions and it will be easier to keep order so I think I'm just going to have to suck it up and come down really hard and consistently on people not speaking English. I always thought that if I were a teacher I would be sort of a hard ass since I've seen first hand in my own school days what can happen if a teacher lets the class get out of hand, but since students in China are always so well behaved I've become something of a softy. I don't like punishing students even when I know it will be good over all. I think I have to work on that since more discipline might help.

I've also been thinking about some exercises where I can spend a lot of time explaining to the class exactly what they need to do which will hopefully help with some of the group work if I just make it clearer. I also need to work on not getting frustrated with the students. It's hard to know what to do when you have someone who for whatever reason, confusion, panic, not caring, simply won't say anything when called on not even something a little off. It drives me crazy but I think I need to move on more even if that allows some students to get away with not talking since it's monopolizing class time and might be totally freaking the student out for the future. Maybe I can just come back to that student later in class. I have to adjust my expectations way down so that I don't get to frustrated when they can't hit them. This a time when I wish I had some actual teacher training instead of just spending years winging it. I feel in some ways that when I get stuck I don't have a lot to fall back on. I envy Dave in some ways who's doing more actual teacher training with the Peace Corps.

Monday, September 13, 2010

20 Questions

I need some new ideas for class. In pretty much every semester Ive done 20 questions with my class. In my more advanced classes I just basically explained the game to them quickly then broke them up into groups to play. In some of my less advanced classes it took longer, some times a lot longer to get the idea across and we did most of the game as a class with first me then them thinking up ideas. But in every class I was eventually able to explain it. The first time I did it was a little tough but after a while I learned how to explain each individual part of the game and expand out starting with easy things then getting more advanced. But in class today I was totally defeated. I spent about 35 minutes, that's pretty much half the class after taking role for about 10, trying to explain the game, and most people didn't really get it when I was done. It was tough, and it was hard not to get frustrated with them. I have essentially four classes. One class I have for two different subject, listening and oral English, and three oral English classes. Two of my oral English classes are regular English majors, while the other two are what's called minority classes. These are just so much harder than I'm used to. I've always gotten by just by getting the students to talk since I have no real idea how to actually teach English, but now I feel out of my league. The class that couldn't get 20 questions isn't even my weakest, the one I have for oral and listening is much worse. I'm really not sure what I'm going to do with all this.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Odyssey of the Chair

So after I got my washing machine fixed yesterday I decided I wanted to get a new computer chair. Seeing as how the TV is entirely in Chinese, for some reason I can't get CCTV 9 the English language channel, I spend pretty much all my time in my apartment in front of my computer. The chair already in the apartment would be fine for most things but was just too hard to sit in all the time. I asked Sunshine, the student who I had meet when I first came to Alaer since we had seen some chairs in the store where I bought a modem. It took us a long time to walk to that store the time I got my modem but this time with bikes we got there pretty fast. First I wanted to look around another close by store to see if there was a drier I could buy, both Sunshine and the person in the store thought the idea was ridiculous. Failing to get anything like a drier we proceed to the store with the computer chairs. The chairs they had seemed fine but I was worried they were a little short seeing as my desk is fairly big.

Sunshine suggested that we go to another furniture store which he described as a "little far." I thought he meant that it wasn't too far, but I think he just meant it was far but he didn't really want to say that. We proceeded to bike down one of the two main streets in Alaer, which compared to Changzhou is basically empty of traffic. It took quite a while to get there and once we got close we got a little lost trying to figure out where the right turn off was. When we finally came to the right store there was a chair that seemed pretty good. It only cost about 170 RMB so I decided to get it. The real problem now was how to get the chair back to campus since we had our bikes. Sunshine suggested that was get a cab and put one bike and the chair in while the other person biked back. The problem was that there were no cabs near where we were. Sunshine some how managed to bike a little down the street while using one hand to hold the chair onto the back of his bike. We eventually found a cab but realized that a bike would never fit in the back. Instead we just asked the cab driver to meat us at the school gate. I suppose she could have just taken off and kept the chair but Sunshine seemed to think this was a good idea.

We biked back pretty fast and finally met the cab at the school gate with the chair. Sunshine then again managed to get it up onto the back of his bike to take it across campus. It was a pretty long and difficult journey to get a chair. The irony though is back in my room later I discovered that I don't really like this chair much. It's designed in such a way that you sort of lean back, which is difficult for using a computer, but the real problem is that the front edge of the chair is a little higher then the back so the front presses into the back of my legs. Maybe after I sit in it for a while it will even out a little, but if I have to get another chair I'm never telling Sunshine since he worked way to hard to get this one.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dance Party

This is exactly the sort of stuff I come to China for. Last night after dinner I rode my bike over to the building where English Corner was supposed to be. When I got there I noted a lack of students and made a few phone calls to confirm that English Corner did not in fact start until some time in October. I chatted with a few students who were getting out of class and then decided to ride around campus a little. Following some interesting sounds the first thing I came to was a bunch of the new freshmen students doing some night time military training. I stopped and watched for a minute but watching people chanting "one, two, three" while walking around isn't that interesting. I rode on and after a while I started to hear what sounded like central Asian dance music. I kept going until I found an area that was clearly a group of dorms. In the big space between two of these dorms were maybe 200 or more Uyghur students some of whom were dancing while the others had formed a big circle around them.

I stopped and got off my bike to watch. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me but it was so dark that I doubt the pictures would look like much anyways. I stood around watching and before long a few students came up and started to try and talk to me. They didn't have much English, one said they were all Chemistry majors, but I figured out a few things. This party wasn't a weekly occurrence it was a celebration of the holiday that marked the end of Ramadan. The music was really different from the types the Chinese students listen to. The closest thing I had heard before was in India, and actually the dancing even looked a little similar. There were definitely more people watching than dancing and with the darkness I don't know how many people even noticed me there. While me and the students had basically exhausted our limited mutual vocabulary another friend of theirs spoke a lot more English. I had met him before in a supermarket where he introduced himself as Hussain, and when I didn't hear him said, "you know like Saddam Hussein."

Hussain convinced me to try to try out some dancing, which pretty much involved me walking around trying to figure out the beat. It didn't seem to formal and people said I did OK. After that some of the people who were running the music saw me and asked me to introduce myself to everyone. Now there's something that doesn't happen in the US. If I show up somewhere I've never had everyone stop so that I could greet the crowd. They played a number more songs after this. The whole thing got done at about 11. The last dance was something called a Sama which involved everyone dancing around in a big circle while sort of skipping and occasionally cheering. Some of the cheering was just sort of like "Yeah!" but sometimes they'd alternate in "Allah!" It was really fascinating and I'm glad that I stumbled on it.

To finish the story of the washing machine Ma Ming and a worker showed up unannounced at around 12:30 today, given how weird the times are here that's a little earlier then it seems. They looked around for a minute and then the worker left and said he'd be back later. Ma Ming wanted to go to lunch and I agreed but told him he should come back in 45 minutes so I could shower first. We had lunch at a place just outside of campus before he dropped me back off. Later two worker showed up with Ma Ming, after nap time where nothing gets done, it took them a while but they both fixed the washing machine and the sink in my bathroom that was leaking onto the floor. All in all it worked out about as well as I could have hoped.