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A letter to London’s pigeons

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Dearest Pigeons,

I am writing with regards to the recent unpleasant experiences I have had with you and fellow members of your species.

If I may, allow me to begin by drawing your attention to the typical quirks of British behaviour, specifically the values of the Britons residing in London. The City of London is a cosmopolitan one, and – I like to believe – inclusive. Yet, I am sure none need reminding of the unspoken and unwritten conventions that regulate public behaviour. One need only think of journeys on the tube to know that London commuters favour minimal eye contact; exchanges between strangers rarely ever extend beyond “Hello, how are you? – Fine, and you? – Fine”, before both parties move on; and, unlike in the colder, northern recesses of the country*, Londoners are not over-friendly, and never too close.

Your kind, on the other hand, despite starting out more British (in this particular regard) than we ever were – flapping away as soon as a fellow human got a little close – have become so accustomed to our presence, that our behavioural norms concern you no more. No longer do the habits of Londoners influence you. Oblivious to our customs, it is as if you have lost all regard for our personal space, caring not for offending us with your total disregard for it.

Allow me to take this opportunity to remind you that, I, for one, value my personal space, and consider your ‘closeness’ to me an invasion of privacy. Swooping directly above me – flaunting your superior ability of independent flight – is tolerable,  but flapping your wings mere inches from my face is NOT okay, and trying to eat my sandwich with me is most definitely NOT okay.

On behalf of my fellow citizens, I request and implore you to adopt more British values, to learn from the way we interact with each other and implement your findings in your interactions with us. While I understand that societies and cultures are constantly transforming, and in fact, I encourage societal and behavioural advance, the changes as dramatic as the ones you are attempting to enforce take many generations before being accepted.

I would very much appreciate if the issues highlighted in this letter are considered seriously, allowing us to work together to foster a relationship of mutual respect and distance, benefiting both the humans and the pigeons of London.

I look forward to working with you, and thank you in advance for your cooperation.

 

 

 

*It’s called a joke, guys. I’m pretty much one of you; take no offence.

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新年快乐 – Happy New Year!

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Before the surprise even registers in your mind, yes, yes – I am still around. Just quickly accept that and pretend this post is nothing unexpected. I know I’ve been quiet for over 6 months, but now is not the time to offer any reasons or explanations for my absence. Rather it is the time for fresh starts (perhaps not for my blog though), and even though I’m still late on the bandwagon with this, Happy Chinese New Year!

The truth is, I’ve been missing China more than usual in the past couple of weeks, and the New Year celebrations only served to make me more nostalgic. Last Friday, in an event organised by us, a SOAS lecture hall was transformed into a Chinese scene, for an evening of performances and food to inaugurate the Year of the Horse. I have a few pictures of the evening, and though they’re not particularly clear (in fact, they’re pretty rubbish quality, but there’d be no substance to this post without the pictures) many of the performances themselves made us very nostalgic.

Some of the decorations: a fish represents bountiful wealth

Some of the decorations: a fish represents bountiful wealth

The group below had come from a primary school in Beijing. They gave a performance to be admired, especially given how nervous they must have been!

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The girl below in the red dress performed a traditional dance from the Xinjiang province. It was probably my favourite performance, particularly because my own trip to Xinjiang was unforgettable and amazing (which you guys don’t really know, because I never got round to finish writing about it…) Either way, it brought back good memories of my travels and experiences, like the time we tried on Kazakh style dresses exactly like the one she is wearing, on our trip to the Heavenly Lake. *sighs dreamily*

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In a presentation about Chinese culture, this picture just goes to show the important role that alcohol has to play.

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And finally, despite not being the final performance, the last pictures I have are of this very traditional Han dance, complete with fans.

