Monday, February 28, 2005
My eyes raise up from the ground
The otherwise unbroken whitened landscape
Is scarred by a crack spanning the lea above me
As in a dream the entire world begins to slide
Falling, I claw my way to
The surface the roiling mass of white
My back supports me
My feet lead the way
My brain whirls, edged with panic
The world is silent
To the left and right and ahead of me
Cracks ring out and cascading snow
Surrounds and accompanies me
Trees are uprooted
Deer bound away in muted panic
Fear gives way to glee
My laughter bounces
Reflecting back to me
Off canyon walls
The slide ends
Masses of now muddied snows
Huddle at peaks’ feet
The sun’s rays beat
A slight breeze stirs
The birds renew their song
Green has replaced the white
No path reveals its shape in the blossoming flora
I follow my feet from the crumpled huddled shlup
Firm ground replaces the spongy mass I’ve known
No longer does the uphill steal my breath
No more must my eyes root to the treacherous trail
Renewed eyes devour the heart-stopping beauty
I break into a run, strides swallow the distance lost
No flower is left unsmelt
Or path left unexplored
Nary a boulder in my path
Nor weight upon my shoulders
Slows my ecstatic run
Unseen cracks tickle my ears
Spring has sprung
Sunday, February 27, 2005
The Spring Festival ended the other day. Which officially ended winter! That's exciting, isn't it? I know I'm glad. All this cold and snow and winter stuff was really getting to be a drag. Now the sun is out every day, the flowers and trees are blooming with the help of the afternoon's warm rain showers, and new babies and thigns are being born all over!
Oh wait, it's still cold as hell outside.
But since China has decided that winter is over now, the amount of het being provided has been cut; rumor has it it's been cut in half.
Looking at a glass that's half full, that means the pollution in the air should be much less. Maybe by the time I leave here it'll have cleared enough for me to be able to see the mountains from the window...but I am not holding my breath (except for when we have to walk thru the smog trails that drift amongst the buildings....)
Regardless of how it may have sounded (computer is a terrible conveyance of meaning), I did enjoy my time in Uzbekistan and loved the old cities we saw. And I do want to go back one day and see them (and other sights) when it isn't the middle of winter (or the other extreme, the middle of summer).
Bukhara was a beautiful city. Very little time was spent in the new city, instead we chose to wander the old city. And it's beautiful. The old buildings, small alleys between the old homes. Large covered bazaars that have been used for trading and selling goods for over a thousand years (I believe). Pretty wild to be in a city that sits on the Great Silk Road. And the history of these places is incredible and so complex. At some point when I have access to a library I am going to read up on it all. For now I'll continue to sit on the couch. The Old City is pretty much contained in one area, the new city remaining on its outskirts.
Khiva is a smaller town, without the large bazaars and large number of medressas. A nice quieter place, the old city contained inside the new city. Unfortunately the day we visited Khiva was at least 430 degrees C so it was a quick one (my sis even used our tea pot to try and warm her feet. Didn't work so well). Khiva is out west in the country, in the Khorezm region (ni olden times it was a different country, not Uzbekistan.
There is a parable about Khorezm people, told by the rest of Uzbekistan. Two men are sitting out on a lake fishing. One catches a fish who promises them a wish in return for setting it free. "The only catch (snigger!) is that whatever you wish for, the other will get double. So if you wish for $1 million, he'll get $2 million. The man for Khorezm said: "I'd like to be blind in one eye". That is what they think of people from this region. Sis's ex-Peace Corps town is in this region. The people....I am working on that blog.
Samarkand is a city whose size is between that of Bukhara and Tashkent. Not that small, and not that big. Unfortunately, the sights are not contained at all. You have to wander from old thing past new things to another old thing. Takes away from the experience a bit, for me the picky traveler. And the people there were not all that nice. But it's been a while since beggars with babies at the ready (to throw or something I don't know) literally ran after me, so there was that to consider. Sometimes it sucks being the only tourist in town. I think the buildings and tilework were most impressive here. Built on a larger scale than either of the other cities.
And there is much more to see. So many other old cities and ruins. Not to mention the Fergana Valley (I may have spelled that wrong) out east which we didn't see thanks to an overwhelming number of bus swallowing and people killing avalanches.
Definitely a place to see. Yes, it can be some rough traveling and there is a lot to deal with, but it's worth it.
Friday, February 25, 2005
In an attempt to mollify my scorn, tomorrow we are going to drive to these 'mountains' and walk around in the foothills.
I'll let you know what we find.
Incidentally, it's now almost 4:30am. Regular hours for me lately. Unfortunately, I think the call is coming early (we are going with a friend of my sis's who has a car. Works out-we get a ride and he gets two native english speakers with whom to practice his english) for us to leave. Maybe I should get some sleep?
Dinner was fine, but I became privy to another facet of Chinese culture: bluntness. Upon meeting a new person, many of the first questions asked may be: What do you do? How much do you make? That sort of thing. It's rude to us to ask someone we don't even know how much they earn. Here, they see it as a way to cut thru the BS and get to know who you're dealing with and how to deal. Not bad, once you get used to it. However, along with this come observations as to your state of being. If you look fatter? They tell you. Skinnier? Yup.
My point (for the moment) is that while we are sitting at the table, one of the girls reached over to grab the 'roll of fat' (there isn't one, in all actuality) on another girl, commenting that she looks less fat than she did before her vacation (keep in mind, women here are waif-like and pale. Those are distinctions of beauty). To follow up she grabbed and shook her ample roll of extra padding. Of course this passed around the table to all except me-not because I amn't fat, but because I am a guy? Who knows.
