Saturday, April 30, 2011

Back to the Future No More

While I think a TV show where a time traveler goes back in time and smacks around Mao for all the crap he did apparently the TV sensors in China aren't quite on board. They recently banned TV shows with themes about time travel because it's somehow disrespectful to the past. I mean come on, in China only the government is allowed to rewrite history. This is one of those great 1984 moments in China where it's just so obvious that they want to control how people in China not only act but think. Recently the communists have also been hard at work altering the past, but in a good change books way, not a bad time travel way, so that the origins of the communist party now extend back into the mid 1800's. Pretty soon the communist party will be older than Marx himself, though I guess that's something for next weeks revisions.

Besides the incredibly creepy mind control aspect of these pronouncements, and the fact there the so incredibly tone def to what people will think about this, there's also the sad fact that it's just another in a long line of decisions that makes sure Chinese television is terrible. All that's on most days are the endless historical soap operas, and boring variety shows of the type that haven't been on American TV in decades. When all art has to serve the state, or at very least not offend anymore, all art becomes terrible. There are essentially no good, or even passable, movies made in China, the big ones your thinking of were made by American or Hong Kong directors and staring actors that did a vast majority of there work outside of China. But it's OK there always more billiards they can show on TV.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Taking Off My Sweatshirt

For some reason I've never figured taking of my sweatshirt creates the kind of response I would expect if some teacher in American took off there shirt entirely or maybe there pants. I used to think it was just a function of the fact that Chinese people seem to think it's better to be roasting hot then even slightly cold, so that on warm days I'll still see people in long underwear and jackets. But even when some people in the class are wearing t-shirts if I take off my sweatshirt everyone starts murmuring. Maybe it's some part of Chinese modesty I don't understand where even if it would be appropriate to wear a t-shirt somehow taking off my sweatshirt is an intimate act. I never really have understood all the rules for modesty in China. Women who would never be caught dead in skin tight clothing will walk around a train with hundreds of strangers in nothing but there long underwear. On that boat trip I took with Sean and Sarah there were men walking around in basically there boxers even in the lunch room. Well maybe there are just some things about China I'll never get.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

No Beards

I learned something interesting about the rules for the Uyghur students lately. They are apparently prohibited by the school from having beards. A number of my Uyghur students have mustaches but the full beard is out. If I had known this earlier I probably would have regrown my ridiculous beard I had in China a few years ago, but it's a little late now. It's a lot harder for me to talk to the Uyghur students, even my best students don't have a ton of English, but there's an interesting tension between them and the Chinese students that always just under the surface. I was asking one person about if any of the Uyghur kids go to Chinese high schools and she said that very few do then added that the Chinese hate Uyghurs. I get the sense this feeling may be much more prevalent than I first realized it's just hard to get it out of people. It's one of those times when I really feel the language barrier. And I don't think knowing Chinese would help that much, it's still not their language. I'm not sure there's really a way around this without speaking Uyghur.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Slav's Gone

Slav went back to England this weekend. Over the break I think things got more serious with his girlfriend and he wanted to go home sooner. A friend of his was supposed to come and take his place but that fell through when his friend couldn't get a visa for some reason. Apparently Ma found some other teacher, an older guy from New Zealand, but I'm not sure when he'll be here. We had a big banquet for Slav on Saturday, which as per usual involved drinking far to much, though Slav successfully argued or beer instead of baijou. We kept drinking for quite a while after that too, we went through most of a bottle of scotch I had before we, thankfully, ran out of liquor. I had a really nasty hangover yesterday, and I think I drunk Skyped some people but I'm not 100% sure. Besides a few times I've actually drunk less this year than since any time since I was in high school. There just aren't that many people I want to drink with around here, Ma may enjoy drinking but I don't usually want to drink with him in that annoying Chinese way of constantly making toasts. Unfortunately I think I agreed to have baijou at my going away banquet at some point so that will be unpleasant. Maybe I can master that thing you see in old TV shows where the guy pretends to drink but pours it into a plant or something.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

It's Finally Here

I'm declaring today to be the first real day of spring in Alaer. It's around 80 during the middle of the day now, though at night it still drops to around 50. That's living in the desert though we get really big day/night temperature swings. What's really odd is how cold my apartment still is. It's easily at least 10 degree colder inside than outside during the middle of the day. I think a lot of that has to do with my first floor apartment not getting that much direct sunlight. Even this morning when I got up I was using the heater in my computer room for a while. But it's not just the temperature that makes it feel like spring. The trees, and part of the grass is actually turning green. Some of the first bugs and birds are also slowing making there return, though I could do without the mosquitoes. I think there may be some more sand storms still to come but we haven't had one in a while now, and at least for today, the weather is perfect.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I'm an Idiot

