Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy to Me

Yesterday was mine and my classmate’s birthday. We decided to keep up my annual tradition of going to the People’s Square and checking out the ice sculptures ( a weird practice for a girl who hates ice as much as I do). We had fun, but this year they had tape around the sculptures to keep us form climbing on them for pictures. We didn't last long outside this year because the thermometer read -17 degrees, so we snapped some pictures and headed to the restaurant to continue our celebrations.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Introducing Roommate #14

This week we got a new roommate, this one is much furrier than any others to date. Meet the cat with many names: Gush (uyghur for "meat"), Aslan (Uyghur for kitten) Bu Yao ( national language for "don't want" - I think the mom of the family we got him from wasn't too thrilled at the prospect of having a cat in their home) and Puss in boots ( sometimes he looks just like the cat from Shrek). We are officially just babysitting the cat for a few weeks while friends of our are back in the states. Roommate 13 has been bugging me to get a cat since she moved in, so she is overjoyed about the new addition to our home. She said it was the best Christmas present I could have given her.

On that note I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas. I sure did, although all the parties tired me out.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Going out with a Bang

We are nearing the end of our semester and I was reminded of the struggles we went through to start the semester. The school is trying so hard to formalize it procedures and function more like a North American University, unfortunately with little luck.

This week has been exam week which was anything but normal. My first exam was actually just a reused one from my teacher's fourth year local student's class… all of the questions were written in the majority language, which I can read a little of, but not enough to understand when it says “conjugate these verbs in to the perfect past continuous forms”. Because our class used a different textbook this year, it wasn't really based on the information we had studied. I was also unable to translate whole sentences between these two foreign languages. In other words I bombed it.

In the afternoon on Monday we scheduled to take the exam for our oral Uyghur class, but because the teachers need to hand in hard copies of our exam, it would be a written test. When we showed up to take the exam, we were hustled off to another room, where a bunch of young Russian kids were writing their listening exam (this meant the teacher kept reading passages out loud to them) making the room anything but quiet. The proctor then gave us the wrong exam paper (we thought we were writing an exam based on our oral class and he gave us our grammar exam –which I thought I still had one more night to study for). The font that was used on our grammar exam was next to impossible to read (many of the letters were formed incorrectly because the computer it was printed off of did not have Uyghursoft) and took double the time to read. We tried to tell the proctor it was the wrong exam and that it was illegible, but he doesn’t speak or read Uyghur. He told us not to complain and just write. “Anyway” he said “it doesn’t really matter, these exams don’t count for anything”. IF THEY DON’T COUNT THEN WHY IN THE WORLD ARE WE TAKING THEM?????

When our teachers saw how poorly we as a whole class did on these exams they invited us over to their homes separately (secretly). If a teacher’s whole class does poorly it reflects on the teacher and they will loose face (shame is a very big part of this culture). At their homes we drank tea and corrected our exams together one by one… but we had to have different answers in some places so that it wasn’t so obvious that we had cheated. The whole thing was so frustrating. In the last two day I have written three exams of which I had to re-write two of them. I try not to use this blog as just a place to vent my cultural frustration… but today this is me venting.

Monday, December 22, 2008

No Harm Done

Recently I mentioned that a friend had given us all of her old packaged food goods from the states. I am pleased to let you know that at lunch we made the Mac and Cheese dated 2001 and ate it with no problems. Mind you we had spent a lot of time upfront sniffing, smelling and taste testing it with our figure before we decided to just go for it and give it a try. I was right those dates really don’t mean anything. Seven year old macaroni made my day.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I Don’t Know How Santa Does It

Christmas is drawing near and this year a few of my close friends and I decided not to buy each other gifts… but instead to pool that money and make gift baskets. We were each allowed to choose two or three local friends or families whom we wanted to give a basket to. We spent Saturday afternoon baking, buying fruit and finishing up cross stitch decorations. Each parcel contained banana bread, cookies, crocheted snowflakes, cross stitched winter senses, oranges, pomegranates, and some hot chocolate. We had even practised singing a song in the national language (which could be understood by Uyghurs and everyone else) to greet people with when they came to their door.

