Posts tagged Tibet

More Chinese Students’ Impressions (Part III)

The last of the bunch, our 38 Chinese students traveled to the Twin Cities in order to experience the American “fine arts.”

Mewtwo – On July 28th, we went to Minnesota Institute of Art. This is a great place that we can see many Asian arts including arts from China, Japan and Korea. I’m impressed that both Japanese and Korean arts come from China. For example, there are many Chinese characters in them and I can even understand what’s the meaning of the arts and the thoughts of the artists! It is really an amazing experience because I didn’t go to an institute when I was in China! There is a Chinese ancient library in the institute and I just felt I went back to ancient China. These fine arts give us full of knowledge and tell us what is like before. By the way, nearly all of the Chinese have a Tang Dynasty dream. Not only Tang Dynasty is very powerful, but also it is such a peaceful dynasty that makes most people have time to concentrate on literature and arts. Seeing these arts, I think we should continue creating great arts and take good care of them at present. I’m sure that people will be amazed by these arts thousand years later and they will see what it is like today.

Shawn – It is a perfect weekend in the twin cities. Actually, it was my first time to carefully see, know and feel the American cities. I have a lot of words in my mind.

To see the Minneapolis from faraway, it looks like an island where the middle part is made up of tall buildings. The Mississippi flows through the two city. It makes the city more alive. Besides, many people love riding bikes what makes me feel the city’s vitality.

It was very enjoyable about the trip to Minneapolis institute of art. Because, I saw lots of familiar things which came from China. The Jade Mountain is my favorite boulder in the museum. It comes from Shaoxing in China. One part of the stone is engraved the Lan T’ing Pavilion which is a very beautiful poem. Another amazing thing is the Sun In The Mist created by Monet. He is my favorite impressionist painter.

After that, I went to the theater to watch the show “Noises off”. I love the theater. I looks like the same one what I have seen one in the film. Many old people sat there and the red curtain made a strong sense of esthetic. Although the fast words are hard to understand, I knew the meaning of show. The performances are very humorous. Their expressions are very plentiful.

Flora – This weekend, we went to the Twin Cities to explore the fine art of this state. Our first destination is the art museum. I did not have the chance to see all of the valuable arts, but what made me so excited was the Chinese work of art. Such as the painting of Tibet, the sculpture of Lan Ting Su, the ancient house in China and the pottery figurine. Although I am familiar with all of them, I cannot tell what the truth within them. I am proud to these arts that are cherished in other land. In the past, I can only hear these introduction in Chinese. This is so special for me to hear what the foreigners think about China.

In the afternoon we went to the theater to watch the sunshine boys. It was a living theatre with the real props. We can see them as it happens in our real life. In China, the drama is played by different voices and special gestures to present different feelings. They are totally different

Angela – Experience in Twin cities – This weekend, we went to the twin cities, which is a very beautiful city. The first day, we visited the Art Museum. There are various kinds of art from different countries. Jade-ware and calligraphy are from China, some painting about middle-time in Europe from Europe, some traditional things from Japan, etc. The person who explained cultural relics to us explained the STORAGE BOTTLE with 6,000 old first. It was used to be full of water. The second was DEEP JAR, which was used to cooking, is 4500 years old. From Japan, the docent told us the STEM CUP, which is beautiful with 3000 years old. Because of the limit of time, we knew a bit about our own culture.

Iris – We came to Minneapolis for three days, that was so clean and prosperous here.

About the art museum, the docent led us to see many kinds of culture, such as China, Japan, Europe and so on. Actually, I saw some different things of China in this museum from I had seen before. For example, ceremonial stem cup is I haven’t see it before, which is made for sacrifice between 3000-2000B.C. It was made from soil but looks like metal, that is amazing. Another things were also amazed us, dress of middle century Europe, statue, Lan Ting Su on the Nephrite etc.

We saw the play “Noises off” that was unexpected. When I saw act one, I thought I can’t understand what they wanted to show, but in act two and three, I knew what their means, it was depends on the actor and actress wonderfully performance.

Kevin – Today I have watched a living theatre called ‘The Sunshine Boy’. I felt very excited to watch such a funny play. What gives me a good experience that not only the funny story line, but also the difference between the American arts and Chinese fine arts.