Just as I thought the comparison game was wrapping up, our waitresses came over and showed us their extra skin. Then girls at the other tables followed suit. My situation turned from one of quietly sniffling (freakin' cold! Again!), lost in my own thoughts (I wonder if the oil is too hot for me to stick a finger in and get a taste....) to being surrounded by skinny Chinese girls paranoid that their layer of skin might be too thick to obscure a visible display of their ribs.
Two girls then proudly dislpayed their newly tattooed LIPS (I am not making this up. Well, maybe sis told me about them instead of them showing up at dinner to moon over me). Seems they tired of constantly applying lipstick, so they had 'lipstick permanently' attached to their lips! Geez! Don't they know that tattoos are permanent?
Dinner ended after the food was gone. To be more accurate, dinner was over when I filled to overloaded after all the 'extra' food was placed in my bowl with smiling insistence to finish it all, as my hunger had been duly noted.
Those who feel pity for me raise your hand!!
Didn't think so
Thursday, February 24, 2005
My friends are oddities
The hotel sits back maybe 200 feet (maybe only 100. I didn't pace it off) from the street. There is a wide front pass-by drive and a line of trees at the curb. The cannons were set up between the hotel and the trees. Mind you-these are not the almost industrial sized crackers that have been on sale on evry street since we arrived here. Real deal.
In the States, since everyone is litigation-mad, a cordon is drawn in a what, 45-mile radius from the cannons? Not here in China! The land forgotten by lawyers! The crowd was gathered up to the cordon drawn about 50 feet from the cannons. The explosions were going off over and behind us. And for the record, them things are very loud (I used to wonder why tvs, radios, and karaoke in buses, bars and homes was always turned to max volume. No more does my feeble brain need to wonder). Missiles were bouncing off the hotel; burning shards of..whatever were landing on the hotel, on cars, on the trees, and almost on people. As balls of flame descended on the crowd, the "ooh"-ing would escalate the closer the flames fell and arms would go up as though to try and touch them! Standing there, watching balls of fire go off over our heads, my sister and I were continually wiping fallen gun powder out of our eyes, making note of the MANY works that made it no more than 5 or 10 feet into the air (visions of a mass detonation filled my mind....and then a nice pretty firework went off and I'd forget about it). This was not the only display in the city. From our vantage point (not raised) we could observe 3 other ongoing shows. I don't think we could see the one at the cigarette factory (touted by all as the place to be. Govt owned factory, with many monies donated for the festival). All this served to distract us from the...less than safe? position we held.
On the corner BEHIND us, a firework that didn't detonate in the air, hit the ground and went off. BEHIND us. The people close by looked a bit spooked, but the rest seemed to shrug it off. My friend and I looked at each other and exchanged glances that shared the same sentiment: "Shit"
Don't worry, the display ended without any damage (that we could see). A small show with kung-fu (of course) and Beijing Opera stuff and what ever else (we never saw any of it) was put on in front of the hotel, where the cannons once stood. Immediately after the last explosion of light, the crowd, en masse, literally ran to the stage. Now, for those who have never been here, let me explain social custom-pushing is fine, lines don't exist. Meandering over, I was shoved on all sides by people of every age (I think a walker clubbed me upside the head). Once we got our spot, in back, it continued. Continually jostling for position, the shoving increased. People were using their little kids as battering rams. Literally. And learning from an early age, the kids needed no prodding to shove. In fact, as I stood there, one little kid ran at me and slammed both his fists into my ass. I turned and looked at him in disbelief. His look seemed to say: "Get the shite out of my way!" Unbelievable. And the worst part, we were at the back with a few feet between us and the people in front of us! ven with plenty of space to pass by, I swear paths were diverted so that contact (shoving) could be made. I kid you not.
A path was kept 'clear' between the front door and the stage (performers route). I felt bad for the guys trying to hold the line. They'd shove people back, then move down the line to attack others. As they moved away, the people they had just moved back took this opportunity to move back out, always feigning ignorance. The crowd had these poor guys running back and forth.
And the thing is? I don't think most people really tried to see the show. They just wanted to be there and tell people later about it (My interpretation).
The best part? Since I tend to be bigger and weigh more than most people here, I could stand like an oak (granted, a small one) amongst the crowd and not get shoved around. Still annoying as hell to be amid all that. Fortunately, we soon moved off out of the crowd.
Crazy insane or insane crazy
The cramping has eased somewhat and I am hoping it was caused by newish food (spicy) or something only a little funny. Only time will tell. If giardia has returned (Tolliver! I said it was fun while it lasted but now it's time to move on. So shove off!) I will be less than pleased....
Aren't you happy that I keep you apprised of the state of being in my bowels?
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
But yes, I think it's a great thing for teaching morals and good treatment of others and all that (no religion in China. Go figure their tolerance...). It's the hypocrisy at the individual and institutional levels that I don't like. And the mistreatment of others for the furtherance of religion.
Too tired to go on with this train of thought.
Um, Jewish groups are unhappy about the abortion/Holocaust comparison. That's a surprise. (Maybe a reminder of the Catholic Church's response/actions to the Holocaust while it was ongoing is necessary? Low blow. Sorry. Different Pope also.)
And can I say once more that the idea that gay marriage is the greatest evil faced today is mind blottering! With so many things to worry about in the world, why is gay marriage always at the forefront, and why is it such a concern. You don't like gay sex? Stay out of the bedroom of a gay couple! You don't think they should have the same rights as heterosexual couples? Join the ranks of those that declared blacks on the same level as animals; those that refused to admit that women are not inferior to men; and going further back, those that considered interracial marriage as evil.
