Friday, November 30, 2007

More Insight on Underwear

Today in class I experientially got more insight as to why local people wear so many layers. Our classroom was freezing. In fact my teacher and fellow classmates don't even bother to take off their coats any more. They spend the whole four hours of class time bundled up tight enough to go sledding. I just can't do that. It is too hard to sit comfortably for that many hours with my winter stuff on. But if the heat inside is going to be that ineffective I can understand a little better why people might need extra layers.

The average classroom here is nothing more than cement floors and walls, nothing fancy and nothing warm about it. These pictures were taken in the summer, but they do represent the average classroom here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Some Cute Pics

Last week my classmate and I had a number of girls over for American thanksgiving dinner ( I love living in a international community that lets me eat thanksgiving dinner twice a year). We had stuffing, sweet potato casserole, green beans, gravy, rolls, roast chicken, cranberries and more. We had made a ton of food, but the only thing the girls really ate was the sweet potato and the roast chicken. Why those two? Because they are most like Uyghur food. In fact with the chicken we kind of cheated and just bought two already roasted chickens off the street from the Uyghur version of Swiss Chalet. We had also bought the sweet potatoes on the street. Come winter men walk about the street with these large metal drums filled with heated coals, the use the drums to make baked sweet potato. The smell is so intoxicating. I had bought the potatoes from him to save time and just added the extra milk, butter, and sugar. The girls seemed to like the party, but in truth they only ate the food they were use to.

One of the girls had studied up on American holidays before coming. She was asking me to tell her more about the chocolate eating holiday. At first I thought she meant Valentines day, but she looked it up in the dictionary again, and really wanted me to tell her all about Easter. As you can see she listened quite intently though my whole explanation.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


I almost got a job this week at the top university in the province. Halfway though the semester they realized they were short an English teacher for four hours a week. When I heard about the crunch they were in I offered my services. NO one asked for my school transcripts, my English teaching certification, or a resume. In fact they didn’t really even seem to care about that… all that mattered was that I was a native English speaker. Talk about a demanding standard and a competitive job market. The top school is willing to hire profs part time, who just volunteer to teach. They were offering to pay me 100kuai an hour, which is more than three times what I pay my tutor, who is a real retired prof from the school. The guy in the office said he would try to work out the students’ schedule to match mine and get back to me. The day before I was suppose to start to teach I went into the office to make sure everything was set. I needed to get the text book for the class, and know what building and room we were meeting in. I arrived only to find out they had already hired another Canadian guy without telling me. When I inquired as to why I didn’t get the job, they said “oh, the other guy had more free time on Tuesday” (that is what I call a superior job qualification).

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Goodbye Mountains, see you in Spring

Our annual pilgrimage into darkness has begun. The mountains and backdrop of the city is fading into the haze. The city I live in is surrounded by large mountains that can be seen from all over town, or at least in the spring. I was walking down the street today and realised I could no longer see any of them. The coal haze has gotten too thick. It is time for them to make it snow and clean out the air.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Long Underwear Fashion Show

When it gets cold here people pull out their long johns. It makes every one look like they have gained several pounds since all of their pants fit tightly. Underneath everything there are two or three pairs of long underwear. This layered looked makes a person comfortable when they are outside in the frigid cold, but makes it a little too toasty when they come inside. That is why stripping is considered totally appropriate. Not only do people take their shoes off at the door they sometimes take their pants off too.

Yesterday our teacher came over for dinner and to watch a movie. After we had finished eating my classmate invited her to get comfortable to watch the movie (she meant grab a pillow or feel free to put your feet up on the bed and stretch out), our teacher looked relieved at the invitation and stripped off her skirt. I guess it was too tight with all her pairs of tights on underneath, she was also getting pretty warm.

Another time I went to visit my friend’s home, it was the first time I was going to meet her parents, and she assured me they were very excited about the visit. When I arrived my friend greeted me at the door wearing her long johns, but it wasn’t just her both of her parents were walking around the house the same way. It was hard work keeping a straight face throughout my visit as her dad sat across from me wearing purple long underwear.

