Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Guilt Trips Start Early

Our landlord and his wife came by the other day. The pretense was that she had never seen the place and was curious. The story seemed a little fake considering my roommate has been living there for almost two years. She wasn't home at the time so I let them in. His wife kept commenting on how nice the place was, how big it was. She said it was nicer and bigger than where they were living. At that warning lights started going off in my head. As they were taking their tour I quickly called my roommate to find out how long there was remaining to her lease...and report what was up. Her guess was that the landlord was going to try to raise the rent next time. We still have six months before we have to resign a contract, but around here games and guilt trips start early. I started playing along by pointing out flaws and problems with the place. They countered by commenting on its convenience and what not. They left after 15 minutes or so...but the game is on.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Korean Soap Opera Junkie

Uyghur people love to watch soap operas. They tend to be a lot cleaner, and a lot cheesier than American ones. The plot is always one of tragic or ill fated love that overcomes family oppositions or near death. In the end their love is always stronger because of it.

Sometimes when I am out with some of my old lady friends they will start talking about the characters on their favourite soap as it they are real people. In fact, I once asked what hospital a car accident victim was in so that I could go visit her, only to find out she was a Korean soap opera fictional friend.

The other night I had on the TV and accidentally got hooked into watching one of these unfolding plot lines. It was captivating....before I knew it I was hooked trying to figure out who was whose real son, and why he couldn't be with the the girl he loved. The hour was up quickly and so was my study break....only as soon as that episode ended the next one started. I didn't have to wait to find out what happened next. But hour two bleed into hour three and hour three into hour four. They just kept showing the same soap opera. Finally after five hours of sitting there (a wasted evening) the series ended. The next day when I talked with my local friends I finally felt in the loop. I asked if they normally play the whole thing back to back like that. I was surprised to learn that they had started that series Friday night and had played all thirty hours of it over the weekend. I guess I had only caught the last five, but now I know why some of my friends are so busy over the weekends and why they sometimes cancel our plans.....they are Korean soap opera junkies.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Good Connections

In order for me to be able to appear on the TV Game Show, I had to obtain permission from the City Foreign Affairs Officer. Sadly the TV station didn't realize this until the day before it was to air, which caused us to have to do a lot of running around. In the end, like many things in this country, it all came down to who you knew. One guy's friend, knew a guy who went to school with the Head of the Foreign Affairs Department.

In order to fully appreciate what I saw that day you have to understand that most offices out here look pretty shabby. The floors are normally cement, the white wash on the walls (never real paint) is faded and covered in coal dust. They are ofter small little rooms crowded with three or four desks, each person working on an unrelated task. But the office we were ushered into was nothing like what I had grown to expect. It was almost equal to the size of my whole apartment...the floor wore a rich thick carpeting, one whole wall was lined with windows, another with bookshelves, and the other two looked clean and fresh. There was a whole living room area, with comfy sofas and such, and one large richly decorated desk, that could have sat six, but was really only the work space of this one Head Officers into whose presence we had just been ushered.

With the quick snap of his finger this high ranking official was able to get someone to work on our paper work. The TV station employees went out to make sure they got the stamped permission form that they needed,while this leader invited me to stay and drink tea with him. Talk about a good connection to make in a world that is all about who you know.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

On TV

My former teacher called me last week and asked me to do her a favour. I agreed only to find out that she needed a Uyghur language student to appear on a local game show program. I would be interviewed in Uyghur and asked trivia questions. Ugh, I was nervous. I don't mind public appearances and I don't mind speaking Uyghur, but put them together and the whole thing seemed a little over whelming.

There were two other contestants. The topic of the day was language learning. One of the others contestants was a Uyghur guy who was studying the majority language in University. The other was a majority guy, who grew up going to a Kazak school who was now studying Uyghur in University (the two are related languages). Both were able to speak much more fluently than I. The station had helped by feeding us some of the answers....but not all of them. I also had to sing a Uyghur folk song (for those of you who know me well you know I should never sing in public, much less on TV for everyone in our province to watch), and talk about some Uyghur proverbs. My former classmates came and cheered me on from the audience.

I ended up winning a Uyghur/English dictionary for my computer and a fluffy, white, lacy computer cover. Those are small compared to my new found fame. It might have only been local television.....but ever since I have been recognized on the bus and in the bazaar. The other day when I was walking down the street people started to sing the same folk song to me.

Do you want my autograph?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Foreign Face Fame

I am going to be on TV again. This time it is a Uyghur program and they are talking about language learning.....they wanted a foreigner who has studies language to add to the discussion. The whole interview will be in Uyghur and I am supposed to wear my traditional atlas dress. I am a little nervous but it should be fun. I guess it is activities like this that help everyone in town fell like they know me.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Real Time

This blog is coming at you live, today, right now, from my own hand because ... I AM ON LINE!!! While I was home this summer I heard more and more people were being driven to take a Stay-cation because of the economic downturn. While people in my province are being driven to take a Web-cation. Some people leave the province for a weekend just to get connected. Right now I am in Thailand renewing my tourist visa and surfing the web.
The last two months worth of posts were sent to my mom in an e-mail that my friend carried out of the province. My mom has been sparingly posting on every few days. Which means the red in my hair had almost faded by the time that made the blog. Sorry there haven't really been any pictures, they are just too big of files to have some one send to my mom. While I am out I have another ten posts or so ready to go to mom. So even though it is currently the Islamic holiday of Korban... you likely won't hear about it for another month or two. Sorry.


