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Xinjiang: Urumqi, Day 2

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As I’m currently busy with upcoming exams, I have not been dedicating any time to my blog, and probably will not do so until my exams are over. I thought, therefore, that I might as well (finally) publish Day 2 of Xinjiang. (You can find Day 1 here). I actually wrote this the old fashioned way – by hand – while actually in Xinjiang, and since typing it up approximately last July, it has been sitting in my drafts. I just couldn’t bring myself to publish it after such a prolonged delay, but alas, the time has come. Ahem.

Even though I cringed slightly while rereading, I’ve left the post mostly as it was, for reasons of authenticity, so without further ado, here it is:

 

The Heavenly Lake –  天池 

I think pictures will do most of the talking for today, and even they don’t capture the beauty of this place. Getting to the Heavenly Lake required us to get on a bus from Urumqi’s main bus station to a place called Fukang, costing 15 kuai, and then a second bus costing 5 kuai to take us to the Heavenly Lake itself.

When you get to the site, there is one place selling food, and it was super expensive compared to the prices we were used to, but I suppose that was to be expected.

Lunch: 凉菜 - liang cai - "cold noodles", very spicy!!

Lunch: 凉菜 – liang cai – “cold noodles”, very spicy!!

 

The admission ticket costs 170 kuai, and involves the scenic bus ride to the top of the mountain, where the lake itself is.

The view on the coach drive upwards

The view on the coach drive upwards

The road we came up

The road we came up

One of our first views of the lake. Check out the fading mountains in the distance, merging with the clouds/skies and the snowy peak at the centre

One of our first views of the lake. Check out the fading mountains in the distance, merging with the clouds/skies and the snowy peak at the centre

We tried on some traditional Kazakh colourful dresses and took a few pictures with this absolutely stunning backdrop; there were also lots of people eager to take our photos… Beth said she wouldn’t be surprised if pictures of some foreign girls in Kazakh dresses appear on Weibo tonight. (Weibo is a Chinese social networking site)

 

Words can’t even describe the beauty we saw today, we were left speechless. So many times we opened our mouths to express wonder, only to find our breath catch, turning the corner to see yet another fairytale scene. Beth summed it up at one point: “I can only make sounds now”. There were literally no more words.

What colour is the lake??

What colour is the lake??

Part of one of the waterfalls

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A random fallen big tree. It was begging to be photographed.

A random fallen big tree. It was begging to be photographed.

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Dazzling sun through the trees 🙂

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Clear blue skies, lakes the colour of jade, green mountainous valleys, and a clear waterfall, by the side of which was a rainbow.

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“Flying dragon’s pool”

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This is totally a desktop background. Except I was actually standing in position to take this picture. Don’t be jealous.

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More evidence of the beautiful colour of the lake – deal with it. Because I like it. And it’s my blog.

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In case you weren’t sick of it already…

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Spot the rainbow…

 

The Chinese characters on the bridge read "Rainbow Bridge"

The Chinese characters on the bridge read “Rainbow Bridge”

Somebody clearly deep in thought... sshhh

Somebody clearly deep in thought…

Wooo!

Wooo!

We went to try and get ourselves a yurt to stay in for the night, an episode which ended up almost getting us in trouble….
The helpful Kazakh woman who drove us up the hill to where the yurts were, and with whom we had agreed a good price, showed us to a yurt which was much bigger than we had expected, and said that the two of us would have it to ourselves. It was huge! Inside it was furnished (if you can call it that for a yurt) with thick rugs, a low but large center table, some more Kazakh dresses hanging on the walls, a stereo (to play Kazakh music from?!), and a mini fridge. Or maybe we were mistaken about having seen a mini fridge, as we were only stood in the doorway of the yurt for all of 30 seconds before she asked to see our passports…. Oops. We hadn’t brought them with us. She wasn’t sure if she could accept our student cards as appropriate ID when we asked if they would do, so she took us down to the on-site police station to ask. That really wasn’t the best idea! The senior officer there told us that STATE LAW in China requires foreigners to always carry their passports on their person. It may sound obvious, but no one had mentioned this to us, let alone stressed its importance. He paused for a few seconds and then looked at us pointedly, saying: “You know, if I see foreigners without their passports, I’m supposed to arrest them…” I quickly understood that he was offering us a warning, much earlier than Beth did, who was still trying to confirm with him whether our not having our passports on us was the reason we weren’t allowed to stay the night in the yurt. I quickly managed an “oh oh ok, we’ll go home then!” before taking Beth’s arm and backing out of the office.

That was a close encounter.

On the way out, the Kazakh woman apologised to us, gave us her mobile number and told us to contact her for next time!

After finally making it back in to the city, and finding some dinner, we took a taxi back to the hotel. Beth comments: It’s nice to be able to afford a taxi.

It’s been a long but surreal day. I just asked Beth if she has anything to add about today, and she’s replied “How am I supposed to describe that? I had no words at the time, how would I have some now?” But after a minute’s pause, she says “We met some really nice people today: The bus driver, the Yurt lady, the policeman *laughs* and the Kazakh man who showed us how we should pose when we put the dresses on!”