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Xinjiang: Urumqi, Day 1

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It’s been a while since I posted. Again. As mentioned in my last post, my laptop has been totally unusable from a few days after final exams finished, then I was off travelling, and then the last week in China was pretty hectic anyway. Yes, I’m now back in London, but I can still say that I was in Beijing last week! That’s something, right?! I arrived back last Friday evening, and… I already miss China. It feels very surreal (still), and I have this feeling like I’m still supposed to be going back. I can’t be staying here, like, permanently now,  can I…?

Don’t get me wrong, London is an amazing place to live and I love it (don’t talk to me about prices, don’t talk to me about prices, don’t talk to me about prices….) but my year abroad in China has been full of so many amazing (and some less so amazing) experiences and I am 100% glad I did it. No regrets whatsoever. More of that later, maybe. But for now, I’m gonna go back almost a month to the 11th of June – the start of my travels to China’s far West: Xinjiang.

During our travels, I wrote the old-fashioned way, on paper – so here goes typing it up and inserting pictures, of which there are many!

Arrival in Urumqi

After landing at the airport in Urumqi, one of the first things I noticed that I thought was pretty cool was seeing signs in Chinese, Uyghur AND English.

Good English, as usual…

We made it onto a shuttle bus into the city, on which the only seats remaining were one right at the back squashed between luggage and the men to which the luggage belonged, and one seat up at the front next to the driver. Coordinating where we should get off wasn’t made any easier this way, shouting across the minibus, earning us stares from the other passengers. Nevertheless, by the time we got off somewhere on the road our hotel was on, both Beth and I already loved the city. Unfortunately, local buses still confused us, after getting on two that didn’t get us to the right place, we took a taxi…which drove about 2 minutes back up the road, and dropped us off opposite our hotel.

After dropping our stuff, we decided to go to one of the city’s main parks which wasn’t too far from us, Hongshan Park (Red mountain park), named for a red pagoda at the top of a hill inside the park. As soon as we left the hotel and made to cross the road, Beth grabbed my arm and shouted “CAKES!” and started pulling me towards a little shop she’d noticed just a couple of doors away from our hotel. Of all the little bakeries and similar places I’ve seen in China (mostly Beijing) this one was by far the best…it could win on one factor alone: It was clean.

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The fact that the cakes/biscuits were tasty and looked delicious was just a bonus 🙂

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We bought a few each, sat down and ate, at which point I counted all the different baked goods on sale and panicked when I reached 30, realising that would mean eating 10 a day if I wanted to try them all before we left Urumqi. Yeah…they were that good.

This little bakery was where we learnt our first word of Uyghur: Thank you – which is pronounced ‘rahmet’.

As we were entering the park, we saw a guy selling yoghurt…and decided to buy some. We realised that if we wanted to keep eating this way, we might as well forget set mealtimes. Who needs mealtimes anyway, when you have so much to choose from all the time… and so little time to actually choose?

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A cooling yoghurt snack/drink

He filled cups with cold yoghurt out of his mobile fridge, added sugar and nuts on top, and only half-smiled when we said ‘rahmet’. But when we asked if he could tell us how to say ‘tasty’ in Uyghur, he smiled more and replied: I don’t know, I’m not Uyghur, I’m Hui.
Oops.

Hongshan Park is lovely: white picket fences, plenty of shady greenery, a bit of a fairground inside, including but not limited to a ferris wheel, from the top of which we had a (clear, unpolluted!!) view of most of the city. From the top of the hill where the pagoda stood, there was this sign on a railing, beyond which was a rocky drop down to the main road…

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Beyond the railing

The sign on the railing

The sign on the railing

I don’t think anyone who wanted to cherish their life would willingly try to cross that road…from up there.

On another part of the railing, there were countless padlocks crammed onto any free space, engraved (scratched, to be more accurate) with the names of friends or couples… Beth correctly pointed out the romance in what the padlocks symbolised in terms of relationships.

