some kind of update

I survived, somehow, an entire month, thirty consecutive days of work, in China. I have been back in Melbourne for fewer than 10 days and am only just starting to feel human, only to find out this morning that I’m heading back to China in 4 days from now. I wrote a really long post on the plane the other night, after watching Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon for the second time ever (the first time was in 2000, in French, let’s say my experience was a little different this time around, watching it in Mandarin and getting all the historical/geographical/cultural references). I’ll spare my heartache review, let’s just say: urgh, China.

I’m even more frustrated because my repeated trips to China are pushing back the date I can apply for citizenship and a student loan. But on the positive side, my gross month in China got me back into running!

I can tell my body isn’t crazy about a return to this running thing but it’s so far putting up with it enough that I’m going to keep going. I’m even running a marathon (only I have a month to run the total distance, which is nice and safe). I’m alternating with Bikram, initially because I hoped stretching every other day would help with the running. So far, the running is making me very tight and making me extra-inflexible in Bikram, so there’s definitely something happening.

We’re entering the final countdown! less than 2 months until James comes home from Afghanistan and then immediately turns around for us to fly to England! Followed by Iceland! Followed by Denmark-land! Followed by Finland! Followed by flying back to Australia and collapsing in complete exhaustion before going back to work.

I just realised this is a quintessentially Rosie post: Work too much; China; Running; Travel with James.

the perks of a job you love

I have a zillion photo posts to write, and I purchased an app that lets me drop and drag photos directly into blog posts so I’m hoping that resolves everything. It’s a bit messy and not quite what I’d hoped, so please forgive the disjointed nature of this post, hopefully it will improve once I get the hang of it.

This post is from a recent work trip, but I am unclear on confidentiality so I am just going to say it is in China and leave it at that.

Driving to the site on the first day, I’d been awake for most of the past 48 hours and was stinky and sticky, because our luggage got separated from us and I hadn’t expected to be on the go for 48 hours. But there’s nothing like steep mountains and winding roads to get me excited, and fortunately, you can’t smell me in this picture.

Many of the roads are very narrow and in order to prepare for the site opening (and a million coaches a day), they are widening the roads by literally just drilling away at the mountain.

Rather them than me…

 

This site has everything I love. Intense mountains…

Weird insects

And beautiful buildings.

But this was just on the first quick trip to the base of the mountain. Time to go back to the hotel and try and remember what it’s like not to stink.

We made a trip to the local shopping mall after dinner to find non-stinky clothes to wear until our luggage reappeared. I encountered this smooth operator:

It was actually operated by his dad, by what looked like a playstation controller, which I thought was pretty cool. I really wanted a photo with the two of them together, but his parents didn’t understand when I asked them and kept moving *out* of the picture.

Everything was happening at the mall that night. A “rock gig” was blasting on a stage in the middle of the mall. View from inside the lift:

I guess the mall is really the place to be. The music was really terrible, but I think people came for the novelty as they were Westerners playing/singing. I was more entertained by this sign on the lift (yup, 14 years of Chinese and I’m still amused by Chinglish.

Which is the perfect segue back to the site:

 

Even though I find even little mountains like this one fun (opposite our clients’ office)…

 

It’s these kind of scenes that get me really excited.

It’s a steep climb up, but the medieval “site planners” made it even harder, by thoughtfully providing steps… what’s not to like about steps, you may ask?

Well, these steps are about 50cm high, and on a slant, which means you pretty much have to crawl up them. Very clever for a medieval fortress, strategically speaking.

With a Rosie-The-Rambling-Hiker for scale:

I had thought I would give it a try, when I first heard about these steps. But once I stood in front of them, apart from striking a pose, I didn’t even entertain the thought. I actually clambered up just one step and it was embarrassing enough, as I struggled whilst my workmates watched and laughed at me. It is exactly like being in the giants’ abandoned city in The Silver Chair (from the Narnia books).

Luckily, there’s a sneaky secret passage that leads around the back up to the top.

View from the top of the steps (taken whilst shakily gripping the side of the wall with one hand — photos do not do this steepness of this scenario justice).

At the top of the steps is a pass, and in the pass is a guard whose job is to stand there from 8am to 6pm and call down to people telling them not to climb up the steps. He also told us we weren’t allowed to go up through the pass as the steps weren’t ready, but we had to, as it’s our job to get to the top, so he had to anxiously stand aside and watch us head off up the hill.

At first it seemed ok, nothing to fret about.

A little slippery without the wooden walkway, but as long as you hold onto the rails it’s ok.