We can connect some using a long distance dial-up connection, but it can be both slow and expensive (not to mention that it is a round about way and still not officially allowed, aka- illegal). So I have basically gotten out of the habit of getting on line. There are some days I really miss being able to look anything up at the touch of a button, but I have almost an extra hour or more everyday to work on other things because I am not tied down by writing emails and such.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Red Head

We get a little bored around here without internet to entertain us. I think for that reason more than any other, one of my friends finally talked me into using henna to dye my hair. I have dyed my finger nails several times in good Uyghur fashion, but I had never done my hair. Henna on black hairs gives it the faintest hint of red that reflexes beautifully in the sun light, but on white hair it is a shocking orangery red that looks more like it belongs on a cartoon character.
My normal hair colour is somewhere in the middle and I was always afraid, it could either look good or REALLY bad. One night my roommate and I decided to go for it and dyed our hair together. Our Uyghur teacher even came over to help. She mixed the dye henna powder with strong black tea, an egg, and a little honey and started to slather it on our heads. She then tied a plastic bag on top to keep it from dripping or drying out, and had us wear a head scarf on top of that to keep it warm. We had to sit like this for four hours or so before washing it out.
For the first few days it seemed like a little too intense of a red. But for the next few weeks every time I washed my hair I could see the water turned red and more and more colour came out. Now almost a month later Anne Shirley would be happy to know "it has settled into a real handsome auburn."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow Goes by a Dismal Pace

Macbeth had it right, sometimes it seems like tomorrow will never come, especially here where tomorrow really might mean next week, or a month from now. This culture is famous for its expressing time in shorter increments than what it will really take.

For instance people are always telling me they are 'on a horse' getting the job done. It means that they are doing it as fast as they can, or that they will be there right away. When I first arrived I thought this expression meant that they were only minutes away from having the job done, or right up the street in a taxi. I have since learned that if someone is 'on a horse' it will be at least an hour before they get there maybe more. In fact, I have started to use the expression. Some days I am still in my house puttering around when someone calls, I tell them I will be right there "I am coming on a horse". I hang up, finish my cup of coffee, have a nice hot shower, pick out my clothes for the day, and slowly make my way to the bus stop, nothing hurried.

They mean the same thing when they say "tomorrow". If you don't know something will be ready, or when someone will be back you can just put the person who is asking off by saying 'tomorrow'. Both you know and they know that it is really not going to happen the next day, but
it sounded like a good answer.

I was recently out with a friend and we were told an official we need to talk to would be back in two days. I was all excited to have an actual time frame. But my friend who is a local told me that I had to learn what times expressed like this really meant. I told her I understood that "right now" was in an hour or so, and that tomorrow wouldn't be until at least next week, but this lady gave us a qualified number of days so it must be true. "No," said my friend "in two days is just double the uncertainty of tomorrow, this person might not be back for a month or two".

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fake ID

The other day while sitting outside chatting it up with a bunch of my new neighbors the topic of my arthritis came up. They all suggested that I move to a more southern part of our province, because the dry weather would be good for me. I tried to explain how protective the government was, and why it was hard to obtain permission to live there. One guy suggested that I just wear a head scarf wherever I go and no one will notice (yah, right I have tried that before). I asked him what I should do when I go to a check point and the police wanted to see my personal ID card, and all I had to show them was a Canadian passport. His solution was "Don't worry, I know a guy who could make you a fake ID card...for a price, of course."

Now I never had a fake ID to sneak into bars or anything...but students that do in North America the worst thing that can happen is that they are kicked out of their choice party location for the night, the card is confiscated and they have to buy a new one. If I was ever caught with a fake ID card here I would likely be kicked out of the country and never able to return. The risk really isn't worth the joy of living south.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Blanket Making Outside

Since I have moved into my friend's house across town I realize I no longer know all of my neighbors. I had lived on campus for almost three years and spent a lot of time becoming part of the neighborhood. In order to once again establish this relationship with the people about me I have been taking my cross-stitching and crocheting outside. I sit on a stool and wait till people walk by and ask what I am working on. I am making both projects as wedding gifts for friends. It is a great way to start up a conversation and get people use to seeing my face around the area. I have been taking my stool and sitting in different places up and down the street.
Sadly the weather is starting to change and it is getting chilly. The blanket my roommate and I are making is sadly granny squares, which are too small to really keep us warm as we work outside. Within the next week or so I will have to find a new way to meet my neighbors, or freeze trying.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Working the Gossip System

I mentioned in my last post how my neighbors talk about me behind my back. It is not out of malicious motives, it is mainly just out of curiosity. Last year when my roommate's fiance came to visit I learned how to spin the stories in my favour.

