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.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Happy Teacher's Day

Today is apparently teacher day, or so I was informed by a student who woke me up this morning to tell me he was coming by my apartment to bring me something. I tried to say that no I was sleeping but he was not dissuaded. I can't imagine going to one of my college teacher's houses, or any teacher for that matter without invitation and doubly so when they try to say no. But since it was Teacher's Day a holiday I'd never heard of in Changzhou he was coming. I was also wondering how he knew where I lived until Ma Ming showed up with him. They were carrying the flowers you see in the picture, one of those is now in my living room and the other went to Roy the other foreign teacher. The students were nice and didn't linger too long. While I miss how in Changzhou I was getting a better grip on what was going on, familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt, and I just wasn't as surprised or as interested in things there after two years. But here things are just as strange as I remember them being when I first got to China.

I've told people in the past that I always consider that there is about a 5% chance that any scheduled class won't happen for some poorly explained reason. Well this week I lost two classes to the Chinese black hole. One was do to a simple scheduling error with me having one schedule and the class having another. My class today was canceled since today is a Muslim holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadan, a fact that while clearly something that has been on the calendar for months was only revealed to me last night.

The other thing happening today was that my washing machine had some undiagnosed problem that Ma Ming came over to help fix. All I knew to begin with was that when I turned it on a lot of water was going on the floor but little was going into the machine. First we figured out that either the faucet or the pipe to the machine was bad because even without the hose to the washed connected there was almost no water coming out. Ma Ming called a worker to come fix it and promised to be back later with the guy. I'm writing about this because as I explained to my students traveling is often about overcoming lot of little problems and this is a fairly classic one. Ma Ming at one point started telling me how the machine worked and asked if I'd ever used one before. It's pretty amazing to me that someone, especially someone whose job it is to deal with foreigners can think that there is an American who has never used a washing machine before. Just goes to show you how far out there Xinjiang really is. He never did get back to me today about the machine so I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Man in Black

One of the biggest differences between teaching here and teaching in Changzhou is that I have a listening class. You might think this would be pretty easy since I can play video and what not, but partially do to the fact that the students have a pretty low level of English and because I've never taught anything like this before it's been a challenge. There is a class book and DVD which I've been using a lot but they're frankly incredibly boring. The whole class seems to be tension between is what I'm doing to hard or too dull. Playing the same four minute video five different times seems excruciating to me but might actually be useful to the students. Besides the book and the class videos I've been trying to find a few things of my own to liven it up a bit. I found some of the old School House Rock videos on Youtube and so far I think my class enjoyed Conjunction Junction. I also decided to try and play a different type of American music at the end of each class. I played In Them Old Cotton Fields Back Home in the first class since it's a slow song with only about two sentences repeated over and over again. I think the students liked it and I hope it helped a little.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Uyghurs Have the Bagel

There are a lot of western foods I've been missing in Alaer. I though Changzhou didn't have much western food but comparatively it was like living in New York City. I think the only truly western food I've seen so far are Oreos, and by the way it might be a good time to buy Kraft stock since they have amazing market penetration. In fact one of the hardest things I've had to get used to is basically eating only Chinese food. So I was amazed one day to see a Uyghur lady selling what looked for all the world like sesame bagels. Now of all the things I could possibly have seen people eat I think this was easily the least likely. I would have been less surprised to a Dominoes pizza here then a bagel since even in Shanghai you can't get a bagel. It turns out that what I saw is called a Girden Nan and is basically a proto-bagel. No one is sure if it developed independently of the bagel or if it was actually the origin of the bagel which took the silk road to Eastern Europe. It even tastes mostly like a bagel. It's a little tougher than a bagel should be so it tastes like a good bagel that's a day or two old. Not stale but not exactly fresh either. It also has a few other weird differences. The bottom is flat and a little hard from I think the container it was made in. Also the hole in the middle doesn't quite go all the way through. What's really driving me nuts though is the lack of butter. I don't expect to find cream cheese but some butter shouldn't be out of the question. So far though no one has been able to locate any, though the fact that people know what it is bares well. Still I can't help feeling a little like Tantalus, so close but so far.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I'm Foreign Not Dumb

I think there are a number of people in China who confuse being foreign with some type of disability. Yes since I can't speak the language I often have trouble doing simple things but that does not make me stupid. I learned that the school told some of the teachers I knew not to take me down to the Tarim river in case I fell in. I just want to know exactly what they think of me. Do some people have this image that I'm going to see a fast moving brown river and just think "oooh how fun" and jump in. This isn't just an Alaer thing either. Teddy's a great guy but he also had the habit of treating me like I was stupid. I'd be walking with him and he'd go out of his way to remind me not to fall in a pond or walk into a bush. I think some of this comes from the fact that the people in the school probably get some pressure to be responsible for my safety, since no one in China seems to be responsible for safety that must be quite novel, but still I'm foreign not dumb.

