Does Anybody Really Know What Time it is?

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article this week about the oddities of telling time in Xinjiang, China's westernmost province:

Kashgar, a city of 350,000 built around an oasis along the old Silk
Road, has two time zones, two hours apart. How you set your watch
depends not only on the neighborhood, but on your profession and
ethnicity, religion and loyalty. People living on both sides of the
time divide say there is little confusion because they have as little
to do with each other as possible.

A few years back I had the chance to travel to the city of Kashgar, and below is what I wrote about the Xinjiang time warp in a post I titled "Someone is in Denial."

I recently had the chance to spend a
few days in Kashgar, China's westernmost city.  It's about 2000 miles
west of Beijing, in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.  Flying time is
about 6 hours, with a mandatory change of planes in Xinjiang's capital,
Urumqi, which has the distinction of being the city in the world that
sits farthest from an ocean.  Two main groups of people live in
Kashgar–the local Uighur ethnic minority people, and the Han Chinese,
who have migrated to Xinjjiang since China assumed control of the
region in the early 20th century. 

Now, you know what happens when you travel west—the sun does too.
Apparantly that's not so obvious in China, a country that is slightly
bigger than the US, but still only has one time zone.  The entire
country is on Beijing time, the position of the sun notwithstanding. 
Officially then, Kashgar time is Beijing time–there is no time
difference.  But the locals know better–know that it's a bit silly for
your watch to show 9AM just as the sun is coming up over the horizon. 
So they operate on an unofficial "Xinjiang time."  It can get quite
confusing because all official things (train schedules, plane
schedules, banking and office hours) are according to Beijing time,
while informal things (meals, visiting friends, etc) are in local
time.  If your flight is scheduled to depart at 8AM, you'd better be
thinking about Beijing time, not local time, or you're going to miss
your flight by 2 hours.

It seems to me that someone in Kashgar is in denial, but I'm not
sure who it is.  Is it the  Han Chinese who are in denial that the
local time should have at least some relationship to the position of
the sun?  Or maybe they are in denial they they are out there instead
of enjoying the relative comfort and ease of Beijing.  Or are the
locals  in denial that the Chinese are in control? 

Perhaps it's a little bit of both.

The Harmonica Club

This afternoon I lunched with visitors at my new favorite restaurant in Beijing, Element Fresh. The tandoori chicken wrap is amazing.  After lunch I took them to visit a tea house run by a friend of mine. This 'tea house' is really a store front in a building that can only be described as a 'tea house mall.'  Every single shop is a tea house.  And not just any tea, but all specializing in Pu'er tea, from Yunnan province.  I don't even begin to understand the economics of it all. 

Ms. M actually has two establishments in the mall, a small one and a large one.  Before we left she took us downstairs to see the larger place, which she often rents out for small gatherings.  Today we happened upon a harmonica club meeting.  There were a half dozen people learning how to play the harmonica.  The arrival of three foreigners was a bit of a disruption, but when I asked if they'd play something, one guy seemed quite eager.  He asked where we were from and I told them America.  "OK, he said, I will play a song that is familiar to you," whereupon he grabbed his harmonica and mic, cupped them together over his mouth and started belting out "The House of the Rising Sun!"  Everyone cheered! 

After the obligatory "Beijing Harmonica Club has Friends from All Over the World" group photo, we went on our way, reminded again that so much of life here (especially as an outsider) seems to be random.  It's one of the things I love about Beijing.


It rained a bit in Beijing last night.  I know because all the cars in my apartment complex were covered with big splotches of mud. 

Springtime in Beijing. Gotta love it!

Talk About Ingenuity

Lest we Americans think we have the market cornered on ingenuity or good old fashioned 'know-how,' we really need to consider our Chinese competitors.

