Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving,

Okay I know I am a little late on sharing these wishes, especially considering that I am Canadian. But just last night my classmates, who are all American, and I hosted thanksgiving dinner for our teachers. We went all out with green beans, mashed potatoes, stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce (which my classmate proved could be made from dried cranberries that had spent two months in the mail) , sweet potato casserole, bread , and chicken ( turkeys are really hard to find out here, and ham is forbidden). It tasted so good; at least to those of us from North America, I think the teachers thought it was a little weird. We tried to teach them the English expression “Going for seconds” but I don’t think to many of them actually went.

Since we had planned the whole thing rather last minute considering that I just got back from down south, I think some the teachers felt obligated to come, one lady couldn’t find a babysitter, so brought her five year old son along. Our rooms are very small(considering the guest list of seven and a full buffet table), with not a lot of interesting things to occupy an active kid, he ended up playing with my classmates computer, which I don’t think she was the most thankful for. We did the traditional go around the circle and tell one thing that you are thankful for this past year. Most of our teachers were not that original and all said that they were thankful to be our teacher, and get to experience a western holiday. One of our teachers announce during this time that it was her birthday. They all had to go pretty early and left us with a lot of uneaten food.

So 15 minutes after they left, which was just enough time to rinse off some of the plates and silverwear, we started our second thanksgiving party of the night. This time we went all around our dorm building and knocked on all the other western students’ doors asking them to come and join us. This group ate till they were full, even though the food was now all cold. Despite the second party it will still be leftovers for us for the next week.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cleaning the snow

I know I have written on this topic in the past in my emails and letters, and I am sure I will mentioned it again in the future, but every year when the snow first arrives I am always amazed at what a great equalizer it is.

The day after the snow stops falling the pounding, scraping and shouting begins. Every business is responsible for clearing the snow from in front of their shop, not only the side walk but also the road. You will see ladies from fancy dress shops out in their high heeled shoes with a pick axe in their hands, working next to the butcher who still has blood on his apron and a shovel in his hand. Every business sends all but one of its workers outside. The whole street becomes alive with the sites and sounds of snow removal. It is like a street party with a purpose. The buses stop running and everyone joins in. Even on our campus each class (except of the foreign students, thankfully) is assigned a portion of side walk or road that they have to clean off).

It is funny because in Uyghur the verb for shovelling is actually cleaning the snow. And it sometimes seems like that is what they are doing. Today when I was out for a walk I saw a guy trying to shovel off the snow using a big over sized broom. I really can’t say how successful he was with his tool, but he was cleaning the snow.

The first day after it snows is also special for other reasons, it is one of the few days in the winter that we are blessed with clear skies and white snow. The falling snow does a lot to clean the pollution out of the air. The snow is white for all of a few days before it is covered with a light layer of coal dust that make it look black. I better enjoy it while I can.

If it never snows than what do you call the white stuff falling from the sky?

As some of you might already know I am looking into the possibility of moving next semester and teaching English. My friends I left on Wednesday night to make a trip down to the school to check it out and talk with officials. Thankfully we where able to take the train instead of the dreaded sleeper bus.

On Wednesday we where overwhelmed with our first snow fall of the year. Instead of just a few flurries… it dropped buckets. I was excited to be headed south to the edge of the dessert and escaping the winter furry that had been unleashed. When the guy meet us at the train station on Thursday morning ( it is a 13hour train trip) we where pleased to see that the sky was clear, the trees still had some of their fall leaves hanging on, and there was no slipper white stuff covering the ground. We asked our host from the school how often in snows in this part of the country, and he assured us it didn’t. Buy the time we left the meeting at about 6pm it had started raining, and after a little supper, the rain drops where starting to look a little fluffier and a little whiter.

The next morning when we woke up the ground was covered with the slushy type of slipper snow. Our host blamed us for bringing it with us from the capital city, but in reality winter is just here. We took the bus back this morning and found out that it has now been snowing for four days straight. Everything is covered in the white winter wonder land.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Wet Blanket

About this time of year many different indicators of the cold weather start to appear. Today, for instance was the hanging of the blankets. For some reason, that is still unknown to me, almost every building hangs these heavy green blankets in their door ways. These green blankets often get wet from the snow and rain, and in the dead of winter they freeze solid.

Since I am not the strongest person in the world I don’t always push them hard enough out of my way, and then the wet blanket swings back and hits me in the face, trust me once they freeze over, it kind of hurts. The other weird thing is that you can’t see through them, so you never know if someone else is coming or going in or out of the door. This often leads to collisions. I know they hang the blankets to keep the cold out, but if they would just close the existing doors (that only swing one way, and have windows so that you can see on coming traffic) a lot of pain and inconvenience could be avoided.

