26 July, 2012


What’s the point of having a holiday if you have to make it up on the weekend?

I have received this question literally every time I explain how universities in China handle holiday schedules. For example, 4 April this year was the date for Qingming Jie, or the Tomb Sweeping festival. With the holiday on Wednesday, I was informed by my school that we would have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off. (Before you get too excited, remember the question above.) Even though the holiday was for three days, Monday and Tuesday’s classes were to be made up on the Saturday and Sunday preceding the holiday.

So what’s the point of having a holiday if you have to make it up on the weekend? 不知道. I don't know. I bitterly asked myself that question as I taught Saturday and again on Sunday, but the bitterness quickly faded after class on Sunday, because I had plans to travel regardless.

The goal was to tour some of the cities along the Silk Road—known ‘round these parts as the Hexi Corridor. First stop was Jiayuguan, even though it almost wasn’t. On the train there, the city right before is Jiuquan, which sounds pretty similar when announced over a scratchy, echo-y speaker. We were off the train before we saw a sign and realised we were in the wrong place. Most of the doors were closed, so we raced along the train, pounding on windows until we found a door that (luckily) had not been closed yet.
In the museum, there were
quite a few preserved bricks
with paintings on them.

The city was much smaller than I anticipated (no judgement, just an observation). However, that didn’t make too much of a difference. We were there to see the western extension of the Great Wall just outside the city, as well as the large fort that connects to it (you can actually see the fort as you go by on the train, which is a pretty cool sight). There was a museum on-site, but it was in Chinese, and I’m not great at history to begin with, so if you’re looking for a lot of historical information about the fort, this may be a disappointing post for you (that is, unless you follow all the links I've already imbedded).

In the fort, they had a little archery stand set up. Because
it's China, they only had right-handed bows. As you can
see, that wasn't going to stop me. (Also, an apology to my
brother, an archery instructor, for insisting to fire a bow
Both were a lot of fun to see and explore, and it was made better by my amazing travel companions, two other foreign teachers at my uni. Yann is French and Loretta is Lithuanian. I must also give credit to Yann, as some of the photos in this post are from him. 
Backward or not, I'm a pretty good
(read: lucky) shot. 

This is the first panorama I've tried to upload. Let's see how it turns out. 
The Wall.
Looking back.

After a day of enjoying what Jiayuguan has to offer (including delicious roujiamo, which has become one of my favourite Chinese foods), we hopped on a bus headed south, to Zhangye. It was a big win for me that morning, because I successfully bought the tickets, speaking Chinese, without any problems. Sure, I technically learned that ten months previously in PST, but it was the first time I had successfully used it. 

Bus rides are long; normal buses are not made for people my height, and Chinese buses are even worse. Even though the ride only took five hours, I had never been happier to walk around than when we arrived in Zhangye. However, that also may have had to do with how great the city was.

I have a few friends who teach in the city, and they always spoke highly of it. Now I understand why. It had everything I like about Lanzhou, and nothing that I don’t. It is the northern-most Peace Corps site as well as the furthest from Peace Corps headquarters in Chengdu, and the icing on the cake, the nicest city I've visited in China. 
I took this photo because I knew
there would be signs saying no
photos inside the temple...

We spent a relaxing couple days seeing the sights in the city and exploring. One of the major attractions in the city is known as the Giant Sleeping Buddha. As you could guess by the name, it’s a ginormous statue of Buddha. Seriously, ginormous. Its toes are longer than I am tall. The statue is lying on its side, hence “sleeping”. That evening, we enjoyed a locally popular dish for dinner, called dapanji (大盘鸡).

Again, thanks to Yann for not seeing
(or ignoring, I never asked) that sign.
I'm not kidding: it's huge.

Po Cha: Yak butter, a little salt and
what we believe was barley flour.
The camp where we ate our meals.
What a view, right?
One of the days in Zhangye, we joined some of other volunteers who took a day-trip out to a place called Mati-Si. Up in the Tibetan plateau, we got an opportunity to explore Buddhist temples built directly into the mountain. We ate traditional Tibetan foods for both lunch and dinner, and in between went hiking up into the mountains.

If you're wondering how
to get to the temple up in
the mountain, see below.
The visitor-friendly guard
rails made it a lot easier to
The altars in the mountain were
Buddhism: not for the
My understanding was that there were supposed to be trails to follow up into the mountains; however, at this high of an altitude time of the year, the snow had not yet melted. We wandered up the snow and ice, through the woods, higher and higher. After a while, any semblance of a path we thought we were following had disappeared, so instead he hiked up the river, which was still frozen over. We spent hours going up, as high as we could before the ice became too steep and slippery to continue. 

Before we turned back, I needed at
least one photo of myself.

All in all, it was a pretty great trip. 


  1. You need to widen your stance slightly, get a left-handed bow, and use three fingers on the string instead of two. Your anchor point could be slightly further back, but I can't imagine that they had any arrows that were proper length for you.

    1. Tim, if you would have seen the arrows--or the bows for that matter--you would have just pushed the stand over. The arrows were a single, short piece of plastic. Even the fletchings were ripped and broken plastic. The nock on the back of the arrow wasn't in line with the fletchings, so when you fired it, they hit the bow. Also, the wind was blowing like the end of the world...

    2. That's no excuse for bad form!