full circle.


I find it strange that, despite being agnostic, every time I finish a meditation I almost invariably bow my head and say thank you…to something…

Just an odd little musing to begin my little today’s writing with.

I’m really meant to be finishing off an essay for one of my Chinese modules this evening, but as I was walking home from my weekend-ly shop and coffee shop reading stop, I decided that what really clinched a higher point on the importance ladder was actually writing something on the web again.

I’ve been at uni for around 2 months now, and i’ve spent that time breaking the rules of being a student. What on earth do I mean by that?

Firstly, there is a myth that all first years do not in fact do any work.

This is almost true.

There are however some that end up working all the time, and it appears that a happy combination of German and Chinese (with a module in Arabic on the side) kind of forces your free time to take a holiday without you.

I’m actually loving being so busy though. It feels great to never even have a chance of being bored. Sure, I’ve had no time to write this poor, ignored, blog, among other hobbies, but to spend every hour doing things that interest you is awesome.

And that thought brings me round nicely to an interesting fact…

I believe one of the first things I ever wrote about online was the importance of doing what you believe in/have interest in/ are passionate about and how empowering that is. It seems that ideas move in circles, but beautiful, expanding circles that somehow meet again points where they are poignant .

What is poignant about right now for me then?

It’s common (at least for me) for beginning uni students to be asked a difficult questions by their peers on an almost daily basis – “so what do you want to do in the future?”

Some have a clear goal. Other’s have a rough idea. Yet more have no idea whatsoever.

It’s a good question though, and one that I’ve answered with numerous answers, depending on what feels right. Sometimes the answer of “I don’t really know” seems right. Sometimes to declare my goals as “either being in academia, journalism or politics” is my response.

Other times the answer is ‘I want to be happy’.

Just so you, as the reader, know, I ‘ll interject on my own writing here and say that I didn’t begin writing today with any set goal as such on where my writing would lead, so apologies if this all seems disjointed. I will post this as soon as I’ve finished writing rather than proof-reading. It just seems right today to do so. This is therefore a semi-disclaimer for disjointed content!

The truth is, I have many loose goals, enclosed by the last one – to be happy.

and that, is perhaps why everything around me currently seems so poignant. I’m at university – it’s a big change. I’m doing something I really care about – that’s a big deal. I’ve come back from life changing experiences from living in far-western China for a year – that’s of huge important. I’m now also in the position to look back on that in retrospect – that is definitely, without a doubt a huge deal.

So yes, it seems that in hindsight to the beginnings of this blog i have come full circle. But that would suggest that i’m back at a rhetorical ‘square one’, surely?

I’m not ashamed to say that when I started writing this blog, I was in a dark dark place. I used to suffer from severe depression, which I only ever told one person the majority of. I didn’t even tell him everything, as despite not being depressed anymore, I keep some secrets to myself (as some of my friends will be aware of – trying to work out the enigma that is me!). I’m definitely not back to this point, and although I would never try to erase my days of depression – it made me who I am – I don’t want to ever go back to that abyss.

I have however held onto part of my depression – melancholy. Melancholy makes me happiest. Perhaps it’s seems totally wrong for that to be the case, but even great artists of the past have accepted melancholy as not just an interesting concept to explore, but essential for expression. In a way, I see my years of depression as now being essential to being as happy as I can be. Whether you can share this opinion or not, there is no way you can have such an intense form of happiness without melancholy. So I hold that it seems things have come full circle, but those

circles are growing wider, more open, more all-encompassing.

Like a good, deep meditation.

And so this post too comes full circle.

Which makes it the perfect time to end.

I leave you with a picture of this time last year. Near the edge of western China, where it meets the stans. Yining, Xinjiang province.

Yining, Xinjiang province China

Yining, Xinjiang province China

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for reading, have a wonderful day.

A thought for today.


Now that I’ve been back from China for around 3 weeks or so, I’ve started noticing things in a more objective way again finally. It has been a constant struggle with how strange everything that once was so normal seems, but now it’s a little easier to just…well, think.

I want to share with you a little thought therefore which has found its way into my brain over the last few days, observing the people round me, and myself. (and if you’ve never done any work on observing yourself through mindfulness, research it for a bit – it’s useful stuff!)

One thing that I developed over a year abroad in China was an intense case of being much more calm and collected and this has made me notice just how angry and upset many people get over very small things. It’s not just this however, because it clearly is personally destructive to get flustered easily. The majority of people in the world are more stressed than they need to be, because they create their own stress.