For crap's sake, I am so tired of hearing about the gay marriage "issue". You don't like it? Don't think about it! You think it's wrong and against god's laws? Resign yourself to the fact that in your world, these people will not go to heaven, and leave them the hell alone! Unless you live under a theocracy, don't make it a legal/govt issue (has the mandatory separation of church and state been rescinded in the US since I left? Maybe, seemed to be heading that way).
I don't like lima beans. People eat and enjoy them. That doesn't keep me from enjoying any of my meals.
Personally, I don't understand people who involve extreme (or minimal) masochism and pain as a part of sex. Doesn't mean I want to pass laws against dominatrix-ing.
Materialism is a way of life I no longer agree with, nor do I think it is good (and in my mind, it's a much more serious threat to us than two men getting busy with each other). But I don't think passing laws against it is a good idea (not that I believe that there is a single person in a govt position who would show any support for it).
If you don't like a person's way of life or preferences.....don't associate with them.
Me thinks maybe the pope should get out more and see real problems the world is having these days This is not meant to mock his health in any way. I hope he lives for many more years. I just can't understand how gay marriage has risen high on a list of worldly concerns. To me that smacks a bit of living outside the realm or reality
How about AIDS, famine, oppresive govts, environmental devastation, genocide, child soldiers, etc, etc?
This scares me. China is a huge power in the world economically, and eliminating this ban will help them climb the ranks militarily.
Well, why not let them come up to snuff with the other major powers, you might ask.
I am loathe to get too detailed with my observations since I am still here, but I'll toss out a few things. The Chinese people are scarily xenophobic. Most peoples have prejudices against other countries. The people here are prejudiced against anyone and anything not full-blooded Chinese. Half Chinese? Not good enough. The region I am in right now is historically not Chinese. They were 'liberated' by Mother China (many [most?] people actually believe that there is no history for this region before it was liberated, by China, in I think 1949! That it didn't exist! This is what their schools are teaching) and now the minorities here are treated like garbage by 'their' govt. The Chinese people that are infusing this place also treat them terribly. Not a surprise based on what their school teach them.
Tibet was 'liberated' and was a terrible place before. Inner Mongolia the same, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and I don't know how many other regions and peoples.
Anything not Chinese is sneered at as inferior, even if physical proof is in hand.
I've heard China describe like this (keep in mind-this description is based on a couple years spent not around or in Beijing or in the east, but primarily in the west): they are everything negative about the US (consumer driven, materialistic, imperialistic, arrogant [I'll get more adjectives later]) exacerbated tremendously. And it's true, I've witnessed it myself.
I think every country is guilty of some history fixing and brainwashing (disguised as 'national pride')(taught to believe that your country is the best in everything and should be admired by all), but the scale on which it is done here and the lack of any access to contradictory information has created a frightening situation. Especially, if China is headed towards being the next great superpower.
People I've talked to who aren't fans of the US and their approach to the world are not shy about wanting me to kick my country in the ass so that it remains on top instead of letting China take that position.
Out here, the govt makes sure that people are allowed no time to have free time. That would allow thinking. Work hours are ridiculous and pay low. Children are in school ALL day and always have a ton of homework. After classes, they 'do' their homework together all night. They are not taught to think. They are not allowed to make decisions (govt, teachers, or parents make decisions for them). This creates quite a dilemma around 20 years old or so when all of a sudden even the simplest need for a decision creates tremendous stress because they don't know how to do this. Suicide and depression, are rampant. You think teasing in US schools is bad? Try being non-Chinese in a Chinese school. Minorities are taught (even in their own schools) that they are inferior, stupid, dirty and worthless and lived horrible existences before China liberated them. This is in their books! Can you imagine reading that? And the older folk know the historical stuff is bunk because they were around.
Ugh. Good thing I wasn't going to say anything. Keep in mind that this is a bit rambling, is not inclulsive of everyone in this country (or abroad), and is not comprehensive.
A govt that has complete control has the power to not let information in or out. That means the people here have no idea what is going on elsewhere in the world, and the rest of the world doesn't really know the truth about here. I'm told that the monitoring system in place in China is the tightest and most comprehensive in the world. Can't let people learn. They might begin to suspect that all is not as they are taught.
Monday, February 21, 2005
It was another class with many interesting questions for me. A good class really. The kids were well behaved, their english was pretty good and they seemed pretty intelligent.
After the initial question ("What is your name?") came my favorite question thus far. A little fat boy (he is little, and fat, and knows this. He has no qualms saying so) stood up and in an excited tizzy asked me: "DO YOU LIKE MEAT AND HAMBURGERS??" I almost soiled myself. It was hysterical! I had been warned about Smith (his english name) I was dying to meet him. His loves in life are: meat and computer games (ALL kids in this country love computer games. It is their exercise. No joke). His vacations are good if he gets to eat a lot of meat. After the class calmed down and I answered him that I am a vegetarian(In Asia I am vegetarian. Especially in China. You don't want to hear the stories I've heard about what they eat. Beyond appalling. And since half the time the chefs can't actually tell you what animal the are serving I've opted to eat no more flesh.), the teacher asked him: "Smith! How many hamburgers can you eat?" "Four," he proudly answered. Cute kid. I coulda stood there all day listening to him talk about anything, especially meat (he is very enthusiastic).
I still have editing to do (especially with the Thailand pics), but you'll get the idea.
