My life is so ‘rich,’ it’s hard to convey, and when I say ‘rich,’ I mean varied as in variegated. So much ‘richness,’ in terms of life, of culture, of experience, I’m overwhelmed at times. And this is one of those times!
Forty years ago an astrologer told me, via my horoscope that, the end of my life would be the best of times, and such has come true! So, when people denigrate western astrology, I simply think they’ve ‘cut off,’ another way to access the universe!
Most people live is such tiny ‘boxes!’ I live in a very large circle! You don’t have to believe, all you have to be is open! Nobody really knows! We think we ‘no!’
Rene Descartes, four hundred years ago said, ‘I think therefore I am!’ And such is true! But…
Be not fixed
On some idea,
All is motion
We do not ‘no,’
Only so and ‘sow,’
To reap the dough!
Be not fixed,
To the ring of the bell,
But, do not sell,
You stand for!
Be not fixed!
How could I possibly describe living in Xinjiang, China, particularly Kashigar…
Like tonight at English Corner on the campus of Kashgar Teachers College…
The smiling, shy students wanting to know the American, making me feel like a celebrity of sorts, just because I speak a language they want to learn! So, curious, so naïve, all trying so hard! They’re all respectful and kind!
I’m living a dream!
And so much has happened in the last couple of days. First trekking in the mountains with the ‘1,2,3’ Group, and secondly looking at a flat (apartment in America) to rent.
First on Sunday, I almost didn’t get to go on this ‘outing,’ to the shan (mountains in Chinese) with our group, as I confused the two times used in this town; Beijing Time and ‘Local’ or Xinjiang Time (two hours earlier). I ‘ve written about this, and how confusing it is: You must always ask people which time they’re referring to. But, it escaped me when they told me to meet at the Indy Café at 0820, thinking X.T., when I should have been thinking B.T. In fact, they were thinking 0620. Additionally, Miss Hu, had said we’d take a taxi at 0815 to the Indy, but it didn’t ‘dawn’ (literally) on me until awaking that morning at 0530 X.T. (as my watch and mind are set on ‘Local’ or ‘Xinjiang’ Time) that was 0615 on my watch. So, I was suddenly two hours behind schedule.
So, then how did it come to pass, that I arrived ten minutes early? It has to do with organization and preparation! I had prepared and pre-packed the night before. But, did I scurry about like the Mad Hatter, with only thirty minutes to get ready. I don’t like to rush, but I did that morning, but even fixing and drinking my morning tea. But, I was out on the street to meet for Miss Hu by 0605 B.T. (are you confused?). In fact, had to wait for her.
When living in another culture/language, participating with the people in that culture you are regularly surprised with the turn of events. Sunday, and going on this trip was no exception. We were to take the train to a village, two hours north of Kashigar (on the way to Aqsu, on the way to Uremqi). But, beyond that, and the information we wouldn’t be returning until 2300 hours BEIJING TIME, I knew little. They tell you little, or can’t as in different language. So, you learn to anticipate, and to be prepared for anything. Most of all you’re not surprised when things change!
But, I wasn’t prepared for the number of people going, or that there would be children along. When we arrived at the train station, I was shocked to see so many! I had thought maybe a dozen, but turned out the total number was thirty. This included three girls, 9 to 12 years of age. And an excited group they were! Me, I rarely get excited about anything—must be my age! Although I’m excited about mine and Rotraut’s trip to the Taklimakan Desert in April! Now, only three weeks away!
One thing about China and the Chinese right now (circa 2006), most of the people are happy, as in having a good time! They gab, joke, and laugh much! I can jump ahead, and tell you, outside of one of the girls crying (someone had played a joke on her), there was nothing to mar the entire day!
I had brought my backpack and camera, but some of the young men had huge packs (25KGs. / 55lbs.). But, everyone was prepared, including the young Chinese man who had organized this outing (a great guy who dotes on me—I need to remember his name!). He took care of everything, all I had to do was follow Miss Hu and Indy (always solicitous of my needs).
Once on the train, food was offered, a ‘video’ introduction organized, the sun rising over the poplar trees out my window (see photographs in the gallery). I sat with Zheng Lei (‘Indy’), while Miss Hu stole away to nap (our car not full). Turned out Indy napped and Miss Hu danced about full of energy. I was happy to look out the window, at the countryside awakening to a new day.
The train trip took two hours, just like advertised, and suddenly we were getting off in a village called… something like ‘Shikar?’ It’s on one of the reservoirs on the north side of the Taklimakan Desert. I thought I recognized this village as one of Mamat and my sleeping towns on the way down from Uremqi last October. I think it was the village, the night before Artush—‘Day 17’ (check out photographs now uploaded at www.cyclingpeace.org / gallery.
No platform here, we got off onto the rocked ‘bed’ (as the Chinese careful about construction). We waited for the train to depart and then walked over the tracks and into this Uyghur village.