So my thought for today is this. Do you get annoyed too easily, and if so, in what way?

Do you get angry when someone undertakes your car on the daily commute?

Do you get upset perhaps when a family member shouts at you for something seemingly minor?

How about when your toast burns?

Or does the state of the world shake you into a rage?

Obviously some of those are more serious than than the others, but they don’t need to make anyone angry. If you just notice these things, then accept them, that negativity will start to fade away.

Calm and collected people will also inevitably affect those around around them. If someone gives no conflict at all in return to a negative action or remark, that goodness gets noticed. One chilled out person can make a lot of people in one day that little bit happier.

Be that person.

P1020515

Back in the UK but let’s talk about Xinjiang.


And so I have left the middle kingdom and come back to the UK. I may have basically disappeared for a year, other than the occasional ‘I’m still alive!’ post when I could find a VPN, but it certainly didn’t mean i was gone forever. I’ve got a blog to write afterall…

I did consider writing a bit about my personal time in China in this blog, but I changed my mind. I also considered doing what I usually do here – that is have some poetry, about China. But I changed my mind again. Instead, I thought I would share my piece of writing on the province I spent my year in, as there are things happening there that the majority of the world doesn’t get to hear about.

When you think of China, do you think of Bamboo, temples and Pandas? Maybe you imagine the giant skyscraper-dominated metropolises like Shanghai and Chongqing?

My China was rather different, living in the far west desert and camels were slightly more prevalent than the stereotypes!

I won’t give you an introduction to what my little article is about here, i’ll just let you read it instead. If you haven’t seen the very very few news reports from the area, or heard about it somewhere, you may be surprised about Xinjiang…

And on a quick side note before you read, if you decide to follow my blog just on this post, you may be disappointed, as this is not my usual sort of post, so here is an apology beforehand!

                     Xinjiang-multicultural or anti-cultural?

 

Welcome to Chinese central Asia, a place that depending on where you are in its vast expanses could be almost anywhere in the continent. Sometimes you could find yourself in deserts reminiscent of the middle-east, and sometimes on emerald green plains just like those in Mongolia. You could even be mistaken for thinking you had stumbled into Russia in certain places. Although admittedly these countries do indeed all have borders with Xinjiang, the geographical similarities don’t always fit nicely onto those lines.

 

It is not surprising then, considering the diversity and size of the landscape, that Xinjiang is just as diverse in its peoples. Completely aside from the Han, the majority group and the stereotype of ‘Chinese’, there are the many minority groups. The most numerous minority groups are perhaps the Uighurs and the Kazakhs, both of Turkish roots, but the region also is home to Mongols, Russians and Tibetans, among others. The Chinese official word on the relationships between all these groups is that every group lives in peace and harmony, learning from each other and contributing to a truly multicultural society.

 

This claim is however not quite as simple as the Han would like the world to believe. In considering how multicultural or not Xinjiang is, one must critically explore a number of different topics such as: the economy and planned economic developments; actual relationships between minority groups and an understanding of regional tensions; the politics of the region (especially that which is concerned with borders and control), and the history of Xinjiang, and indeed China as a whole.

 

Contest and Tension

 

As would be expected with a region aptly named ‘new frontier’, Xinjiang has not always been Chinese. Owing to its historical imperialistic nature and bloody past, Parts of Xinjiang have gone in and out of China’s control for hundreds of years, but numerous empires have had its fair share of the region over history. Areas such as Kashgaria and Ili could have been considered states of their own at times or colonies of other countries. The Ili region for example was at one point contested by Russia and China. Even Britain had its eyes on the green plains in the shadow of the Tian Shan Mountains, for if they had managed to colonize Tibet.

 

Xinjiang’s heavily contested past is important, because it is much the same today. Without understanding that different powers have had their influence on the region, we can’t understand the relationship between the Han Chinese and some of the minority groups. Before China made a decisive move to secure Xinjiang completely for itself (along with Tibet and Guangdong) under Mao’s government, the area was generally known as Turkestan. Some Uighur activist groups claim that Xinjiang should still be Turkestan and want what they consider their country back.

 

Even if China were willing to ‘withdraw’ from Xinjiang, it probably would no longer be possible. Mao’s means to secure Xinjiang was to flood the region with Han Chinese and build new cities until Han were the majority in a place that beforehand had almost only minority groups. This act alone would no doubt have upset the Xinjiang locals, completely excluding the current claims of racism, ethnic tensions and destruction of culture.

