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china Travel

THE MILITARY COUP

The military coup d’état in Thailand made me worried, because Thailand would be my next destination. The coup took place three days ago, on September 19, 2006, the reason was against the corruption of the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister.

Yesterday I was on MSN with French woman Laetitia, she was now in Lao, and told me that Thailand’s borders with Lao and Myanmar were closed. I talked to some people from Thailand by Skype, they told me that everything was normal in their country.

Today I had my first Cantonese class with Teresa. Knowing Mandarin, especially reading, would help me a lot. Anyway, she ended up helping me in both languages.

I had arranged with Henry to have lunch at an Uighur restaurant, but due to his religious commitment we arranged to have dinner, I think because of the Ramadan. As he was Muslim, in the afternoon had to go to the mosque to pray, after all it was Friday. Then we stopped by the student quarters, it was obviously a mess, besides dirty.

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china Travel

THE HARSH REALITY

I used to study on my own using the sequence of Flavio’s books, there were two books per semester, I was finishing the third book.

The Chinese take English language very seriously, they know the importance and strive to learn it; well, at least the young college students. Today in the “English Corner” I met Henry (or Adiekber his name in Uighur), he was Uighur and was working on summer holidays as a guide at the tour agency in Kashgar, he was tall and looked like mixed-race like most of the Uighurs. Henry was studying English at Xian.  We meet by chance 3500km away from Kashgar, China is really small!

All the colleges in China were paid, there is nothing free in this communist country. So, life for many Chinese were not easy at all, many have to work to get to pay for their college around USD 800 per year plus dormitory accommodation, almost USD 2000 per year, few for some and a fortune for others. The young people take their studies in this country very seriously.

Many parents kill themselves working to put their children in a college, peasants want to see their children in better condition in the future, and guarantee their livelihood when they are elderly. Putting a child in college represents for some a lifetime of work, savings and sacrifice. And the labor market is extremely crowded, China has an excess of labor, which throws wages down. The pressure on the individual ends up being very strong, it is very stressful for the young student, some can not stand the pressure and end up committing suicide. The government doesn’t bring it up.

College students must live in college dormitory, even if they have a place next to the college they have to pay for the accommodation, even if they go to sleep at home every day!

Being a foreigner here in China was an attraction, even though I looked like an Han Chinese, although everyone found me looking Japanese or Korean, when they knew I was from outside, they soon wanted to talk to me. In fact, I seemed like a foreigner by the way I walk, dress, appearance and behavior, and when I opened my mouth then, I left no doubt, my accent and poor vocabulary denounced me.

The flustered Chinese asked everything, like: what was my age, if I had a girlfriend, what I was doing here, how long it would stay, how was Brazil, what I thought of China, what I studied, if I was a Christian, if I played football, etc. For the foreigner that was in the center of the circle, always answering the same questions it became very tiring, besides having to talk non-stop for hours.

Many were curious about Christianity, after all it is a novelty, it was the “religion of the West”, even being Atheists, Materialists or Buddhists, for some of them their philosophies and religion did not fill the emptiness of their souls.

As life is not easy here, many want to leave China and envy the American standard of living seen in the movies. The Chinese are super patriotic, even with all the defects and corruptions of the party and government, they were taught to watch over the homeland.

Xian is also known not only for the historical side, for having been the capital of several dynasties in the past, but also for having dozens of colleges here, more than forty. So there were many young people in the city, many were from other provinces.

Today a guy knocked on my door, it was the collector of the water bill. It was not like in Brazil, everything electronic/automatic. The collector came with a “paper” notebook containing the history of payments and consumption, he read the “clock” (hydrometer) and already made the charge. It was supposed to pass every three months, but it took six months since the last time to show up and charge, according to what Flavio told me, he seemed honest, without charging any extra, made the receipt in the exact amount to be paid and handed me.

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DONKEY DAY

Today I met Teresa, she was short and studied English at uni, she would give me Cantonese classes during my afternoons. Teresa helped me buy a study book with Cantonese phonemes that comes with a CD. She wasn’t pretty, but she was a sweet person, extremely sweet. I tried earlier to buy the book same book at Xian’s Uni bookstore, but the bookstore lady told me it didn’t exist. I almost believed her!

Lesson: never believe anything a stranger in China tells you!

At night, Kang took me to a dinner to have dog meat, I was eager to try this delicacy, much consumed in Asia at the time, but there was not in the restaurants yet. As it was not cold enough yet, this meat did not arrive for consumption. Dog meat is consumed on cold days, I can not explain exactly why, but it has to do with the flow of internal energy from the body, called “Chi” (pronounced “tchi”). And such meat, it is said to heat up. We ended up eating donkey meat, I didn’t find anything extraordinary, it looked like beef.