After the park, we tried to find the well known International Bazaar because the hotel reception desk had told us that the Wuyi Night Market (famous for its many different food stalls) had closed down, something we  had not come across in our research. We found another small bakery on the way to the bazaar, got caught in a torrential downpour and incredible winds that pretty much forced us back inside the shops, which were selling headscarves and abayas! That’s not what you think of when someone says China, right?

And what about this scene? (The picture doesn’t do it justice, take my word for it: it was beautiful!)

Beautiful scene

Beautiful twilight scene

The stormy weather meant that we found a little underground market, but didn’t find the actual International Bazaar. I went into a mosque to pray, the first time I’d done that in a long time. Trying to avoid the storm meant that it had become quite late by the time we got back to the hotel. Lots of places started closing what we thought was quite early, but maybe this was because of the weather, rather than the time?

By the end of Day 1, or even halfway through the day, Beth and I have both already decided that we are coming back to this city. That’s gotta say something about the place.

Beth’s input
“I want to live here forever. I want to get a padlock and go with my hypothetical boyfriend to lock the padlock onto the railings in Hongshan Park and then go back after I’m married to find it. And therefore I have to live in Urumqi when I’m older!”

Good logic there.

Attempting to describe Urumqi, I’d say it’s definitely much greener than expected, we both expected barren deserts or something, it’s definitely much greener than Beijjng, there are way less people, it’s hilly (Xinjiang is a mountainous region) and the air is fresher! There are less people smoking, less dogs (in fact, I can hardly remember seeing any today), no spitting spotted yet, and there are dessert places! Yum! Urumqi is a city with a totally different look to any of the other Chinese cities I’ve visited.

Nuts, raisins, chocolates – clean and tidy!

A painted electricity box, showing a woman holding Xinjiang’s famous ‘nang’ (naan)

It’s a lovely city with a friendly vibe, beautiful weather, a bustling lifestyle and plenty of small cake shops to satisfy those sweet cravings 🙂

Bakery no. 2!

The start of the Summer holidays

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And so it begins…

The Summer holidays. With which comes the end of my year abroad.

Okay, not quite yet, but the end is in sight!!

My exams (which started on Wednesday) finished on Thursday, bringing me to the end of my academic year abroad. I’m basically finished! Our visas don’t run out until the end of June however, and as mentioned previously, I will be flying to Xinjiang on Tuesday and spend a bit of time travelling in the region. The plan is to spend a few days in the capital city, Urumqi, then take a 2.5hour train to Turpan, a city famous for its grapes, where we’ll stay a couple of days, and finally a 6hour train to Hami, famous for its melons. (‘Hami’ 哈密 is actually the same as the name for honeydew melons – hami gua 哈密瓜). Fruit seems to be a recurring theme, yes. Although we’ve booked hostels, we’ve yet to book our train tickets, because of the system in China, which means that you can only buy your train tickets 10 days before the date. And we didn’t have the time for that before exams.

Xinjiang: Locations of Urumqi, Turpan, and Hami

We’ve also been spending a fair bit of time trying to properly research and plan out our trip. In Urumqi’s vicinity are the Tianshan Mountains, and the Heavenly Lake, which does look rather heavenly in pictures we’ve seen online, but hopefully I’ll be putting up some of my own pictures soon! This is supposedly the ideal place where you can get a break from the stifling heat, with its clean and cool air, refreshing water and…. I can’t concentrate, this just sounds so HEAVENLY compared to the greyish yellowish whitish scene I could see out of my window for the whole day today. And for the last three days. It looks like a sheet has been hung over the outside of the window, for all the visibility out there.
Anyway, back to the Heavenly Lake at the Tianshan Mountains, you can also spend a night out there in a traditional Kazakh yurt. When am I ever going to be able to do that?! I really hope we can make this happen!