 

If we look to Tibet, a region in a similar position, we see risings to make Tibet an independent country but interestingly it remains 93% (as of 2008) Tibetan ethnicity, in contrast to over 50% Han in Xinjiang. Tibet has support from some western pressure groups to stop sinicization, yet Xinjiang is widely ignored.

 

‘Develop the West’

Support for Tibet often attacks the government’s ‘develop the west’ policy – which officially is a scheme to bring the western provinces out of slum-like conditions and poverty – yet this policy is also contributing currently to the slow destruction of Kashgar’s old town, among other locations throughout Xinjiang. In short, the minorities of Xinjiang are in the same, if not worse position, of a province which is the target of international human rights pressure.

 

One must however consider the other side of the ‘develop the west’ scheme. It is true that many traditional houses and buildings have been demolished in the name of development, but health conditions have almost certainly improved and modernization does open new opportunities for the people of Xinjiang. Although it would be a push to talk of clean water in China, running water is readily available now in even the most isolated of towns, even in the desert. Xinjiang is now not only not lacking in electricity, but is actually China’s largest producer and slowly becoming a pioneer in renewable sources. In the Turpan basin, wind turbines stretch for miles, and solar panels exploit the intense sunlight of China’s hottest place. China became the world’s largest producer of wind energy in 2010, with a large proportion of that output coming from Xinjiang.

 

Energy production has also unfortunately created a less favourable side-effect – very high levels of air pollution. In personal experience, I was told by one friend in Kuitun, that she ‘remembered when the snow was white and the sky was sometimes blue’ in winter. The air pollution did indeed get so bad that snow turned grey in a day of settling. Mentioned in the above paragraph was the renewable sources of the region, but of course this air pollution does not stem from wind turbines. Oil and coal burning is also a huge producer of energy in Xinjiang, and the negative environmental effects have developed so quickly that the majority of people in Xinjiang can remember a time where air and skies were clean.

 

‘Develop the West’ can also be seen to be rather short-sighted in its plans. Xinjiang may be rich in resources, but one resource this arid, desert region lacks is water and there is a risk that there is simply not enough to support the rapidly increasing population. With less than 5% habitable land in Xinjiang due to water shortages, can it support the continuing migration to the region? Urumqi has in the past always been one of the most habitable places, yet even the capital is now feeling the strain of lack of water. Climate change is reported to be threatening its water sources, yet despite that there are plans to build pipelines across Xinjiang to bring water from the more eastern side of the province to the drier west. Water problems have become and will continue to be one of Xinxiang’s greatest challenges.

The Chinese government’s ‘develop the west’ plans make sense from the most basic understanding of it – to bring wealth to some of the poorest regions of China – but it is currently doing as much damage as it is development. It also seems to contribute more to the Han migrants rather than minority groups, who are losing cultural heritage and their environment.

 

Unrest and violence

 

As previously discussed, Xinjiang has long been a contested region between many groups of peoples. In more recent times this contest has mainly been between Han Chinese and Uighurs. Since 2008 attacks labeled as separatist violence have taken place over Xinjiang. In July 2009 Riots broke out in the capital, Urumqi, claiming 200 lives by official numbers. A source of my own, a policeman with access to police videos believes the fatal casualties to be at least three times that, but he was admittedly not present at the riots. The riots on 5th July began as protests, but became violent part way through. The government issued a statement claiming the riots to had been planned abroad by outlaws.

 

The cause of the protests is said to have been a violent incident at a factory which started due to a serious false accusation against Uighur co-workers. This is easy to believe, considering the high levels of racism towards the Uighur minority in Xinjiang. Although the majority of people will not be openly aggressive towards Uighurs in the streets, many will openly talk of their dislike of them. Some of this dislike is extreme – for example, a Han Chinese in Kuitun suggested genocide of Uighurs to me as a solution for peace in the province.

 

Just this year, violence has once again been on the rise, with major incidents within the province in many towns including Urumqi and Kashgar, as well as terrorist attacks on Kunming and Guangzhou train stations, reportedly instigated by Uighur extremist groups. In response, the Chinese military now has a very strong presence across the province and the government has declared a crackdown on ‘terrorism’.

 

Although trying to stop violence is no doubt the correct thing to do, the Chinese Government’s approaches have been questionable to say the least. A few weeks after a very serious attack on a market in Urumqi, the roads in the centre of the city were closed without warning. A procession of soldiers and tanks then made their way through the city, playing speeches from megaphones of ‘peace and harmony’ as they went. These troops and vehicles are now dispersed across the city in such places as the grand bazaar (predominantly Uighur area) and outside mosques (Uighurs are a Muslim minority group). These of course, are true signs of peace and harmony.