Newsweek recently ran an article about some very clever entrepreneurs who ply the banks of the Yangtze River in Wanzhou and give new meaning to the term Chinese Laundry:

Reporter Nick Mackie traveled to Wanzhou, perched on the banks of the Yangtze River, to see if residents were responding to the government's drive to boost domestic consumption of household goods.  With the economic crisis biting deeper, Beijing hopes that internal demand can soak up some of the made-for-export appliances–washing machinese, TV sets–that no longer have markets in the West.  He found an unusual scene down by the river.

Read the whole thing.  You won't be disappointed. 

Heat Wave

We had a mini heat wave in Beijing this week, with temps climbing into the 80's on Wednesday. I think that might be some sort of record high for the date.  I have 3 random observations on the heat wave:

1.  You know it's hot when you spot a man standing on the sidewalk with his shirt rolled under his arms, rubbing his belly.  It's a Beijing 'guy thing.'

2.  Because people here dress according to the calendar, not the weather, everyone still has at least one layer of long underwear on.  Long underwear is to be worn until May 1, no questions asked.  The result is that when it gets as warm as it did this week, everyone starts to sweat, meaning that the smell of perspirated garlic is heavy in the air.  (yes, I just made up that word, but it's OK, because I am the self-declared president of a Redactological Society).

3.  I really really wanted to wear sandals this week, but feared that the grannies in my neighborhood would either beat me up or have heart attacks.  It just didn't seem worth it.  They'd be horrified enough if they knew I shed my long underwear a month ago.

Temps are dropping even as I write, but it was fun while it lasted.

Smog Alert

I'm quite sure of one thing:  if the Twin Cities had smog like we had in Beijing today, the sirens would sound, the 'authorities' would order everyone indoors, and the National Guard would be mobilized to shoot on sight anyone caught outside, especially someone so foolhardy as to ride a bicycle (which is what I did today)!

Are You a Foreigner?

Yesterday a friend and I went to a new housing estate that's being built down the alley from where I live.  I've watched these buildings go up and was curious to see what the apartments are like.  None of the buildings are completed, but they have an active sales office on the main floor, so I assumed that they must have some model apartments ready to show prospective buyers.  That doesn't describe me, but the lease on my current apartment is up in August, and I just want to look around to see what else is out there.  Never hurts to shop around, right?

My American friend (very blond hair) and I walked into the lobby sales office and said we were interested in taking a look at an apartment.  The woman behind the counter looked at me in a state of semi-shock and asked "are you a foreigner?"  Now I've been in China for 25 years and have had virtually every imaginable question thrown at me, from 'can you use chopsticks' to 'why are you so fat,' but I have never, EVER been asked if I am a foreigner.  I stopped for a moment to ascertain if this woman in front of me who was busy filling out forms and reading papers might in fact be blind as a bat, but no, she wasn't—she looked right at me and asked the question. 

I replied that yes, we were foreigners, whereupon she informed me that since this complex was being  developed by a military work unit, they weren't allowed to sell to foreigners.  No problem, I said.  I woudn't want to buy anything, maybe just rent in the future.  She sucked her teeth (a Chinese non-verbal that means 'there is a problem'). Now the battle was joined.  "All the apartments are under construction.  There's nothing to see."  "Really?  Not even one?"  "No, there's nothing to see."  "But don't you have one or two model apartments to show prospective buyers?" "Well, yes."  "Ok, then can you show them to us?"  More sucking of teeth.  Once she realized that these two foreign women weren't going to leave until they'd seen an apartment, she gave up and took us to see the model apartments. 

They were gorgeous.  Too bad they can't sell to foreigners. 

Chinese Cars

A good friend who blogs from Shanghai gives a great description of the different types of Chinese cars that ply the roads here:

China has over 100 car manufacturers churning out ever more makes and
models of cars and its tough to tell your QQ from your Spark these days
(Hint: look for the annoying logo of the hydrocephalic penguin to find
the QQ).  In the pre-consolidation dawn of the China auto industry,
there are going to be some winners and losers, so instead of using
brand names to identify cars – brands which may or may not be around in
a few years – I like to identify cars on China’s roads by their
function – how they are actually used by their drivers.  I have come up
with several types:

Read the whole thing.  You won't be disappointed!