Friday, April 29, 2005

sigh ... a little time to breathe right now

Lately i've been just so incredibly busy, with my parents and sister visiting (they just left this afternoon), with the prepartion for the Taklamakan Rally, for the visit of our two friends arriving at 2am tonight... i'm left with a scrambled brain, a big sleep debt and lists upon lists of things-to-do. I do enjoy being busy, but i would like some down time to come up for air, to not have to wake up with my brain already running through all the things that have to be accomplished for that day. It's incredible, having no job and yet i'm busier than ever!

Seeing my parents and Anice off at the airport made me realize yet again how absolutely lucky i am to have such a loving and supportive family, who trust my judgment and choices always. And that isn't easy to do, i admit. After our trips to Turpan and Yili, we spent this past week in the big U-town, visiting EF, seeing friends, meeting up with my former students and Matt's colleagues, shopping at ErDaQiao (Uyghuer market). Yesterday we all went up to our wedding site number 5. We've been to 4 already, but two of those were part of the summer-yurt culture where it's set up mainly as a tourist attraction. Another one has the bubonic plague, and so naturally we had to rule that one out. Pity, as it was a beautiful view on top of the mountain. But we agree that Wedding Site #5 is probably the best option, big open grassy field, with towering pine trees surrounding it, views of the mountain (it will be a spectacular sunset and sunrise), and there is even a little stream running near the bottom of the hill - PERFECT!!

Oh, i don't think i've mentionned it yet: we are currently being filmed by CCTV5, who is doing a short documentary on "Xinjiang's Sporting Icons". Just to clarify although i'm sure it's obvious to you all, it's Matt and not me who is the icon. Matt was filmed last year for his football (or as we North Americans call it, 'soccer') participation as the only foreigner on the team in Urumqi. They want to do something a little more elaborate on him, being a foreigner and all. Matt told them that things have changed quite a bit since last year and that he would be getting married in September in the Xinjiang mountains to a particular Canadian gal. So this news update coupled with the fact that we will be participating in the Taklamakan Desert Rally, provoked more interest to do the doc. Anyway, we now have a third wheel in our relationship, Mr. WangDeWan (or 'Wang da Man' as i call him) who follows us around on our driving expeditions, and videotapes us packing, eating, playing the piano... he's pretty quiet and you don't even realize he's filming until you turn around and get this huge lens looking right into your face. It happened to me when i was brushing my teeth in the morning - what a shock.

Alas, life is good to me and as much as i do want some more hours added to the day, I shouldn't complain as every minute is jammed to the fullest.

We're off to have a meeting with the rally people. Apparently there have been some significant changes to the route. We want to make sure we're getting our money's worth and that it won't be some huge media profile event. Ah, only one way to know huh?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

in my dad's words

An email from my dad to his friends and colleagues back home in Canada on his impressions of Xinjiang (and Matt!) so far....

"Hello all

Wish all are well.

We are really enjoying our visit here at Urumqi and are fine.

Bonnie and Matthew are in great shape and good spirit.

We arrived in Beijing after a long flight from Ottawa. Our friends (Xumeng's parents ---- Bonnie's old exchange student pal) were so happy to see us again.

They are excited to meet Anice since this is her first trip to China.

We stayed for one night before we flew to Urumqi on last Sunday( 4 hour flight).

Bonnie and Matthew greeted us with tears and joy.

They took us out to the market for dinner after unwrapping all the things that we brought for Bonnie (practically most of our 3 big suitcase space----need to replenish with local souvenirs).

Delicious noodle, mutton b-b-q, hot soup and sheep heart which I somehow could not swallow because it is quite tough skinned.

(We should have in the future a supper club meal of exotic delicacies).

Matthew took us on Monday in his field trip with his auditors to remote villages to check on the solar panels installed.

Fascinating to see how the local people live in their mud houses and tend the sheep and horses.

We then went on a jeep ride (Matthew bought a Beijing jeep last year, somewhat similar to the old Jeep and a Chinese army jeep clone) to the foot hill of the 4000 m + mountain, crossing streams, broken bridges, mud and gravel tracks until we hit into the forest where no more road exists.

Very exhilarating --- bumpy and rocky.

We took a bus to Turpan, 3 hours east of Urumqi, where we visited old historical sites, temples and mosques.

Stayed in hotel 1 night. We then toured a old village with beautiful valleys and cliff.

You would love to see this place which is only opened for visit last year.

Ancient Buddha grottos in caves on the side of the cliff overlooking winding streams underneath.

We had snack in a local family home seeing how they made raisins (this is a grape growing area).

Came back in the afternoon passing oil fields and field of wind turbines generators. Very worthwhile trip.

Thursday we started early in the morning on an expedition in Matthew's jeep to Yili, third largest city in Xinjiang, where Bonnie and a friend have started to help to establish an NGO project.

The entire trip turned out to be filled with danger, excitement, disappointment and finally happiness. The road started with paved 4 lane highway.

We attempted to cross the 4000m mountain pass but was defeated by snow covering road at the top.