 

These shows of power seem to have made the military and police forces believe it is acceptable to be unnaturally aggressive themselves. The police for example was previously not allowed to carry weaponry, yet now in Xinjiang a large proportion of the force have firearms. Outside of the school where I worked, for the last month there was an armed police guard – armed with automatic rifles and spears. In Fukang, a friend caught on camera the moment where a SWAT van drove up next to a Uighur family, surrounded them with armed police, checked their papers, ripped the papers up and through the family into the back of the van. It has become a common sight in Xinjiang cities to see riot police marching through the streets on patrols. These are just a small number of the signs of increasing aggression in the region from the authorities.

 

Even outside of Xinjiang, Uighurs are being persecuted. A leading Uighur academic working in Beijing was thrown in prison after criticising the way the government was treating Uighurs. He was labeled a separatist by official sources. One must also ask, why should it be a crime to be separatist?

 

Other minority groups of Xinjiang

 

This article has mainly tackled the concerns between Han Chinese and Uighur peoples, but it is important to consider the other minority groups and how they are treated. In Urumqi, there is a Russian quarter separate from Han and Uighur parts of town. One could argue that they don’t seem to fully integrate therefore into the wider community, but it is relatively common across the world to have areas of cities where a minority group almost completely owns it.

 

In the majority of cities, Kazakhs live happily integrated with the Han. However, talking to some Kazakhs, I found out that some are concerned about if some of the laws used against Uighurs (Xinjiang has a number of derogatory laws that only affect Uighurs) will effect them in the future. As Kazakhs, like Uighurs, are generally Muslim, some could well suffer from laws slowly coming into place that appear targeted at Muslim groups – two examples being a move to ban religious Muslim clothes and beards in Karamay, and a ban on Ramadan fasting. In general however, it does appear the other minorities of Xinjiang do not feel anywhere near as oppressed as the Uighurs. Part of this could be that Kazakhs, Russians, Tajiks and Mongolians all have their own countries bordering the region and so they don’t find their way of life threatened in the same way as the Uighurs do – the Uighurs do not have their own country, and if their culture is lost in China, it will be gone forever.

 

Is Xinjiang ‘multicultural’?

 

Returning finally to the rather sensationalist title of this article, it is time to address the original question using the prior information. In order for a country to be multicultural, one would expect the people, in general, to live contently together, regardless of ethnicity. The tensions between the different ethnic groups say otherwise, and hence it’s advised not to listen to the recording when you fly into Urumqi for the first time speaking of harmony and respect between all peoples of Xinjiang. Multiculturalism requires an acceptance of all cultures, not a drive to wipe out all cultures but one.

 

The government’s complete misunderstanding (or choice to ignore) of the reasons for violence highlights the ‘Han culture is best’ attitude that leads to sinification. Each time there is an attack, Uighur groups from abroad will voice that the cause is oppression and destruction of culture, and the government will ignore the claims and declare the acts as mindless terrorism and accept no blame of their own. This ignorance, on purpose or not, is not the sign of a multicultural region.

 

Then there is the military and government response. The sad irony of marching the military through a capital city whilst playing slogans of unity and peace is impossible not to see, and the concentration of troops in minority areas accentuates that the authorities don’t believe their own words.

 

Kazakh and Uighur culture is used as a tourist attraction rather than actually respecting it and this is the Chinese way. If you visit Yunnan province, the region famous for its diversity of minority groups, you will find that new ‘old’ towns built in order to make minority culture into money, and also make it appear more Han Chinese. From a very cynical point of view, it is interesting that the Yunnan old towns keep on burning down and being rebuilt in a more Han style, filled with tourist shops rather than homes and small businesses. One must also consider Inner Mongolia, which now has very little Mongolian culture in it. Hohhot is now infamously a generic concrete Han city, with all things Mongolian stripped out of it. Most Ethnic Mongolians have even forgotten their language.

 

For me, it is clear to see the ultimate goal of the authorities in Xinjiang. They do not want a multicultural region, but instead another Inner Mongolia – a region where minority culture has been suppressed to the point that it can be used as part of tourism, but has no place as living, breathing culture. The current year long ‘terrorism’ crackdown is the perfect opportunity for them to really begin to do serious damage to the cultures of Xinjiang, through fear-mongering and targeted further ‘develop the west’ development. Although terrorism and violence is never justified, there is no doubt that the Xinjiang unrest is, and as a result the province cannot be called the multicultural region that the government would like you to believe.

