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Cool mausoleums, new friends, coffee, and a mechanic in Samarkand on day 3

This morning started out as all mornings do: with breakfast. After that our hotel owner told us he had found a mechanic that could work on our car issue for us. Yeah, we’re still having a car issue. But!!! Even though I’ve said this before, I think I really mean it this time, we’ve found the problem! And it goes all the way back to my very first post about our road trip. It really is something electrical like our mechanic back at home says, it’s something simple he should have been able to figure out, it’s simple to fix, but????? The piece is not available anywhere at all in the entire country of Uzbekistan because this is the land of the white Chevrolet. So, we can’t fix it until we get back to Kazakhstan.

He told us it’s not an emergency. We’ll be okay. We need to keep a close eye on the temperature guage and if it starts to overheat we need to stop and let the car relax for a bit. Other than that we’ll be okay. Thanks a lot, mechanic back home, Mister I-checked-your-car-and-prepared-you-completely-for-your-road-trip-then-as-soon-as-you-broke-down-told-you-you-had-an-electrical-problem. I. HATE. YOU.

And yet, we had a great time with the mechanic! He was really friendly, he talked to me like I was one of the guys, which is not normal for a mechanic anywhere in the world, he took us our for lunch with his crew, and, get this, he refused to accept any money from us! We kept insisting but he wouldn’t take any money at all! He said we were guests in his country and he wouldn’t accept our money. He paid for lunch too!

After all that it was two o’clock in the afternoon! We were getting an incredibly late start to our tourist activities for the day. I had to see the world famous mausoleums of Samarkand. First on the list was the Shah-i-Zinda Ensemble of Mausoleums. I’ve never seen anything like like it. They were so beautiful.

Next we went to the Sadriddin Ayni House Museum. I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of the guy and I only did some very brief Googling of his name. He’s considered the most famous writer in Tajik history. For those of you that don’t know, even though Samarkand is in Uzbekistan, the majority of the people are Tajik. The real reason we went to the museum was the Google reviews. Some of them are terrible. “True dog Bolshevik!”, “Traitor!!!” With reviews like that how could we not go to the museum? There wasn’t much there and no one spoke English but the ticket was cheap and I have a story to tell.

After the Sadriddin Ayni House Museum we walked to the Museum of Political Repression so we could repress people. Not really. It was a museum honoring all the people that were repressed by the Soviets in the past. We were really excited about seeing it, but when we got there it was closed. Sad. A nice university aged guy stopped to tell us it isn’t open on the weekends. Had we known that we would have gone yesterday. It was pretty high on our must see list and we’re leaving tomorrow. Oh well, we have an entire nation to see. We’re bound to not see it all.

Next was the likely the most impressive mausoleum on earth: the mausoleum of Amir Timur. Amir Timur is known as one of the greatest military leaders from all history. He began the Timurid Empire. I’ve seen hundreds of mausoleums in my life, dare I say thousands? I’ve never seen anything like this.

Next, we walked to the Oq Saroy mausoleum. Apparently no one knows the exact history of this mausoleum. We’ve found lots of beautiful, ornate, huge, old mausoleums like that. It’s amazing to realize how someone was once so rich and powerful to earn such a mausoleum and is now completely forgotten from history. Momento Mori. It was a pain in the butt. As the crow flies, it was literally right behind the Amir Timur mausoleum, but there was a locked gate between the two. Insert curse word here. It wasn’t really that big of a deal all but we had a grumpy teen in tow. It was about a fifteen minute walk around the neighborhood to get there, and then, when we arrived… there was an iron fence around the whole thing with a big locked gate. The internet says the doors are open for tourists. The internet lies.

After our bust at the mausoleum we walked to the Science Museum at the Uzbekistan State University. It wasn’t the best museum ever but I did learn that the Uzbekistan State University is the successor of the Ulugh Beg madrassa and that was really cool.

We were finished! We have one more thing we want to do and that’s the paper factory. That was the plan for today, but we ended up spending all morning and half the afternoon with the mechanic so, instead it will be tomorrow morning. We wanted some coffee. I typed coffee shop into Google Maps and found El Merosi. The place was beautiful and they made a good coffee.

