February 19, Baotou

    So ok, here we go again. Having only just arrived a few days ago there's not that much to tell yet, so this is merely some first impressions...

    As you know I've signed a one year contract with a Teacher's College in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, China. For those of you who are unfamiliar with obscure mining towns in northern China, it is a sprawling city of some 2 million souls. A mere village in Chinese terms... It is not the sort of town that gets a lot of tourist attention. In fact I'll quote the Lonely Planet guidebook's entry:

" ... Baotou is a grim industrial centre and the largest city in Inner Mongolia. The only reason to stop here is for its convenience as a transit point."

    In other words, this is not like the increasingly international hotspots of the Chinese east coast, like Beijing and Shanghai which means that a European walking around on the streets generate a fair amount of attention. This attention comes in two forms: The first being a genuine interest which will prompt perfect strangers to stop you on the street and launch a barrage of questions at you (which would of course be a bit more useful if they spoke any English). The second and more common kind of attention comes from groups of young people and involves one of them calling out a "hello" in your general direction. If you respond in any way, the whole group will break down in hysterical laughter. The fact that I am somewhat lacking in the hair-department may have something to do with it. I've spotted several people pointing to their own hair while giggling to each other as I pass by :)

    The attention can be a bit overbearing, but it is very helpful in making connections with people, including those who actually speak a little English. On my second day here I was out doing some shopping, when I was stopped by some extremely friendly people who quickly insisted that I come out with them that same evening. They've since then introduced me to a lot of their friends, all of whom are going out of their way to make me feel very welcome.

    Apparently, those among the Chinese who speak any English at all are desperate to practice it, and they welcome the opportunity to talk with a westerner. As I said though, they are definitely a minority, so I think I'm gonna have to learn some Chinese if I wanna make myself understood to more than a handful of people. I have found two people so far who've volunteered themselves as tutors.

    The college has provided an apartment for me very close to the school. I can walk to work in less than 10 minutes which is nice. It's not exactly a palace, but there's lots of room, and since all I really need is a bed, a desk, and a fridge, I'm pretty happy with the place. Granted, the bed is a slap of concrete with a sheet draped over it, and the pillow is a bag filled with dried rice, but I'm reasonably sure I'll get used to the PAIN of sleeping eventually :)

    Apart from that there's not much to tell. I start teaching this Monday, so this far it's mostly been a matter of settling down, learning where the necessary shops are located and such things.

    I'll be sending these letters from time to time, but I've also made a website (www.uhrbrand.dk/china) with various picture galleries and a blog. Comments are welcome. So far the galleries are just some pictures from my rather uneventful stay in Beijing, and some snapshots of my apartment. More will come.

    That's it for now, hope you're all well, and I'll be happy to hear from you. My msn remains "martin@uhrbrand.dk", and my skypename "muhrbrand".