Our life in Urumqi

Archive for May, 2012

This place ain’t for vegetarians!

As we’ve already commented, the Chinese are nose to tail eaters. Along with chicken breasts you can buy chicken heads and chicken feet at every supermarket. Like pork chops? They’re just beside the trotters and snouts. Like salmon? Well, you can only have thin slices of it at exorbitant prices. But, hell, we’re living in the most inland city this rock has to offer.

Aside from the weird stuff, there’s a vertitable feast of good meats on offer too. A favourite Chinese snack is beef or yak jerky. It comes is all kinds of flavours and is a perfect beer-time snack. The best tasting jerky is nothing more than thin strips of beef, cut from a joint, dried and put in a packet. Others come basted in spice mixes and are also fun.

Roast horse is my absolute favourite. We were invited to attend a Kazakh coming of age ceremony (well, asked to be entertainment as it turned out) and given a free meal afterwards. First thing out on the table: a huge lump of roasted horse on the bone. Brilliant! As the only guy in the group, it was my job to get my hands dirty and carve; something that gave me huge satisfaction. For those who have never tasted it, our equine friends come somewhere between beef and venison in the red meat stakes (pun intended). We should eat more horse, that’s all I’m saying.

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Bring your bling – Uyghur weddings!

Thus far we’ve been invited to two weddings in Urumqi: one Han and the other Uyghur. As examples of comparative anthropolgy they’ve been very interesting.

Take, for example, a Han Chinese wedding. The one I attended (Ange couldn’t make it) was the wedding of our supervisor and it was a wet affair. The common drink to dish out here is a clear liquid death called baijiu (sounds a bit like bye, Jo) which (in the more expensive cases) comes in porcelain containers and is served in shot glasses. Typically, the stuff ranges from 50%-85% proof and just one leaves a taste of nailpolish remover in your mouth for hours afterwards. It’s fairly minging. Does the job though, no mistake about that! And it’s not a good idea to have one when you’ve a class later that day. ‘You smell like Daddy’ is not something you want your students telling you of a weekday afternoon. Packets of cigarettes are left on all the tables for people to help themselves.

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A brief overview of teaching in China

For all that’s on the blog now, we still haven’t said anything much about what we do in Xinjiang.

Maybe it’s just something that is so much a part of our daily lives now that it’s in the background and therefore not worth commenting upon. Well, we’re ‘foreign experts’ (true, our visas say so) and are here teaching oral (snigger) English. Basically, we get paid 3-4 times local wages to make noises (see Logic post) at kids and confuse them with our incomprehensible use of articles (a, an, the). We teach kids from the ages of 3 (pointless) to 12 (annoying) at a language training school which, as we have discovered, doesn’t actually have a license to do what it’s doing. In other countries this might prove a major operational problem, but, fortunately, we’re in China – land of the bribe – which makes these things easier. We’re just asked to disappear whenever official-types are coming over. (At least, this was the case six months ago, I hope things have moved along a little now)

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Flowers in the desert… thank God it’s spring!

The thing I was most scared of, before moving out here to the middle of bum-fuck-nowhere was not the isolation, the language barrier, or the violent riots three years ago that so damaged the reputation of this region (yes we feel safe and, oddly, I’ve never had anyone warm me against going to London…)

No, what scared this warm-weather-girl were the climate charts… read ‘em and weep. I did! This is a city at high altitude, and its claim to fame is that it’s the most inland city on the planet. Yeah, I bet you’re jealous of us now!

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What the hell… part 2

3. Manners

It’s not that mainland Chinese are impolite it’s just that… okay, this one is hard to explain. For example, roughly shoving someone out of the way on public transport or poking somebody in the kidneys is entirely acceptable and the locals don’t bat an eyelid. This drives me crazy and I’m not the only one.

One of the most entertaining sights I’ve seen here in Urumqi was a friendly older American man we’ve bumped into on a few occasions: on this occasion he was in full flight at the doors on a bus, turning in small circles, waving his finger and shouting “don’t push me, don’t push me, no pushing, don’t you dare push me” at bemused Chinese, who were no doubt wondering why the crazy laowai wasn’t going to let them off at their stop. Nothing shouts ‘time for a holiday’ like the desire to take on all one billion Chinese over the shoving issue!

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What the hell?

Okay, maybe starting this topic was a big mistake for two reasons.

1. I only have so many hours in the day and there is a LOT of weird shit I don’t understand here, and;

2. I’ve been in China six months, sure, but I reckon you could be here for years and still find there’s a lot that doesn’t make any sense from an outsider perspective. I’m a long, long, long way from expertise.

Nonetheless, here goes, a list of the top four differences between China and my home, as seen by me (NB: we work for a company dominated by Han Chinese and live in a predominantly Han neighbourhood, and so it is the Han way of doing things I reference below.)

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