Okay so this is not the most interesting post in the world. But after just one day of having the blankets back in the doorways I have already crashed into two people who were exiting the building I was trying to enter.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Roads Where We Are Going We Don't Need Any Roads

Today I was very nearly hit by a car, which considering where I live is not that unusual of a thing. Every day when I cross the street it is like playing frogger. Cars don't stop you just have to time your crossing right and go one lane at a time. This often means that you have to wait in the middle with cars trying to hug the line on both sides of you. I remember when I first arrived I would always wait for locals to cross the street and then just try to fall in step with them. I have since finally honed my own skill. Ask my family, I think the whole process of crossing the street really stressed them out when they were here last year.

Today's near accident, however, did not take place in the middle of the street, or even on the side of the street, in fact I was no where close to the street. I was walking on the sidewalk when I heard a car horn beep behind me (which is in and of itself is not that unusual). So I jumped out of the way, only to discover I was inches from the front of another car heading the other direction on the SIDEWALK. I don't think people realise that the word walk is in there for a purpose. Cars are not suppose to be driving there. Between the guys selling things and cars driving up and down there is almost no room for pedestrians to walk on the SIDEWALK.

Don't worry about me too much the cars that are one the sidewalk are only travelling about a mile per hour, so if they do hit you, you just hold your ground, turn around and start yelling at the driver to watch where he is going. He will also start yelling at you, but you just need to shrug it off. Cars on the sidewalk just make life more fun.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Night in the Bathroom

It is pretty sad that even after living here more than two years my stomach still has not totally adjusted itself to the food. I must say when you are sick, and you can’t bend all that well, Squaty-Potties are just not the most helpful thing. I was thankful that the shower is right there to help with clean up. I will save you from the details, but I think this picture of my bathroom will give you a pretty good idea.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

My New Toy

I grew up all my life hearing stories of great explorers and heroes of old, who traveled to other countries and distant far off lands to study culture and learn language, much like I am doing now. Part of the adventure in these stories were the struggles and hardships faced by the travelers. Things did not come easy for them, and learning to live in a new country was filled with daily challenges. Many of the languages they had to learn had never been written down and the sounds were so foreign that a person would have no idea how to make them.

But this is a modern world we live in, and even the life of the foreign student has in many ways been made easier. Most recently, for me at least, was the purchase of Ernie (if you know me at all, then you know that I always name my computers and other electronic devises). Ernie (his Uyghur name is Irpan) is a electronic dictionary that translates from Uyghur to English and back again. He even has the national language and a Arabic dictionary and is small enough to fit in my pocket (although I would not keep him there for fear of tempting the pic-pockets beyond what they can endure). Ernie goes everywhere with me. The dictionary was designed and built by Uyghurs who are studying English, but it works just as well for us English speakers trying to learn Uyghur.

Since I bought him last week I have started to believe that the company should be giving me a cut of their profits. I have told all of the other Uyghur language students at our school and many of them have made the purchase or are planning to do so soon. And now I am even spreading the wonder of this little toy to all my friends and readers at home. I really am the best advertisement they have.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Kids in the Kitchen

When I was younger I took a class from our local community centre that was called “Kids in the Kitchen” We were suppose to learn some simple kitchen safety as well as how to cook some simple dishes. Instead all we did was stood in the kitchen and watched the instructor cook for us. Now don’t get me wrong I am never against eating food that someone has slaved over making for me… but the point of the class was our learning how to cook for ourselves.

Any time I have tried to help an older Uyghur lady cook I feel just like I did in that class, like a dumb kid who can only stand there and watch. Before moving out here I was invited to a party in Ontario where all the Uyghur immigrants had gathered. That weekend I offered to help and started peeling carrots. Two minuets later the knife was snatched from my hand. A much older woman told me I had weak wrists and that I should go sit down. My only consultation that weekend was that five minuets later my mother was also shoed away for offering help (I don’t know what excuse they gave her)

Despite these scaring events I keep offering to help, hoping that one day I will do more than just stand in the kitchen, but actually get to chop, or fry or stir something. On Friday I talked my tutor into teaching me to make pollo for class. By the time I arrived she already had half the carrots chopped, she did let me cut two, but I think she was able to finish cutting the last eight in the time that it took me. For the rest of the morning I just watched as she fried up the meat, washed the rice, added the veggies and ever other step that goes into the process. I was allowed to carry the plates to the table, and even pour the tea before we ate. I know you have to crawl before you can walk, but my only question is how many years must I just be a kid standing in the kitchen.

