Sunday, April 25, 2010

To the End of the Earth

Well I haven't written much about it on my blog but over the last month or so I've been trying to decide where to go for the next school year. I started sending out resumes to a number of different schools I found on various job websites, and a few who I just sent and e-mail to unsolicited. I send out e-mails to about 35 schools in total all over China. I heard back from about 10 and got some really nice offers. It's nice to be wanted. In the end after having conversations via e-mail, QQ, and on the phone I decided to go to Tarim University in a town called Aral (or Alaer if you prefer) , can be pronounced like Alar though, in Xinjiang. The name is also, 阿拉尔 in modern Chinese, 阿拉爾 in traditional, and ئارال‎ in Uyghur. The city has quite a few names and I think even a few different pronunciations. Before I talk more about that I just wanted to note how much I've enjoyed all my time in Chnagzhou. The hardest part about making this decision was deciding to leave all the friends I've made here both in the Chinese and expat communities. I hope some of the people will be able to come out to visit me next year and since every time I go back to the US I'll have to go through Shanghai I'll definitly stop in Changzhou on my way. I'd also like to thank Teddy for a really really nice recommendation he wrote for me which one school actually said was the main reason they wanted me over another teacher.

I applied to school all over China, well mostly. I basically ruled out the East coast of China, figuring if I'm going to go some place like Changzhou I might as well stay in Changzhou where my friends are. I applied for schools though near Hong Kong in the south in Harbin in the far North, in Inner Mongolia, in Tibet, in Qinghai, and in Xinjiang. I don't know when I first became interested in Xinjiang. Many people remember Xinjiang for the anti-Han riots that took place there last summer, but I had been interested in it before that. It just seemed so far away and different to be part of China. I gigantic desert province with different people and a different religion. Actually even before I started to apply I had told some people earlier this year that I was going to look at Xinjiang. Xinjiang does have its problems though. The violence doesn't worry me much since pretty much any US city has worse crime then the worst Chinese cities, and since the Uyghurs are made at the Chinese not at Americans. But Xinjiang also is still under a pretty strickt internet blackout. When the riots happened the government pretty much shut down the internet and other forms of mass communication. Even more than a year later these restrictions still haven't been listed. Now anyone who knows me knows that I like the internet so I definitly surprised a lot of people by deciding to go somewhere without it. I figure I'll either adapt of go insane.

All work and no Google makes Daniel a dull boy.
All work and no Google makes Daniel a dull boy.
All work and no Google makes Daniel a dull boy.
All work and no Google makes Daniel a dull boy.
All work and no Google makes Daniel a dull boy.

Anyways, in the end it came down to a few schools in Xinjiang. There was a college in the main city, and high school in a smaller city, and another college in Alaer. It was a tough decision but I finally chose the school in Alaer as much for its remoteness and anything. Going there really seemed like going to the end of the earth. To get there after flying from the US to Shanghai, about 15 hours, I'd have to fly to the capitol of Xinjiang, about 6 hours, then take a train to Aksu, about 18 hours, then another bus or car for an hour before arriving in Alear. I guess it just seemed sort of Lawrence of Arabia like to go running off into the desert. The whole visa thing is going to be a little complicated in the end, I'll probably end up having to apply for another z-visa when I'm back in the US this summer. But I'm definitly looking forward to going out there. Here are a few links to stuff about Alaer, as little as it is. And I've put up a big picture of the area around Alaer, that desert by the way is 100,000 square miles.,_Xinjiang

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Eating Cake with Chopsticks

Teddy who has served as my liaison to the school since I've arrived here decided to take a different job recently in the school. He will still be around but he won't be the person in charge of making sure we have water, electricity, heat, and get paid on time. Since this Friday was supposed to be his last day in the job we planned a surprise dinner/party for him. We got most of the foreign teachers, including the Germans, to come down to one restaurant on market street. Ken then arranged for Teddy to meat him near there. It definitly seemed that we had surprised Teddy pretty good when he showed up. The restaurant we ate at is one of the nicer ones on campus and a lot of the students go there when they have birthday parties and what not. They had a little trouble with our groups since there were so many of us that they had to push together three tables for us all to be able to squeeze around. We ordered a bunch of different food and that place is pretty good so it was a lot of fun. We were able to get Teddy to drink enough beers that by the end of the night he looked pretty tipsy. Ken had also gotten a cake at one of the other places on market street. In usual Chinese fashion the cake came with only about five plates and a few of these little prong like devices that you are supposed to use as forks. Since we didn't have enough to go around most people ended up eating their cake out of a bowl using chopsticks. I'll tell you you never know what skill you'll need in China, but the ability to eat a cake with a pair of chopsticks is certainly an interesting one.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Don't Leave your Camera at Home

Recently I had a stretch were it seemed as soon as I stepped out the door without my camera something interesting and especially photogenic would happen. It started last Thursday when after my first class I was on my way to make some copies when I was intercepted by Mr. Lee. Mr. Lee who I've mentioned once or twice before is a teacher who has been at this school since it opened. In fact he got his job since he was teaching at the middle school which was on this location before they decided to make a University. He's a lot of fun to hang around with as he seems to have no problem with speaking his mind on any subject and likes to tell stories about the, "bad old days." As I was walking over to the copy place Mr. Lee saw me and asked if I was going to the concert. As the school rarely deems it wise to inform me about anything happening on campus I responded by asking, "what concert." It turns out as part of some festival or celebration the school got a traditional folk band apparently made up of people who won prizes around the province. Not having anything better to do I went with Mr. Lee. The concert was being held in a large auditorium above the west cafeteria that I had never seen before so I would never have found it without him. It was a big event as the whole place was almost filled to capacity with students and school officials. Baker and a bunch of the school bigwigs were there as well and offered me a really good seat down front.

