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Who’s in the Library?

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I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently in unintentional observation of the creatures that often migrate to a particular book-filled place of silence at this time of year. Yes, I am talking about the university library, which draws students in their masses towards it when exams inevitably roll around.

Below is a short list of the different types of library-goers I’ve encountered on my travels. Perhaps you will recognise a few; you may even spot yourself.

1. Organisational overload

This person will come in, set down their lever-arch file, books, pens, paper, highlighters, post-it notes, spare pens, hole-puncher, stapler, spare pens for the spare pens… you get the picture. Naturally, their file is colour-coordinated as if their life depends on it: dividers all down the length of the folder, those colourful sticky labels, and not a sheet out of place. By the time everything is arranged on their desk, it’s almost time for lunch.

2. ALL the technology

They walk in with headphones on, iPod in hand, sit down. An iPhone comes out of their pocket, and onto the desk. They fish out a charger from their bag, and pull out a MacBook Pro, its charger and an iPad. I don’t know what they might be eating for lunch, but my bet would be on apples.

3. The one who’s always there

My library isn’t open 24 hours like most university libraries. But there’s always that one person who, when you go in just as the library has opened, is already there, head-down, scribbling furiously. They don’t move the whole day: you  take your lunch break, come back, leave at the end of the day, and come back the next morning only to find them in the same position, in the exact same spot.

4. The one who’s never there

In total contrast to the one above, this person will come in, claim their place, and then immediately leave, having marked their territory.

5. The water drinker

There is nothing more to be said about this girl (yes, it’s gotta be a girl) except that she is taking gulps of water before and after taking gulps of water. Nothing else is getting done.

6. The noisy one

They stumble in oblivious to the rustle of their rustly jackets, drop their bag with a thud, and proceed to rustle as much as possible while taking off their rustly jackets. They plop into a squeaky chair, jiggle around in order to confirm whether it was a one-off squeak or actually a squeaky chair – it’s almost always the latter – thus leading them to get up and swap it for the one at the next desk. Of course, there will be much banging throughout this oh-so-reckless process, followed either by excessively violent keyboard-bashing, or paper ruffling, or both.

7.  The cluttered one

Their work space will often be filled with a bunch of stuff that they will have undoubtedly convinced themselves are necessary: Vaseline, hand cream, an energy drink, hand sanitizer (why..?!), tissues, cereal bars, chewing gum.. Again, usually a girl, though I mean to make no generalisations.

8. The enigma

Typically an unshaven male wearing a crumpled-tshirt (again, meaning no generalisations) enters the library, takes the first empty spot he finds, sits down, opens his laptop and alternates between peering intently at the screen, typing with a furrowed brow, and biting his nails. After about two hours of this, he suddenly yet purposefully closes the lid of his laptop, tucks it under his arm and strides out.

9. The couple

This is a library. Go away.

10. Silent disco-ers!

A line of people came stamping (read: attempted dancing) through the library, in some sort of substandard recreation of a conga line. I’m not sure what the purpose of this was – I understand it’s a bit of fun, but seriously, there’s better places and better ideas. It actually turned out to be not-so-silent after all anyway, because muffled giggling was accompanying their failed attempt at marching silently through.

My exams for this year have only just ended, and I’m already actually missing the library! (Is that weird?)

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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*

Shades of grey

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There is a huge thunderstorm raging outside right now. It’s pouring down with rain, and the sky keeps flashing completely white all over, like I’ve never seen. And then even though you know you should expect it, the thunder is still a huge shock when it comes after a lengthy pause.

The sky today has been, quite literally, varying shades of grey. Earlier I said that it was kinda yellow. That was pretty early in the morning, but by midday it had completely grey-ed out.

In other parts of the city, it was apparently dark at midday. This doesn’t surprise me one bit, it was so grey, it felt like the kind of sky you see BEFORE the sun rises. You can see some beautiful(!) pictures of Beijing, completely dark, at noon, here. It’s weird because, the pollution level, while bad, isn’t as bad as it’s been at some times earlier this year. At around 10pm here, the night sky was a deep strange shade of purple, but now (midnight), although it’s obviously dark, it’s so smoggy that you can see pretty much see how the greyness of the smog is clogging up the skyline. I don’t think my words describe it well enough, take my word for it: it’s really disgusting.

Tomorrow is the first, and penultimate, day of exams. Our exams here start and end really quickly. Just to bring up something I’ve mentioned possibly a few times before… In our final class on Monday, we asked our teacher where her exam was to be held on Wednesday.

