Thursday, October 11, 2007

Time’s Time and Half a Time

Daily life out here is quirky for a variety of reasons. One of the most notable is that no matter where you may be throughout the province, you're functioning within two time zones simultaneously.

Technically the whole country is supposed to set their clock to one uniform time. That choice is of course based on where the sun is relative to the capital--a city far from where I live. The use of one time zone throughout country is akin to the Canadian government declaring that all people will run there life by Eastern Time (as found in Ottawa). This would mean that 8 in the morning was the same time in Newfoundland, BC and everywhere in between.

The sun may be at its highest point when striking noon in this countries capital but it takes two or more hours to make it to that same place here, and still another hour to reach its zenith above the farthest western reaching parts of this country. The Uyghurs, along with other indigenous minority people groups, tend to ignore the concept of this “One for all” time zone imposed from several thousand miles away. They simply use their own unofficial local time. This presumes the entire province to be two hours behind everywhere else in the country.

Setting local clocks to the capital's time doesn't make much sense. People around the world prefer not to function when it's dark outside. So the government offices, banks, and other institutions that are obliged to follow official “one for all time zone” policy a way to circumvent this problem by shifting business hours to later than they would be held in the eastern cities. Doors at such places tend to open at 10:00, rather than 8:00, to simultaneously address the directive of the central government and serve the local population.

While just using local time would seem a more logical way of operating, the existence of Capital’s clock confounds everything. Posted operating hours on businesses are often qualified with the notion “official time”, aka that of the capital. Arranging to meet with anybody will almost always end with the question "Capital time or local time?" It's a general rule of thumb that the majority people keep their watches set to the official time, and the ethnic minorities' run two hours behind. However, no matter how carefully appointments are scheduled, everybody is at some point bound to either stand a friend up, or arrive somewhere two hours earlier than they needed to. ( Trust me, it still occasionally happens even after living here for three years, which has inspired this somewhat long and biter diatribe against time zones)

It may seem trivial, but the choice of which time zone one uses out here is to some degree loaded. Operating on the same time as the bulk of the country’s population doesn't offer much convenience, but does signify volumes as to the “oneness” the government is trying to establish here. And while it's not much of a rebellion against capital, it is significant that the locals choose to ignore what is perceived as a silly mandate from the central government.

The actuality of which time people really function at seems to fall somewhere in between. My perception is that those who run their lives by official time tend to stay out late. Those who go by local time turn in early. For what it's worth, I keep my clocks set to local time. I've always been an early riser, so I think it marginally moves my schedule closer to normal. I would be so tired if I thought I was going to bed every night at 1 am, but 11 pm feels reasonable. I would also think I was being very sluggish if I didn’t start my days activities until 9:30, but being up for classes at 7:30 am feels just about right. Two times at the same time, it is almost apocalyptic (or science fiction, since I can time travel ahead two hours, by just walking next door).

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