We started the night by taking buses from one stop to another, but soon broke down and paid the little extra to go by taxi. We had a lot of stops to make, and our arms were loaded with yet undelivered baskets. We almost had to be rude at each home as we wanted to just sing them a song (which is a lot harder to do after climbing six flights of stairs), pass off the gift, take a picture (which you will notice are mainly from the waist up… as everyone was answering the door in their long underwear) and leave for the next delivery, this was hard with Uyghur friends continually inviting us in for tea (a two hour event).

It was a cold crazy night, the temperature seemed to be dropping between each stop. It dropped so low that the batteries in both our phones and cameras were dying and making it hard to contact those at our next location. But we did it. We made 11 stops in just over three hours, with only one family not home to get their gift. We were all wiped out and very glad to crash at the end of it all. One night around the city was more than enough for me, I don’t know how Santa does the whole world in a night.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's Back

My annual winter cough is back with a vengeance. I am not really sick it is just the coal dust in the air that causes me to have problems breathing. It makes it hard to visit friends when every time I open my mouth to talk and cough and wheeze like a smoker.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rejoice with Those Who Rejoice

Over the last week I have spent several days visiting for the holiday. It is amazing the number of neighbours I have met in these few days. Many of them recognize me from around campus- I guess there aren’t many young white women that have been living here for almost four years. Each time I met a new person they commented on how wonderful it was that I wasn’t on my crutches any longer and that my legs seemed to be doing so much better.

I even met up with my old crutch buddy. This woman is in her mid seventies and part of the majority people group (ie speaks the language I am not as good at). She was so impressed to see me up and walking on my own. She is still on her crutches moving slowly but greatly rejoiced with me in my restored health. I couldn't help but think what our good North American Medicine would be able to do for her, if only she had the access I had.

It is wonderful to be part of the community here… not just to realize that all of the neighbours know me (and everything about me), but to have them greet me on the street. The vegetable man salutes me everyday as I pass by on my way to class… the sweet potato man waves from across the street, students run to catch up and walk together, my teacher calls me her oldest daughter and mocks me unmercilessly. I love the fact I get to live here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On the Bloody Morning After…

In my last post I mentioned that it was Korban Hayt. The holiday officially stretches over three days as family and friends go from house to house visiting. Yesterday I was able to make it to four different homes and was served four different plates of boiled mutton (mainly fat in some cases). It is a fun festival filled with food and visiting friends and family…

but the day after is DISGUSTING. I am very thankful that Asian people see it as rude to wear your shoes in the house, because on the day after Korban, I don’t even want to think about what is on the bottom of my shoes. You really have to watch where you walk outside, there is sheep poop, the sheep guts and intestines everywhere, blood and the contents of the sheep’s stomach get tracked up and down the streets. It really is gross here (This holiday moves about a week or so every year, but I am thankful that every year I have been here it has been winter and all this stuff freezes, as does the smell). If you keep your eyes open, you may even find a foot, head, horn or hoof that they forgot to clear away the day before.

All of the above pictures are taken just steps outside my front door. These same scenes are repeated in ever apartment complex courtyard around the city and throughout the province. It is a bloody, bloody day.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Happy Hate

Today was Korban Heyt (pronounced hate), the Muslim holiday made famous for its slaughtering of sheep. Early this morning my roommate and I made our way towards one of the largest Mosques in town. The Uyghur people treat this holiday the same way many North Americans treat Christmas… even if they don’t believe in God, they might be able to find to a Christmas service of some sort… in the same way Korban is the holiday on which even the most nominal of Islam followers will find the time to practice their religion. There were literally thousands of men lining the streets, blocking traffic and participating in prayer time. Even where we stood on the bridge above the street was getting crowded with men and women and their prayer rugs.

Off to the side of the street are the sheep for sale.

The first day of the holiday is often reserved for family. They gather at the oldest family members house and eat the meat of the sheep that was sacrificed on their behalf. Today instead of going to a bunch of my friends homes, and eating food till I burst, I went to the hospital. I remember as a kid when I was in hospital right up until the 24th of December, it wasn’t fun to feel like I was missing out on the celebration. My teacher’s sister-in-law is currently in the hospital struggling with cancer. My classmate and I spent the afternoon visiting her and some of the other patients in that ward. We had packed a dozen small bags filled with bread, dried fruit, nuts and other goodies, all things you would normally find on a Uyghur table during the holiday season.