Monday, September 6, 2010

What's Your Name

So today was the first day of class at the new school. My classes are a little different in Alaer then they were in Changzhou. First I have every class more than once a week, I teach 16-18 hours a week, depending on if it's an even or an odd week, but I only actually see four groups of students. Two groups are sophomore English majors. I've meet a few of them and they seem about on par with some of the Changzhou students. Another class is sophomore Uyghur students, the minority students are segregated into their own classes for some reason dealing with Chinese level. They have pretty good English and seem like fun students. My last class, which I see 3-4 times a week, is a group of freshmen Uyghur students; this class is just hard. I don't think I've ever taught students on this low a level. I'm going to have to start rethinking a lot of my activities. What's more that class is HUGE about 45 students.

I had six hours today, classes here are actually 10 minutes shorter then in Changzhou consisting of two 45 minute periods. Mostly besides the level the class went a lot like the classes in Changzhou, but one big difference was when it came to names. No one really had an English name and I didn't want to push to hard in making them take one, I figure they have a life of being push around ahead of them, so I was stuck trying to write down and pronounce dozens of Uyghur names. This was harder then you would think given that often the students are a little unsure about how to spell their own names in English. This took an amazingly long time, like more than half the class. What's more in the big class I got a little tired of it near the end and asked the class monitor to fill in the rest of the names, in my next class it turned out that she did a terrible job of it and I basically had to start over, taking another half of a class. Also when I was trying to put someones name on the board for talking in Uyghur during class I basically just ended up putting their student number up instead since it was taking too long to figure out their name all over again. I don't like reducing people to a number but there's only so long this can take.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dust Storm

Well this is different. I've seen a lot of weather in my life. -15 in Madison, raining 300 days a year in Belgium, Sunny and nice in Australia, but I don't think I've ever been in a dust storm before. I first noticed something was different when it was surprisingly cool out this morning. I looked out my window and noticed it was cloudy, which is quite a change around here. When I went outside I noticed that it looked sort of like it was foggy except for the huge urge to cough. Actually my throat has been feeling bad for a while now with the dry conditions and the sand all over the place. One of the other foreign teachers, Lake, told me that it was a dust storm not a full blown sand storm and that it was odd since this wasn't the sand storm season. Apparently they can get quite bad around May. Also When I was asking Lake what the weather in the winter was like he said it wasn't that cold, then proceeded to say about -10 Celsius. That seems pretty cold to me. I'm glad I brought my heavy jacket. At least here they have heating in all the classrooms unlike in Changzhou and I think every single room in my apartment has a radiator. I really have come to the edge of the world. I think there should be a sign like, "Here be Dragons," on the maps.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

In Them Old Cottonfields Back Home

I know I said I was going to start at the beginning but sometimes it's also better to capture things while there fresh so today I'm going to jump right to something I did today, going on a moto ride outside of town. Ma Ming, he has the job that Teddy had at my last school, showed up unannounced at my apartment at 11 this morning, that might not seem that early but remember that everything is about two hour later here so 11 am is more like 9 am. He invited me on ride in the country side outside of Alaer. As he explained it most of the farmers there are people whose families originally came to Xinjiang as soldiers and a lot of the former soldiers stayed and formed farming communities. Xinjiang is apparently known for it's cotton and as we drove out of town, which takes approximately five seconds from the school gate, I was field after field filled with cotton.

Now I was riding on the back of Ma Ming's moto and while the traffic around here is really sparse the whole thing made me nervous anyways since the last time I was on his moto he came to a sudden stop which sent both of us stumbling off it. This wouldn't have been a big problem except that my leg hit the exhaust pipe which was really hot and I burned the back of my leg. Ma Ming also has a bad habit of not paying enough attention to the road. He would often be tying to talk over his shoulder to me and even sometimes gesturing with his hand while trying to drive. The whole thing made me constantly worried I was about to go flying off into a ditch.

Now the area outside of town is actually beautiful. The big green fields of cotton are ringed with trees to prevent soil erosion and to stop the powerful spring sand storms. It actually gives it a European look with shady roads and fields ringed with trees. We stopped at one point and Ma Ming went down and grabbed a handful of cotton out of one of the plants and gave it to me as a sort of souvenir. He said that when he was a student, he attended the school I know teach at as an undergraduate, the school would make the students spend a couple of days a year picking cotton. I asked why thinking it might be some sort of labor builds character communist thing, but he just said the school needed the money. He added that some of the poorer students will get jobs just before the break picking cotton at the rate of about 1 RMB for 1 kilogram of cotton.

