Sorry for the delay in updating my blog! It has been difficult to get my hands on an English computer rather than a Chinese version. I am safe and sound in Xining, waiting until the uprising is over before we travel on to Darlag, Golok Region.
SO much to tell, so I'll start at the beginning.
My parents drove me to Boston early on Monday morning (March 9) in the middle of a "wintry mix" that delayed my flight out of Boston by three hours. When they were about to allow us to board, we were notified that the flight was cancelled due to mechanical problems. Fortunately, my flight out of JFK was at a time that allowed me to catch a different flight out of Logan, and I made it to Beijing more than a day later, luggage intact. No problem at customs, and I met a couple other Americans my age. One girl, Amanda, was from Portland, Maine! She was on her way to Chengdu for a documentary, and the other two guys were from New York, coming to visit friends in Beijing.
After changing over some money, I haggled my way through a hotel booking agency to get a cheap room in Beijing for the night. (19 hour layover before my flight to Xining.) I was planning on sleeping at the airport, but since I had to claim my luggage and re-check it the next morning, I didn't want to risk theft. After a harrowing drive through the city of Beijing (drivers are insane) a tight squeeze through an alleyway, another squeeze through a gate, I was escorted into a pretty shady establishment with a couple teenaged guys at the front desk who, of course, spoke no English. We managed, with lots of hand signals and laughter, to get me into a room, with the promise of a wake-up call at 6:30am. And I even got to shower. I also received a bizarre call on my cell phone from a teacher in Maine asking me to sub for her class... After explaining why that would be impossible, I was able to receive phone calls from my parents, sister and boyfriend! I didn't think my phone would still work abroad, but I was pleasantly surprised. My cellphone is off now, so email is the best way to contact me.
The next morning, I answered the hotel room phone to a sleepy "Haooo," to which I responded, "thanks!" haha, still not sure what he said, if anything in that wake-up call. The guys at the front desk loaded my luggage back into their airport shuttle, opened the door for me to get in, shut it, and walked away. I assumed there were other guests who needed to go to the airport, and that they were waiting for them, but after 10 minutes, I was ready to go back in the hotel drag the attendants out. They wandered back out, smoking profusely, and I tapped my watch and mimed an airplane, explaining that I needed to get to the airport. They got it, and we left, listening to loud chinese pop, that interjects the occasional "Babyyy boyyyy" just for good American measure.
My flight to Xining was non-stop turbulence, and when I arrived and headed to the restroom, it was literally a porcelain hole in the floor. No time like the present, and squatting is good for the leg muscles. I was greeted at baggage by Maria Bhutia, owner and director of T-Fusion Restaraunt, Hotel and School, as well as Dockpo's friend. She put the traditional white scarf around my neck, and we headed to her place via the 100 kph highway. Maria is German born, English trained, British accented, 40 year resident of India, married to a Tibetan (met in India) and now lives and teaches Tibetan girls here in Xining, China.
Her hostel is home to 5 Golok girls who are too old for Dockpo's home, and thus Maria has agreed to care for them and teach them English and trade skills in return for their assistance in running the hostel. Also living there is a 23 year old Tibetan girl named Quajia, who is a student at Qinghai University and speaks great English, as well as Chinese and obviously Amdo, one of the three Tibetan languages. (The other two are Lhasa and Kham. I'll be speaking Amdo.) Quajia is wonderful, and I am rooming with her. We have become fast friends and as she wants to be a teacher as well, we have shared different cultural and personal philosophies about education. I look forward to building a relationship with her.
The next couple of days I spent in the city and in the hostel with the girls. With the girls, I filled in for Maria when she had to be absent (I'm a sub even in China) and reviewed English colors, numbers, and taught them proper phone etiquette and greetings. We get along great! It's a mish-mash of cultural exchange and language, but it's fun. The girls have lots of different teachers from the small group of ex-pats in the city. They have a Chinese tutor who also teaches tailoring, a women from Malaysia who helps with their English, Henri, from Holland, who is also an English teacher, and lots of other individuals who are passing through.
The city has been a blur of impossible regulations, colorful store fronts, even more colorful characters, bartering, new foods and little spots like the Amdo Cafe, a coffee shop that sells Tibetan handicrafts from Golok, with full profit returning to the women who made them.
Today, Dockpo arrived, and took me out for my first taste of yak; loved it. Quajia also showed me how to make tsampa (yak butter, barley flour, yak milk, tea, yak cheese) and it's a bland but good addition to my daily routine. Tomorrow we do some more sightseeing, and then Tuesday, hopefully, things will have died down enough to travel up to Golok.
The weather has been very cold at night, with only a coal stove and heating pad for warmth. During the day, it has been warmer, with temperatures that allow fewer layers if you're moving briskly. Inside the hostel, the main room is a green house, which traps the heat nicely during the day, and is very comfortable.
As far as my personal health goes, I've been feeling great! No issues with food, climate, altitude; the time change has been a little wearing, but my sleep is improving.
I am looking forward to getting settled in at Dockpo's home, and beginning my own teaching! I will continue to update my blog, probably weekly. I posted two albums of pictures on facebook, be sure to take a look at them.
Please send emails! They are great to receive, even if I cannot answer them immediately.
From Xining with love,
"Should I save or savor the world?"
If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world.
This makes it hard to plan the day.
This makes it hard to plan the day.