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VOLUNTEER WORK

Day of mild fog, weak sun and pleasant temperature. I had lunch with several foreigners (Australian, American, French, Colombian and Brazilian). I don’t know why foreigners had a habit of ordering a plate of corn only! They were all Chinese students and knew how to order various Chinese dishes, which I didn’t know, but they never dispised a dish of corn.

There are foreigners and backpackers who do voluntary social work outside their country of origin, regardless of the creed or religion they follow or practice. There are those who live in the country doing permanent work, and there are also those who do temporary work (in the case of backpackers).

Lok (already mentioned in Kashgar) was going to do a work in Africa. Laetitia, quoted in Xining, was in Vientiane (Lao’s capital) for work. Oriane was in Cambodia. And here in China I met some foreigners doing social work.

Today I accompanied a group (English and Chinese) to distribute soup and bread to beggars on the street, it is a rewarding job in personal terms. Helping others, poor and needy people, unfortunately is something that a few do, even less practiced by the Chinese, after all most have no religion and many only think of themselves. For security reasons, I didn’t take any picture. We went “hunting” the beggars in the city center of Xian to offer food, a few refused but others accepted with a smile on their faces. Those in need lay on the ground, both in public streets and in dark alleys. With the cold coming we took a couple of socks too, it was not uncommon for some beggars to die of cold during the harsh winter. As we distributed, some Chinese simply watched and surprised the rare scene of helping others, even more performed by foreigners. Some said: “They are Christians!”. The foreigners had made friends with some of the poor in the region, who were always happy to see them.

Here in China you don’t see street children, because they’re either kidnapped to be sold or enslaved, or they stay in orphanages that are far from the center, strategically away from the eyes of tourists. And the orphanages here are sad!

Right after the food distribution, I stopped by the English Corner to see my friends.

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“AMWAYNISM”

Every morning I stayed at home. There was a kindergarten right behind the building, so every day I had to listen to the children singing and dancing always the same songs in the same sequence, accompanying the speakers with the cassette tape or defective CD. I couldn’t stand it! But the kids always had fun and it was always good to see them or hear them laughing.

In the afternoon I went for a walk with Kang Li and her Mongolian friend. The library was always halfway to the city center, and its architecture always caught my attention, which is why I decided to meet it today. On the staircase on the outside of the entrance was a replica of Auguste Rodin’s famous “The Thinker” statue.

At night, Flavio and I went to a boring meeting that we didn’t know what it was about. Arriving at the scene, I soon realized it was Amway meeting.

I would call it “Amwaynism”, since these meetings seem like a cult and its philosophy too. I have attended a meeting of the “amwaynists” in Brazil, about 10 years ago. It is about sales in the “pyramid” scheme, where super cool and motivated people “shows” interest on you, they invite you to a business meeting, they say you are a very capable person and you are the ideal profile for the organization.  In São Paulo several times I was approached by friends and even by a couple in Ürümqi during this trip!

In these meetings are exposed the “miraculous” products (“idols”) of cleaning, cosmetics, and so on, demonstration of its products “magic” (“miracles”). It’s really good, I don’t doubt it, including the cost benefit. The speaker (“preacher”) super excited and motivated captivates the audience, directing the speech to financial gain, status, wealth and international travel (“prosperity”), and everyone “worship” the money (“god”). The members (“brothers”) applaud and shout fervently, everyone wants to get rich quickly (and be saved from poverty)!

I do believe that it is possible to make money, but this is not for everyone, since not everyone has the “gift of the speech” to recruit “members” for the organization (“church”). But I saw a positive point tonight, despite leaving out in the middle of the “cult”, I mean the meeting, I practiced my Chinese listening, although they had spoken very quickly I understood about 80%.

After the meeting we went to have a risotto with curry dinner in a Western restaurant.

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THE COLD WAS COMING…

In the afternoon I went out with Kang to help me buy Flavio’s birthday gift that would be the next month in October, I bought a simple gas heater, tomorrow someone will come to install it. After all the autumn was coming and in the winter it would snow and I would also enjoy the hot water, the shower water was heated by solar energy and during the winter the sunlight was not enough to heat the water. We went shopping in a commercial and busy area, called “Xiao Zai”, there were stores of everything, from appliances, books, clothes, CDs and DVDs, food, mobile phones, etc.

The next day the guy who would install the gas heater came, as agreed, he had to drill the wall to pass the pipe. The installation came out more expensive than I expected. Although, in the whole in the wall wasn’t need and just seemed to serve as a whole in my wallet. Now we didn’t have to bathe at friends’ homes anymore.

