Busy Composing

Taklamakan Desert
Taklamakan Desert
December 19, 2006

I've been neglecting updating this website--there's been a lot going on in my life these days. The reason I haven't posted an update for so long is because I spent September and October writing to meet two separate deadlines.

September was taken up with writing an article on my experiences traveling around Mongolia for World Vision, one of the longer-lived travel magazines published in China. As my Chinese language abilities wouldn't be good enough to compose anything more than a simple story, I composed in English and let World Vision's translators render my article into Chinese.

The required length was 7,000 characters--I had no idea what that would be equivalent to in English, so just wrote until I was done. I wound up with somewhere over 8,000 words so figured that was probably sufficient. Since the article has been published I haven't counted, but think that what I wrote worked out to a lot more than what they expected: the byline gives three different people credit for translating it into Chinese.

Alongside the article, about ten of the photos I took while traveling across Mongolia this summer were published in the November issue. It's funny to see pictures I took (several of which premiered on this website) published in full glossy color for a national magazine. It's even stranger to realize that the words are my own, yet I have to plod through carefully to decipher their meaning.

I have to admit that the subject matter I delivered was catered to a specific audience. The average Chinese person has not traveled outside of China. When they do take tours of their own country, hapless tour guides (i.e. Nisagul) are required to spew out every figure imaginable: historical dates, distances between cities, dimensions of ancient ruins, and population data are just the beginning. I offered up what facts I could, many cribbed from the Lonely Planet guidebook. ("The entire length of railways across Mongolia totals only 1,810 kilometers.") I also deliberately presented history with a perspective that I'm sure people in China wouldn't have. For example, when talking about Mongolia at its height of power, I described the Yuan Dynasty as the period during which, "China was a part of Mongolia." I'll have to see how they translated that: while that statement is entirely accurate, I'm certain that the Chinese would spin that period of their history in different terms.

I'll post the article and photos as an upcoming entry to this website.

After finally getting the Mongolia article and photos sent off, my October was consumed meeting another deadline. I decided to apply for a Fulbright Award, the deadline for which was October 20. I made the decision to apply about three weeks before the deadline, which--as I'm sure anybody who has applied for any scholarship before would say--is nowhere near enough time to get things begun, let alone submitted.

Somehow I managed to get everything together. I think I may even have a chance. I managed to scramble together recommendations from three professors, order transcripts, submit calligraphy samples, and jump through all the other proper hoops. For something limited to two pages, writing the proposal turned out to be a real chore. Astrid, who is currently in Xinjiang on a Fulbright, helped me revise several drafts. Trimming the project description to the maximum length was even more difficult than the initial composition.

The proposal I submitted is to spend one year in Damascus studying the Arabic language and Islamic calligraphy. I'll hear back on January 31, 2007 whether my application will even be considered. I think the proposal came out well-written, solid, and fundable. To be honest though, I think the chances I'll receive a Fulbright are slim: these awards are highly competitive. While it's perfectly legitimate to apply "At-Large"--without the affiliation of some institution--I presume that, all other things equal, the foundation would sooner fork its dough over to somebody with Ivy League credentials rather than some guy who's been playing around in far western China for the past three years. Check back on this website in early February to hear whether I've made the first cut.

Since my foray into paid travel writing and application for free money finally finished, I've had more time for classes at Xinjiang University. I've been doing it all this term: Chinese language, Uighur language, Chinese calligraphy, and Islamic calligraphy. Studies continue to come along. I don't believe I'll ever be mistaken for a native speaker, but have a decent level of communication in both languages. I feel okay--even proud--about some of the work I've been creating with ink and paper. I'm starting to get the feeling that I've accomplished what I've come here for with languages and calligraphy. Before long it will be time to move along, explore elsewhere.