I wasn't sure what to expect since I'm not always the biggest fan of Chinese tradition music, it can be a little, how do you say, screechy. But I was pleasantly surprised by just how melodious it was. There were a number of instrument of odd design including a few things that looked like a violin but played held vertically in the lap and with only one or two strings. There was something that looked like a guitar but rounder and also held vertically. One guy had a version of a flute, and another had what seemed to be a cross between a bagpipe and a really small organ. There was even that one odd string instrument that Ken had bought and which seemed so difficult to play properly that I think Ken would have to live in China until he was 80 to understand it. The songs, while I have nothing really to compare them to, were nice and I really enjoyed the whole concert. Mr. Lee excused himself about half way though saying he had to go home and do some class preparation for the next day. The oddest song though was when the brought out an instrument that looked like a mini trumpet. It was less than one foot long, completely straight and had no visible button of valves of any kind. What was really odd though was the noise which was like some sort of loud shrill bird call. The person playing it also didn't seem to be paying any attention to what the rest of the group was doing as the was no noticeable tempo or rhythm to his performance. He seemed happy just making loud bird calls as the band played on.

The other instance where I wished I had my camera was in downtown Changzhou recently. I was doing some shopping when I saw another one of the giant mascot characters that seem to only exist in amusement parks and any Chinese store opening. I ignored it at first until I realized that it was suppose to be a big sandwich, though the costume was so beat up it just looked like a tan lump. It turns out they have finally opened a subway in downtown Changzhou. It's in the same mall as the Wal-mart, the DQ, a McDonalds, two KFC's, about three Nike stores, and Adidas store and an H&M. I'm not sure I'm ever going to need to go back to the US as the US is coming to China, foot long subs and all.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More fun with Malatang

Part of the fun in going into the Malatang place is the reactions I get from the people there. Any time any of my students see me there they are always shocked that I'd be eating there, I think they believe that I eat at some sort of five star restaurant with gold plates every night. The people who work there seem to be entertain by just how many vegetables I can fit in one bowl. But today I got a much bigger reaction from a group of Tibetan students from the little school which is totally surrounded by our school, in my favorite metaphor ever. I don't see them much as they get only a few hours a week outside there walls, but presumably still inside ours. But today when I went for an early dinner there were about five of the Tibetan students all at the Malatang place. They are pretty easy to tell from the other students around campus both by their tanner skin and by the fact that they are a lot younger than our college students. Five of them were getting Malatang ingredients out of the fridge when one looked back and spotted me setting off a chorus of tittering. They were so enamored with me that I had to wait about five minutes before they moved away from the fridge enough for me to get my food. As we were all waiting for out food to cook one of the more adventurous students asked me where I was from, then dutifully repeated it in Chinese to the other students. After that she asked me a few other questions including if I had been to Tibet and if I was a teacher at this school, they seemed especially impressed by the fact I was. The girl who was questioning me only had basic English but her accent was actually really good and she was a lot bolder than some of the college students around here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Working at Web

Well given all my extra time, and my desire to be able to afford a new computer at some point in the future, I got a part time job at a company called Web. Web is sort of like Super, where I worked a little last year, in that it's a private language training center who caters to a lot of older students. The company is as a whole much more professional than Super, though they did have a mix up with which days I was supposed to be working where they told me Tuesday and Friday in a text, Tuesday and Saturday in an e-mail, and Wednesday and Saturday in an attachment to that same e-mail. The main advantage of Web over some of the other places is that I'm not expected to do any preparation. They have set lesson plans and all I really have to do is look over it than go in. Also from what I'm told the class sizes are much smaller than JSTU or even Super. The downsides are that the pay is only 90 RMB and hour, though it goes up to 100 after a month, and that right now all my hours are in the center in the north of Changzhou. This mean that I either have to take a 25 minute 30 RMB taxi ride or a 3 RMB hour and a half bus ride each way. I figure that I'll try it out for a while and if the commute is just too much of a problem I don't have to stay there. What's the worst thing that can happen I make some extra money?

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Recently as I look for new stuff to eat on campus, I can only eat noodles with red sauce so many times in a week, I've started to eat at one of the Malatang places on campus. Malatang doesn't really translate into English as far as I can tell, though some people have translated it simply as "hot, hot, hot." Malatang is a sort of soup like dish that is made up of whatever you want. When I go into the Malatang place there are little baskets sitting by the side of the wall. I take one of the baskets and then fill it with whatever I want from a section of vegetables, tofu, and meat, that they have sitting in a refrigerator. They have a pretty wide selection of stuff including a bunch of different types of vegetables, I think they have four different types of lettuce alone, and other things like eggs and even some small pieces of bread. I can then add noddles of different varieties to what I have picked out. After I'm done I give the basket to the cashier who checks what's in it and assigns the whole thing a price. Malatang is cooked using a big boiling pot in which everyone's food goes separated by its own little basket. After boiling for a while they take my food out put it in a disposable bowl and add broth from the big pot.

I never used to go to Malatang because I find the meat there a little questionable, but I recently found that it's actually really good if I just add about twelve types of vegetables and some noodles. I usually get a really full bowl, but a lot of the students take the other route realizing that the broth is essentially free and putting in almost as little as possible. When I've told some of the students that I eat there they are concerned that it's not very healthy since they cook everything in one big pot. Actually I think the pot is probably the most sanitary part since it's always kept at a high boil. What does worry me a little is that the people put the food into the pot with their bare hands whether it be meat of noodles, and China isn't a big hand washing country. But the food is pretty good, healthy, and frankly if you're afraid of germs China is already not the country for you.