“Ooohhhh, I don’t know!”

….

Well, when are you going to be able to tell us!?!? Gahh, it’s enraging.
It’s fine that they’re usually in random buildings all over campus that we’ve never had reason to go to before (or find out where they are) but honestly, we need to know!!! And preferably, BEFORE the exam?!!?! Is that really too much to ask? -_-

*HUGE FLASH*

As I was saying, it seems that organisation of such things is really last-minute here, or at least that communication is extremely slow.

*Triple flash*

To give her some credit, even she was a bit embarrassed that she didn’t know herself, and muttered to herself a few times, more for our benefit really, than for her own: How is it that even don’t know…?

*Thuuuuuuuuuuunder*

So we got an email earlier today from her, with the times and locations of our exams for the following two days.

*Thunder thunder thunder*

Well, thank you. It’s comforting to be told the day before where I’m supposed to be going to sit my final exams in less than TWENTY FOUR hours!

It was amusing to see that I also received my draft timetable for uni next year!

*Flaaasssshhhhh*

Skies, sirens and Summer!

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I’m sitting here, pretending to revise for an exam tomorrow, and looking out the window at the sky.

It’s a strange colour.

A disgusting colour in between yellow and grey.

Apparently this is what you get when you cross Mongolian sandstorms with Beijing pollution.

It is a sight extremely off-putting. If I could take a picture that would accurately depict it to you all, I would, but alas. It’s probably for the best anyway, the weather wherever you’re reading this from is definitely better, no competition.

In other news, earlier today we heard a lot of sirens. This might sound like a completely normal (but of course, unfortunate) occurrence to most of you, but it took us a while to register that those indeed were sirens we were hearing. This was unusual. Extremely unusual. I can safely say I can count on one hand the number of times I have heard sirens here. Wait… make that, ‘ on one finger’. I have NEVER seen any flashing lights here, not a police car, not an ambulance, not a fire brigade, let alone hear them often. So it turns out, the sirens apparently only get used for official government business, or something. I wish I knew more to tell you, but I don’t. The reason however is probably linked to the fact that today is the anniversary of the Tian’anmen Square massacre. Contradictory, to this article, my internet is not acting up today….

However, yesterday was the deadline for our SOAS research project, and in true China style, our internet totally died on us on Saturday night! Since we had to renew our internet sometime in December, it’s been doing this occasionally, and each time we just unplug everything and restart the router. (We clearly know a lot about techie stuff…but to be fair, when it happened the first time, we called the internet company guy, he came round and did exactly that, which is where we learnt from..) Sometimes, it takes a few tries before we’re able to resurrect it, but this time, after multiple restarts (and multiple hours) and still no luck, we did what we could sans-Internet, hoping it’d be back Sunday morning. Of course not. Luckily, a few friends live really close by, the closest being across the road from me, so I went and camped out there to steal her internet, finish my project and send it off. Phew. Our internet really knows how to pick the perfect time to strike.
It’s all fixed now, obviously.

In yet other news, I had my last class at uni in Beijing EVER on Monday. It also so happened to be that annual day where you must add one to your age, which obviously called for… PARTY!!! Obviously. Naahhhh….. Bang in the middle of final exams, and essay deadlines, perfect timing! But soon to all be over! As much as I’m looking forward to finishing uni this year, being done with exams, and going back to enjoy the amazing place that London is, I’m starting to really notice the little things I’ll miss about Beijing. The pollution is definitely not one of them.

And oh my God, this time next week, I’ll be in Urumqi, Xinjiang!! Bring on the Summer holiday!

The countdown begins!

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How is it already MAY of 2013? How did that happen?
In just over a month, I will be FINISHED with my year abroad in China. It’s crazy.
The next few weeks are going to be crazy. The coming week is my last week of actual uni before exams. Apart from the classical Chinese exam which, only last week, was confirmed to be this Friday. Of the grand total of 4 exams, the other three will be held on the 5th and 6th of June, and then the leaving ceremony on the 9th, after which we’re totally free to leave. Which is exactly what we plan to do, flying to Urumqi the next day. That reminds me, that trip still needs planning… Heeelp!

Conflicting emotions, don’t you just hate them?