Plus! This time next week, I will be able to say (hopefully, fingers crossed, touch wood, etc etc) that I have been at the CENTRE OF ASIA. The very middle of the enormous continent that is Asia. It sounds much better in Chinese: 亚洲之心 (yazhou zhi xin) which translates to “The Heart of Asia”. Wow. I was impressed. And if you’re not impressed, it’s only because you must be jealous! In all fairness, there’s nothing actually there, except for a very..fanciful…marker, which probably tells you that you’re standing in the centre of Asia (now doesn’t that sound cool?!), and there’s probably nothing to do but take a picture, and then…well, leave. But either way, I’m excited for it!!

More in Urumqi includes the Food Night Market (Hell, yeah!!) and the Tianshan Grand Canyon.

According to Lonely Planet’s guide book, Turpan is the Death Valley of China. Now, I’ve been to the real Death Valley, and boy, that was hot! I guess it’s lucky that there’ll be no shortage of juicy grapes in Turpan to keep us cool and hydrated…? >_<
In Turpan, apart from the Grape Valleys, we can ride camels along the Flaming Mountains (this all sounds so surreal!), and see ancient cities of pre-Islamic civilisations.

Hami is going to be even more scenic, we can go to another part of the Tianshan Mountains again, if our visit there from Urumqi was so amazing that we want more, ride horses around what I expect to be another beautiful lake, we can go to the Grand White Rock (what a name…), as well as eat lots of melons and absorb a completely different kind of culture than the standard Han Chinese one that we’ve become accustomed to all year.

I didn’t mean to write so much about this trip that hasn’t happened yet… I expect I’ll be repeating a lot of this when it actually happens, but well, I got carried away….

From Hami, we’ll get a 27 hour sleeper train back to Beijing – I already know this is most likely going to be extremely unpleasant, but whatever – I’m all for ‘experiences’! I’ll be spending my final week in Beijing, packing up this one year of my life here, before returning to the UK, with my mother who will have come out pretty much as soon as I return to Beijing. It’s all gonna happen so fast!!

In the meantime, I wish I could say I’ve been truly making the absolute most of these few free days in Beijing, and regale you with exciting stories of final Beijing experiences, but in all honesty, there’s been a fair bit to do! Chilling has been on the list too, I won’t lie (some things can’t be helped), but researching for this trip has been and still is an arduous task. It’s not as ‘out there’ on the internet yet in terms of tourist destinations as a lot of well-known places are. We can’t find out everything before we go, so I’m certain a lot of it will be made up on the go, but that’s all gonna be part of the fun!

Not to mention, the weather here has been absolutely appalling lately. The smog/pollution is the worst I think I’ve seen it all year. A friend of mine has a theory that goes a bit like this… Because the government will want to ensure glorious weather for the national holiday next week (the Dragonboat Festival, which falls between the 10th and the 12th of June this year), they have to temporarily pause whatever weather/pollution controls and measures that are in place, for a few days prior, so that they will be more effective when they bring them out again for the national holiday. This, according to a friend, is why the pollution has been worse over the last few days. I guess we’ll see if there’s any truth to this when I look out of the window on Monday morning…

Tomorrow is our Leaving Ceremony at uni, and if the Opening Ceremony was anything to go by, it’s going to be an extremely boring couple of hours of speeches. Lots of SOASians aren’t going, but I figure I might as well. I’m only gonna have one Leaving Ceremony in China, so, why not? Boring as it might be, I won’t know if I don’t go 🙂 My class is also planning on going out for lunch after, and it’s the last time I’ll see most of them ever again!

Finally, I’d like to share something that I’ve found, which actually stemmed from a real conversation I was having with Beth about all the delicious food there’s gonna be in Xinjiang, including kebabs, nang (the Chinese word for what we call ‘naan’, because it’s not actually a Chinese food, but has come from Central Asia, and is found around China in the Muslim restaurants only), yogurt, and some good old pilau rice. I was saying that we should make a map of China using foods to represent areas, so Xinjiang could start out as a whole big nang, and we’d add in other foods at different cities in it, Beijing could be…well, the obvious choice would be roast duck, but I/we wanted it to be personal, something we’d experienced for ourselves and could relate to. Beth pointed out that this probably already existed (breaking my heart in the process), and sure enough…

Amazing grilled lamb kebabs, you say?! I’m so there.