Karaoke bars. Odd. The 5-star hotel we ate at last night (free, thanks to a manager-type friend) had one that we checked out. Tthis guy sang a bunch of songs; I let the guy buy me some Carlsburg beer. I can't complain or refuse, ya know? That's rude! Anyway, these places (many) have small rooms off the main bar with a tv and sound system for entertainment. And a decent collection of music, recreated elevator music style (broke my heart to hear 'Your Cheatin' Heart' in that manner). Not to mention the waitress who sits there, subject to abuse from drunks (not from us though. It was a shortish night), fetching drinks or whatever and making sure the sound levels and all that work right. But she has to sit there, in this room. Poor girl.
No, I did not sing.
But for someone like me, who'd rather sit there and take in the scene while listening to some good music....not for me.
There was a semi-naked girl who danced around a pole in the main bar (STRONG thigh muscles) for....no one. Hm.
None of the kids could understand how I could not play computer games. Reading books instead gained me incredulous looks.
I have a favorite new Chinese word: mamahoohoo (?)(means 'so-so)
The last of the Thailand pics from January are online and I am working on the Uzbekistan pics as I type. The links should be updated by Monday AM in the States.
Sunday, February 20, 2005
A very dark and small rink below street level. Teens smoking in corners, little make-out clusters in the darkest corners, and some skating.
Like I was told, some people skate forward. Others, face THE SAME direction and skate backwards! Watching for only a minute I witnessed several very near misses. Our faces at the door only exacerbated the situation because everyone wanted to stare. But what a riot! And the logic used is.....non-existant.
Mother China, how we love thee so!!
Had dinner at a 5-star hotel last night (with a friend who is manager or something). Good food and all. This guy filled us in on some happenings around the area that occurred while we were eating shite in Uzbekistan. Seems 3 bombs went off around this area, one hitting a bus. Not sure if anyone was killed. Don't think this made the local news And why not? Because the minority groups were probably responsible and the govt doesn't want unrest being seen. Or if news does get out (rare), it is painted as Muslim terrorists being responsible. Hm. Terrorists, or people whose land has been taken away; who are subject to intense racism; who are being forced out of jobs and such in favor of Chinese who are essentially imported to overtake the area and make it Chinese. Yet the press these minorities get is as horrible people who are acting up for no reason. Easy to label any act against the govt as terrorism (how often blamed on 'Muslim radicals'?).
Maybe it's people tired of being treated like shit.
Much like people in Uzbekistan. A couple bombs (no one hurt), one going off in the street in front of the US embassy. The press I saw back when it happened said it could be terrorists or radicals or something, maybe against the US or whatever. Everyone we talked to in Uz was of the opinion that it was people fed up with their treatment, trying to get the attention of the world for help. One guy couldn't praise our ousting of Hussein enough. Said it was great to see a dictator like that gotten rid of, if only it would happen for them.
But I am getting ahead of myself. This was a fun email! And the serious topics are for later.
I took a shower and smell much better now. Figured I oughter do that to eat in a fancy hotel. So I shower, washed my hair with actual shampoo and put on deoporant. Then put my not clean enough clothes back on. Oops.
Saturday, February 19, 2005
If this were a song, I'd have been singing it in my head (who are we kidding? My internal monologue these days is all too vocal. I would have been singing out loud) the other night as we stood looking in at the swimming pool, checking for water (sometimes there is none) and crowd levels.
Yes, the water was there in sufficient amounts for swimming. Crowd? Too quantiferous for us to swim. Not that there was an overwhelming number of people swimming, it's just that the people present were situated in such a way as to make swimming laps (in the almost world-wide accepted manner) virtually impossible. I've categorized the various groups of 'swimmers' below in an attempt to paint a picture of this phenomenon.
Track Stars. These swimmers are track runners at heart as their laps more closely resemble those of a track runner than a swimmer. They make circular, oval, rectangular or square laps about the perimeter of the pool.
't'-Crossers. These swimmers are like the cross on a lower case 't'. Their laps, while made in similar fashion to our version of a lap, are oriented along the shortest axis of the pool instead of the long axis. And always in the shallow end. My research has not been intensive enough to draw any detailed conclusions, so I remain uncertain if these swimmers are kicking the water or bouncing off the bottom of the pool. Based on their almost lack of forward progress I am guessing the floor has at least minimal involvment. Although maybe unlike me they actually float, so anything is possible.
Children. The kids I saw seemed to fall into one of two groups. Those with an inner tube, and those without. Both groups added to the general melee in the pool by way of splashing and endless meandering about the shallow end. Bobbing movements were used to break the monotony of splashing and harassment of fellow pool denizens.
Beginners. These swimmers could be categorized as 't'-Crossers if not for 2 small distinguishing characteristics. An inner-tube about their mid-section (which really isn't helpful in proper stroke development), and an orientation towards the middle of the pool rather than the shallow end.
Flailers. This brave group of individuals combines characteristics of the 't'-Crossers and Beginners and add in a flair of their own. Oriented towards the middle of the pool (and invariable in a path sure to cause a collision with the Beginners) they make the same short lap as the 't'-crossers. Their stroke, while reminiscent of the 'forward crawl', has a definite flailing look to it. Their heads never fall below the surface while their bodies hang almost perpendicular to the surface of the water, with their heads swinging violently from left to right following their wildy windmilling arms.
All of the above groups share some common traits. Rest stops are frequent and consist of: face rubbing; spitting (loogeys) and blowing their noses usually over the edge of the pool (sometimes not quite missing the water); goggle and swim cap adjustment; heavy breathing; staring at the funny white folk. I saw no one make more than one 'lap' without a rest. Not that I am mocking anyone for being out of shape (hello Pot, this is Kettle talking....), it's just riotous. It really is.
