Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Shout-out from Yining!

Wow. I'm sorta out of superlatives at the moment. This might have something to do with the local red wine I've been drinking - it's not exactly Western style, but it's crisp and dry and really nice. I was given the barely touched left-over open bottle from our dinner tonight and have nothing to seal it with but a wadded-up napkin. It seems a shame to waste it.

What I can tell you is that at first glance, Yining has a frontier vibe, a unique and vibrant mix of cultures, friendly people and a beautiful natural setting. I'm so happy that I have a decent amount of time to spend here, even if I do have to give a lecture about "Living and Working in California." Luckily I have a few days to figure this out.

After checking into the hotel, my hosts took me to the Kazak Autonomous Region Museum. It's a small museum with an amazing collection, including a Scythian statuette (referred to in the museum as "Sakas") that I've seen in numerous history books. Highly recommended. Plus I learned the Chinese word for "fiberglass" ("boligang").

We then visited a memorial to the Qing Dynasty General Lin Zexu, who confiscated and destroyed opium shipments in the midst of the Opium Wars and was rewarded for his patriotism by exile to Xinjiang. I was sort of overwhelmed at this point but did point out that the display they'd labeled "Marijuana" was actually "Hashish." You know, doing my bit for historical accuracy.

After that, we had a dinner at the University restaurant. Delicious! I met some of my friend's colleagues, locals from Xinjiang, visiting scholars from Beijing and the head of the Department, a Henan man and former Army officer, who even though I couldn't understand a lot of what he said, really knows how to tell a joke.

Much toasting went on. I think I had a job offer. You know, I'm tempted. Can I bring my cats?

Tomorrow we're going to the Kazak border and I'm not sure where else. I'll keep you posted. Speaking of posts, I have a lot of catching up to do, but contrary to my fears and my experience with the internet in Urumqi, I have a really fast connection here. Assuming I'm not out drinking to the wee small hours, and even if I am, look to these pages for fresh content.

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