We followed our ‘leader,’ who marched us through the village, across Highway #314 (Mamat and I had cycled), and were shortly hiking up into the ‘shan.’ At some point, we stopped, while our ‘fearless leader,’ laid down some ground rules (the Chinese are organized). I think he said something like, ‘Stay with the group and don’t get lost!’
Have you ever gone on a hiking outing with 30 Chinese people (3 of which are young girls)? I just hope I get to see the ‘video.’ Very interesting, but not unlike something similar with Americans (although there would be more complaining).
These Chinese, the ones in the ‘1,2,3’ Group are all digital camera ‘bugs,’ and I’m sure enough images were ‘captured,’ enough ‘video rolled,’ to make a two-hour documentary. Not only that, but they’re good ‘photographers!’ I’ve been impressed with the images I’ve seen (previous trips)! I thought I was the only one, but no, these people are good! In fact, I’ve thought of using this group as the ‘production crew’ if and when we’re able to produce some kind of motion picture here (have ideas, will…?).
But, I’m the only one with a 35MM film camera! Hey, old-fashion I guess—again, my age.
I wish I could remember everything that happened that day, but just be satiated with the knowledge, I enjoyed the day outside in nature immensely! To be in any mountains (‘tagh’ in Uyghur, ‘shan’ in Chinese) is ‘heaven’ to me! The weather was perfect, clear, sunny, but cool.
I remember at one rest point, asking Miss Hu (the only English speaker) if anyone of the group knew anything about the geology of the area. Turns out our ‘leader,’ does, but I never was able to find out, as I don’t speak Chinese!
I can tell you as ‘shan’ go, these mountains are very barren, bereft of practically any vegetation (my kind of terrain). I think I can compare this area with the Big Bend National Park in far West Texas. Here, however, not so much in the way of cactus. I noticed only one little low-lying plant half dead from the lack of moisture. This may be the driest, most barren place I’ve ever been on earth! I think Miss Hu compared it to the ‘moon!’ You can tell from the photographs, of course.
We hiked up a ravine, a ‘canyon,’ (‘xiagu’ in Chinese, but without the accent marks to pronounce correctly) which became progressively more narrow, and challenging, until we had to do some minor rock climbing with the help of a belay (rope). Without a rope it would have been daunting, and especially so for the children. The women climbed up it as well as the men. Chinese women, much like American women in this regard, physically able—maybe more so.
I think we had to use the rope three different times, the highest ‘wall,’ maybe three meters / 10 to 12 feet up.
The ‘xiagu’ finally shrunk to only two meters wide with walls 100 meters high (ran out of film by now). But, ultimately we were thwarted in a ‘room,’ where to continue would have meant some serious rock climbing up fifty meters. So, we turned around and retraced our steps, now the pace quickening, as the ‘horse-back-to-the-barn’ syndrome. People were getting tired.
One of the interesting things that happened… Two young Chinese men, hip to western lingo said, That was a ‘piece of cake!’ This made me laugh, as another example of how powerful American culture is (via media). They love to emulate these slang sayings they hear in movies. But, when they asked me was ‘ripped’ meant, I was hard pressed to explain.
Imagine being ten kilometers / six miles up in some of the most barren and remote country in the world, only to discover the word ‘ripped,’ painted on a rock. Some western trekkers had been there and smoked marijuana (or taken some other drug), and written, as kids do, their exploits for all to witness later! The two Chinese boys wanted to know what it meant, this English word, ‘ripped,’ but I diverted their attention to, ‘Oh, look at that!’
Speaking of words, I learned some more Chinese! Not the Chinese version of ‘ripped,’ but ‘be careful’ in Chinese, or ‘xiao sheng!’ Several times I’d heard this during out hike. Literally translated ‘xiao sheng’ means ‘small heart!’
This gave me an idea to write a book about the Chinese language entitled, ‘Chinese, the language of Homophones.’ Now, I’m collaborating on this with my Chinese friend, James Zhu in Gansu Province (via Internet). Note, we chat every morning via gmail.com Join in, if you wish—write the book with us.
Back in the village about 1600 hours B.T., most of the group went to a local ‘restaurant’ to eat. Indy, Miss Hu, and I hiked to the reservoir, to commune with nature. I think they were drawn to water, as so little in south Xinjiang—we’re talking ‘bone dry!’ They had borrowed camping pads from two of the men and spread them out to nap on. I sat and meditated on a rock. I like to be in direct contact with Mother Earth.
It was a quiet and peaceful afternoon (Indy fell asleep), while I listened to some ducks quacking across the water, and observed small fish jump up to catch flies. There were some spiders scurrying about over the dusty ground. Behind us on the ‘dam’ road an occasional motor vehicle (you can hardly get away from them anywhere on the globe) passed by. But, otherwise, profound silence, until…
…here came the group, having had lunch! Ah, more people, talking, disturbing the quiet…
I would say that all the people in Asian have ‘verbal diarrhea!’ They just can’t be quiet! Too much talking, yelling, and noise of all kinds!
Oh, well after the usual pleasantries, I ambled on down the ‘beach,’ looking to get away from such. They understand, my Chinese friends, as they think it has to do with the fact I don’t understand their language (so why listen to?).