Hoppers. A popular past-time in the pool with those not interested in actually swimming is hopping back and forth in jagged lines all over the shallow end of the pool. At one point, all the kids and a couple cross-lappers joined in with the Hoppers and the entire shallow end was saturated with bobbing bodies. It looked neat, but produced a veritable minefield for a person trying to swim a true lap.
This is why my sister and I opted to skip our evening's swim and go eat instead. And what makes the whole thing more amusing is to watch my sis get all worked up about it (especially since she goes to swim to ease her stress!). The people working there laugh because she won't swim in a busy pool and they don't understand why!
And it's not like this pool is undeveloped. There are hooks from which to hang lane lines. To mark off where to swim laps. You could even rope off half the pool and corral the kids and Bobbers to their own section of pastureland. When no one was looking, I began to untie the ropes of flags hung above the water, my intention being to set up lane lines with them. Unfortunately, this cause quite a commotion (people continued to remain in place and stare, as they'd been doing since I walked into the pool area) and my sister gave me a stiff shove into the water to stop me. Something about "I live here and know these people. You are emBARassing me! Again!" Geez, someone is a little touchy.
Having friends who swim has given my sis insight into this phenomenon. One friend, when confronted with the asinine manner in which people swim, offered as her defense: "But I'm scared of the deep end!" Hooah!
I am bummed I missed out on one group of individuals, the Competitors. This group is characterized by Chinese men brave enough to enter the deep end and make a true lap (though maybe they enter this group only during their track lap?). Their purpose is to race my sister and show their superiority. The thing is, my sis swims something like 4,000 laps without rest. These guys wait for her and swim one lap. And sometimes win, their celebration waiting until after they hack out a bit of lung and catch their breath. Funny.
No longer will the pool here get to see my sister or I in our swim gear. Why? Keep reading.
My sister went swimming this morning but I passed on the adventure because I have a tickle in my throat and swimming in that sanitary-free pool seemed like a bad idea. From what sis just told me, it was a wise choice. Since no one showers before entering the water and no chemicals are used to maintain sanitary conditions in the water, a nasty funk tends to form on the sides of the pool, at or above water level. At least they clean the funk. Unfortunately, they embarked upon this venture while the pool was full of 'swimmers'. The cleaner guy wored large rubber gloves; he used the pool water and a sponge soaked in pure bleach to scrub away the gunk. Undiluted bleach. The man cleaning knew enough that he should wear gloves and avoid contact with the stuff, but didn't further that thinking and realize that maybe people shouldn't swim in it either.
God save the queen, ya know?
Hanson (How can you not love "Mmm Bop? Seriously)
Hank Williams III (who played in Denver a few nights ago. Damnit!)
Black Eyed Peas
David Allen Coe (sis has some of his stuff on her computer. I am so proud!)
Also, I am drinking a cup of very black Vietnamese coffee (I think it is the only good cup of coffee being sucked down anywhere in China at this moment. MUCH better than that Nescafe crap) and eating some non and little oranges.
My attire consists of long underwear pants (I won't describe the skivvies. No, not sexy, just in need of a wash), sis's ex's discarded shirt, poi poc (sp?)(slipper like socks from Uz), and a layer of greaze.
I am told (wow that coffee is strong!) that mountains can be seen out of the bedroom window, but as of yet I have no proof of that. Soaring, majestic snow-covered peaks...obscured by layer upon layer of pollution and sand. Ok, I'll pretend I see them. Oh yes! They are magnificent!
It's still cold as balls outside
Friday, February 18, 2005
It was funny
Now let me tell you about swimming laps in China. There is an indoor pool here (obviously. An outdoor pool here would be an ice rink right now.) and for the first time in maybe 10 years I swam laps. Not pretty. My swimming skills are quite decrepit at this juncture in life but I need some exercise at this point. Very badly. My feeble attempt at swimming garnered me some laughter and meekedness. Swim caps are all the rage here (though chlorine and showering before entering the pool are not. Hence slicked water is ok as long as it's hairless. Like the Chinese) and I made it one lap before the counter lady made a diving tackle on me and stuffed my hair (of which I have a tremendous amount at this point) into one. My attempt to start up again was slowed by a hand grabbing my shorts and rapid shouting in Chinese. I followed my standard MO and ignored it and tried to go about my business. So she grabbed my sis (who was now 45 laps into her workout) and said I had to wear a swimming suit. I was. But unlike the approved apparel here, they are not speedo-ish. Sis explained and everyone laughed. Except me (I was still waiting for the translation). Finally I began my workout. Soon after I left the pool to showered and get dressed. My lap count will remain a mystery but we'll say it was respectable. My sister, on the other hand, swam 4,679 laps. Doh!
Now hang on a second, I'm not done. It's time to describe the Chinese version of swimming laps (at this pool anyway). Some of this I witnessed, the rest was described to me by an english speaker who tells stories much like I do (sister). There was a man in the pool (yes, he swam for a longer period of time than me but at the speed of oatmeal flowing...downhill) swimming sometimes circles, sometimes squares, sometimes randomly about. Very bizarre. The tales I've been forced to listen to endless times tell of people who swim crossways, hitting every swimmer complying with standard lap protocol. This pool also has the kissing couple-they don't swim laps. The pool is an erotic sort of foreplay for them as they mill about the pool making out.