Although it was the first time I watched a living theatre in a theatre and no experience about Chinese fine arts in a living show, I also feel the difference on the way that the actors and the actresses show the story lines and characters’ personality. The way that American actors show is very flexible. They create and design their own actions with their own life experience. So I think that American arts are closer to the real life and make audiences enjoy the show. On the other hand, the way that Chinese actors show is very rigid and traditional. Actually most of these kinds of actors have their own master. They have studied a kind of Chinese fine arts when they are very young. The styles of arts what they show has been rooted. So the arts what they show are nearly the same as others. The other reason what l think is that most of these Chinese fine arts’ fans want to recall the memory they have. So we can understand the phenomenon that only the old man go to the theatre to watch a show.

To sum up, different cultures make different styles of arts. All we need to do is just that show your respect and enjoy it .



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Chinese Students’ Impressions of “Fine Arts”

Our 38 Chinese students took a field trip to the big metropolis of the Twin Cities several weeks ago, the following are their impressions about what they absorbed.

Amber – Yesterday I saw “Noises Off” in the Jungle Theater. It was really a funny play which made me and my friends laugh and laugh and laugh. Bright color on faces and costumes, beautiful stages, and perfect performances brought us behind the scenes to see how one play was performed seeing the backstage antics. Though the play within the play “Noises Off” was named “Nothing On,” it did not go as the actors thought it should in the final performance, the lives on the stage as well as behind the stage always made audiences interested and funny.

I was a member in my high school’s drama club and I’ve taken part in “One Year One Play” in my school for two years (grade10 and 11) so I can easily understand the play and think it was funny! We always do that behind the stage when a play is on.

I think the difference between fine arts in Minneapolis and China is that there are so many people who enjoy fine arts in Minnesota. In my hometown, Fujian Province, fine arts is considered as a kind of art only artists can join in and only artists will have fun. The theater is not popular in common people because many young people think movies fit them. But in Minnesota, many people enjoy art. They visit the Art museum as well as see interesting play. Fine art can teach people more in Minnesota. It is quite a good thing.

Tina – I liked the Minnesota Institute of arts since I had only traveled through the Asian exhibitions.

A picture painted in the end of Vincent van Gogh’s life. He painted all of trees from in the hospital. He is an Impressionism painter. I liked him because of one of his painting named “hug”. Another picture in the museum named “Grainstack, Sun in the Mist”. It is a magic picture for me. Monet used many colors to draw it. And it makes me feel the trees or other sight is not exactly same but still full of life. When I saw the painting, I strongly felt that yellow is color of god’s love.

I also enjoy a group of jade ware from China. That jade ware looks like crystal. The body of the ware is clear and light. It has the amazing handmade work, which makes me feel so fantastic and surprised. Cyan color, light structure, almost transparent, everything makes me have a deadly love of it. I cannot use the words to describe the extent how I love it.

The last work I like is the sculpture named “Veiled Lady.” I find that I like the delicate works. The guide told us that this is a woman with a veil. The thing makes me have a deep memory is that this lady is covered one piece of marble. Some dark place on the sculpture is not the flaw, but people touching it. It would be perfect without people’s touch.

These three works have a big impression in my travel which makes me will remember the Institute of arts forever that I have had a such memorable experience. I like this tour very much.

Juliet – The origin of painting can be tracked to the cave painting. How about fine arts? It’s hard to define because fine arts include so many fields, like architecture, painting, music, etc. During the last two days, we visited Minnesota Institute of Arts and Jungle Theatre. This tour really gave me a deep impression of fine art.

The piece of work that truly is imprinted on my mind is “Olive Tree” made by Van Gogh. The powerful black strokes and yellow sky are so unusual that completely show the style of the impressionists. The yellow sky shows the love of god. When Van Gogh created this painting, he had a mind of confusion and maybe during that period, he was looking for the god’s love. The main three tools to create this painting are brushes, fingers and knives. While I was facing that painting, I was totally attracted by the bright color and twisted substances and I was lost in thought. It’s not enough to describe this masterpiece as perfect.