We just wanted to relax after a long three days and we weren’t in any kind of a hurry so we just chilled. Right when we thought we were about to leave a guy started speaking to us in English. It turned out he was the owner of the cafe. Not only was he the owner of the cafe but the owner of the entire building, a multi-national businessman, and member of the Samarkand city council! So, we stayed. He gave us a tour of his place. He has a theater in the back where the give full theatrical performances, and he’s even opened a restaurant recently. All the the design work on the walls and all the furniture in the entire place were hand designed. We had homemade cheesecake and then he convinced us to also try their homemade 100% natural ice cream. At least we knew we didn’t have to worry about dinner later!

It was time to head home for the evening! We got back to the hotel and I pulled my computer out to start typing this entry up. Uh oh. The wifi wasn’t working in our room. I took my laptop down to the lobby where my husband had stayed to chat with the hotel owner. The owner wasn’t there but I found my husband talking with someone else. I sat down behind them and he didn’t even know I was there. I started typing but then got sucked into their conversation. I heard the man say he was a classical musician. Classical musician!!!!! What??? Then he mentioned an Uzbek classical music museum! This is where I spoke up.

My husband jumped because I had been sitting behind them and he didn’t even know I was there. It was funny. It turned out there had been an Uzbek classical music museum just 5 meters from our hotel the entire time we had been here and we hadn’t known! I asked the guy to take us there and he did! It was late but he opened up for us, turned all the lights on, gave us a private tour, and even played us some music! Here’s a of him playing for us.

Now, I’m really done and oh my god I’m tired.

Silk Factory, Local Lore Museum, and more Car Drama

We went to bed last night unsure of our car situation. The mechanic had it with him and we didn’t hear from him before we fell asleep. I woke up a little after midnight and we still had heard nothing. At some point during the night there was a knock on our door and it was a hotel staffer with the mechanic. They said the car was ready and they wanted us to test drive it! We said no, we’re just going to have to trust you on this. We’re not getting out of bed in the middle of the night to make sure the car is driving.

We woke up in the morning, went down for breakfast, and the room was full of Uzbek businessmen. One offered to let us join him at his table. He spoke enough English for us to have a basic conversation. Apparently they were having a conference on grape growing at the hotel. It’s a burgeoning industry in Uzbekistan. The guy turned out to be the mayor of a city we’ll be driving right through one day next week and he invited us to visit him. So, of course we will!

There was a museum in Fergana we wanted to see before we left. The Museum of Local Lore. So far Uzbek museums have been impressive. The only thing I wish is that they had a little more English, but that’s just me being a snob. I know I’m in the Russo-sphere. They have far more English here than I ever saw in Xi’an.

These towns are all tiny, everything is less than 5 minutes away by car than everything else. After the museum it was time to drive to the next town. We drove the 18 minutes to the next town over. Within the first five minutes of the drive our check engine light came on and then as we pulled in the parking lot of the the first museum the engine overheated. What a start to our day! We decided to not let it ruin things for us.

We left the car in the parking lot and made our way to the history museum there. It wasn’t so impressive. In fact I’d say it was the least impressive museum we’ve seen so far on this trip. After the museum we went to the Yodgorlik Silk Factory. It was really cool. Even my teen daughter seemed interested sometimes and that’s a miracle. The grounds themselves were just as interesting to me to look at as the silk making process was to learn about.

I had the mechanic’s phone number and our silk factory tour guide spoke English so I asked her if she would call the mechanic for us. She was happy to help us. The mechanic said he’d be there in fifteen minutes. An hour and a half later he arrived.

While we were waiting our new friend, the owner of the hotel we didn’t get to stay at, the one with the cat, randomly called me just to check in and see how we were doing. I told him what was going on and he came to the rescue! He showed up to help us with back-up! He had two cousins with him! It was amazing! They stayed with us all day long.

In the end we went to a different mechanic, one his cousin knew, this mechanic has finally diagnosed the true problem with our car! Our water pump wasn’t working! And he’s replacing it as I type this! Everyone was extra kind to us at the shop and they said they wanted to be sure to make our car ready to get us to the Aral Sea and back to Almaty.

Not our car featured in this photo, just the shop

After that we we feeling exhausted, especially me since I naturally wake up at 5AM every day, but our friend’s cousin really wanted us to go to his home to meet his family and so we did! We felt is was a great honor to be invited. He has a daughter the same age as my daughter so it might have been a good time for them. In the end, I’m glad we went!