Hehe. Do you want to hear the best story though? It involves neither swimming pools nor incest. But it slays me. My tale takes place in the roller rink. Young and medium Chinese folk skate around, some good some horrific. Some skate forward, some backward. What do they have in common? They all skate facing the same direction......(wait for it).... Yup. People skating backward are heading toward people skating forward. My sis asked them about this, wondering if they saw the inherent potential for pain (and dramatic comedy). The response: "But, we're all facing the same direction!" Yes, people collide. KILLS me!
Which leads me to this-once I am elsewhere, I will speak more on things such as the Chinese educational system (as it is out here) based on my observations and tales I've been told.
Thursday, February 17, 2005
The Uzbek blogs will take some time to put together, so for the time being I will fill you in on our time in/thru Kazakhstan.
Long story very short. We left our friend's place in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, at 9:30AM on the 12th. Our feet hit the ground outside the train in my sis's town in China at 6:00AM on the 16th. There was a 24-hour layover (more or less) in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Long story not so short. At the Uzbekistan/Kazakhstan border, there are 4 checkpoints to pass thru (we elected to walk across instead of paying one of the harassful taxi drivers an exorbitant amount to take us the 1/2 kilometer or so): 2 on the Uzbek side and 2 on the Kazakh side. No problem. One Uzbek and one Kazakh guard claimed to remember sis from the month before when she was going into Uz, which greased the wheels a little. Then the greaze froze up. Thru the last Kazakh checkpoint all we had to do was pass by the little toll-type-booth for vehicles going into Uz. My fat mouth made a comment about our ease of passage so of course as we passed this booth a Kazakh guard yelled at us, took our passports, told us that since we were missing our customs declarations forms (not to be found anywhere) and that we'd need to pay a fine. Sis argued with him for a minute or two then translated for me what was going on so that we could both show annoyance. After all of us standing around for about 10 minutes, this guy was on the verge of giving in when another guy took up the fight and brought us 'inside' and gave us customs forms to fill out. These forms have columns where you have to declare any and all cash you have on you (no min. amount). Helpful so that they know how much to take for a bribe. And you have to be pretty honest because if they check and you lied....bye=bye extra money! It turned out ok. We filled out the forms, they 'reviewed' them behind close doors and they let us go without lightening our pockets.
Hassle 2. Our first long ride was from Shymkent, Kazakhstan (a 2-hour ride from the border) to Almaty, Kazakhstan (the recent ex-capital of the country. The dicta...um, President, BUILT a new city to be the capital. A very Russified [Russian] country, he wants more conversion to Kazkh only stuff. So he built a friggin' city out in the middle of nowhere. Money which could have been used for much better things. Like, improving the living conditions in the country? Blog for later). The bus departed at 7pm and was scheduled to arrive in Almaty around 7AM. The guy sitting behind us, upon learning that my sis speaks Kazakh, was continually shoving his head between us (literally pushing my head aside) to talk to her and wake her up when she began trying to sleep. Annoyed, I buggered him off and sis ignored him. Semi-worked. Outside it had been and continued to snow, making the roads treacherous and slow (I still don't look out the front window. It's better to not know what's coming). Oh yeah-and at 2am, the bus broke down. In the driving lane of a narrow 2 lane road, in the snow and -20 degree C weather. I got out to 'relieve' myself and enjoyed the peaceful mostly empty road and quiet frozen scenery and gave thanks for the invention of emergency flashing lights on vehicles. Getting rear-ended would be less than ideal-sis and I had seats in the second to last row. Scampering back on board I joined the rest of our fellow passengers in the hopes that the bus would move again under its own power (no towns in sight). Several people didn't stick around to see what happened. Another bus stopped (not to help but to shanghai passengers) and there was a brief rish to grab a 'seat' in the aisle of the working bus. We decided to hope for the best. Maybe 2 hours later the bus began moving, the engine sounding decent until the gears were engaged, at which time I began to wonder why there were small to medium sized rocks dropped into the cylinders. An hour later the drivers called it quits and dumped the bus on the side of the road with instructions for us all to "get off". This left us, at 3AM, standing on the side of the road, waiting for another bus to stop and load us on. 15 minutes later our salvation arrived. Brenda got a seat next to a woman traveling with a wig (don't ask) and I got on a low platform (used as a bed so the drivers could be well rested) with 6 other people. My new close friends and I jammed together, all of us laying on each other's shoulders in attempts to sleep. This worked well for me the entire 20 minutes I slept. The experience would have been much nicer and more of a bonding experience except my left leg was painfully twisted by the woman sitting on her bag in the aisle who NEEDED to snuggle with her husband seated next to me (later on, he laid across my lap and used my backpack as a pillow. Cute, eh?). That's how I sat, for 7 hours. Couldn't feel most of my lower body when we stopped, except of course for my blottoe'd knee. "It'll make a good story," was my mantra.