I might not know how to cook all of this...

but I sure know how to eat it.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Who Needs a Cart or a Booth When the Ground Works Just as Well

Today in class we were asking our teacher how much we should expect to pay for certain things around town. So much of the art of shopping here depends on your bargaining skills. If you don’t know what sort of price to aim for on a product… you may never know how badly you are being cheated. Some of the more major department type stores or even some of the chain stores have fixed prices… but anywhere else it is everyman for himself. The best rule of thumb, as a foreigner, is to take the price they give you and offer them 1/3 of it. Work you way up to half… if they still haven’t agreed then just start to walk away.

When we told our teacher that we did not bargain at home, she was amazed. Her first question was “not even on the street?”. Both my roommate and I had to stop and think about it for a minute… “How do we buy things from street dealers at home?” The answer is we don’t have them at home, at least not the type of thing she is referring too.

As you walk around town you will see any number of sellers with their things spread out on the ground. Some of them have carts that are loaded down with all their wares. Others, however, don’t see the need for a cart when the ground works just fine. From the ground you can buy everything from meat to fruit, clothing to toys. You can always tell when someone gets wind of the fact that the police are coming by. In a matter of seconds everyone with a cart is in on the run, and people whose things are just on the ground pick up the corners of the blanket and go.

My shopping habits will never be the same again. I wonder how the Walmart sales lady will respond to my finely tuned bargaining skills.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Sitting with Strangers

At home restaurants often run into the problem of too many guests and not enough tables to seat them all at. So you end up having to wait for a table. I have never faced this problem since moving to Central Asia.

Last night my friend and I went out for dinner at one of the busier restaurants in town. At dinner time there is not a free table in the place, but then who ever said we needed our own table. Instead we looked around and found a large group that seemed to have a little room at the end of their table. I asked if we could squeeze in, and the next thing you know we were having dinner with strangers. This is a very common occurrence out here. In fact I often end up making a lot of new friends this way, since the people at our table are always amused by the foreigner’ attempts to speak their language. Last nights stranger were especially nice as they shared some of their food with us.

The following are pictures from some of my favourite resturants close to the school.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Who needs an Alarm Clock when there is Basketball

Directly behind my dorm building is the school’s basket ball court. Students here love to play basketball. They often try to get a game in before seven thirty classes start. It doesn’t matter if it is summer or winter, they are out playing basketball.

Since my window looks out on the court I am woken up every morning by the sound of bouncing basketballs. Some days I am really lucky as miss aimed balls bounce off my window and scare me awake. This constant sound of thump… thump… thump, starts most morning between 5:30 and 6 am and goes steady until 10 pm, when dorms are locked for the night and students must be inside. I had a friend come and visit last year and she compared the sound to the cultic drum beats she heard while visiting Haiti.

The only morning I am granted a break from this rythemmatic pounding is days when it is raining or snowing first thing in the morning. I know what the weather will be like during the day before I even get out of bed based on how many balls I hear being dribbled at one time. And so I have had to learn to live with a constant beat being kept in the background of all I do.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Counting as I Climb

Oh for the days of elevators. Out here a building is not required, by law, to have an elevator unless it is more than seven stories tall. In order to save on the cost of having to install one, most building stop at the seventh floor. I was warned of this before I came, but even so I don’t think I fully realized what I was getting myself into.

Take my Thursday class schedule for instance: first period I am on the fourth floor of one building, at class change time I have 15 minuets to descend 72 steps (while about a thousand other students are also coming and going), and then make my way to another building where my class is on the 5th floor (another 96 individual steps). There are many days I have to count my way to the top in order to make it. No need for a step master out here.

I remember my first semester I was living on the 5th floor of the apartment building. Everyday before I left my house I triple checked to make sure I had everything that I needed. You hate to get to the bottom only to realize that you forgot something. Thankfully for the last year and a half I have been living on the 2nd floor. I can say one thing for all the stairs… it is really doing something for my quad muscles, I’m in shape.

This is the building I lived in when I first moved here. My porch was the one in the top right hand corner. As I said I only lived here for one semester.

This is the building I live in now. This girl in the picture is obviously not me ( she lived here last year and I took the picture so she could send it home to her family to show them where she lived, but as I was writing this post I realized it was the only picture I have of this building) so this time you get to see Sarah's smiling face instead of mine.