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At the moment, I’m going through some big-time conflict regarding my attitude towards China and my feelings about the very short time left here. With recent events, I’m finding it a little more difficult to be as excited and positive as I was about these last weeks.
I know I had wanted to make the most of it, and I know that I should. I know that this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and though I’m sure I’ll come back to China in the future, I’ll never get a chance quite like this. Logically, I know all of that. But I still can’t get past this feeling of…restlessness that’s crept over me so suddenly. I’m looking forward to going home, to be back in familiar surroundings, to be around my family. Restless, because I know it’s coming – In two months from today, I will be back in London – but because I’m also aware that I still have to get through the next few weeks. This is the crux of the conflict: I want to be home, but I also am aware that I should spend the remaining time in a way such that I do not regret it in the future, possibly even as soon as I land back in London :p (And I know that as soon as I am home, I will want to be back in China. Sigh, why are you so troublesome, emotions?)
Despite logically knowing all this, it’s always easier said than done. The point of all this was to say that I think blogging is a good outlet, and I’m going to try and post every day, in the hope that using this blog as somewhere I can record what I’m doing might help me to keep focussed on what I need to do. The sooner I get out of this rut, the better, considering the limited time left!

The List
Currently, the list of what I need to do largely consists of completing this 6000-7000 word research project – deadline 3rd June; planning what I’m doing/where I’m going after our term finishes on 7th June, and university exams, which, we think, are going to be sometime during the week of 3rd – 7th June. Oh, also to do anything and everything I can – I’m only a student in China for one more month, after all! Ah, that reminds me… maybe do the work we get given from university too.

Plan of action
Be a perfect student and work a little on the project every day (hah!)
Don’t worry about researching travel destinations. Book a ticket somewhere and take it from there. (Sounds like a plan, no?)
Say ‘yes’ immediately to anything and everything friends suggest, within boundaries of eating and sleeping. (…Apart from the Great Wall Rave this Saturday. Getting myself drunk is not something I wish to do)
Spend all your spare time studying for university… (Spare time is the time left over AFTER procrastination, right?)

Update coming soon!

P.S. I’m kinda actually looking forward to comparing this post with a post written in my actual last few days in China. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly this change comes about, I’ll be sure to let you all know when this fresh burst of positive energy makes itself known to me!

Spooky Beijing

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Mid-terms are over, thankfully… and teachers are already talking about finals! I find it amusing  that, while I’ve just finished with one set of exams, friends back in the UK are starting study leave and exams, and by the time they finish their exams, I’ll be having exams again!! Too many exams! >.<

On a brighter note, there was a slightly warm breeze in the air today, and a lot of…fluff floating around. I really don’t know how else to describe it, I’ve never seen it in London, but it’s apparently something from flowers. Light balls of cotton-woolly fluff looking stuff blowing around everywhere. A sign of Summer approaching?

I’m going to write a couple of things I learnt/heard about on a ghost tour I went on a couple of weeks ago now, courtesy of contacts of a friend. It was a trial-run for a new ghost tour that was going to start operating in Beijing, so we were the guinea pigs, essentially. Not only did I hear and learn some interesting things, I also got to walk around Beijing’s back alleys in the dark – something I don’t see myself having done if not for this tour! (Surprising, right?)

1. Considering the straightness of Beijing’s road, why do the hutongs (the narrow, back alleyways commonly associated with Beijing) not follow the same straightness?
This is actually because it was/is believed that ghosts and spirits travel in straight lines, so by not building the hutongs in totally straight fashion, they believed they were slowing a spirit down. Now that’s what’s called Feng Shui.

2. We were told the story of a princess (I think), whose favourite activity was inventing new methods of torture. She was a bit messed up in the head, to say the least. For example, upon hearing about “the hearts of good people”, she cut people open to ‘see’ their hearts, and what was different about them, as compared to others’ hearts. Also, how could people walk barefoot on ice? She cut off people’s feet so she could see their soles. (Pun intended, what with all the spirits and souls floating about here). One of her favourite torture methods was to have people dance bare-footed on a hot oil drum, surrounded by fire, so when they fell off the drum, which they inevitably would, they would fall straight into the fire and burn to death. She also really liked her snake pit; while some people collect stamps, she collected snakes. She even introduced a snake tax, which I can’t remember the details of, but possibly something along the lines of requiring every family to contribute one snake per year. For her snake pit. How weird is that? But there you have it – a snake tax.

Aaaand, I can’t seem to remember a sufficient amount of the rest of the stories we heard to fill a third point.
We were actually a little creeped out at one point, and couldn’t figure out if this was intentional on the tour guide’s part or not, but walking down one particular dark, quiet, deserted road, there was a DEAD CAT lying in the middle of the street!