Besides that, at the beginning of our tour given by the docent was Mountain Journal. It was another modern art that astonished me. It’s made of metal, and the creator said that he was inspired by Japanese sword and airplane. He even took the metal of a whole car to complete his work. In contrast, traditional Chinese painting is closer to life, not as abstract as western painting and the color which painters use isn’t very bright. Black, red and white are the basic colors in China.

Eastern and western fine arts are opposite to each other. It can be seen from the fields of fine arts. For instance, traditional Chinese architecture can be described by following poem “Green glazed tile brick, cornices BOUNCE, gingko Lunatia, joy instant.” On the contrary, western architecture has many different types of style, like Ancient Greek architecture, ancient architecture in Rome and Byzantine architecture, etc. There are abundant differences between Chinese and eastern fine arts, no matter earlier times or present.

People need fine arts to satisfy their mental thoughts.  Just as a person who loves art and music, I can’t imagine my life without those things. Fine arts come from our hearts and flow into our life. Lacking of sense of appreciation, seldom do people spend time in museum and appreciate these masterpieces. It should be pointed out that fine arts play a significant role in our lives.

Athena, My reflection about the trip in Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) is the most exciting part of the tour was the Art of Asian Exhibition. It is a great honor to see something from your own culture shining on another land of the world. Yamantaka Mandala, a kind of Buddhism sand painting on the wall left me with a deep impression.

The docent from the museum told our group that the circle represents the process from the hell to nirvanain Buddhist universe. It is said that Tibetan monks created this sand mandalaat MIA, believing it would help tell their story to museum visitors. However, sand has the nature of fleeting. Under the sponsor of some wealthy people in Minnesota, the museum cooperated with 3M Company and finally invented a special material that could preserve the mandala on the wall. Then the monks spent 4 weeks creating this masterpiece drop by drop with a tool like a test tube.

I was moved at that moment, not only by the power of art itself, but also by the spirits showed by the groups of people behind the sand painting. We can see the loyalty towards belief from Tibetan monks. They are trying to pass down this loyalty in a creative way—a way makes people better-understood the spiritual world. We can see the perseverance from the museum, countless sponsors and also the 3M Company. Because of this perseverance from the whole society, could we enjoy the beauty of art and feel the deepest power from our heart. I believe that is just the truth of art.

(Athena attached a clear picture of Yamantaka mandala from the website.)

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Chinese Students’ Questions, My Responses

My 38 Chinese students have made interesting observations on the Moodle site about the U.S.  I’ve left off their questions but you will get an idea of what they asked by my answer.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know these young individuals as they prepare for the rigors of university life this fall. Thankfully their English names below in the quotes make it easier to call on them in class. Several names in the group are funny like Limosine (Limo for short) and Meow who promptly changed it to Jason as soon as he found out that it wasn’t an acceptable male’s name.

Jason, I think you are going to find that Americans are generally friendly and most particularly here in Minnesota, where people from small towns tend to say hello to complete strangers. There is much trust in a small town that you’d never find in a big city like Shanghai.

Candy, I’m not sure who the most popular star is among American college students.  I’m not of that generation to be up on the latest.  I suppose Lady Gaga for some, Madonna for others, maybe Justin Beiber for the younger crowd like in middle school.  I really don’t know, I think it would be fine for you to ask Americans yourself and you would find a variety of answers. If you mean movie stars I really don’t know.

Cynthia, I am sorry that you experienced that rudeness by the sales clerks about your toy dog.  I don’t think they will make many sales with that kind of attitude to a potential customer.

Leo, you are absolutely right, the way to go with talking overseas is to go with the free Skype instead of paying a lot of money for cell phones.

John, not sure what you meant about the cold weather, Minnesotans like to talk about weather and we have our fair share of cold weather which is a safe topic to talk about.

George, you bring up a VERY important point about Americans not knowing their own history and ignoring their traditions.  It does not become the Americans well to not know their own history.

Jeff, I think you are right that you will see the younger generation give high fives and bumps but it is still appropriate to shake Americans’ hands.

Amber, you bring up an important issue about Americans giving grace to people by saying that they are tired instead of chastising them by saying they did something stupid.  I think you will see many Americans giving grace and forgiveness instead of scolding for doing something stupid.

Juliet, I want to mention that Americans have a bigger bubble of space that we like to have around us when talking to people.  I remember when I was in China in the late 1980s that my university students would get closer to me and I would keep backing up (until I hit the wall) because they were violating my space.  The prairie is a good example of what Americans are used to – S P A C E!!!