Large amounts of water were pouring down the side of the mountain, making the 500-year-old steps somewhat difficult to navigate.

After a while, the Ming-dynasty steps dissolve into Song (possibly older, Tang has been hinted at) pathways hacked into the mountainside. The walkways aren’t complete by any means, but they’re our best bet for actually progressing up the extremely steep path.

More terrifying scaffolding…

Finally we emerged onto walkable steps again, where we could admire more ruins from the late 16th century (and earlier).

Here we had work to do, so there aren’t as many fun pictures, until later, when we paused for a tea break at the archaeologists’ hut (incidentally probably some of the best tea I’ve ever drunk).

There’s a chicken coop up here, presumably for eggs and dinner… it’s hard work getting provisions up that mountain and the archaeologists live here most of the time, so I imagine some livestock is worth keeping.

There’s also some adorable dogs, which my workmates told me were just wee puppies last time they came in June, and now are rollicking teens. I don’t know if they’ll be allowed to stay once the site is open to the public… I hope so, they were just so fun and sweet.

We raced down the mountain as night fell. It was very atmospheric; I love this photo so much.

That’s it for beautiful site visit pictures. I snapped one last mountain out the window on the plane… I’m really looking forward to heading back next week, even though the project itself is quite stressful. I’m so lucky to get to work in such a gorgeous environment!! And in the last couple of weeks I’ve been getting to do lots of research and writing on Chinese archaeology and history, proving for the first time ever that my 2006 BA in Chinese art and archaeology was not a complete waste of time! Only took 9 years to come to fruition…

doing things for me

My Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday went by so fast. I worked a lot and then went home and laid on the floor and ate and internetted.

But yesterday I did spend an hour colour-matching whilst listening to podcasts. Colour-matching is a skill that is quite valuable in art conservation, and I was advised by a conservator I met at the Plastics course to get some paint chips and some basic acrylics, and just practice getting my eye in, since I’m about to spend 6 months nowhere near a conservation lab. I thought this was brilliant advice as it’s quite affordable and easy to do at home.

I looked forward to getting into this for days and days; I ordered the paints online as a birthday gift to myself — nothing but the best for Rosie, I got Golden heavy acrylics in 8 colours (two of which are black and white, so the challenge is working from your very standard red, yellow, green, blue, brown and ochre). I found a cheap set of white porcelain dishes at the op-shop, for mixing my colours. I ordered Resene paint chips from New Zealand (and they are beautiful!). I bought paintbrushes and I even found this lovely wooden tray at the op-shop, for $5, which proudly proclaims itself as “Langva, Made in Denmark, Water Wine Spirit and Heat Proof”, so I could easily move my painting gear around in my tiny cramped flat.

Finally the day came where I could collect my paints, take them home and begin! I finished work at 7pm so I’m pretty proud of myself for giving it a go when I got home (AND doing laundry, worr check me out).

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It was really fun, for an hour, but then the reality of the artificial lighting under my desk lamp made me grumpy. You can get a colour to match just great under yellow light, but of course in white light it will look ridiculous.

I came home this evening and looked at the paints and was just too tired to bother. I hope that when work relents a little, and summer approaches, I will feel more enthusiastic. As it is, I’m heading to Guizhou in 4 days — Guizhou being the land of this…

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— and climbing up this mountain

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to reach this ruined fort

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Sorry if the resolution is terrible, I’m updating from the “new” WordPress page instead of my usual old-fashioned one and I can’t check (really: can’t be bothered). Anyway, so that is part of my work these days, and I’m jolly excited about it, but I haven’t got much energy to do things for me. Must try harder.

Tomorrow maybe, I’ll succeed in doing something that isn’t work related!

is it legal?

Not sure it can be legal to feel as good as I do. I have been in my new home a week now, and yesterday I finally got my room unpacked and organised. I took a panoramic picture on my iphone that can give an idea of my room (and a peek into the living-room) but I don’t know how well it will come through on my blog, it might be necessary to click through to see it properly. It’s actually really cool how you can zoom in on all the details! the iphone 5’s camera really is amazing.
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I am enjoying my current readings for my essay. I finished The Buddhas of Bamiyan (reviewed here in the Guardian) which gave me a really fascinating insight into the history of Afghanistan and into understanding how the Buddhas were perceived throughout their existence, whether by Buddhists, Muslims or intrigued Western travellers and soldiers. I’m currently reading Art and Cultural Heritage: Law, Policy and Practice, which covers a broad range of topics of course, and it’s hard not to get distracted by all the case studies of cultural artefacts plundered or destroyed due to the travesty of war.