His family was really nice. his home was great to see. We had fresh corn they picked and shucked straight from the garden. We had tea, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi. We had fresh baked bread. They showed us family photo albums and they even gave us some Uzbek souvenirs.

Now we’re staying an extra night in Fergana because of the car but we got to stay in the place with the cat after all! I’m writing from the bed there now. And I’m so tired I’ve fallen asleep three times in the middle of making this post so I’m going to stop now.

Our Day in Fergana, Uzbekistan

We left Kokand this morning and the plan was to go see a ceramics factory in Rishtan, but as we drove by it was clear our destination was nothing but a tourist trap. I’ve been around artists my whole life. I know how to make ceramics. I also lived in Santa Fe. I don’t need to see a ceramics shop. I wanted my daughter to see one, and I’m sure there’s got to be a cool one around here somewhere, but this one wasn’t it. We drove on.

Small town eastern Uzbekistan.

Today was mostly driving and chilling. It’s Sunday and museums were closed.

Since our plans had changed it meant we had to search for a new place to stay for the night. We found a place that looked good on Google Maps, drove straight there, parked, then couldn’t find it. No sign, no nuthin’. I called the number listed on Google, no answer. It was very frustrating.

So, we found another place. A much more expensive place. This one has a pool, and it’s fancy, and the restaurant is great, but still, it’s not where we wanted to go. The other place had a kitty. Google reviews said so. How’s this for how things work out sometimes? Almost immediately after we checked in at fancy place the owner of the original place we wanted to go returned my call and apologized for missing my call! He had an available room and offered it to us! Ugh!!!! I told him we had already checked in somewhere else but he offered to let us come over and meet his cat anyway. We made plans to do that later.

We’ve decided to have the car worked on a bit. I think it needs some new spark plugs and maybe a fuel filter so we asked the hotel to call us a mechanic. One came to grab the car. We asked him to give us a new air filter, a new fuel filter, and new spark plugs. Hopefully it’ll help with the car’s problems and the car will be like new tomorrow. Of course, if that is the problem, it brings us back to our original problem of: Why did my fucking mechanic not do this when I told him to prepare my car for the trip three weeks ago?

We saw a coffee shop right next to the hotel called Brown Sugar and thought we’d check it out. I know. I know, you’re thinking: they’re not eating Uzbek food? Naw. I mean… we’re eating some local foods we’ve never heard of when we see them, but Uzbek food is pretty much the same thing as Kazakh food and we’ve been living in this region for a year already so we’re okay with just eating whatever we want when we see it. I was really impressed with the coffee shop. The food was fine but the impressive part was the decor. It was wildly unexpected. It was American/Euro vintage style.

After lunch I called the first place we had wanted to stay and asked if now would be a good time to come over and see Mr. Samson, the kitty. Yes!!! It was only a short walk away. It turned out we had been in the right place the first time, only the sign over the door was very small. We ended up spending several hours there! The owner is a great guy. We mostly discussed world travels and world politics of course, that’s who we are. I was specifically asked to not link to his place here because he doesn’t like the cult of personality around himself. I can understand that. We’d still be sitting there talking to him had we not been called back to get our car. So you’ll never know the name of the place.

We’re back at our hotel having dinner now. We haven’t driven the car. Actually, there aren’t any hills around here anyway so we’ll all have to wait a couple days to find out if the the spark plugs were the solution. Even if they don’t fix the problem, new spark plugs aren’t going to hurt anything.

Until tomorrow!

First Five Days in Uzbekistan

We might be the only foreign tourists in the country at this time. Museums are empty, hotels are empty, everywhere is empty. It’s surreal. We were incredibly nervous about traveling during the pandemic. Little did we know how easy it would be to avoid crowds!

Driving to the Fergana Valley

We woke up in Tashkent this morning, had breakfast, and left for the Fergana Valley. It’s a region in the eastern part of Uzbekistan most many foreign visitors to the country skip. Not this family! We want to see it all! At one point, while we were driving along we looked up and there was a camel in the back of the truck in front of us.

A camel.