Joe, I’m not sure that Americans eat beef every day, they DO like their hamburgers and maybe it is to be stronger, at least American football players will eat a LOT. I think it comes from our agrarian traditions.

Flora, you will notice that Americans like to give praise and encouragement to each other by saying “That’s cool” read my earlier comment to Amber.

Roger, I think that Americans are a bit nervous about fires with errant fireworks.  That’s why it is strictly prohibited in places and in some states fireworks are not even sold. Like Minnesota, for instance, during the 4th of July which is all about fireworks, we have to go to North Dakota to buy fireworks.  Too many people have been seriously hurt by fireworks because they did something stupid.

Angela, don’t worry about showing respect with being on time with 5 minutes early or on time or 5 minutes late.  We as Americans are time conscience but if you are within that time frame, you are okay, but you better be on time or early for class.

Gavin, you might be over worried about small talk with Americans.  Let them take the lead about what questions they will ask you.  You can always talk about the weather with them or sports if you feel comfortable with that.  Small talk will happen when you are more confident in your English language skills.

Momo, I think you bring up an important point about people in Morris not using umbrellas when it rains.  This is a drought period and I think the people in Morris are just glad whenever it rains so it is welcome and they don’t even think about having an umbrella, the rain is so rare.  If it rained every other day and the rain was a nuisance I think you would see more people here use umbrellas.

Sunny, I think that is a GREAT observation about Americans not eating out of bowls like they do in China.  In the winter time, you will see a lot more soup being eaten but with spoons and not out of the side of bowls.

Iris, I am not so sure that it is accurate to say that Chinese don’t have racial discrimination and only Americans have this problem.  What about the Xighurs out in western China?  Or how about the Tibetans, is there not some kind of discrimination against them for not being Han Chinese?  I think whenever people have different customs, you will have some kind of tension or at least wariness.

Kevin, I’m not sure what you mean about showing passion with talking to foreigners, I think that you need to show you are being sincere and that you can reveal what you think or feel.  It is not good to be emotionless.

Tina, you are right about American food being so sweet, we DO use lots of sugar and I don’t know why that is true.  You will also observe many fat Americans as a result and that is not healthy.

Mewtwo, it is not considered impolite if you don’t ask the question of Americans “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” just be prepared to be asked that by an American and to realize they don’t really want to know your answer, you just have to say, “fine.”  Always appear optimistic and upbeat even if you are down.

Jessica, it is too bad that the American guy who was bowling with you looked so grim, he probably doesn’t have many American friends either.  Some people are not too sociable and maybe he felt pressured to be there at the bowling ally.  Don’t take it too close to heart, as the Russians like to say.

Emma, I am glad you brought this up about American doing things that are difficult with confidence.  I think we are bred on the “can-do” optimism even if things look way too hard.  Our ancestors on the prairie had to have this kind of confidence, those that didn’t have this trait, did not survive.

Zoe, I think you are seeing a lot more gestures from Americans who are trained as ESL teachers, hand movements help to get the point across.  You can use more as a Chinese person even though it might seem foreign to you, but especially if you want to make yourself understood.  Hand gestures help in communication.

Ryan, yes Americans like to sunbathe, well some of them do but it can cause skin cancer later on.  So I don’t think as many Americans are doing this now as they used to. It also creates early wrinkles.  I think though that Chinese people don’t want to have a darker skin, so I’m not sure you want to be out there sunbathing with Americans.

Frank, you know Americans are funny about that, they don’t like to reveal what they earn for various reasons.  Why it is a taboo topic is a mystery to me.  But I think it means that we really don’t want to boast about how much we earn OR we want others to think that we are not doing the job that we have for the money but for the idea of serving other people.  I really don’t know the answer to that except we don’t like talking about our weight or our age either.

Allen – Yes, books ARE expensive in the U.S. and if people want to become better educated in China there is now the Internet to learn from that.  So, I think that books are on the way out and will become more affordable for everyone.  That is my personal opinion even though I still like holding a book in my hands, it may soon be a thing of the past.  We want to save trees and cut down on the use of paper.