We had to turn back and wasted 3 hours. The road then became a long stretch of construction bumpy ride passing small towns and villages.

We finally had to settled overnight in a small village.

The small hotel owner had to ask a roomer to go to another room to share with a stranger so that we can have his room (much obliged, he did not mind).

We left early and headed towards Saryam Lake, surrounded by snow capped mountains with stretches of gentle sloped grassland where in the summer, is covered with green and attended with sheep and horses.

But the excitement was before that as we had to struggled to bypass snow covered road .

The jeep got stuck and we had to dig it out with 2 local military guys stationed there.

They even cut the barb wire fence to free the jeep back onto the road.

Just as we thought that we would arrive in Yili finally, we were stopped by the police just outside of the city for speeding ----------- traveling 52 km/hr in a 40 km/hr zone!!! -------- $100 RMB ------ instead of appearing in court --------- Matthew's luck as this was his first fined ticket in China.

What a trip!!!!

We visited the local Uygur family (Bonnie's project) ---- Muslim religion ------- and had lunch ---- very interesting.

We came back today in the afternoon by plane (1 hour flight) and Bonnie and Matthew drove the jeep back ------- a better drive this time(they left at 7.30 am and came back at 8.30 pm) with still lots of excitements and frustration.

Now everyone is asleep and are getting ready to a more relaxing Monday while Matthew will go back to work.

We still have yet to discover Urumqi, visit Heavenly Lake,(another pretty site), Bonnie's school, Matthew's office, shopping at the markets, inspecting their potential wedding sites and more sight seeing and explorations.

Bonnie and Matthew prove to be quite a resourceful team.

Matthew drove the entire trip and Bonnie was the navigator with a GPS monitor.

We shall have more stories to tell in our next gathering and Bonnie and Matthew do wish all of you could make the trip in September for the wedding.

This is a beautiful country out here---------as Bonnie said, this is the Xinjiang spirit --------------- come, come,come.

We shall see you all back home (We leave here on Friday, stay with the friends in Beijing for 1 night and fly back on Sat.)

Take care"


Monday, April 25, 2005

sore bottom... but still here

My parents have been here for about a week and a half. We've done an amazing potpourri of things, from eating at night markets to driving along probably one of the bumpiest roads i've ever been on for two days straight to shovelling our way out of a mountain pass.

It's been so wonderful to have both of my worlds meeting up. I mean to have my immediate family members be here in Urumqi, my current home. Lots more to say, but i'll save it for next time. On the go now: preparing for our Taklamakan rally (i am becoming a quasi GPS pro and a full out GPS nerd), lots of wedding celebration discussions and planning (chinese banquet here we come!).

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

my new love

It's not like i don't have enough instruments to keep me occupied (piano, guitar, violin arriving in 4 days!), i've decided to take ErHu lessons. The Erhu is "a two-stringed fiddle, one of the most popular Chinese instruments in the Hu-qin family, where Hu stands for "foreign" or "the northern folk" in Chinese, and "qin" is a general name for all kinds of string instruments".
See for more explanation.

I've had one lesson with Teacher Zhang so far, and after hearing him play so beautifully and sensually, i feel that i should give it a fair shot. It seems a bit like i'm starting the violin all over again, where the first few notes are torturous to the ears, we'll see how long it'll take to actually play a melody.

What's also great about learning from Teacher Zhang is that I'll be able to practice my Chinese a lot more. Right now i understand maybe 25% of what he's saying. The rest is just speculation and body language and facial expressions. But i can tell he treats the ErHu with real passion and respect and when you watch him play, his whole being is involved. A true musician at heart.

Have been getting ready for the great Taklamakan Desert Rally competition that we've entered, from May 1-10. Our sturdy Beijing Jeep has been to the shop to get fixed up, but there are still a few minor things left to do (ie, fix the fuel guage). It's gonna be one helluva adventure, 100 cars competing, lots of bumpy off-roading, camping in the desert with the other competitors and also the spectators at night. I'm to be the first ever female to compete, haha. I'll be given my own private training (because i need it in English) on how to use the GPS, read the maps, etc. I'm quite looking forward to this once-in-a-lifetime experience, definitely gonna load up on the Immodium.... just in case. I have horrible visions of being sick at both ends in the middle of the desert, ugh, a faint reminder of a time long long ago in northern Ghana where one of my colleagues had a similar experience, although not in a desert but in the back of a fast-moving truck amongst other disgusted local passengers and a handful of chickens, goats and guinea fowls.

Monday, April 11, 2005

buy bathtub in China - check!

I don't feel like getting into the nitty gritty details of my day, but the bottom line is that there is a brand new spankin' RED bathtub in our bathroom! Shouldn't get too giddy since we aren't supposed to use it until the day after tomorrow when the cement dries, and so i'm not sure if the tub will work (ie. hold the weight, not leak). But in any case, it looks good, and looking the part means a mark of 95% already in China. Have i already ranted about bad Chinese quality? Yes, i beleive so.

