Friday, November 04, 2005


There are a couple of things that I wanted to write about in my last post but didn't get around to because I thought I was pressed for time, but in the end I have been forced to stay a few days longer in Kashgar as the bus for Pakistan won't leave until it is full enough to make it worth their while. This did allow me, however, to witness the Eid al-Fitr (end of Ramadan) celebrations. The festivities started off with (what seemed like) the entire town, dressed in their Friday best, massing at the mosque for prayers. Not only was the mosque full, but the entire square as well. Prayer mats everywhere and the sermon blaring from loudspeakers. I tried to get to the roofs of several buildings to get a picture of the throng but was always pulled down by overzealous security guards. Then, after the sermon I guess the people were feeling rather peckish after a month's fasting, so there followed an entire day of feasting. There was also music and continuous dancing (though only by the men). The dance was very simple, but made up for it by being a marathon. Several hundred men formed a rather loose circle in the square and would go round and round to the rather constant beats of the tablas being played on the mosque roof (forward, back, spin with arms raised; forward, back, spin with arms raised...). The extra days have also allowed my stools to get slightly more solid in preparation for the bus journeys ahead, which will allow me to appreciate the beauty of the landscape without having to concentrate on controlling my sphincter muscles.

But now to the things I left out in my last post. I mentioned that the Chinese are fond of disregarding signs, and this can be particularly annoying when you're sat on a long-distance bus with a crowd of chain smokers and no ventilation. I have therefore developed a new hobby whilst here. I've started demanding that people stop smoking, or when I see them dropping litter (and especially if there is a bin nearby) I tell them to pick it up again. And because they know I'm in the right (especially if they're sitting under a no smoking sign), and generally the Chinese will try to avoid confrontation, they just give an embarrassed smile and put out their cigarettes (or pick up their litter). Sometimes they may try to ignore me, but on a bus there's nowhere to flee and I can get very voluble. The great thing is that they can't really insult me or talk back (which would be the most common response back home) because I just don't understand them and I just keep pestering them. It's great fun and gives me a fantastic feeling of accomplishment.

I also wanted to talk about Chinese writing. Although learning Chinese characters can seem like a daunting task, and in the long term to master the written language is extremely difficult, it is not necessary to master a whole alphabet so one can start picking up characters straight away. Plus it's possible to invent your own little stories to help you memorise the various characters. Some of the more complex characters are combinations of simpler ones and seem to have their own perverse logic, although others just leave me baffled. For example the symbol for "garden" is a combination of the symbols for "money" placed within the symbol for "mouth". Now I still haven't been able to find a Chinese person who can fully explain what putting money into your mouth has to do with gardens. On the other hand, the character for "peace" is made up of the character for "woman" under a "roof" symbol. Now that, to me, makes perfect sense: you can't have peace unless the women are at home. Well, I think I've insulted enough people for one post so I'll stop here. Hopefully my next contribution will be from Pakistan.

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