Our poor UAZ Patriot doesn’t handle mountains well. We couldn’t go up the passes much faster than the big semi trucks and at one point we were afraid our engine was going to overheat so we stopped to give it a rest. We had lunch here. Eggs, sausage, bread, and water.

Where we stopped for lunch.

After about a 4.5 hour drive we made it to our destination: The Palace of Khudayar Khan in Kokand. We arrived from the back of the place and parked in a huge empty lot behind the place and it looked completely unimpressive. I was thinking it was going to be a bust. Sometimes when we travel like this some things end up being not worth it, but!!! When we got around front… this place was different! It was great!

The courtyard of the palace.

It’s been mostly restored and it’s gorgeous, but we’ve seen lots of old palaces before. The thing we liked the most was the museum. There had lots of neat stuff in it. The most interesting to us was the reference to some petroglyphs we have not heard about anywhere else before and we’ve done lots of research on Uzbekistan. Now we have a new place added to our want to see list.

We were pretty tired after that so we checked Google Maps for hotels nearby and found the Silk Road Kokand Palace Hotel with good reviews. We seem to be the only guests here. I mentioned this in a previous post but it’s so surreal traveling at this exact time in history. museums are empty, restaurants are empty, hotels are empty. everything is empty. My husband and I are both vaccinated, but our teen daughter isn’t. We had serious discussions about whether we should travel this summer or not and if we were going to travel where we should go. Our conversations went around and around and in the end we decided on no airplanes, road trip only, avoid large crowds, try to stay outdoors as much as possible. Oh my god! We had no idea avoiding large crowds would be so easy! There’s no one here! No one! It’s just us everywhere we go!

The restaurant at the hotel. it’s just us.

Driving to Uzbekistan

We left Almaty on Monday morning and about 350 kilometers into our trip our car broke down. We were pretty angry because we had taken the car for a full tune up just last week. We had told the mechanic we were going on a two-month road trip all around Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and to make sure our car was fully prepared.  

When I called to say our car had broken down do you want to know what the mechanic said? “Your car has an electrical problem, that’s probably what’s going on.” WTF??? What part of we’re going on a massive two-month road trip through two countries where we don’t speak the languages and we really need to make sure our car is ready did you not understand???????? 

We pulled over on the side of the road, popped our hood up, and stood there for a bit. It only took about two minutes. One of the first cars that drove by us turned around and came back to help us. They didn’t speak any English, we don’t speak any Kazakh, and our Russian is poor, but a broken-down car is universal.  

The guys tried a few things but nothing worked. They communicated that they’d call someone else to help us. We pulled our camping chairs out of the back of our car and kicked back under the shade of a tree. We were in the middle of nowhere and a dog walked up! I love dogs! I was excited! It was happy to see us, wagged its tail, hung out by us, but wouldn’t let us touch it. While I was trying to pet the dog a police car pulled up.  

We went up to talk to the police. They were friendly. They tried to start our car but couldn’t. After they had only been there a few minutes a tow truck pulled up. The first people had come through for us! They really had called a tow truck for us! The tow truck driver spoke with the police for a bit and then he loaded us up. Before we were off, another police car pulled up! I’m pretty sure this police car just wanted to see the Americans broken down on the side of the road in a small town in the middle of Kazakhstan. 

It turned out it was a national holiday in Kazakhstan. We didn’t know that. There was no mechanic anywhere around willing to work on our car. The tow truck driver agreed to drive us to the next small town. We really were in the middle of nowhere. He had been just driving us down the road and randomly stopping at gas stations with garages and even at people’s homes and asking if anyone would work on our car.  

We stayed in a town called Taraz at a shitty hotel that didn’t even have hot water for showers. The ceiling of the bathroom looked like it was going to cave in on us and the knob on the door to our room was so fragile we were afraid to touch it, we opened and closed the door via the lock. But! The receptionist was amazing! We’d stay there again just for him! We had had such a stressful day. It had been awful. This guy was really patient with us and our lack of any way to communicate with him in a language he understood and he ordered delivery food for us.  

The next morning, he was in the process of trying to find a mechanic to come to the hotel and fix our car for us when a fellow guest just happened to say hello to us in English. What?????? Someone that spoke English???? Here??? What were the chances??? This guy was from Kyrgyzstan but has been living in the US since the 1990’s! He’s a long-haul truck driver and just happens to be traveling through Kazakhstan right now. He’s traveling with a good friend who’s a mechanic!!!!!! They fixed our car for us!!! 

