The occasional snap

Postcard from Xinjiang

Only a postcard, and not a letter, as I’m a bit pressed for time. But who writes letters anymore?

Here’s the front of my postcard, a quick snap I took surreptitiously out the window of my cab. (The characters on the truck – more likely PAP than PLA? – read “The happiness of the ethnic people is our desire”.)

Army truck in Xinjiang

The stamp mark in dated Kashgar, 25th June. Not bad for the mail to arrive only a few days later, right?

On the back I scribble in a spidery, cramped scrawl:

That truck is part of China’s crackdown in advance of the one year anniversary of Xinjiang’s July 5th riots. The nerviness this kind of police presence creates reminds me strongly of Tongren, the Tibetan town with it’s own history of unrest, where I’ve just come from. But don’t think too much of it: for most of the population, life goes on just as it did before and will after. It’s a beautiful corner of the world, where the sun sets at 10pm (I should be two or three timezones before Beijing) and the old town feels more like my imagination of Persia than my experience of China. Maybe that’s why the truck is there. Wish you were here.

Now think of the act of blogging as me leaving the address space blank, and instead glueing the postcard to the back of every computer connected to the internet in the world, should the user have the curiosity to look for it.

Lunchtime in Tsinghua

My campus this year at Tsinghua University is huge, but not huge enough to leave elbow room amongst all its students. This may not surprise you, given that a) it’s a university, and b) it’s in China. (A county with 500 million people aged 5-29).

Undeterred by stating the obvious, your humble blogger thought he’d upload a couple of pictures from lunchtime, to give a poor impression of the student size, and perhaps a little feel for the campus. First, a central canteen (lunch: about 50p/$1).

Next, the North-South road leading up to that canteen. This picture really doesn’t do justice to the tsunami of cyclists who barrel down this lane at the rush-hours of campus life. If it had, I quite literally wouldn’t have been able to squeeze in to take a picture.


Update: A source has recently informed me that there are 9 million bicycles in Beijing. She continued: “That’s a fact. It’s a thing you can’t deny. Like the fact that I will love you ’til I die.” The information she provided was on record. (groan …)

A good question, I think, given that I’m writing about what Beida students are talking, thinking and learning about in those dorms. The answer? It looks like this:

That’s a friend of mine’s dorm in Beida’s south-west corner. Here’s the corridor outside (the room with the flag on it is the room above, I’ve smudged the room number):

And the shared washroom, where many students handwash their laundry:

I also took a sneaky action shot from an open door a little way down the corridor, of three students, back to back, shirts off in the heat, working at their desks in a room similar – but smaller – than the one up top. It was a fun photo and I was thinking of publishing it, but my conscience got the better of me. Score: privacy 1 blog 0.

Exhibit A. Qing dynasty queue:

Exhibit B. Expo dynasty queue:

I took that second picture (I wish I could take credit for the first) a few days ago from atop the Indian pavilion of the Shanghai Expo. This queue took over an hour, which was nothing compared to the alleged 3+ hour queue for the neighbouring Saudi Arabian pavilion:

Given the choice between queues: I’d take the hairstyle.

Spotted yesterday by St. Michael’s Cathedral in the port city of Qingdao: a Chinese applicant for the Ministry of Silly Walks. This is how to woo a lady. It clearly worked.

That afternoon, lazing on Qingdao’s accurately named ‘No. 1 Beach’, my friend counted how many girls we could see in wedding dresses, having their photos taken. (I don’t say ‘brides’, because it wasn’t necessarily their wedding day. Chinese wedding albums are lavish, expensive, Tolstoy thick affairs, around which a thriving industry has evolved, and which often take a whole day to shoot – sometimes long after the wedding itself.)

The final tally, all in one wide panorama: 21.

And the funeral? This poor octopus’s, who rests in peace in the ocean of my belly.

In the wake of the Yushu earthquake, solidarity and love of country is palpable. (Although for implications of the quake on Han-Tibetan relations, see this conversation with Robert Barnett on the China Beat.)

Another pretext for patriotism – not that China needs it – is the opening of the Shanghai World Fair in nine days. This amateur calligrapher, from Shanghai, is in the middle (that’s a really lame pun, if you know the character 中) of writing ‘Love My China’ on the streets of Hohhot.

Now, is that a shorthand statement, or polite request?

Love my country


PS – also up at the China Beat is the twin of this photo.

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