This isn’t exactly what I had in mind though (but nice enough anyhow), so maybe I’ll still make my own one after all, but it’s a taster 🙂
Hmm, I’ll be tasting some o’ those kebabs pretty soon….
*mouth waters*

A special type of collector

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As I was walking to uni on Monday morning, I saw a man sitting by a whole load of little bird cages on the side of the pavement. I remember seeing him one morning last week (for the first time), but I didn’t stop, because I wanted to make it to class on time. I hoped I’d see him again. When I did see this sight again on Monday, I was actually running later to class than I probably was that day the previous week. But I realised that, with this being my last week of uni here, and the fact that I can’t really afford to say things like “I’ll do it next time”, because there probably won’t be a next time(!), I had to stop then and see what was going on.

I didn’t think this was the case, but not knowing how else to strike up a conversation, I asked him:

Ibby: Wow! So many birds..! Are they for sale, or?

Birdman: Haha, no, not for sale. For fun!

Ibby: For fun?

Birdman: Yeaahh 😀

I: You have so many, what do you do with them..?

B: I teach them to sing 🙂

I: Oh?

B: And I like to listen to them… and see which one is good… you see?

I: Ohh…so, which one is the best then?

B: Hm, what?

I check my Chinese.

I: Which one is good then?

Hmm, he thinks.

He points.

B: That one.

I: Is it alright if I take a picture?

B: Yeaah, go on!

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As I took a few pictures, he piped up.

B: You see, they’re afraid of humans. (He had to repeat this 2 or 3 times, cos I wasn’t sure what he was saying, it was a bit out of the blue)

I (finally): Ohhh, yeah! I understand, afraid of me, afraid of you…

B: Yes yes, exactly. Afraid of kids… *gestures to the street*

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I didn’t count exactly, but there must have been at least 20 cages!

Inside each cage was a little container, similar in shape and size to that of a tealight. There was a piece of cucumber inside them, at which the birds had pecked away. Some cages had two containers, one with cucumber, and one with seeds.

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You can just about make out the cucumber in the cage furthest on the right

B: How did the sound come out? Can you hear them singing?

He was so smiley and proud of his birds and their ‘singing’, as he should be! It was really sweet 🙂

I: Oh I just took a picture, not a video..

B: Oh.

I considered.

I: Oh well if you don’t mind, let me try then…

He smiled.

As I started taking a video, he asked me if I could understand what he was saying. They really do like this question.

I stopped recording, all I could hear was a lot of cars on the road (although, thankfully, it hasn’t come through as loud in the actual video). I thanked him. He smiled again and asked me the inevitable question – Where are you from? As is also always the case, he repeated my answer (England) back to me as a question, for confirmation.

I: Yes, England.

B: Oh. (He was a man of few words)

I: Well, thank you 🙂 I should go now… I’m late for class.

B: 🙂 Ok.

I wasn’t exaggerating when I said he was a man of few words.
But he was a man of many birds!
It was a nice start to my day, I walked the rest of the way to class really happy 🙂

(I saw him again this morning: Wednesday! I didn’t stop though, I was running late (anyone see a pattern forming here?) and he was also talking to someone. I smiled and waved a little as I went by, and he just smiled and acknowledged in return. The birds sounded louder today, and dare I say, more sing-songy!)
Also, I want to share the video, even though it’s nothing special, but that’s gonna take a bit more time to sort out and get up, so hopefully after exams and everything is over.

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

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Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
شىنجاڭ ئۇيغۇر ئاپتونوم رايونى
新疆维吾尔自治区

In the Northwest of China is a province largely populated by ethnically Muslim minorities, who are culturally more Central Asian than they are Chinese. This region is Xinjiang, 新疆, which translates literally to “new frontier”, and borders no less than eight different countries: Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Check out those borders!

