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THE “MOON PIE”

The one-week holiday begins on October 1st. The Chinese celebrate what they call Mid-Autumn with “Yue Bing”, or “Moon Cake”, a Chinese twist representing the moon with varied flavors, the most common being the sweet bean filling. As usual, on an extended holiday the whole of China moves, students go to their cities and others will travel by tour. Train ticket is hard to find, and the line at the sales stations gets kilometric.

We were waiting for a friend from Brazil to arrive in Xian. Denise was studying in Tianjin, an hour from Beijing, and is of Taiwanese descent. I haven’t met the famous Terracotta Warriors yet, i was waiting for her to arrive, so I wouldn’t have to go twice.

It rained less today and it wasn’t so cold. In the afternoon I went to buy speaker and “webcam”, Bought from local brands, at least I know they were not pirates.

There were few people in the English Corner, due to the bad weather and the proximity of the holiday, maybe a lot of people went to travel, I didn’t stay there. I had dinner with Steven and his friend Roy, another Cantonese, short and shy.

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SPAGHETTI BOLOGNESE, BANANA AND RAINS

Today the weather was rainy, as it would be during the next five days. And the heater got too hot!

The lunch was spaghetti bolognese in the apartment of Regiane, it was a long time since I had last seen this dish! Afterward, I took a class with Kang.

Eating in China is very cheap, especially in small towns. I’ve paid up to RMB 2 in small meals, which is about R $ 0.58 (less than USD 0.50). But this is an extreme, on average spent from RMB 8 to RMB 12 per meal, which is between R$ 2 to R$ 3 (between USD 1 and USD 2). Things in Xian were a little more expensive than in Kashgar, but still much cheaper compared to Beijing or Hong Kong.

I caught a cold. I had lunch at a Uighur restaurant and in the afternoon I had Cantonese class with Steven, then we talked about random subjects to spend time since it was drizzling. He was a Christian, rare to find in this country.

Some Chinese locals compared me to a banana, that is, yellow on the outside and white on the inside, because I have the physiognomy of an Asian and inside I think like a Westerner.

I slept about 12 hours in a row, because of the cold I was very tired. I took a Cantonese class with Teresa and went out to have a dinner with Flavio, Regiane, Aaron and Steven. I almost didn’t study today.

In this country I’ve seen funny things, such as:

•            Seeing Chinese going out simply in their pajamas. The women in colorful pajamas, vermilion or pink, I came to see a man in ceroula! In Brazil I also go out in pajamas, since I sleep in sweatshirt or shorts and T-shirt, but I think it’s different, isn’t it?

•            Watching restaurant staff dancing and do stretching exercises in the morning in front of the restaurants, as if it were a military order, they probably thought it was weird for me to photograph them.

•            Dance in the parks in large groups, mostly women, especially ladies. Someone took the speakers and the crowd dance synchronized to the rhythm of the music, in the late afternoon and evening. On other occasions I have observed social dance for couples.

•            People bought takeout food and took their food in plastic bags, rather than styrofoam or aluminum packaging or lunch boxes.

•            They also bought juices, soft drinks, teas and ice coffees in plastic bags and drank with straw while they walked. Later I would realize that it was something common in Southeast Asia.

….

Today was the fourth day of unrelenting rain and cold, unlike other days when there was no cold. Today I got all wet, just walked with the raincoat, did not like to wear umbrellas, from the thigh down I was soaked. All I had left was a long pair of pants and a pair of dry boots, these pants I used to sleep too!

The Mandarin class with Kang was at her college where she was doing grad school. I went on foot and came back by bus.

I did a little cleaning at home. Then I had dinner with Flavio, Seal, a Chinese and a beautiful and friendly Korean in a Cantonese restaurant, whose food is typical of the South.

I had to buy an umbrella for RMB 10 (USD 1.30), you could find for this price in Japan too, the only thing in Japan that is cheaper than in Brazil.

….

On the fifth day of rain the cold was more intense! According to the weather channel forecast there would be ten more days of rain ahead, after that there was no forecast, but it should be rain. Today the rain was a little weaker.

Here in China one should be very careful with the goods, after all I was in the “Land of Pirates” and I had bought a fake iPod, flash drive and backpack in Beijing, only the backpack was still functioning. Here things are made not to last, all of the lowest quality, it is included in this list even home plumbing, Flavio says so. It is very rare to find original DVD, in relation to the quality of pirated DVDs, they are very good being difficult to visibly differentiate between copies and originals, sometimes the recording was in the cinema theater with subtitles of any another movie. The government has stepped up actions against DVD piracy only. Here you can also have a sandwich at KFC or KLC, and have coffee at Starbuck’s or Starduck’s. Even cars and airplanes are cloned.

I took a class with Teresa. Cantonese is funny and I’m finding it a bit difficult, but not as much as Japanese, since it bears some resemblance to Mandarin and Taiwanese, due to phonemes, whose languages I already have familiarity, but it is totally incomprehensible among people who speak only one of these three languages.

At lunch I ordered a dish of noodle with meat, the woman got it wrong and brought me rice with meat.

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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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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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