A few years ago when my room flooded the older Uyghur guy who lives a few doors down came to give me a hand. He helped me scoop water for three hours, the whole time wearing nothing but matching top and bottom stripped pink, green, and blue long underwear. While I was thankful for the help, it was a little too much information about my neighbour.

In this way I am not doing the best at enculturating myself. I still refuse to wear any long underwear. In my mind it is a ten minute walk to class I would prefer to be cold for ten minutes and comfortable for the four hours I am in class, or any time I am inside. Needless to say I get told hundreds of times a day, and in a variety of languages that I am wearing too little, that my clothes are too thin. Well I might be wearing too little, but at least I am wearing real clothes. For your sake I am choosing to not include pictures with this blog. I think I have created enough of a mental long underwear fashion show, that we can skip the real thing.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Night in Square

Every city around in county has its own Peoples Square. In reality it is nothing more than a cemented over area in the middle of town that features a monument or a statue commemorating something famous. But in practice it is one of the most happening places. Ours features a ten foot squared television screen where they will often show sporting matches, rides for kid, dancing for adults. It is the heart beat of the city. Despite all of its amazements and distraction, I rarely make the trip on the bus anymore because it seems whenever I go I draw way to much attention.

If you saw the video I sent home a few years ago, you may remember the scene with the expatriate youth doing a crazy Olympic night, we held that at the Peoples Square. That night we gathered a crowd of over a hundred people just standing and staring at us.

The other night one of my friends asked me to join her at the square. I was once again overwhelmed by the number of activities that go on there and the number of people just hanging out. After wandering around for a while, my friend and I joined a group of people who were painting ceramics. It beats me as to what is so fascinating about two western girls doing crafts… but at least thirty people stopped to watch us. Even one of the guys who worked there taking pictures for the tourist stopped by with his camera. I told him we didn’t want our picture taken. But he insisted. He didn’t want to sell us the picture of ourselves; in fact he wanted to use it at his booth for advertisement. So now I am forever promoting the fun that comes with a night in the Square.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I Can See Clearly Now, the Dirt is Gone

I finally broke down and hired someone to clean my room. Almost all of the foreign community along with many of the upper working class locals hire people to clean their homes. One hour of labour costs just one Canadian dollar. But I had been being stubborn. The main room of my home is only seven feet by seven feet, as a single girl with no family I should be able to find time to keep it clean, but I have finally come to admit it is not a time issue or even the size of the room issue, it is an ability thing. The windows in my room are five feet tall and you have to climb to clean them. Since I am not much for standing on rickety things, I just ignored my windows and let them fall into neglect. It had gotten to the point I couldn’t even see clearly any more. So last night I finally broke down and hired help. In just a little over two hours two girls had washed the windows(removing two years of coal dust grim), swept and mopped the floor, dusted everything, and straightened up. I sat there talking to them, and practicing Uyghur. In fact they even helped me with my homework.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Keep Fit for Surgery

Before I came back in the fall I met with a physio therapist from the Arthritis society… she gave me a piece of ther-a-band (this stretchy oversized elastic thingy) so that I could be doing exercises to keep my muscles strong for surgery. But I hardly need it here. As if all the stairs, walking and climbing up and down off of buses, wasn't enough to keep a person in shape, there is also the play equipment.

Every where you go there is play equipment; some of it is more like the type of machines you would find at the gym. There are at least nine sets of equipment on my school campus, alone, not to mention the ones that you find in every apartment complex, or just randomly out on the street. Most of them feature a nice plaque put in place by the government, claiming “For the People, a physically fit and healthy future.” And it is true the people do use them, at any time of day you will find both young and old, physically abled and disabled at the playground, working towards a healthy future.

I know my first few months out here I found it funny to see these old ladies outside flexing their muscles, but now it just seems normal. In fact I can’t help but wonder why our school yards and apartment complexes don’t have better workout equipment. No one would need to pay expensive monthly gym fees any more, and they could build community by working out along side their neighbour. It a great idea, which I am taking advantage of for my own physical fitness.