We continued on and came to a little town that grew dates even having a few statues of the red dates the grew. Ma Ming said that they weren't really ready yet but would be by the end of the month. We passed a little park where someone was taking wedding pictures. We finally stopped for lunch in one little town where we ate Uyghur food which despite involving plates of rice and meat along with tea I'm told is quite different from Chinese food. After that he took me back. It was a really nice trip and I think the closer parts of it will be quite accessible by bike as well.

Friday, September 3, 2010

I'm Back!

Well I'm in Alaer and I finally have my internet working so I'm back to posting. I have so much to cover I don't really know where to begin. I guess the motto begin at the beginning is as good as any so I'll talk a little about how I got here. As some of you know I've been waiting pretty much all summer for my visa. Actually I was waiting for two pieces of paper from China which I needed to get my visa. Well the finally came and when I mean finally I mean that they came two days before I was supposed to leave. Actually I almost missed them since I needed to sign for the package and I almost didn't hear the mailman at the door. With the papers in hand I needed to get the visa the next day but luckily the Chinese Embassy offers same day visa service for an extra fee, there actually seemed to be quite a few people taking the same course. Well there were no problems with the visa so I got it back the same day and could actually leave.

Getting to Alaer is a bit of an expedition. It took four flights plus a car and while I left at 7am on Friday I didn't arrive until about 7pm on Sunday. The first flight was to Chicago which was fine except for some turbulence. The big flight from Chicago to Shanghai was actually not full and while I had a person sitting next to me he moved later since I had my window open a lot and he wanted to sleep. Since I was flying West despite the fact that the flight was about 15 hours the sun never set, and I arrived in Shanghai at 2pm on Saturday. The flight wasn't so bad as the had those little TVs in the back of the headrest which make a huge difference on flights that long. I watched a pretty good move the Ghost Writer, and a bunch of TV shows including an episode of 30 Rock I'd never seen which had people looking over to find out why I was laughing so hard. In Shanghai I just stopped in a hotel right near the airport and managed to stay up only a few hours before passing out.

The next day it was time again for some flights. The next one was from Shanghai to Urumqi and was about five hours. I was stressed the whole time though since my connection flight was the last one of the day and the flight from Shanghai was delayed about 45 minutes. I got into Urumqi with not much time to spare and I had to get my bags exit then find the right counter and check in again since to save money I'd booked the flights separately. The Urumqi airport though sucks and instead of lines there were just scrums at the counters and general chaos. I manged to get to the correct counter about 35 minutes before my flight was supposed to leave only to be informed that this place was supposed to only allow one checked bag not two, and I had two big bags with all my stuff in them. I started asking if I could pay extra but the lady at the counter just told me to bring my smaller one, still really big, on as a carry on. This seemed insane to me but not having much time I just said OK and hustled to security.

Of course at security they found a bunch of liquids in my bag, since it was never supposed to be a carry on, and took all my shaving cream and some of my Pepto. Finally they let me passed, I was freaking out a little trying to explain that my deodorant wasn't a liquid to people who spoke zero English. When I finally got to the gate it turned out that my flight was delayed a little and the whole thing was so confusing I almost got on the wrong plane. The plane from Urumqi to Aksu was really small only three seats across, and I had put my big bag on an empty seat near the front, which actually seemed like a common thing since mine wasn't the only bag there. The flight from Urumqi to Aksu was really interesting though since I saw a lot of Xinjiang out the window. I was amazed how mountainous it was and just how dry most of those mountains were. It looked totally alien not only from America but from Eastern China as well. The most interesting thing was that when I looked out over the desert it looked really hazy which I think was actually from the sand since there's no way there's enough industry out here to produce such intense haze.

I finally arrived in the Aksu airport, which is pretty much one runway and a small building. There weren't gates or buses you just walked across the tarmac. I had to go to a separate shed to get my second piece of luggage. The school had sent a car to pick me up with one student named Sunshine in it. He was very nice and talked a little about the town on the about two hour ride from the Aksu airport to Alaer. On the Wikipedia page it says there are something like 200,000 people in Alaer but if there are really that many I'll eat my hat. It's maybe 40,000 and there are only two big streets in the whole town. I hate to leave you hanging here but there still so much to discuss that I have to break this up into several blog posts. The next one will be on my first impressions of the town and the school.