Indy followed… She’s different, or was vexed that day, seemingly wanting not to participate, but just relax. I found out later she’s stressed from operating her business.
The train was departing at 1920 hours B.T., so off we went about 45 minutes prior, this interesting group of 29 Chinese people in colorful gear, and one American (all the Uyghurs stopped to partake of this ‘circus’ which had come to their town). It turned out to be a pretty good walk along the tracks, probably three kilometers to the station. This station nothing like the one in Kashigar, or the other cities, one building, but not open to passengers.
We waited outside for the train, which seemed never to come. I watched the evening sunlight electrifying the various shades of brown on the hills we had just come out of… See the photographs at www.cyclingpeace.org / Gallery.
The train ride back to Kashigar, even more interesting as it was full of Uyghur people taking this ‘slow’ (less expensive) train to various towns, or ultimately to Kashigar. We were the ‘hit of the show,’ especially the American. After getting on board we had to ‘walk the gauntlet,’ some five cars to where we found some seats. I felt somewhat embarrassed, the Uyghur people examining our wealth (the trekking clothing and gear) as we stumbled past. What must they think, I wondered?
I ended up sitting across from one, good-looking Uyghur boy, and with three Chinese woman including Indy.
The Uyghur ‘boy,’ keep pulling sunflower seeds (they love) out of his pocket and throwing the shells on the floor (which a Chinese female attendant chastised him for later). Additionally, it was stuffy in the car so the Chinese women, next to me, ordered the window open (I was sitting next to). But, the wind, once the train picked up speed, chilled the Uyghur boy, pulling the curtain around him. I wondered if the Chinese women noticed or cared…? No!
You have to understand that the Chinese are to the Uyghur (indigenous minority) as the white man is to the black man in the U.S. But, in Xinjiang, this is ‘circa. 1950’s America!’ ‘White only!’
I shook the Uyghur man’s hand and gave him a cherry tomato that one of our group had offered. I don’t want anyone to think I’m better than them… I’m not!
Later, I ordered the window be closed when I saw the boy suffering (from the cold).
Most talked, some slept. I observed the sun setting on the mountains.
I remember the Chinese woman next to me, aghasted when I told her I wasn’t married or had no children! She roared with amazement!
Chinese women just can’t believe it, how could I not be married? How in the world could I possibly survive? Very well, thank you! I have the same explanation for all Asians, when so aghasted about such: ‘My family is just a little larger than yours! It includes all the people of the world, including you! My country is just a little larger than yours, as it includes all the countries of the world!’ Duh… Of course, it doesn’t compute!
It was dark when we arrived back at the station in Kashigar. I ended up in bed about 2300 hours, just like predicted, the rest of the younger people going to the Indy Café for a postmortem. I remember how that used to be when their age… You never want the good times to end! I wanted to go to bed, although not overly tired. I think the only damage was a blister on one of my toes, as I haven’t hiked that far in some time. And I have tender feet!
The next day, Indy took me to see the flat (apartment) she thought I might be interested in rented (now that the Kashigar police have ‘O.K.’d’ such).
It turned out to be something I was interested in, 137-square meters / 1,500 square feet, six rooms, on the 5th floor (no elevators in these apartment buildings). It had everything I need, with enough room for ‘Tom,’ and Rotraut (for one month only), two bathrooms, three bedrooms, small kitchen, however. It was bright, with both southern and northern exposure. All of this for 600RMB or $75U.S. per month. But, this was the first flat I’ve seen, and I wanted to see more to compare. It wasn’t the price! This would have rented in CS for $800-1,000U.S. per (but with more amenities).
Additionally, the second day when I got down to details, not only was the total price (including all the utilities) twice as much ($150U.S.), she (the husband out of town) wouldn’t clean the place (for 100RMB) before I moved in. So, they lost a 12,000RMB (total for one year) deal because they wouldn’t spend 100RMB. This is how stupid people are!
And it wasn’t the money I was concerned about, but their (her) attitude. I know from much experience with landlords, that if they won’t compromise on small things, they’re not my kind of landlord. Had it been me, I certainly would have cleaned it, and done others things for potential renters, like have hot water in the kitchen (didn’t have, but in China they don’t usually)—I had mentioned this. Oh, no impossible, except in the winter when they feed the radiators for heat!
It’s no mystery to me why some people are $ poor, or have trouble! Inflexible!
But, all works out, as I’ve since decided I want a ‘business-like’ place on the ground, something like the Indy Café. This so I can open an English Library and where the English Corner School can be located.
So, now Indy (and English-speaking employee, Ah Yin, is looking for a ‘business place’ for me.
In the meantime, I’ve learned a little bit about renting in China, in Kashigar in particular. Such experience is valuable, as with the next I will know what to expect, what’s possible, what isn’t.
I had told Ay Yin, and Indy, if I had my wish I would live in a Uyghur ‘compound’ (farmhouse) out in the country. Of course, this amazes them! Although they’re beginning to understand that I’m different!
I’ve always been different!