I’m particularly intrigued right now by the case of the Ethiopian Stele of Axum, originally because of the inconsistencies between what is in my book (published 2006) and what is on Wikipedia, notably because Wikipedia’s spin sounds more plausible but is lacking in citations (and also contradicts itself). The book says the stele was broken into 3 pieces by the Italians so they could carry it back to Rome in 1937, as a spoil of war. Wikipedia points out that the 24m-high stele was erected in the 4th century, in an area prone to earthquakes, and that it collapsed more or less immediately, laying on the ground in either 3 or 5 pieces until the Italians carried it off.

Stele of Axum

Of course I could head off and search for more information but it’s not the topic of my essay and I suppose it doesn’t really matter. But firstly, it’s made me doubt the reliability (and objectivity) of this book, and secondly, OMG HOW COOL IS ETHIOPIAN HISTORY? It frustrates me that even though my BA is in History of Art and Archaeology of Asia and Africa, I was so focused on East Asia and China that I never had more than a brief flirtation with African art in my first year. And now I need to get back to Afghanistan… but there is so much out there to read!!

Also in the works for the rest of my Sunday: hit up Bikram at 6, and cook a giant pot of soup for my work lunches this week. It’s already 3:30! where did my day go? (the answer is easy: I was up till 5am emailing with James in Afghanistan so I slept in till 11… NO REGRETS).

listless listing

I haven’t updated for nearly a month — since before Beijing, in fact — because I’ve been both overwhelmed and underwhelmed by various events. The solution can only be in bullet-point format.

— Beijing was great. The first two days were exhausting but once I had sent the ministerial delegation on its merry way back to Sri Lanka, I basically had no work to do and enjoyed a week of cold weather, hanging out with my friend from uni Mariutti. We had some great meals, zipped around on her electric bike, went to the National Museum of Chinese Art, and discussed at great length her potential take-over of my job in Colombo. Spoiler: we decided against it last night.
On the bike, in the rain…
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— Whilst I was in China, I was informed that I have been offered a place for the Masters course I want to do: Cultural Materials Conservation. This gave me great joy, followed by great despair, as it costs lotsandlotsamoney and I am earning handfuls of rupees. But I want to do it, and so I SHALL do it.

— My sister came to stay! Darling Polly was with me for 10 days, and a cyclone hit us for most of that time. We did fit in some monkeys, elephants, beach time and cocktails, but I think we spent just as much time curled up on the couch reading crime thrillers — so a perfect holiday for us sisters, really.

Sisters in a tuk-tuk!
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Polly and the ocean!
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Polly and some elephants!

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— I told my job I’m quitting. They are not best pleased. But frankly, even if I’m not supposed to whinge on this blog — I cannot withhold my contempt for this place much longer. I do not, not, NOT enjoy working here. Or living here. Sorry (and sorry to all my friends on Facebook who have heard me whinging almost incessantly the last couple of weeks).

— I’m planning to be back in Melbourne by mid-December. This makes me happy. This is also the… let me think… third or fourth time this year that I’ve promised that? I originally was going to be back by January 2012. Oh well. This time it’s for SURE! as long as I don’t get giddy and accept the job I was offered in the Caribbean (because it would be an ADVENTURE! and then I would be closer to ALLY! who is currently hanging out in the AMAZON!… nooo Rosie don’t do it… stick to your plans).

— I’m sitting here somewhat grumpy because I have been knocked out by another attack of migraines + sinusitis. Sick AGAIN. I am WEARY. Additionally I have run out of Yaz, so I am overly emotional and irrationally susceptible. ALSO I am waiting to find out if James is going off to Libya to fuck around with some sort of de-mining gig, or if he is going to come here and see me in a couple of weeks. Yes, his career, adventure, bla-de-bla, but I would like to see him, selfish creature that I am. Roll on Monday with some answers and hopefully some pills (thanks to Emy, and her international brigade of contacts, who has arranged for a shipment of Yaz to be brought over from Turkey on Sunday. Woohoo!).

— I have been running nonsense little runs, of about 5km, on the treadmill. Even when I’m sick. I have to, for my own sanity. I cover up the screen with a towel and just listen to music and try to forget about everything. I really, really miss running outdoors. But between the humidity, the heat, and most importantly the lack of an actual place to run, I just don’t see it happening. I did plan to go to the Colombo hash on Wednesday but that was the day my sinusitis kicked in and my migraines were so vicious I almost fainted during a meeting at the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, and trust me, that’s an uncomfortable place to get dizzy in. So no hash. Next week!