The humongous outlet store in Urumqi is about a ten minute walk from home (i can see it from where i am right now actually) and it literally has anything and everything you could ever want or need to redecorate or completely furnish a new house. Makes me seriously think how fun, not to mention cheap, it would be to just get an empty apartment and go wild and implement all the crazy ideas that i could think of, which are probably not too far off from 'regular decor' in China.

There are several huge Russian-looking buildings with multiple levels of kitchen ware, hardware, sofas, dining room sets, heart-shaped beds with built in tv/radio, heavy beige ceiling-to-floor curtains with laced edges, cast-iron everything, and so much plastic it hurts. Outside in front and in the back, there is a mini Timber City, where you can get wood in any size or shape imagineable; Bathroom Alley with taps, sinks, tubs, jacuzzis, hoses, etc; Paint Lane, which reeks of paint fumes; Vehicle Maintenance Blvd, bursting with tires, wrenches, hubcaps, nuts and bolts and other gizmos i have no idea what they would be used for, and so on. It's like this delightful feast for the eyes, you get the picture huh?

You can buy whatever you desire and then hire a man and his tricycle to transport it. I paid the equivalent of $1.50 CDN to have my man and his tricycle bring the red bathtub, two heavy bags of cement, two big shovels, the worker's tools, my new wok and cutting board to the apartment. He's one strong man indeed, and he was probably in his 60's.

The mountains were clearly visible today for the WHOLE day, the heating is slowly being turned off so it seems (April 15th is the cut-off date, ack still gotta buy a heater), the sun was bright and warm on the skin, I got to tune one of my friend's newly-bought violin (mine's coming in 6 days, YAY!), I wrote my grandma a letter in chinese all by myself, with help from Matt and the handy dictionary. I was so proud of it, but upon reading it, it looks/sounds like a little kid writing about her daily events, very very elementary. Literally, i was saying "There was a big snowstorm two days ago. It has melted. Today is beautiful out. Mom, dad and little sister are coming on Sunday. I am very excited. We will visit many beautiful places in Xinjiang." She'll probably wonder why my life has suddenly turned into a series of run-on events and why on earth my level of writing has plumetted.

Friday, April 08, 2005

One Bathtub Please

Today i met up with a fellow Canadian, from my hometown actually. Nice to reminisce about the Gatineau Hills, Sparks Street and yes even lame Monsieur Martin. However we did conclude that all Ottawa is (at least for the majority of it) is middle-aged government workers, looking back at the good old days and yet still yearning for their days of retirement which seem still relatively far away.

And so we we like it here, even giggle at the slightest weirdest things (like how he got bochulism??? sp?? from something he ate and had to be hospitalized for a night). We both met people here whom we love and adore and are in a serious relationship with. As for future plans, our options are endless. It's just nice to have a friend from home in this new home of mine.

Have been in a sort of 'uck' phase lately. Not sure why, maybe it's the passing of my quarter century mark that has brought about all these thoughts and emotions to the surface. Felt like hibernating. Culture shock? yeah, i've reached the 6 month mark of being here. It's time that i had a breakdown, no? ;)

I've been blaming China, the people who regard me as one of their own (which can work for or against me, depending on the situation and most importantly, my mood). It's like a love-hate relationship, intense all the time.

Have been playing piano, found some sheet music at the local boostore and stocked up on Chopin Etudes and Nocturnes. Bliss.

Matt gave me a traditional Chinese instrument, the ErHu, for my birthday. It's a 2-string wooden beauty that is played with a bow. Lessons are on the agenda.

Had a musical gathering here on my birthday, trumpets, guitars, piano, jazz music.

I have to honest with myself though: i do enjoy this city and province, the mountains especially. This could be my 6-month itch where i feel that i should be relocating elsewhere. In fact for the past 7 years i have moved house/city/country every 4-8 months. In any case, today is a brighty sun-shiney day, and the snow from yesterday's day-long blizzard is melting quickly. Yes, we had a snowstorm in April! Just like in Ottawa. Very appropriate.

Today i also went bathtub shopping. I kid you not. I have never even went bathtub windowshopping in my life! What a hoot. The one we have now has a crack in it and it'll probably just get bigger if we don't get a new one. Anyway, what really surprised me most was every shop i went into to ask if they had a tub with my dimensions, they would then immediately ask me how many i wanted. "How many bathtubs?" I ask, making sure i understood them correctly.

Good lord, only one is enough. I dunno, it happened several times. I'm still rather puzzled by the question, but when in China some things you just gotta let slide...

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

wacky weird weather

Yesterday was one of the most crazy days i've ever experienced, in terms of weather that is. In the morning, it was beautiful, sunny and actually HOT, I was sweating. In early afternoon, while window-shopping down a busy street, there suddenly came a sandstorm. All the store vendors rushed to close their windows and doors while i chose to seek refuge in a shop until the wind died down. And then it began to rain, quite heavily, covering the sand and dust that had just blown in. Later that evening, still quite windy, it began to SNOW! All the seasons in one day, imagine that! A nice gift from Mother Nature.