Well the other day after losing power and water, and not having any heat despite the snow, for most of the day I managed to make things even worse for myself. I was just walking out of my apartment and patting myself down to make sure I had everything, wallet, cell, keys, when I realized I had left my keys inside. I tried to make a desperate leap back for the shutting door but it was too late. I immediately called Ma, Slav had locked self out not long before and Ma had a spare key, but for some reason Ma didn't have a spare key to my place, and it was too late to call a worker to replace the lock. Luckily Slav was a sport and let me stay in his spare bedroom, though the no mattress bed is never any fun, and in the morning Ma got Niel and a worker down there to replace my lock. At least now they have some spare keys.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Strangest Weather in the World

Sometimes I don't really remember just how far away from everything I am. The internet, and phone calls keep things a lot closer than would have been true in the past. Then there are days like today. Today is a Chinese holiday Tomb Sweeping Festival, where people traditionally would visit with their dead relatives. I don't know if it's angry ghosts or what but today has been really annoying. I woke up freezing, and rolled over turn my heater on. When I punched the button a couple of times and it wouldn't come on I figured the power was out. I went out to the hallway where the power meters for all the apartments are to make sure it wasn't just my apartment. As I was walking back I glanced out the window, and to my utter shock it was snowing. Not just a little snow either, it was coming down pretty hard and there as some on the ground. For good measure I tried the water which was off as well. So there I was no heat, no power, no water, and snow. I can't express just how strange this is. Two days ago it was near 70 in the middle of the day, yesterday was a sand storm, and today it snows. As you may have guessed from the fact that I am able to blog the power has come back, it took until well past the middle of the day, but the water remains off. I wonder if this is some unexpected side effect of all there attempts to screw with the weather in Beijing. Maybe every time they do that crazy cloud dispersal stuff to make sure it doesn't rain on some big holiday, or whenever Hu Jintao decided to golf, it causes crazy weather in Alaer, it's not like they'd care anyways.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I See the Sand Come Sailing In

Two days ago when I had dinner with Lake and Niel they both thought that there was going to be a big sand storm soon due to the recent warm, dry weather. When it gets particularly dry, I'm told, it's easier for the top layer of sand to blow off, and when it gets warm the eventual change in temperature creates a lot of wind to blow the sand off the desert. Well, low and behold, today it's really sandy out. Still not as bad as when my dad was here and we could barely open our eyes, but significant non the less. I just hope it doesn't knock out the power, there have been more small outages after the annoying long one, though thankfully none have come at night where I would have no choice but to go to bed since it would be pitch black. The biggest problem with the sand is that it takes away the nice warm middle of the day, which is mostly due to the sun shine. I'm not complaining too much through it's certainly interesting and different, and as long as I'm not caught outside during it not too much of a problem.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Risking my Life

There are many ways to risk your life in China. Just riding in a taxi involves all sorts of risks which most people in America will never be exposed to. God only knows what sort of qualification the people flying the planes have, and I doubt there's any standard for who can be a bus driver. In China cleaning a plate involves washing it for about half a second in cold water, of questionable cleanliness, and then sticking the plate, still wet, back onto a shelf. But one thing I had been avoiding, completely out of fear, until last night, was fish. We are about as far from an ocean as it is possible to get without going to the moon, and I just couldn't shake the feeling that any fish was probably brought in on the slow train from the coast. I get sick enough from the food already without risking, what I imagine to be, week old Salmon. But last night Slav invited me, Niel, and Lake, out to dinner at this place not far off campus, which was supposed to have good seafood.

I was still nervous so I asked him to limit the seafood to one dish which turned out to be some surprisingly expensive oysters. Now this is like doubling down on the seafood risk since oysters are already more risky than most seafood, and the risk is probably doubled again if you consider the poor hygiene in most Chinese restaurants. But I went for it and as of this morning I can say with some certainty that if I was going to get really sick, I'd probably be sick already so it looks like the oysters were clean. What's maybe even more surprising is that the oysters were really good. Now I'm not going to go crazy and compare them to French or Belgium cooking, but considering where I am they were easily the best food we ate that night. So while some people may talk about eating blowfish in Japan, which if not prepared correctly are deadly, I think I just survived an even greater risk, oysters in Alaer.

I don't know if I've mentioned this yet, but Slav is actually leaving sunny old Alaer in about two weeks. He wanted to go back to England and get a real job, sounds like a strange decision to me. He made a deal with Ma where he found some guy to replace him for the remainder of the semester, so hopefully I won't be left alone here, but it's too bad he's going. When I first got here I thought it would be no problem to be by myself, but after trying it for just a few weeks I realized just how big a difference it can make to have someone else around who understands what you are going through, even if it's just someone else to complain about China with.