— I have lots of photos for China and for Polly’s trip (like when she got molested by a baby elephant). But I am lazy and the pictures need to be combed through, selected, resized, uploaded and then linked to. So… sorry. I guess they go on the list of posts I’ll write one day.

(Disclaimer: the formatting on all of these Chinese posts is going to be messed up as hell for the entire duration of this trip, as I can only post them as “quotes” via my iphone and it’s really, really slow. I can’t preview the posts and therefore a lot of typos and bad grammer slips past me. Sorry. All will be corrected when I’m back in the land of the living)(or not, because I’m lazy).

This morning we all pulled on exciting jumpsuits and went to visit various oil plants and construction sites dotted around Karamay. Photos weren’t allowed onsite, so instead I bring you a dozen pictures of me, me, me, in my suit, and eventually hat, and occasionally with various colleagues. (I do have a couple of beautiful scenic posts lined up but I want to be able to preview them on a real screen before I publish them…)

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You’re never fully dressed without a smile and a grand piano.
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Me and my workmate
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We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a caged hedgehog and bunny rabbit, spotted being rushed across the hotel carpark. I have NO idea what-who-where-how-why but it reminded me of the hedgehogs we kept as pets when we were small. 
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And last but not least, my favourite, with the Chinese flag blowing perfectly in the background!
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And whilst I’m unashamedly doing a blog post which is essentially pictures of me, much much later that day we were having dinner in the plushest restaurant of Urumqi and this guy turned up to prepare noodles in front of us. 
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It just so happens that I loooooooove these chunky noodles — “fat noodles”, as I call them. I first discovered them in Taiwan as there is a restaurant that does them in the Shida night market, and I have dragged every visitor to see them being made by slicing slivers of dough into boiling soup. And of course today was the day I got to do so myself, woohoo!
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Discovering it’s not all that easy…
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Damn noodles won’t come off the stick…
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WILL… YOU… DROP… INTO … THE SOUP NOW PLEEEASSEE *banging against the pot*
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Officially failing at making a noodle:
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Never mind. The minister still gave me a hug in the end.
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Karamay and me me me

This firewall is seriously cramping my blogging style!

Fake Xia bronze, which both delighted me and made me roll my eyes. I delayed everyone (including the minister) to snap this picture, because I am fond of Xia bronzes and this facsimile with its cheap plastic gems and broken off rivets was endearingly cheap and corny.

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You can’t spell Business Trip to China without a big formal dinner. This one was pretty decent though! I really like the people we are working with here in Xinjiang — really sweet guys. 

The table setting was… unusual!
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Someone important must be sitting here:
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I love the sauce-art on the dishes…
Bamboo
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Shrimp
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After dinner we went for a stroll through the sports park nearby. I know that sounds thrilling but it was actually a really pleasant walk (remember we have spent most of the last 48 hours on planes or in airports (Colombo – Bangkok – Beijing – Urumqi – Karamay… all to be done in reverse order next week). It was particularly nice for me, firstly as I haven’t been in a cold climate (apart from 4 days in Seoul in January) for a couple of years at least — all this continent-hopping back and forth between Australia, Taiwan, Europe and Sri Lanka has meant I’ve carefully dodged winters all year round.  But really what I liked about this park is it was of the exact sort my old company used to design. Only when I was rendering these gigantic sports complexes in PhotoShop, they seemed really dull and empty and a waste of space. But this funny city, 80% designed and built by China Petroleum, was crawling with people. The basketball court, with its dozens of courts, was packed, as were the soccer fields, and they were all having so much fun!

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Even the professional rollerblading rink (the type of construction I would have snorted at with derision when seeing it on one of designs) counted several enthusiast, zooming along on their blades:
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Of course, it wouldn’t be a Chinese park without…

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Zombies? Flashmob? No… just the usual group dance exercise. Only this one was on a mon-u-MENTAL scale… there were easily over a hundred people, dance-walking silently round and round in a circle, carefully lined up like soldiers, whilst a single speaker blasted eery pop-songs. Nobody smiled or seemed to enjoy it, but it was fascinating and hypnotic to watch…

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This jolly little idiot had to join in, but by the time my camera took a picture everyone had changed pose behind me…
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We all joined in for a quarter-turn around the park, then controversially broke free and made for the ever-entertaining gym-equipment:
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Final detail: the entire park is not only lit at night, but is populated by musical koalas who play a tinny stream of pop music to help you pace your sporting endeavours… how cute is he!

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This firewall is seriousl…