Xinjiang is approximately one sixth of China’s total area

The first inhabitants of Xinjiang were Muslims of Central Asian origin, as well as descendants of traders from Arabia and Persia, because of the Silk Road passing through Xinjiang. These people are the Uyghurs, and have been a majority in Xinjiang for much of China’s history, though there are also Tajik, Kyrgyz and Kazakh groups, among others. Throughout the dynasties, the Han Chinese and the Muslims of Xinjiang, previously referred to as East Turkestan (because at one point they succeeded in forming an independent state, although it didn’t last very long) lived in relative peace. This was until the Qing Dynasty, the final dynasty and most brutal one for the Muslims.

Flag of the First East Turkestan Republic – a short-lived attempt at independence of the lands around Kashgar

Map of the Silk Road entering China through Xinjiang in the West

With the founding of the Republic of China in 1912, the Communists made promises to the people of Xinjiang, that they would help them form an autonomous Muslim state. However, promises such as “self-determination for the different racial and cultural groups” were largely just attempts at pacifying all the various minority groups in China, including Tibetans, Outer Mongolians, as well as the Muslims of Xinjiang.

Under the People’s Republic of China (PRC, 1949~), the government have been resettling many Han Chinese people in Xinjiang. It is worth mentioning here that Xinjiang has vast mineral deposits and more recently discovered oil reserves. The government claims their policies towards Xinjiang are grounded on bringing economic development, and not demographic change. However, with each influx of Han Chinese into Xinjiang, the native Uyghurs become more resentful, with increasing limits on resources such as water. Moreover, they believe the government is attempting to destroy their long-standing cultural history. I can see where they’re coming from; there are plans to destroy the oldest part of the ancient city of Kasghar, the reason given for this is protection against earthquakes. Somewhat transparent, if you ask me. How has the city survived so long upto now? Their building materials and methods have evolved to protect against earthquakes in a zone prone to them.

Anyway, although Xinjiang gained autonomy in 1955 (kinda similar to devolution in the UK), it’s been a region of tension in recent years. While the tension between the natives and the Han people rises, the government continue to make life harder for them through repressing religious expression by, for example, denying them the right to observe Ramadhan (month of fasting for Muslims).
Not surprising then, is it, that the resentment towards the government only increases? These issues have sparked riots across Xinjiang: in Urumqi, the capital city, as well as in Kashgar, a city in the south of the region, close to the border with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In 1940, Xinjiang’s population was comprised of only 6% Han, with 80% of the population being Uyghur. In 2012, the Han made up 50% of Xinjiang’s population. Urumqi specifically is now only 13% Uyghur, with 75% of Urumqi’s current population Han. Unlike much of Xinjiang, the population of Urumqi is predominantly Han Chinese.

As mentioned in a previous post, my travels for June included going to Kashgar. With riots in Kashgar being as recent as April of this year, my travel partner was thoroughly put off going when a teacher apparently very animatedly told her that going to Kashgar was a very bad idea, because, and I quote said teacher, “although I’d say it’s 95% going to be completely fine, just in case there is some altercation, I think it could be big”. Well, yeah. I think that applies anywhere. But that’s besides the point. Although Kashgar would have been an amazing trip, an experience of a lifetime, literally going out into the middle of a desert, living in a still largely medieval city, totally cut off from today’s modern lifestyle, there is just as much to see in the northern part of the province, and the provincial capital: Urumqi. And, well, the bottom line: better safe than sorry, right?

For this reason, we changed our tickets and are now flying to Urumqi…. but not flying back! The plan is to get the train from there to Turpan, and then to Hami. And then from Hami, possibly to Zhangye to see those awesome colourful mountains, depending on time constraints, or straight back to Beijing. That train journey will be about 24hours. It’s going to be hell absolutely awesome. What an experience.