 

2 weeks until I can end my year-long blogging gap…


Hello dear readers, who have no doubt almost forgotten of my existence over the course of the last year! As I’m sure some of you remember, I had disappeared from the face of the internet due to being in China this year and hence having to contend with the infamous great firewall of China.

Now, I have reached my last two weeks here, and i’m very excited to say I will be returning to writing very soon afterwards. Right now (as you would be right to ask ‘how on earth are you writing now then, if you’re still in China??’) my hostel has a VPN, but that has been a rather rare occurrence during my time here and i’ve used all those opportunities to contact family and friends rather than the blogging community.

Before I left for China, my writing was mainly poetry, with the occasional odd article on languages or other odd bits and bobs. Over the course of this year I have changed a fair bit, so don’t be surprised if the tone of this site changes slightly, but I hope that you will still enjoy reading.

Until two weeks time, I shall see you!

6 months silence, 6 months silence to go.


Hello, It’s been a while hasn’t it? Nice to briefly write once more.

I have now been in China, unbelievably, for 6 months. This means I have also been unable to write my blog for 6 months as I have no VPN. Currently I’m using a friend’s computer to write this – which is a shame because I dearly wish I could still write on this blog during my stay here in China.

I simply can’t shrink the last 6 months into one post, so I am writing today mainly to refer you all once again to my current blog substitute. http://www.offexploring.com/tvg-in-china. I apologise profusely for how horrific the website is, but hey, it’s not blocked!

If you want to find out about the wonders of my time living in Xinjiang, China, and of my travels outside of my new home, go take a look.

Oh, and in a few days there will be much more to read, as I have the whole of my spring festival holiday to write about yet…and the writing will be extensive.

Well, that’s really it – I shall see you all again in another 6 months!

Moving to a new blog for a year..


Dear fellow bloggers, As of now, I will be using a different blog for the following year. In 18 days, I will be moving the China for a year, and the new blog, which you can find here, is following my time there. feel free to follow what I’m up to in China, but for now, this particular blog isn’t going to be particularly active.

Ni Hao! it’s the beginning and the end…


I said I would return after the stress of exams disappeared, and I didn’t lie!

So…this means I should get back to writing.

This post therefore shall be a ‘what’s happened in the last bit of time since forever then?’ post.

I have, as I said right at the start there, finished my exams and officially no longer a school student. It may be a year late, but I got to the end eventually! Next stop on life’s journey is China and I found out since last time i wrote exactly where I am going. My home for a year will be a city called ‘Kuitun‘ in ‘xinjiang’ province (which I recently found yesterday I have been pronouncing wrong…).

So! A little about xinjiang! It is the most north-west province in China, sharing borders with countries such as Mongolia, tajikistan, Pakistan and even a tiny little bit of Russia. In other words, it’s big. The biggest in China in fact. Apparently it may just be around three times the size of France. For just one province…

It is also the world’s most inland region. So not surprisingly, large areas are desert. Having spent my life so far in the UK – not known for its great deserts – this will be an experience. This particular desert is the Gobi desert, which (I believe) is famous for being the end of the Silk road. If living in a desert in an obscure part of China for a year can’t get me writing again, I don’t know what can…so watch this space over the next year, as as long as I actually can get onto wordpress through the Chinese internet censoring etc, this blog should be flooding with exciting things. If not, there will definitely be a blog from me in some form or the other, somewhere hidden on the internet.

The real reason I’ve put the title I have here as the Title was (other than the self-explanatory ni hao (without the tones! Oh how horrible it is to look at without them!)) that I just happened to be listening to a song of the same name (anathema – the beginning and the end), but it seemed to fit rather nicely. My exams finish, signalling the end of school – something which, although it is not amazing to admit it, ends up essentially being a person’s life until they leave it. That is the ‘end’. At the same time, it is the beginning. The beginning of something fresh and new. “Nothing that doth change, but doth suffer a sea change”. Sorry, Shakespeare just felt right there. Changed slightly so it fits better. Within a few months I will know if I will spend my university years in London or Aberdeen, and prior to going I will be in China. As far as I’m concerned, there aren’t many things which are a new ‘beginning’ as that.

And I hope that words come streaming from it. There has been a great lack of them outside of essays for far too long.

English: The Gobi Desert stretches into Inner ...

English: The Gobi Desert stretches into Inner Mongolia, China. 中文: 内蒙古的戈壁沙漠。 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Disclaimer! The picture, although the same desert, is in mongolia and not Xinjiang! It is a rather large desert, stretching into many countries.