Eventually we boarded a train from Almaty, Kazakhstan to Urumqi, China (Xinjiang Province). A longer stay in Almaty would have been nice only a bus was out of the question-the border was closed (the road, actually. Darn snow!)-and trains only made the run 3 times a week. Our options were to leave the followign night or overstay our 5-day transit visas. Tired already of Kazakh police, a rapid departure was deemed optimal. A 30-hour ride, our tickets claimed. Leaving at 10:40PM, arriving....later. We left at 10:40 on the 14th and arrived at 6AM on the 16th. Looong ride. Eventful, in a way. About an hour before hitting the Chinese border, 2 Kazakh cops on the train checked passports. Only mine and my sis's were taken for 'further inspection'. 1o ticks of the minute hand later they returned and asked us to come to their berth to talk. Guess what? Another extortion attempt! We were 'missing' a form that a guard at the border said was not needed. It would be no problem if we paid a 'fine'. Same routine as before. Sis explained to me, we both muttered unhappily and sat around until they got bored and said that "it'd be ok". Assholes. I thought cop harassment was bad in Uzbek, but it's worse in Kazakhstan. Crooked cops....ain't they great? Finally the border arrived. Our berth mate, a Chinese woman, started talking with my sis when she realized a common language (that would be Chinese, the 6TH language my sis has spoken in my presence thus far). Warnings about Kazakh customs people flowed like rotten milk from her mouth. Her trip into Kazakhstan wisened her to the ways of the customs folk. Our money pouches got shoved into our pant legs and valuables were buried under clothes and such at the bottom of our packs. Seems the guards like to go thru your stuff and keep money they find as well as items that may catch their attention. Nice. Our worries were unsubstantiated this time as they didn't even go thru our bags. They only kept the train at the border for 4 hours, constantly tramping up and down the hallways looking 'impressive'. Their last act of bullying (before making us wait another hour) was to have everyone in the car leave their berth and stand in the hallway outside while they checked for....something. In an act solely intended as a display of "look at how much power we think we have, and you can't do anything about it", they ruffled our jackets and pillows and sheets (yes, we took the expensive sleeper car, thank god [only because there were no hard seats]). Official, I am sure. I mean, the guys doing the ruffling had on tool belts containing a flashlight and screwdriver! Maybe they wanted to fluff our pillows as a thanks for being patient? Oof. 4 hours!! Then we had to deal with the Chinese (a relief! Not words I thought I'd ever say). Our bags got emptied (we got to do it, they kept their hands off which was nice) and our passports were returned within an hour. But for some reason we remained motionless for another 2 hours.
Which brings us to the end. Fortunately, sis asked if the train passed thru her town which is 3-4 hours by train from Urumqi. They said yes and saved us 10 hours of travel and some cash. 5am dumped us unceremoniously into the -20 degree C streets. As I've said before, those are not conditions conducive to bargaining. The taxi guy ripped us off and charged us the foriegner's rate (it is a known fact in China that there is a higher cost for us non-Chinese), DOUBLE the amount that sis has ever spent in a taxi here (she does speak english; he didn't care).
Friday, February 11, 2005
And, I am tired of being an english learning aid, so hopefully that is mostly done with.
It'll be a few days. Talk to you when we get to China (or before, in Kazakhstan, knowing me)
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Something about snow for a couple weeks straight, temps in the negatives (highs of around -15C), avalanches in eastern Uzbek and Krygy killing people and sweeping buses off the road and stuff like that. Brenda feels we would have been fine (lots of good luck bracelets), but we chose the wiser route. Unfortunately, Kazakh isn't supposed to be that exciting to drive thru, but if we get to ski a day out of it all, no problem. And it's expensive there. That is no good.
Ain't life grand??
Who'se coming to Fiji?!??
We leave Saturday morning. Our passports were dropped at the Kazakhstan embassy yesterday and should be ready tomorrow afternoon. Then we're off! A few days later we'll pull into sis's place and regroup. Good times.
Once more let me pass along some sage advice to those who heard about my giarrdia weight loss (the last time. Haven't weighed myself this time so I have no idea where I'm at) and thought it a nice diet plan-don't even consider it. Sucks and is miserable. I started the medication yesterday morning. Going to the embassy and back I had to walk hunched over from the stomach pains and cramping. Sucked. Then I slept for a couple hours and am now still skittish to eat. That isn't going to stop me from making mac and cheese (white cheddar flava) when we get back to where we are staying. I have been carrying that box of goodness around for....way too long. Almost 2 months? Time to eat it. The microwave popcorn will have to wait until I get to sis's. That's gonna be good.
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Ate breakfast at 8:30am (ganked a pocketful of raisins and nuts) and didn't eat or drink again until 8pm. I was a bit dehydrated.
The day started with a 3+ mile walk thru the outskirts of Samarkand with a vague idea of the whereabouts of the long-distance bus station. Wearing my 4-layers of pants (ran out of room in my backpack) and 3 shirts, it was a very sweaty walk (not a freezing day for once). Arriving at the bus station I was just in time to be rushed onto a bus leaving for Tashkent, which proceeded to sit and wait another 30 minutes before it finally left. And stopped 20 minutes later. For 20 minutes. I think that process was repeated for 5 hours, after which we finally made some good time back into the city.
Fortunately for me, the bus delivered me back to the spot from where we left 2 weeks previous (there are a few places buses drop people, so I got lucky) so I got right onto the Metro to head to my sister's hideaway. Only before I could get to the ticket counter, a cop stopped me and asked to see my passport. "Didn't take long," I mumbled to myself as I handed over the photocopy of my passport. He rambled and asked (I think) where I was coming from and going to. I answered semi-coherently b/c: 1. My face was still a little numb from the drafty bus; 2. I was dehdrated as hell and tired; 3. technically, except for my 3 days in Samarkand, sis and I have been less than legal in the country (I'll explain this when we get to China). But he let me go and even smiled at me! Nice.
The Metro was easy. However, when I exited the station, I had to take a bus. Only I wasn't told which way (north or south) to take it, and am not learned enough in Russian script to be able to decipher which was was north/south (it was dark, and I knew I needed to go north). I guessed correctly, though I almost passed out on the bus for lack of hydration. So far so good, I found the right stop and started towards the boy's dorm (lives at university, on campus). Again, no info on the building number or anything. But I guessed right again and was greeted with a hug and: "thank god! I was worried you were lost or dead!" No faith in me, from my sis who is faultless with directions and all that, right??