Map of Xinjiang showing the locations of Kashgar, Urumqi, Turpan and Hami

I’ve already mentioned what we’ll miss out on in Kashgar, but to be honest, there’s so many places I still want to see in China, and I would have been happy going anywhere. The trip to Urumqi+ is going to be just as good, if not better, and here are a few reasons why:

  1. As mentioned, while Kashgar’s population is still almost completely Uyghur, Urumqi’s population is now predominantly Han, meaning that we will be able to get around speaking Mandarin
  2. It’s still in Xinjiang! So we still do get to see a totally different side to China, what with the culture of the native Uyghurs and all (I hope the traditional culture does still show through…!), while still having some familiarity in terms of language and Chinese culture (isn’t this ironic… I’m referring to Chinese culture as familiar?? Even more so, considering my own background, given that Xinjiang is a MUSLIM area?! Hehehe..)
  3. While my previous plan was to fly from Beijing into Kashgar, and from Kashgar straight back to Beijing, meaning that I wouldn’t get to see much of the rest of Xinjiang (it’s huge, almost the same in size to Iran), this way means that our travel plans are much more flexible, allowing me to see more of Xinjiang, given the limited time I have.

Before I end this, there’s one interesting thing I read about while researching for this trip (researching aka avoiding writing my project. Writing this post is another avoidance tactic…)
Although the whole of China geographically spans four time zones, with Xinjiang itself spanning two zones, the official line is that Xinjiang is on the same time zone as the rest of China (GMT+8). There used to be five time zones within China, but in 1949 the Communist Party, in an attempt to make the country appear more unified, standardised the time across the country.

The five time zones of China, now all one. Sinkiang was the old romanized spelling for what is now Xinjiang

For reasons of practicality, a lot of residents follow an unofficial Xinjiang time (GMT+6), but some see this as a way of expressing their resistance against the central government, especially because the division tends to follow ethnic lines: Han vs. Uyghur. I don’t blame them, though! The agricultural working lifestyle that is prevalent in the far western provinces of Xinjiang for example (3.5hours behind Beijing), has to be done while the sun is out, regardless of what numerical time it is. And can you imagine how long the days are in Summer, with the sun still being out when it’s ‘midnight’? Or sunrise being at 10AM in Winter!

P.S. – I apologise for there being a lot of maps in this post, but I figured that if I were reading this before I came to China, I’d have no idea about all the places, or be able to visualise any of it. Having said that, I’m not assuming that everyone is as ignorant as I was/am, but I hope it helps someone anyway!

P.P.S – All the information in this post is from reliable sources. Reliable meaning not solely Wikipedia. Just kidding… Reliable meaning that I’m using them for this project of mine that I’ve been complaining about. My project is actually regarding the topic of Islam in China, so all I have to do now is replicate the number of words in this post (~1400) in my essay!

Bet you didn’t know that China had such a rich Islamic history, eh?
Or maybe you did, in which case, it was just me… (Again with the ignorance)
Personally, I think it’s fascinating, and I hope somebody out there learns at least one thing from this! 🙂

Maybe “Keep Calm and Speak English” is a good slogan after all…

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Last week, I wrote about a ‘job’ that required being recorded saying various things in English, as a native English speaker. They called back a few days ago, asking if we could ‘take part’ again.

There were no Xboxes this time, but iPhones instead, and the things we were required to say were different to those of last time too. Off the top of my head, today’s recordings included:
– snippets of news articles, headlines and political analyses, like: One in 7 parents said their child spent longer playing with the gift wrapping than the toy itself.

– random dates and times, phone numbers, some random figures, some random addresses (in the UK), and some suspect-looking 16 digit numbers (obviously credit card numbers!?)

– strange email addresses and website URLs (“h t t p colon forward slash forward slash w w w dot…”  These took some time…)

– random sentences, for example: I see every cupcake baked, every sequin sewn. We are strong when our opponents are weak. Having visited India, I have seen first hand the tremendous progress being made. A wonderful collection of photos showing Tower Bridge under construction has come to light.

