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Xi'an/China General News
Datong -
I just got back from Datong, Shanxi. My school organized this trip, so this time I was traveling with all my classmates and two teachers. The trip wasn’t that fun, it was like joining a tour group, I had to follow the big group all the time, and our travel schedule was occupied with visiting historical spots which I wasn't that interested in.

After having done many backpacking trips, I got bored a lot this time, and I missed home. I'd never missed Hangzhou when I was traveling, but this time I couldn't wait to get out of Datong. One big reason-- pollution. Datong is one of the worst polluted cities in China. There're many coal mines in that city, and people there rely on coal a lot (cooking, heating...). Chimneys are everywhere, the air quality is really bad (air smells horrible!). It hardly rains in that area, most rivers have been dried up. And in spring they also suffer sandstorm every now and then... I've been to some dry areas, but it's my first time to see a dry place with so many environmental problems.

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Time for some introspection
Sure - you may have harboured fantastic illusions of 6am tai chi sessions followed by fresh fruit breakfasts direct from the countryside before hopping on your bike to work/school/the commune. A low-fat diet, heaps of reading, bit of dabbling with the lingo - you’re not even three months in and you feel 21 again, cholesterol and stress levels back down to zero, right?

Ha. It all goes sour when you realise just how early 6am is. Especially just to go and wave a cardboard fan around with the old dears in a car park, at the mercy of the freezing morning wind. Then, your ideal breakfast is reduced to your inhaling of a few baozi as you run to work, late - and hungover, since last night you discovered tequila’s sick cousin, Baijiu. You don’t even smoke, but within 6 months, Beijing’s air will allow you too to sample the lungs of an 80-year old asthmatic first hand, plus the skin complexion to match.

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Cross-cultural communication
Some time ago, I read an interesting linguistic article called Inscrutability Revisited by Linda Wai Ling Young ("Language and Social Identity", 1982, Cambridge University Press) comparing English with Chinese discourse strategies, and arguing that, basically a lot of the frustration English speakers encounter in "getting things done" in China can be attributed to a clash between acceptable discourse strategies between the languages. The article argues that the choice of discourse strategies employed by speakers of either languages is in fact determined by the structure of the language itself. It notes that many utterances (some 50% of them) in Chinese follow a grammatical structure typed as "topic-comment" which stands in direct contrast to the format of European (inc. English) languages which is described as "subject-predicate".

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Tedious Taxi Trouble
Cab driver got the full whack of my jetlagged frustration as I arrived into the capital this morning. A female cab driver, I might add - always a novelty over here, but in my epic experience, on balance they do tend to be the ones that rip you off even more blatantly than their male counterparts. And this specimen certainly did herself proud.

If you’ve ever arrived at Beijing airport, you’ll know the score - before you’ve even got your baggage there’s already some geezer puffing on a fag collaring you for a cab. “Taxi SIR!!?” - I scowl - “Maybe later” he concedes, moving onto the next whitey and his fabled bulging wallet. Once in the arrival halls, the floodgates are unleashed as all manner of brown-coated shifty-looking males attempt to lure you into their respective rattling vehicles.

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Hot and Noisy
One of the things about living in China is that you just can’t get any damn time to yourself. Wherever you go, no matter how far, there will ALWAYS be someone else there. If you climb the most distant part of the Great Wall, a little old lady will follow you all the way up trying to sell you cruddy postcards.

If you climb some far off sacred mountain, there will be someone at the peak trying to flog you a picture book, a bottle of fake water or some instant noodles. On the other hand, Chinese people seem to be cool with this. They find comfort in groups: Chinese people like “

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