Now we need to check the weather out east. Our plan was to hitchhike thru Kyrgyzstan to China. Only this takes us over a very high mountain pass that has been getting snow for...about a week now (with more projected). Now we may go thru Kazakhstan instead, perhaps getting in a day of skiing!! We'll see.
That's all for now. I need to get something to drink. Still dehydrated
FYI-Don't believe the hype. I am not suffering (that badly) and am having a good time. It only sounds like I am miserable. I swear!! Besides, that which doesn't kill us only makes us stronger, right (assuming we can survive the malnourishment and stomach issues)?
Saturday, February 05, 2005
The orange in my pocket is calling my name. Hurray for vitamin C!
Yes/no/thank you; in Uzbek, dialect, and Russian
good (universal word. can even mean goodbye)
hello and goodbye in Russian
rice pilaf (basically)
Can you make any guesses about my time here? hehe
My butt now rests in Samarkand, another ancient city in Uzbekistan. Another fascinating place and for once, I had great weather to wander around and take pics in. Sunny, clear blue sky, almost warm (which means sweat was starting to form under my 2 shirts, fleece and large jacket)...good stuff. More pics to download later.
And right now, I am flying solo. The bus from Bukhara to Tashkent dumped me (unceremonioiusly of course) on the side of the road somewhere outside of the city this morning at ~2am. Nothing around with the exception of one taxi. Now that, is having no bargaining power. In the middle of nowhere, no idea where you are, nothing around but fields and a couple trees, cold, dark.....and one taxi. The guy ripped me a new one and then tried to get 50% more when he dropped me off. R would have been proud-we argued until he left. And since he dropped me in front of the nicest hotel in town (telling me, in Russian hand gestures, that is was in fact cheap) I had to roam the streets until 3:30am looking for my chosen hotel wondering how safe the streets actually are and hoping no cops would cruise by (bribing at 3am on no sleep can't be easy). Don't worry, I made it and was up by 8:45 and bumming around the city.
Oh yeah-no sis. She stayed on said bus and continued on to Tashkent.
What does this mean? I am back to having vocal conversations with myself. Not a problem, as everyone stares anyway (how a tourist is still such a spectacle in this very touristy city is beyond me). It also means that I am paying way too much for everything. The taxi, the hotel (though I bargained the guy down and got a free breakfast out of it. And the brekfast is enough food for bfast, lunch, and a semi-dinner. Depending on how much bread and raisins I gank unseen before leaving the table) the oranges and non (Uzbek for bread)(the bread here is the best! Aren't you jealous, sis?) I bought at the market, even the sites (B got us into many for free or much discounted in Khiva). Which sucks. Might have to change more money before leaving to ensure an adequate amount to make it to my final destination in tashkent when I get there. Donations or money owed me are appreciated.
Overall though, a beautiful place. I 'bribed' a cop at the main complex to climb one of the minarets (tower) and get a view of the city. Spectacular! Mountains, domes, fancy stuff, power lines, it was great! Since it was early in the day no smog or haze had descended so the pics should be pretty good.
The bad news about the above paragraph: my little climb (not that high, really. Maybe a couple hundred feet?) left my legs cramping. By the time my feet were back on the ground, my quads were cramping. In fact I think they might be sore now. Pathetic. I guess eating poorly, eating very little, and bowel issues don't add up to good health, eh? I laughed, but then sat down and cried, bemoaning my fate over some discarded rice laying on the ground.
Thursday, February 03, 2005
A quick recap, more details later (when I get to my sis's place in China and have free and unlimited internet access). It is butt-ass cold. And has been for a couple weeks now. I have been incommunicado for a bit now because we spent some days in the outer rings of Hell, aka-the little town my sis stayed in a few years back. No internet access, no phone calls in or out without spending a mini-fortune (US standards), and various rod lashings and canings.
How am I now? Not bad. This is an update on my personal appearance and other such things. I have not showered, not even washed my hair, since...I don't know. Over a week for sure. Since it's cold and the gas (for heat) was unreliable, I haven't taken off my clothes and have had at a minimum 2 pairs of pants and 2 shirts and socks on for this entire period. Yes, I stink and am very dirty. But so is everyone else so it doesn't matter (who wants to get wet when it's -20-25 degrees C?)(yes, it was that cold).
Oh yeah-I either have giarddia again or some other nasty stomach bug. Our second day there found me with loudly gurgling rumbling stomach, dashing to the toilet way too often.
FYI-Waking up to a cramping stomach and massive stomach pains and having to run outside to the toilet (there are no indoor toilets)(there are no toilets either. Only holes in the ground) at 1am and 3am in -25 degree C weather to squat over an outdoor hole is not fun. My sympathy for sis's experiences 4 years ago have greatly increased.
However, this stomach issue, while becoming the talk of the town (literally), saved me from having to eat as much horribly unhealthy food (cottonseed oil is used. Illegal to cook with in most places, even in China. It more closely resembles motor oil than any cooking oil I've ever seen) and got me out of drinking nasty Uzbek vodka (tried some. It stripped the paint from my insides). I am doing much better, so maybe it's not giarddia. I'll wait until we leave this country (sanitary conditions, on the whole, are not what you might call....decent) and then take the 'cure' if necessary.
There you have it. Right now we are back in Bukhara. Rolled in last night, slept in a freezer, and will be heading to Samarkand this evening. After a couple of days there we'll head back to Tashkent, take care of business and get out Kyrgyzstan visas and then start heading to China. And when we get to my sis's place? Maybe I'll sit inside and not leave for a month. We'll see. That seems boring though, doesn't it? Stay tuned...