In the afternoon I had class with Kang Li and met Steven, the Chinese who was going to teach me Cantonese on Sundays. He had a degree in English and worked in an office. Cantonese is the second most spoken Chinese language in China after Mandarin, it is also widely spoken in Chinatowns around the world.

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MR. WANG

In the morning I had class with Kang Li, she brought me the long-awaited Lonely Planet, the backpacker bible! I was getting anxious because I needed to plan my next trips to Southeast Asia.

Flavio and I had lunch with Mr. Wang and his family, his wife had found Flavio’s wallet, and in gratitude he decided to pay a lunch. It was interesting to interact with a family, they were very friendly, and the 10-year-old daughter scratched an English, she was the only daughter and the pride of her parents. They were condominium neighbors. In fact, it was a surprise the day Mr. Wang knocked on the door to return his wallet, Flavio hadn’t even realized the missing wallet, and we didn’t expect any Chinese to return the wallet, much less the money.

In the afternoon I went to watch a movie alone, “The Banquet”, subtitles in Chinese and English, I liked the film despite everyone dying in the end, the good guy, the bad guy, the victim, the innocent, etc. Asian movies tend to be very tragic, with sad endings. In China the chairs are numbered and a employee accompanies you to your row.

I arranged to have dinner with Daniela, since she wanted to go to the Café Alexandre to have Brazilian coffee and it was in the same mall where the cinema was. We had a pasta as wide as the lasagna pasta!

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FOREIGNER MEETING

The weather was fine and at night there was Jade’s birthday party at her apartment, only for non-Chinese. Jade was a Korean-English woman, who had been adopted as a child, she was very chubby. The party was in the American style, that is, each one should bring a dish of food. One of the foreigners had been seen by Flavio at Kashgar’s Sunday market, I didn’t remember him. Near home I went to the Metro, a supermarket like Sam’s Club with some imported things, on the way back Flávio and I took a taxi-bike (rickshaw), three people on the bike.

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THE “ENGLISH CORNER”

The weather was bad and I had no hot water. Flavio and I went to take a shower at Jade’s house. And at night I went to the English Corner with Regiane. The “English Corner” takes place every Thursday night in the square of XISU (Xian International Study University). Hundreds of Chinese students gather there to practice English or simply to have a contact with some foreigner, others wanted to show off before colleagues. I was glad that Regiane was with me, so she attracted a lot of Chinese, although I wanted to practice my Chinese not English, it was fun. It is was possible to contact a Chinese who worked in the auto parts industry and wanted to expand operations to Brazil.

When the Chinese saw Regiane, a foreign women, they soon began to coalesce around her, like moths vying for their space around a lighted lamp. So, Regiane had attracted enough people not to be able to answer the hundreds of questions and they saw that I was next to her not facing her, and every now and then I talked to her in Portuguese. Then they started talking to me, because I also answered the questions addressed to her to realize that I was from the outside. Then another circle was formed around me, which expanded a little more, like cells in division during mitosis, I no longer could see Regiane in the crowd.

The students were mostly girls, students of foreign language or simply people graduated from another course who wanted to learn English. Sometimes even a child would show up to practice or just to see a foreigner. We arrived between seven and eight o’clock at night, Regiane was tired and left before, I stayed until about 11pm. Next Thursday I would go again to have fun!

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NO LIGHT AND NO WATER

Today I had no electricity. Since the water heater was solar, all I had to do was hope for the sun to shine, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to shower or would have to take a cold bath or go to someone’s house with a gas heater.

In the afternoon I went to the post office downtown to send some postcards.

Since it was dark, we suspended the private class at night and went for a walk on Kang’s campus, I hitchhiked on her bike. Kang and I always had good conversations about religion and politics, but because my Chinese vocabulary was limited, we always talked in English. I loved provoking her by criticizing communism, Chinese habits and the controversial issue of Taiwan. She had a friend who wanted to play soccer with me, just because I was Brazilian, but I didn’t play football. The Chinese think that all Brazilians play soccer, just as Brazilians think all Chinese practice kung-fu. I didn’t practice either, much to everyone’s frustration.

The next day it had no water! So in the morning I went to the KFC’s toilet, about fifteen minutes walk from home, it was very clean but it had to squat. I took the opportunity to study right there, at the KFC table (not in the toilet). In the afternoon I slept at home and then studied, now I knew a hundred Chinese ideograms. I had class last night. I remember when I was a child and in São Paulo sometimes lacked either water or electricity.

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