– random words, random letters to spell out and various search topics, like Virgin flights, current Arsenal captain, University of Chile, Korea Electricity Power, Sonny With A Chance.

– follow various instructions, like: Tell the hotel that you will arrive very late but that you will definitely want to take the reserved room, Tell your speech-savvy mobile phone to organise a conference call with [name], Give the navigation system the coordinates of your favourite restaurant (name, address, city), Call a bookstore to enquire about the availability, price and edition of a book.

– answer various questions: Please tell me how to spell your name, What apps do you use most often on your mobile?, Where were you born?, Describe your favourite mobile.

Not that any of the above were the least bit worth knowing, but after today’s recordings I really wondered what they were doing, especially because of the addresses and credit card numbers. I googled the company website though, and it’s all legit – building a database, ‘collecting speech data’.

Before all this, however, while we were sitting in the little waiting room, waiting to be called in to ‘work’, we were approached by a guy who worked there, who explained to us (by this, I mean spoke for about 10 seconds) that he was making a surprise video for his girlfriend (why?), and he wanted recordings of lots of people wishing her (again, why??). Apparently, they’d been together eight years, and he said “we might be getting married next year”. It was one of those situations where you can’t really/aren’t supposed to say no, so we asked him what language, English or Chinese? He said any language at all will do. Obviously this seemed a little odd, as if it wasn’t strange enough already, if your significant other presented you with a video of random people you don’t know at all saying things you don’t understand (although you’re told they’re all wishing you well), how would you react? So, jokingly, at least I hope so, Beth said “Well, how about Japanese then? (pointed at herself) or German? (pointed at me) Or Arabic! (still pointing at me)”.

We laughed it off but he seemed pretty keen on this, so we agreed that because we both did German A-Level, we could come up with something in German. We asked him to give us a minute to think of what we’d say because thinking in a totally different language after such a long time without any practice proved really difficult. Instead of leaving the little room for a few minutes, he just stood there and watched us, and we couldn’t handle that kind of pressure… so we told him we’d just do it in English. He told us his girlfriend’s name, and that at the end of our message we should address her by name and say, in Chinese, “I wish you well” and “I love you”.
Ooookay then.
With that awkwardness over, he thanked us and left the room.
Phew, done.

….

He returned a few minutes later….and asked Beth to do it in Japanese after all, because apparently the more international, the better.

Then he turned to me.

The Boyfriend: Can you do it in Arabic? ^_^”

Me: Uhh, no, sorry, I really don’t speak anything but English.

The Boyfriend: Oh.. German then? (^-^)

Me: *sideways evil glance at Beth for landing us in this* Sorry… I don’t think so.

He looked back at Beth, who told him to come back in 5minutes because she needed to think about how to say it all in Japanese.
It turned out we couldn’t even come up with any German together, so I thought I was off the hook and relaxed while Beth fretted about the guy’s return. (Actually, I lie, my mind was thinking of who I could quickly message on WhatsApp and find a way to redeem myself for my clearly disappointing inability to be able to come up with some congratulatory message in a language other than English 😦 )

So, the guy returns, iPhone ready in hand, films Beth’s Japanese, smiles happily and then moves to focus his camera on me, looking at me expectantly.

Me: Um, what?

The Boyfriend: Mhm ^_^

Me: I…I…uhh….I can’t…

The Boyfriend: No Arabic? No German? ~_~

Beth: What about Guja… what is that..? Guju…Gujrati…? Gujarati? O.o

Me: *shoots murderous glance at Beth*

The Boyfriend: Yes! Ok, ready, steady, go! *^_^*

I have no idea and no recollection of what I said next, possibly a translation of Beth’s Japanese. It’s not as if it’ll be understood by anyone who ever sees it anyway. ::>_<::

He bowed to us in thanks as he left the room.

Ah, well.