Thursday, June 30, 2011

Last night in Ili

I'm halfway through this Xinjiang excursion and thus far I have ridden a horse, watched a horse race, eaten horse and drank fermented mare milk. So perhaps it's no surprise that tonight I skipped the last smokey/boozy county government banquet to entertain Mr. Ed's revenge in my business suite (the foreigners got the best rooms). I sat down next to the county PR head and was pretty sure watching people eat oily spicy Chinese food wasn't going to do anything for my mounting nausea: "Mr. Wang, I'm really sorry but I don't feel well. I'm leaving." "Just eat a little bit." "Certainly wont."

I'm not sure "certainly wont" was the polite/grammatical response, but hopefully he understood it was a I-seriously-don't-feel-good reply and not a big F you.

It's been fun out here in Kazakh country. The vast majority of people in this county are Kazakh but all of the government officials we've met, with the exception of one Kazakh PR lady, have been Han Chinese (at least I'm pretty sure, I didn't poll them all). We've visited a lot of farms, where all the farmers have told us how much the government policies have helped them...

But we also drove through gorgeous countryside, got to go on a little hike yesterday and saw some fun traditional dance performances.

I'm basically having a cultural experience inside a cultural experience, since I'm seeing Xinjiang for the first time, but I'm also the only Western journalist (and one of three foreigners) on a tour full of Chinese media.

I've been pretty cool about being the whitey sideshow up until now. I take pictures with people whenever they ask. I don't mind the other journalists surreptitiously stealing shots of me. I've danced (horribly) after the banquet dinners whenever I was asked. Hell, last night I got up and belted out "Happy Birthday" in front of the banquet hall when they asked me to sing.

I've spoken to a handful of Xinjiang people and many say I'm the first American they've met. And I don't think the other journalists I'm with have had much interaction with Westerners (only two speak fluent English, I communicate in Mandarin with the rest).

It's important to me to be a good sport and be cheerful, but I just about came to the end of my rope today after being pushed (and I do mean physically) into a photo opp with a group of Mongolian dancers by another journalist. "No, I don't want to!" It was a bit awkward afterward, I probably would have taken the photo but it just grinds my gears when people (particularly men I don't know well) touch me without forewarning. Then at lunch someone at our table said, "Oh Leslie, you're good at drinking [I had three small shots of bai jiu over the course of dinner the previous night, hardly impressive] tonight you should have a drinking contest with them." "Ha ha! Certainly wont!"

I'm going to have to ask Teacher Liz about the appropriateness of "certainly wont" as it seems to have wormed it's way well into my conversation arsenal.

Now as I sit here, typing and griping, four of our group members (including the pusher and the drinking contest guy) just came to my door to offer to take me to the hospital ("NOOOooonononno thank you") and then came back up to my room with stomach medicine.

In fact, everyone in our group has been lovely to me. Everyone wants to make sure I know what's going on, everyone gives me food, asks how I like things, basically they all take care of me up, down and sideways. It's just my patience wears thin with all the attention. But patience is definitely one of the things China is constantly teaching me.

1 comment:

Michael Rettig said...

The drinking contest comment reminded me of the scene near the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I suppose patience is required when you're the only white person in the vicinity. To them, the novelty is probably only a few steps removed from traveling with a Martian.

Isn't eating a horse bad karma?