So, we were on our way! We drove about three hours and got pulled over by the police. Now, had this been me of 15 years ago I would have been terrified. Heck, had this been me of 7 years ago I would have been terrified, but me today? Naw. You want to know what we did? Or what my husband did? He laughed at them. Literally. Here’s how it went down: 

The kid and I sat in the car; the cops told the husband to come back to the car with him. They tried to get him to pay a $300 USD bribe. He LOL’d at them. He told me one of them laughed when he laughed at the cop. So my husband laughed directly in a cop’s face and then the other cop laughed at that. So, they went back and forth and back and forth the cop trying to get a bribe out of him and my husband kept insisting just give me the ticket. That’s not what they want. They don’t want to give you the ticket. They want you to pay a bribe. In the end, we paid a bribe. $10 USD. Yes, you read that right. $10. The cops originally tried to get $300 out of us.  

We’ve lived in China and Benin. These Kazakh cops aren’t going to get shit outta us.  

Eventually we made it to the Uzbek border. I had read horror stories online about the Zhibek Zholy border crossing and since we have our own wheels, we drove the extra kilometers to the Kaplanbek border where I had read it was much easier to get across. But when we got there were no other cars, only semi-trucks. A guy came out and told us there were no cars allowed at this border crossing. I had the distinct feeling he was lying to us, but we had had such a stressful time getting here so far, we just didn’t have it in us to find out if he was lying or not. We turned the car around and headed toward the dreaded Zhibek Zholy.  

Wow! It was annoying. It was almost empty. There were maybe three other cars there and it still took us four hours to get through customs. I cannot even imagine going through there on a busy day and I do not recommend it. We would never do it again. If we ever visit this country again, we’ll fly in and rent a car. We have no idea what took so long. It seemed as if it was all for show. Every time we thought we were finished they’d call us over to another window and ask us more questions. It was borderline absurd. We were there an hour and a half after already having had our passports stamped! Really! I’ve read stories online of fights breaking out at that border due to the stress and oh my god! I can understand why. There was literally no one in line when we were there, no one, and if I had been there just one more hour, I would have been ready to start screaming. That place must be complete insanity on a busy day. Truly, if you’ve just randomly stumbled upon my blog because you’re thinking of doing this trip…. oh my god…. do not enter through this border. My husband and I are well seasoned travelers. Uzbekistan is our 39th country to visit together. We arrange all our own travels, and we have the utmost amount of patience, but wow! This I can really see how this place could drive someone to violence. We did it in the middle of the pandemic when there was almost no one around and it took us four damn hours to get through. Only do it if you’re a masochist.  

Yulin Dog Meat Festival: The Liberation

The first thing I want to make clear is I do not have any more of an issue with the meat of a dog being eaten than the meat of a pig or a cow. A common argument made about the protests of the Yulin Dog Meat festival is: Where are all the people protesting the eating of cows or pigs or chickens? And I fully appreciate that sentiment. While it is absolutely not part of my culture to eat dog and I have an emotional attachment to them I can appreciate that in some cultures dog is just another livestock animal. I was vegetarian for 15 years

Dog meat soup.

and vegan for 5 of them. I began eating meat again several years ago and I have made my peace with that. If I am willing to eat a pig, a fish, a snake, an insect, or a cow, I should be able to eat a dog.

Also, as I am sure many of you know already, as part of my research I actually attended the Yulin Dog Meat festival 2 years ago. It was the most emotionally challenging thing I have ever put myself through. I blogged about it here but in short I did not see anything I was expecting. I was expecting horrible cruel people torturing sweet puppy dogs to death. What I found was to this day some of the very nicest people I have met in China. Everyone was kind and welcoming to me and after the cruelness of many of the people in the city where I live I was surrounded by the dead carcasses of dogs and the barking and whining of the those awaiting slaughter and yet I still felt more comfortable and more welcomed there than I usually do in Xi’an.