Friday, December 05, 2008

It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas

I got my sad little Charlie Brown Christmas tree put up this week, which really gives the whole apartment more of the feel of Christmas.
Also the huge amounts of snow that was dumped on the city this week went quite far to getting me in the spirit of things.

I was out walking on the first day it snowed (before the masses had gotten out to clean off the roads) and actually went for quite a tumble. I am alright… although I was pretty stiff there for a few days. The good news, if you can say that when you slip on the ice in the middle of the road, is that I sounded local while doing it. Out of all the sounds, noises, or colourful metaphors that could have come streaming out of my mouth in this moment of panic… I screamed “Woi Jan”. This Uyghur expression would most literally be translated “Oh dear”. The guy walking behind me a few feet thought it was hilarious to see a foreign girl scream out like an old Uyghur lady that he was still laughing to himself as he gave me a hand up.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sometimes Owning is Better than Eating

One of my friends and her husband are moving, which means they are in the midst of cleaning out their apartment and giving away a bunch of stuff. My roommate and I scored all of their old foreign food mixes.

All of our new treats

Packages from home filled with Mac and Cheese, soup mixes, coffee and hot chocolate are one of the most exciting things to get in the mail. It’s like sending all the joy of a North American grocery store in a box. My roommate has been known to say that a care package doesn’t really live up to its name unless it has food supplies.

My roommate and her sister sitting in the midst of all the goodies her sister brought with her

It is so fun to open the kitchen cupboard and see it full of all these goodies we just can’t buy here. As I look at each box I can clearly imagine what the dish tastes like, I start to salivate. Just standing looking at it brings so much joy.

Sometimes the joy of just owning the food is better than actually eating it. If you live overseas you know what I am talking about… the anticipation of what it will taste like, the dreams and images it conjures by merely feasting with the eyes go on and on… but once you have opened the box and consumed the food the dream is over. The box no longer joyfully greets you when you open the cupboard… the anticipation has been met… the longing fulfilled… and dead.

I know I am not alone in this feeling, in fact it would explain why all of the supplies my friend gave me the other day are past their best before date. (Do you think it is safe to eat Velveeta – still sealed- with an expiration date of 2004???). I tend to view these dates as mild suggestions printed to merely relieve the company of any legal obligation. Although I do remember this same friend once making a pie for thanksgiving using shortening that was years old, the end result was just gross. I think in that case she should have held on to it longer and enjoy the dream instead of the reality.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Not Fast Enough

The Uyghur people value the idea of marriage, or at least its statues. I have been told more than once by friends that it is better to have been married and gotten divorced, than to never have married at all. As girls get older they will feel enormous amounts of press to marry and ‘get it over with’.
Traditional Uyghur bride and groom

With this cultural understanding as a backdrop, you will understand why all my friends and teachers have started an outright campaign to get me married off. My roommate thinks she knows the prefect person for me… her ‘perfect person for me’ has a suggestion of his own on who would be a good match. My teachers spent half of our class period the other day discussing the matter. One teacher even offered me her younger brother… which is quite the allowance, considering what a devote Muslim she is (the whole idea of letting such an unclean, pork eater as myself into the family is unthinkable). Thankfully I stopped them before we got to my bride price.

I can pretty much avoid most of the offers with a quick etymological look at the Uyghur word for husband ‘yoldash’. Yoldash literally means ones road mate. It implies that two people have chosen to walk together through life on the same path. When I point out that most Uyghur man walk on the Islamic road, and I am personally on another road, they see that it would be quite impossible for us to truly be road mates.

A few weeks ago after giving this little speech, in attempts to put an end to my teachers match-making meddling, one of my favourite staff members from the school’s Foreign Affairs office walked in. She is a single Uyghur woman about my age. The teachers quickly switched the focus of their inquires to her. “You’re still single, aren’t you?” they asked. “You don’t have a boy friend?” “Do you want to get married?” And off they were again… throwing out names and suggestions of men that might be a suitable suitor for her. I was glad to be out of the lime light on this discussion. But yesterday this same girl invited me to her wedding in January. The matching making, the set-up, the dating, the proposal, and the setting of the date were all done, now all she needs to do is show up. My teachers kept looking at me like it was my fault I didn’t act fast enough, as if to say, “It could have been you, we tried our best.”

Modern bride and groom dancing in a common reception hall