Driving in China can be a pain, for reasons I hardly need to list here (but will, since Web Logs were created for just this sort of venting) -- traffic, severe traffic, traffic caused by fights between traffic cops, traffic regulations, traffic accidents.... Luckily, China's Ministry of Public Security has an extensive test to prepare this country's would-be drivers for the stress, frustration, and Weltschmerz of the road...
Ever since Kasim Abdurehim, the founder of the private English school Atlan, took third place in a national English-speaking contest in 2004, Uyghurs have found their way into the final rounds of almost every major English speaking competition in China. This year was no exception. Although Uyghurs represent less than one percent of China’s population, they consistently beat Han contestants from the best schools in the country.
We were hit by the sudden cold and absolute blackness. The only light came from our torches. Not a drop of sunlight penetrated the silt and algae above us. It was like entering another world, with all our senses altered -- until we spotted the Wall.
It was a busy week in Ürümchi: musicals, archeology exhibits, art shows, a ComiCon festival, and thousands of visitors from outside the “autonomous” region. Special bus lines were put in place; millions of potted flowers were carefully arranged in sculpted dune patterns; and street corners were plastered with giant red billboards that featured -- a la the Shanghai Expo 2010 -- a dancing cartoon named Heavenly Horse Star (Tianma Xingqi), the slogan “Opening-up and Cooperating for the Building of the Silk Road Economic Belt,” and the logo for the fourth China-Eurasia Trade Expo.
It's a decent day. Outdoors, I mean. We shouldn't be doing this. We shouldn't be checking our WeChat groups as friends report what portals are working and which are not -- "Sweden 2 is okay" ... "...and, not any more!" -- we shouldn't be obsessively clicking refresh on our gmail tab as if the government has decided just in the previous five seconds to unblock the service, and we shouldn't be cooped up in cubicles or monstrosities of home-office complexes twiddling our thumbs like simian slaves of a machine that won't even let us work. We should all go to the park and play Frisbee.
The new documentary film Diamond in the Dunes, directed by Christopher Rufo, tells the coming-of-age story of a Uyghur man named Parhat as he finds his way through college. It shows us how he and his Uyghur and Han classmates at Xinjiang University develop a passion for a game, for abilities and skills that don’t rely on ethnicity or Chinese business connections. It shows us how the citywide riots of 2009 shaped their life-paths and how they found ways to move forward despite the difficulties of their circumstances.
WHAT was missed: The 11th Beijing Independent Film Festival (BIFF)
WHEN things went down: August 23rd (scheduled to run through August 31)
WHERE films were to be shown: Beijing’s Songzhuang artists’ district, at the Li Xianting Film Fund
HOW MANY films were denied an audience: 76. 76!!
Chairman Mao once said, "Without destruction there is not construction. The destruction is the criticism, the revolution. The destruction comes first, it of course brings the construction.” In recent years this quote has been taken literally, and the character 拆 (chāi), which means to "tear down," adorns the entrances of many-a-doomed domiciles. The phenomenon has evolved so that the Chinese have nicknamed their country 拆那 (chāinà - get it?), referring to the daily razings that make way for growth.
It's been two weeks since the Uyghur rock star Perhat Khaliq took on The Voice of China, and the Uyghur Internet is still buzzing about the way he delivered his songs of loss and longing to a national audience.
Perhat surprised everyone with the painful tension in his voice. Strumming an acoustic guitar, he started his song in a low, almost spoken-word register that slowly evolved into a full roar.
On Friday, the first of August, we woke up to the sound of an explosion in the alley. It was a deep resonate boom: not a firecracker, not a gunshot. It was a window-rattling explosion. We knew immediately what it meant: mangled bodies, screaming women, terrified children, a suicide bomber. But when I leaned out the window, I saw a young man with a fire extinguisher putting out a few small fires next to a mangled three-wheel cart.
The giant 41-meter Buddha faces due west. It seems to embrace the construction on the other side of Bright Red Mountain on the northeast periphery of Ürümchi. Behind him, the constant ring of hammers and the roar of Bingtuan Construction Engineering Company trucks rise from the still-unfinished wing of the new Hilton hotel and the alien-looking international expo center. Every few minutes the low industrial roar is punctuated by the “dong” of a giant bell. Chants of A-mi-tuo-fo are carried intermittently on the breeze.
A lot of people turned out for the final day of the Xinjiang Art Biennale on July 20 at the International Expo Center. The massive complex, situated next to a giant Buddha and Hilton Hotel in the city's northeast, echoed with the sounds of an original score by Philip Glass called “Encounter on the Silk Road.” Indeed, exhibition was heavy on spectacle. Giant video screens, paintings, and sculptures drew the largely Han crowd into massive spaces lit by natural light. Smartphone cameras were often raised at the mesmerizing objects, which called the viewer to contemplate Xinjiang as “a land of many colors.”
It's Friday night just past midnight. You're standing on a curb in Sanlitun after a pint/dinner/book talk/whatever looking for a cab. You see a green and yellow car driving your way, the little red light in the windshield beckoning. Already thinking of that book on your bedside, you raise your hand high and step forward in anticipation.
Thank you to all who attended Flash Fiction for Charity on July 13 at Great Leap Brewing. We collected 2,450 RMB for Educating Girls of Rural China.
We'll be posting our five readers' entries this week, culminating in a podcast of the full event on Friday. To start, here's Daniel Tam-Claiborne, author of the novel What Never Leaves, with his short story "If Not for the Melon."
Okay folks, here's your final reminder that Flash Fiction for Charity is happening this afternoon at 2:30 pm at Great Leap Brewing's Original No. 6. All the details you need are here. On a semi-related note, while Beijing Cream will still post over the summer (Beige Wind on Thursdays, in particular), I'll personally be scaling back for about two months starting next week (travel, etc), so come by and say hi and I'll let you know how you can help us keep going.
Our charity for tomorrow's community fiction event is Educating Girls of Rural China, which provides financial aid and other support for deserving young women from rural areas (principally Gansu province, but also Qinghai and Guizhou) to continue their educations. Since its establishment in 2005, EGRC has awarded 435 university and high school scholarships. The organization boasts a 100 percent graduation success rate.