While I was there I did see thousands of dogs. Most of them appeared to be street dogs, dogs raised as livestock, or very old dogs the families had gotten rid of for cash. As depressing as it was I did not see any pure breed pet looking dogs. I also saw hundreds of dogs killed and every single one was done humanely with a slit to the throat. The dogs I saw did not appear to have ever felt the loving touch of a human and they were killed for food much in the same way as goats are. I am sure I have seen all the photos, all the videos, and read all the same articles as you have about the horrors of the Dog Meat Festival. All I can write about is what I saw.

Now on to part two of my research: The Liberation. I have made friends with a very active animal rights activist here in Xi’an. He told me they had stopped a dog truck on its way to the Dog Meat Festival and I said I wanted to see them. I was told there had been about 100 dogs on the truck and most of them had been adopted already. When I arrived there were about 25 left. Some were sweet as if maybe they had been a pet but most were definitely street dogs that would growl, snarl, and snap if you got to close. There was one greyhound.

Rescues from the first truck

While there my friend told me there was another truck coming through tonight and asked if I wanted to join them in stopping it. Are you kidding? Of course I did! I was supposed to be attending a going away party that night but I sent her a nice voice message saying I knew there would be loads of people there and no one would really miss me and the dogs were very important to me, love you and see you around! She understood.

So here’s how it went down: Someone from the rescue group has a contact that works on the highway. They pay him if he calls and reports a dog truck is coming through. Then they know how long it takes the truck to get from that point to closer to Xi’an. There were several cars of us and we sat waiting at the highway entrance to catch the truck. It was a highly suspenseful time. The truck knew we were waiting for them and the car we had tailing it kept commenting to say they were taking alternate routes trying to lose us. We would speed down one road then U-turn, turn left or right and speed down another. When we finally knew we were almost to the truck my friend and I got stuck behind traffic on a road with no shoulder so no way to get around. We were flashing our lights and honking our horn and as soon as we could we sped around them. As we turned a corner we came up on a big brawl in the middle of the road and saw one of our guys jump into a big truck, pull a crazy fast U-turn and speed off. We all followed the truck while a small group of people was left on the side of the road, people that had been traveling with the dogs.

The truck I was involved in stopping

We drove to a deserted road, pulled over, and raised the tarp covering the dogs. It was one of the saddest sites I have ever seen. The only thing I thought about was Jews being sent off to concentration camps. There were over 300 dogs crammed into this one truck and many on the bottom had been trampled to death. There were Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, a husky with beautiful blue eyes, and hundreds of others. These were no street dogs and certainly were not dogs raised as livestock. When we closed the tarp back up so we could drive on the dogs screamed, and howled, and cried like nothing I have ever heard before. It has been over a week and I am tearing up right now as I type this. It was like the most horrifying cries from the pits of hell. I felt so sorry for them.

With the tarp removed

We drove on to the designated stopping place. Everyone contacted everyone they knew to tell them to come out and see the dogs. By now it was almost 1:00 in the morning but about 200 people came out to see the truck. This may seem funny but I was struck by how nicely everyone was dressed. It reminded me of the stories we hear of the first battles of the Civil War when the wealthy would set up seats to watch. The Chinese do like fashion. Women will walk up mountains in dresses and heels and this was no different.

While driving the two hours back to Xi’an I found out we had not only stolen the truck but also kidnapped the “owner” of the dogs. What needed to happen now was he needed to call the police to report his dogs stolen but when the police arrived he needed to tell the policeman he didn’t want the dogs anymore and relinquish ownership to the rescue group. I will leave it up to your imagination as to how they helped change the “owner’s” mind but in the end he did relinquish ownership. After that the truck was driven to a shelter outside of Xi’an where they had agreed to take in the dogs and the guy was given his truck back.

I wasn’t exactly sure of what I was going to do when the police came since…uh…well…I’m kind of a foreign citizen involved in some not exactly legal action therefore risking jail time and deportation but at 2:00 AM when we had no idea if the police were coming in 15 minutes or 15 hours and I was offered a ride home I took it.

Does this look like a dog bred for meat to you?

The next day I got the location of the shelter and paid a driver to take me out there. It was terribly depressing. There were so many pets. These were clearly stolen house pets. They were sweet precious babies that were used to sleeping on couches under the air conditioning while being loved on. They were definitely not livestock. I was horrified. Many of them clearly were street dogs, many seemed to fit what I saw in Yulin two years ago very old pets that no one wanted to care for anymore so they sold it for meat, but oh my god more than 25% of them were definitely stolen house pets.