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“Now we shall be able to talk” from Rawicz’s book

I have written this before, I’ll write it again in today’s blog: I LOVE old books.  However, I don’t count Slavomir Rawicz’s book necessarily that OLD at 55 years.  It recounts what had happened back in the early 1940s. But just the same, I came away learning more about Circassians.  I had not heard of Circassians before from my Kazakh students, yet I am well aware of Tatars, Chechens and other smaller people groups.

But first let me relate the dialogue in this 1956 book that piqued my interest in Circassians. If you have read my past several blogs, the group of escapees from a Siberian camp had entered Tibet and were on their way to Lhasa, or so they told people along their 4,000 mile trek:

“Welcome,” he said in Russian. “Now we shall be able to talk.”

We were rather taken aback.  He spoke Russian easily and without hesitation.  I had to remind myself that there could be no danger so far south of the Soviet in a chance encounter with a Russian.

He waited for me to reply and when I did not he went on eagerly, “I am a Circassian and it is a long time since I met anyone who could speak Russian.”

“A Circassian?” I repeated. “That is most interesting.” I could not think of anything less banal to say.

His questions tumbled over themselves. “Are you pilgrims? It is not many Russians who are Buddhists. You came through the Gobi [desert] on foot?”

From what I have gathered off the Internet with a cursory glance is that there are not many Circassians who are Russian Orthodox but this man in the Rawicz’s story was. Living in Tibet, he looked by his clothes more Mongolian yet spoke Russian. He was very proud of being Circassian as many independent Muslims are today.  I learned there are 500,000 Circassians in southern Russia and several million diaspora.

What’s interesting is this article I came across about Georgia [the country] which proclaimed the genocide against the Circassians. Read the following link. Also know that in a military campaign that was carried out in 1860-64, the Russian imperial historians recorded the deaths of these Circassians who lived in the Caucasus mountains.  Proclaiming that this was a genocide 150 years later but then Armenia will have its chance to ask for reparation from Turkey about the genocide that happened almost 100 years ago against the Armenian people.

Who can talk about these atrocities when there is division of languages, memories have faded and history books have been revised away from the truth?   “Now we shall be able to talk” will only happen in a perfect world where truth tries to mend the fractures within cultures.  It won’t be happening any time soon in Kazakhstan where many people from other nationalities were deported and dumped in Kazakhstan.  Ah…so much sadness…


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“The Way Back” or “The Long Walk” of 4,000 miles out of Siberia’s prison

Last night we watched “The Way Back” starring Ed Harris and a superb cast of actors (including one 16 year old girl). The movie is based on a true story of an original group of 7-8 men who walked away from an Siberian prison camp in 1941.  My husband, as a young boy, had read the book that was first published in 1955 titled “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom” written by Ronald Downing.  That alone clinched our decision to experience this epic journey through cold, mountain passes and thirsty, Mongolian deserts. My husband wanted to see how close the movie fit to his recollection of reading this book 45-50 years ago.

Interestingly enough, Ronald Downing had started his own quest in Tibet of the legendary abominable snowman. However, he instead started gathering information about a Polish man, Slavomir Rawicz, who had walked across eastern Siberia to the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, through China, Tibet and the Himalayans to finally gain his freedom in India. That was more compelling to write about than a snowman.

No doubt the film’s director Peter Weir had some parts of Downing’s book “Hollywood-ized”  However, the main meaning comes across in the special features after the movie.  That is, the inhumanity present in 100s of concentration camps throughout the Soviet Union is little known by people from the West.  I’m guessing for every 100 movies about Nazi atrocities in concentration camps, you have one movie about what Stalin did to his own people of the U.S.S.R. with the Siberian gulags. (That would also include Kazakhstan’s KARLAG system too)

The Soviet system was extremely brutal to their political prisoners who were imprisoned alongside REAL criminals of thieves and murderers.  There is one character, Valka, in this story who owned a knife, he called it “the wolf.” He also had tatooed on his chest the faces of Lenin and Stalin.  Though he believed in communism, he actually helped the other “politicals” survive in the wilds with the use of his knife. Yet he turned back once they got to the Trans-Siberian railway which they thought was the end of the Soviet Union and walking into freedom…sadly Mongolia had been taken over by USSR and so their trek to freedom continued.

