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.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

First night in Xinjiang

I'm out here in the far west for the next ten days with several other journalists from our publishing company (which is under the State News Council), which was invited by the Xinjiang government to make the trip. They served Halal meals on our flight and now that we're in the capital a lot of signs are in both Mandarin and what I'm pretty sure is Arabic. But we're staying in the Chinese part of town, so I haven't seen too many Ugyhur people yet. 

They only gave us the agenda once we were on the ground - we'll spend most of the next week traveling through Yili County, a primarily Kazakh region and every day there's some sort of government official group interview which should be ... riveting. I believe we're meeting the governor of Xinjiang tomorrow morning, and that should be rather interesting.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ai Weiwei released - hurray!

They let him out today, phew.

Sorry for the lack of posts, I'm coming up on the end of another cover story cycle. In the mean time, you should read this article I wrote about scrap collectors in Shanghai.

Other news: I got a Kindle (!!!!). And soon me thinks I'm going to buy a fancy camera. I want something smaller than an SLR, but with interchangeable lenses. Leaning towards a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3. Camera heads, I welcome your feedback.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Humidity defined

Humidity noun
An atmospheric condition wherein if you walk to work in the rain and soak your feet, then hang your socks from the shelf behind your head (you're welcome, coworkers!), when five o'clock rolls up said sock still feel soaked.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A weekend full of special days

Friday was Opium Suppression Movement Day. Saturday was June 4. And today we have off for Dragon Boat Festival!

Dragon Boat Festival is the special time of year where Chinese people eat rice dumplings steamed in lotus leaves in remembrance of some poet who committed suicide.

My favorite Chinese holiday though went down on March 28 - Serfs Emancipation Day! Here you can see a China Daily slideshow of all the happy Tibetans celebrating the exile of their spiritual leader slave master.