The condition of the truck and stolen house pets is what I am fighting against. My baby boy is laying in bed next to me as a write this.


He is not food. I could not kill and eat my dog any easier than I could kill and eat my daughter. He is family. And someone stole other people’s babies, shoved them onto this hellish truck, and sent them all the way across the country to be slaughtered and eaten.

Before anyone asks I have seen trucks transporting cattle and pigs in China. They look just like the trucks in the US do. They don’t shove more than 300 pigs onto one truck and have them so packed in that they are distorted and the ones on bottom are trampled to death. This is a special way of transport just for dogs apparently.

It has been 8 days since then. I have been to the shelter 5 times to help clean the kennel, bathe the dogs, and give them love. Yesterday for the first time some other people came with me. It was very nice to have help. Local Chinese volunteers come out everyday and say they are there to help but just like the night of the heist and hiking up mountains they wear nice clothes and don’t want to get them dirty so they won’t come in the kennel with the dogs. Instead they stand around taking pictures of me working and post them on their We Chat. It infuriates me but on the other hand I remind myself that volunteering and helping others, especially dogs, is not a part of Chinese culture so the mere fact that they are there really does say something. For a short while a group of five locals came in the kennel to help clean. They told me they had adopted a dog on the first day and they wanted to come back and help. I almost cried. It was the first time I had seen any Chinese person other than shelter employees actually come in the kennel and get dirty. Tomorrow a local friend of mine is going to help. I do not mean to have the White Savior Complex and imply the locals that come out don’t care. They really do. Why else would they drive so far to get there? I think they just don’t really know what to expect, they wear their normal nice clothes, and then realize there’s not really anything they can do without ruining them. I hope they’ll all come back next week in their old jeans and help!

Some friends and I bathing dogs

The owner of the kennel and the manager really care. The manager of the shelter was so overwhelmed with emotion the first time I met her she cried, the owner is a Buddhist and has Buddhist chants playing at all times on the grounds. Another way they show they care is giving the dogs bones to chew on even though they are dog bones and that is pretty weird from my cultural way of thinking. I wonder if it’s a Buddhist thing? Waste nothing? I really don’t know.

The kennel itself is a mixture of happiness and sadness. Some of the dogs are badly injured and some of them are very ill. They cannot afford medical treatment so the dogs either heal or die. One to five of them die everyday. Some are in such terrible shape that I arrive in the morning and they are dead by the time I leave in the afternoon but euthanasia is strictly against Chinese culture. They think of it as murder. No matter how much the poor thing is suffering they will just leave it there to die instead of putting it out of its misery. But that’s not a thing with just this shelter. That’s China. Omg when my poor baby cat went into kidney failure at the age of 16 and I couldn’t find a vet to help put her out of her misery I just about went crazy.

My babies

During the first 2 days almost all of the pure breed dogs were adopted. There is still one German Shepherd puppy with a deformed foot, one ancient Rottweiler, one Mastiff, and one adorable Golden Retriever/Mastiff mix, and one Malamute, other than that it’s almost all mixed breeds. Between adoptions and deaths about half of them are gone now. Many of them are so sweet you’d cry if you came and want to take them all home with you. There are maybe 50 that were clearly street dogs and cower and run away when you get too close. I have fallen in love with a couple of them and it truly breaks my heart that I will have to leave them soon. I only have 22 days left in China.

Left overs

I have been so miserable here and for the past 6 months I have been counting the days before I get to get the fuck out and now one month before I leave I fall in love and have the greatest reason to stay. The saddest, saddest thing to me is that when I leave there will be no one to give them love. They’ll live the rest of their lives in that kennel and may never feel human touch again. I don’t blame the shelter at all. Oh my god they care, they really care but there are no more than 5 people there and they have 2,000 dogs to take care of. They don’t have time to give the dogs affection. And other foreign volunteers? They’ll lose interest. Please prove me wrong if you’re reading this.