The movie skipped over the Himalayans since the over two hour long movie had already shown its audience enough of the bitter cold of Siberia and reaching Lake Baikal and then the dry desert scenes. Also, I don’t think the actors or camera and production crews could fathom doing more marathon type survivalist living in the mountains.

The real hero of this story (played by Jim Sturgess) in both the movie and the book was Slavomir Rawicz, this Polish army officer who had been captured by the Red Army and accused of being a Nazi. His wife had been tortured to create a false testimony against him and Slavomir was summarily imprisoned by the Communists out to Siberia. He successfully trekked 4,000 miles after escaping from a Siberian prisoner of war camp. He survived the ordeal which lasted about a year because he knew how to live in the outdoors and survive on nature’s food and water.  He was accused by the Ed Harris character, known only as “Mr. Smith” of not being able to survive in the prisoner’s camp because he was too kind and helped other prisoners.  Perhaps his kindness and knowledge of how to survive is what eventually prevailed and got the two other men out alive with him.

Apparently, the older American, dubbed “Mr. Smith” had earlier watched his 17 year old son die at the mercy of communists then he was sent to the gulag and once “free” went on the Lhasa, Tibet. We don’t know if he survived once he parted ways with Slavomir and the others.  Also, I’m not sure if the movie ended accurately which showed how Slavomir had waited until Poland was free from the bonds of communist oppression to see his wife again after being separated for almost 50 years.  I would like to get a copy of the old book titled “The Long Walk” to read what my husband had read 50 years ago.  Such a remarkable story had a great impact on him.  The movie may have a profound impact on many other westerners as well.

Why don’t more people in the West know about the gulag system that happened throughout Russia and Kazakhstan?  Little is written because few people survived the cruel brutalities!  I would highly recommend watching this movie “The Way Back.”

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Sharon’s Photos and Story from Beijing

Sharon receiving awardI have known Sharon since we taught together in China back in 1986-88, she was in a different location (Nanjing I think) while I was in Harbin.  Then we later taught together at the University of Minnesota working mostly with Chinese ITAs (international teaching assistants) up to 1993.  Now for the past decade or more, Sharon has been teaching in Tibet.  Please don’t miss the significance of what I just wrote in the last sentence.  Note also that China just awarded her for her service and that this big country is to the east of where I currently teach in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  As the crow flies, Sharon and I are fairly close in proximity but far apart in more ways than one.  I will let Sharon tell about her fantastic adventure up to Beijing.

I had the honor last week of shaking hands with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.  I’d almost missed the opportunity because I went to the wrong room, but was guided to the right place just in time.  I was overwhelmed by the experience, not because of who I met but more because of what I got to do… 
I was one of 100 foreigners working in China singled out to receive a “friendship award” for my contribution to the development of China.  I was flown to Beijing and put up in a nice hotel (in a suite of rooms all to myself!), invited to the State banquet celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and taken to the parade grounds for the big parade on October 1st.
This thing was too big for me.  I was intimidated by the other “experts” who also received the award: a nuclear physicist, a UN geologist, an aerospace engineer, a professor of rotor mechanics and another of biochemical engineering, the head of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins, etc., etc., etc.  I’m just a simple English teacher who has had the honor of being granted a visa year after year to work where my heart is at home. It was indeed too big for me.  But, that was the whole point.  I wasn’t impressed with the award nearly as much as the incredible honor it was to extend blessing to the third highest leader in China.  That was an honor that didn’t come from a degree or position or level of intelligence.  It came from something far beyond myself . . . because, really, it was too big for me.
I brought home a plaque and a medallion.  I am again in awe that I might be considered worthy to do the work here that I so love to do.  Indications are that I may not need to worry about my visa again for a while. 

Keep in mind that whatever negative things the Kazakhs might say about all the foreigners who come to visit Kazakhstan as teachers or people who are part of the oil industry from distant lands, the biggest threat to them is their eastern neighbor.  This country of Kazakhstan is the size of 4 Texases, but only has under 18 million people.  China has over 1 billion people. Don’t you think they would love to claim KZ as their own as they have done with where Sharon currently teaches? The following photos are Sharon’s and what she put on MySpace.

Bejing paradeladies in redWomen soldiers

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