I couldn’t agree more.

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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!

Beijing, why you so convenient?

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To begin with, a bit of Chinglish, found on the back of a toothbrush:On the back of a toothbrush

Also, while I was midway through writing this post, the doorbell rang and my flatmate and I opened it to find no less than FIVE policemen at the door. That was scary. Turns out they just wanted to check our passports and residence permits… Did they really need 5 people for that? I guess they needed extras in case it turned out we were illegal residents and needed to be arrested…
We were actually worried though, because we’d had a slight-kinda-major-pretty-big-that-could-get-us-deported type of run-in with the law within our first two weeks in China… I may write about my criminal activities in China some other time though. Brush that back under the carpet for now :s

Back onto topic, I’ve been posting a lot more about how I’m feeling lately, rather than actual China experiences, but a blog’s purpose can evolve, right? I want to capture so much of everything in these last weeks, for myself, if nothing else.

Last night I realised a lot more of what I like about living here. Admittedly, some of it is not specific to Beijing, for example, I like how close by people live, (I guess that would be the case if I was living in uni dormitories in London too), but I also like how easy it is to make an impulsive decision to go out, partly due to the fact we all live close by so it’s easier to organise and coordinate, but also because there are so many places close by where we can go. It’s all just so…convenient, and I really like that.

A friend and I cooked some dinner at home last night, and after she left, I was all ready to settle down for the night, watch some TV, maybe do some work and get an early night (like, midnight) so I could spend today working hard. A friend suddenly messaged, asking if I wanted to go and get a drink. (Not that kind of drink, guys!) Me, being the lazy person I am, (it was a 5minute walk away) first thought ‘nahh, I’m not really feeling like a drink, am I?’ but then I realised I just want to take ALL the opportunities I get to enjoy these little conveniences China has to offer me. (In moderation, of course). When would I be able to just walk 5minutes up the road to meet a friend for a drink at 10pm, when I’m back home? (Not really sure how well this’ll go down with the parents…)
The weather definitely helped too!! I didn’t have to put ALL my clothes on just to step outside, as used to be the case from December all the way to a good way through March. In fact, I went out in flip-flops. Now that’s a sure sign of Summer. Grab the essentials: keys, phone and some money, and just walk out into the night… It’s never this easy at home. Sometimes it’s the little things that make you happy!
The friend I’d just had dinner with was there too — “Oh ibby! Long time no see!”. Sure.

And man – I forget how cheap China is! We bought drinks: Chinese green tea ‘slushie’, Cheese Cocoa (sounds strange, but it was nice!), Grapefruit juice, took a walk through the uni right next door to our own while we drank, talked and laughed. Oh, the interesting things you find out. Did you know that most universities in China are built on the sites of cemeteries? Including ours. Creepy. I didn’t even realise until I was told yesterday that one of the bus stops outside campus actually has the character for ‘cemetery’ in its name!

And suddenly, we’re outside the university’s snooker place. There were free tables, and three of us to split the cost. Why not?
So, a drink, a few games of pool (I’m getting better!), and enjoyable company all for 15RMB. (~£1.50).

Beat that, London!
I’m gonna miss Beijing. 😦

Who's that pr0?

Who’s that pro?

Back to work..

After a three month break from studying, I have to admit it’s somewhat refreshing to be back at university, in a study environment. I’m pretty happy with my timetable, in which I have only one 8am start. Yes, that’s right – 8am. Classes here start from 8am and can run until 7:50pm. Each lesson consists of two 50minute periods with a supposed 10minute break in between. Even if you get given the full 10minutes, be warned that it’s no easy feat to get anything done in that time. My university campus, like most in China, is huge. Our teachers had described it to us as ‘a little city’, and they’re not wrong. As well as all the teaching buildings and departments, student dormitories, and halls of residence for staff and teachers(!), there are also a number of canteens, an enormous library, a kindergarten, an elementary school, a middle school, a clinic, a couple of supermarkets, two gyms, two full size sports tracks, tennis courts, basketball courts….and an electric appliance store. Oh, and a campus police office.

University library. I’m not sure if the picture does justice to its size, but this is just the front of it…

Photo taken from the university website (because I haven’t ventured all around campus yet)

From the building where my classes are held, the supermarkets and canteens are definitely not breaktime destinations. The closest little dormitory shop for any students who wish to get a snack is a 5minute jog away, not forgetting the return journey. Unless you want to turn up to class late, your best bet is to stay put. It’s not all bad though… some speedy students have been known to make it to the toilet and back. Just.

Arriving to class late brings its own problems, and seeing as the teachers’ explanations of the consequences are not fully understood, you better not be late. Attendance counts towards your final grade – different numbers of marks are lost, depending on which class it is, and whether you’ve informed the teacher that you will be absent or not. If a student is late or leaves early for 15minutes three times, they will be considered as missing class for 1hour. (I am curious to see how stringent the teachers are about keeping record of all this).  And, of course, if your attendance record falls below the standard, you will not be permitted to sit the exam.

I have no issues with the majority of university life here as yet, though it does make me appreciate the university system back in London more.