I just got home from my sixth time to go out there and help in nine days. We rescued over 300 dogs. Fifty to sixty of them, basically all the pure breeds, have been adopted, fifty to sixty have died and I see little hope for the rest to ever find homes. About twenty of them are either sick or injured and about thirty of them are wildish street dogs. In the end was it really worth it? I struggle with that. I’m not sure. Maybe I’m just depressed. I looked around this afternoon and thought to myself these are the leftovers. These are the ones no one wants. It doesn’t matter how sweet their personalities are they don’t look expensive so they get looked over. Out of over 300 dogs 50 of them found homes and the rest are either dead, sick, injured, or will live the rest of their lives locked in a cage. Is taking a sweet, sweet happy little puppy dog and locking it in a cage with little to no human contact for the rest of its life really better than cooking it up for dinner?





Funeral in a rural village in China 坡头村

So my friend texted me after midnight last Wednesday to tell me that his mother had died. He asked me if I would please come to the funeral. I said of course I would not only because his mother died but especially because of my interest in death rituals around the world. My friend lives in a rural village about an hour outside of the city so I was really curious about what the funeral would be like.

As far as I know I may be one of the only foreigners that has ever been to a rural funeral in China. Of course that is only through my own anecdotal research but I have asked everyone I know here and no one has ever been or even knows anyone that has ever been to a funeral in China and I do know for a fact that I and my family are the only foreigners that have ever visited this particular village.

When I arrived I immediately felt out of place because I was wearing black. I had asked a couple people what I should wear and I was told to wear black and white, or black, or white. I don’t have any white clothes other than a white Tshirt so I wore an all black kind of nice outfit. I was the only person in black and I felt I stood out like a sore thumb. Everyone else was in white. I think a crappy white Tshirt would have been more fitting than my black outfit.

Family members were wearing white robes and white pieces of cloth tied around their heads that made them look a lot like extras from a kungfu movie. Word spread immediately that I was there, and I mean like I had not been there 15 seconds before my friend came rushing up to me. He escorted me into his house where they had an alter set up to his mom where I was made to kneel, light incense, then bow to a photo of her her. Then I was taken to the guest gift registry room where there were several old men sitting around a table and one had a long scroll in front of him and a paint brush he was using to record gifts and names. I gave 200¥ (about $30USD) and everyone seemed pleased. Minimum wage in China is $181USD a month and these people live significantly under minimum wage so $30 is a lot of money. IMG_20160617_093211

I sat around for a bit waiting for things to get started while everyone was staring at me, touching me, and asking me a million questions about who I was and why I was in China.

Soon we all paraded to the burial place. The casket was inside a really neat looking litter with a big dragon’s head and tail.

IMG_20160617_094646Music was played, there was much weeping, so much in fact I would believe they were paid to be there,

and a bit to my surprise much celebration. It was like a mixture of an old times Spanish funeral with all the wailing and a good ol’ Irish wake. The family was wailing and the friends were having a grand ol’ time.

At some point about halfway to the burial place we all stopped. Immediate family members were guided by some leader type guy in how to pray in front of the casket. They had to hold their hands in a proper way, kneel a proper way, and bow a proper way a proper amount of times. Some guys teased me and tried to get me to go do it too. It was so weird. I was trying to be all somber and respectful but they were all teasing me and having loads of fun.

We got to the burial site and the hole was already dug. The band set up and played music the while time. The hole was different than we do in the west. It was dug about 10 feet down but then they dug in. So the casket was lowered down and then put into the ground kind of like a drawer. Then they made a wall of bags of dirt where the casket was. Then, and this part apparently is very important because everyone made sure I saw it. A guy took a huge gulp of xi feng jiu (rice liquor local to this province), spit it in a small opening towards the casket, and lit it on fire and a huge flame burst out while they scrambled to get out of there.


Then the music stopped quite abruptly and everyone walked back to the house.

My friend requested I wait with him. We hung back for about half an hour and were the last people to return to his home. Apparently at Chinese funerals the immediate family are supposed to be the very last people to leave the graveside. I am definitely not immediate family but he wanted me there so I stayed.

When we got back to his home there was a huge feast. There were at least 200 people there and a lot of xi feng jiu. At things like this everyone wants to drink with the foreigner so by 11:30 in the morning I was very, very drunk.IMG_20160617_112529

I left by 12:00.

After the funeral my black taxi driver (illegal taxi) and I went to explore some old cave dwellings people used to live in during the War of Japanese Aggression, better known to most of you as World War II. I will write about them later.