After watching Hollywood movies most people out here assume that most North American have loose morals. I have to dress more conservatively and intentionally not spend time with single men outside in order to fight this stereo type and still have my neighbors see me as a 'good girl'. That is why i was worried about what they would say about how much time her fiance was spending at our house. I knew they would notice the times he was coming and going. If he happened to stay really late one night or came early in the morning, before they were at the post watching, I was scared of how they would repeat the story. So I went outside a few days before his arrival and joined the older ladies on the bench. I said "Oh my roommate is so excited; her fiance is coming to visit in a few day. He is going to be staying at the hotel here on campus, but she is already making all of his favorite breakfast foods in preparation....you know there is no kitchen in the school's hotel rooms. So she is hoping he will come early every morning and eat at our house. It has been months since they have seen each other. My guess is that they will sit in the living room and chat until late in the night. I think the hotel shuts the door at 11 o'clock or midnight. My guess is he will head back right at the last minute. It is so cute to see how excited she is."

For the rest of the week when we walked by you would hear things like "who is that guy?" "oh he is engaged to the one girl, he came to visit and is staying at the hotel here on campus".

I won! I knew they were to gossip about us, but I was able to put my own spin on what was being said.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Known Everywhere

I really feel at home here and often can be lulled into the illusion that I even look like I belong. I will be sitting on the bus heading to my destination when I realize the whole bus is starring at me and that I am the only person with light hair or white skin out of the forty of us packed like sardines on the bus. Add to that my slight limp and I am surprised with how many people know me, or at least know about me. I have gone into stores and had a shop keeper say they know to deliver my stuff to the University campus. Other times I have gotten in the taxi and the driver asked if I was heading home, they also knew to head towards my school, a few guys even knew to go right to my building since they said they had driven me in the past. These people are not really stocking me, but it does feel a little creepy at times.

The best was when I went south a few weeks ago to talk to the office about the fact I won't be working there, and collected my stuff that I had started to send down. I was walking down the street with my friend and we could tell that the three ladies coming toward us were totally starring at us. I nodded and smiled at them. As soon as they had passed I heard one lady say "oh that girl goes to ....." and she named my University. This city is a twenty four hour train ride from where I live at the school, and yet this lady recognized me. I didn't know whether to be scared or impressed with how many people feel like they know me, or like to talk about me behind my back.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Update

Some of you may remember that I returned to Central Asia on a Tourist Visa with a lot of decisions that needed to me made really quickly. I spent the first couple of days in the country Capital with friends and from there was able to learn that my school was not welcoming students back to study. They were also not letting foreigners stay on campus. This meant even before getting back into town I knew I was going to have to move. Thankfully I have a good friend who had an extra bedroom. One of the benefits of where she lives is the nice police office under whose district our place falls. As foreigners we are expected to report into our local police office. At my last home the guys in the office were kind of jerks and often told me how much they "liked Canadian girls" in a leering gross voice. Other people live under the rule of demanding local police who on every visit ask for 12 copies of your passport and a hundred and one other pieces of paper work. But here our local police officer is really nice. He registered me to live at my friend's house even though I only have a Tourist Visa (I really should have to stay in a hotel). This took off the added pressure of having to find a job right away. So for right now I can live at her house without hassle for three months.

As far as the job situation goes, the company I have been talking with down south for the last year, took my paperwork in to be precessed and it got rejected. This means it will not be possible for me to move south at this time. The company does have an office here in the city where I have been living. Since the company has been promising me a job for almost a year now (paper work takes a long time out here) they are going to hire me to work here instead. This means over the next month or two I will be spending a lot of hours running from government office to government office collecting the signatures and necessary stamps of permission to work here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

In the Dark

The province where I live is still very much under a cone of silence. We still don't have access to the Internet and international phone calls are hard to both make and receive. This blog post in fact is only able to be posted thanks to the help of many people. Two of my friends left the province for a few days on what we have come to call "Internet Vacations". They sent an email to my parents which included several blogs I had written to be cut and pasted over the next few weeks into my blog. It is weird after blogging for more than two years I now think of my life as a series of blog postable events. Even though we don't have Internet there are several time a week I say to myself "that would have made a funny blog post". In fact I was getting so many of these that I started writing them down.

As much as that is true it is nice to no longer feel like I am chained to my computer....there are no emails to answer, no pressure to post something, and now way to look up "what else that actor form the movie we're watching was in". It is quiet. But I also feel like I am in the dark on my family and friends lives. I also don't know what is going on in the world, nor can I easily let people know what is going on in mine. I might as well get use to it though, the Internet was shut down at the beginning of July and if rumors are correct might not be back until either the New Year, or maybe even as late as April. So the blogs to follow over the next few weeks are ones I sent my parents.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I'm Leaving On a Jet Plane

All my bags are packed and I am ready to go, today is the day that I start to make my way back towards Central Asia and my home away from home. I will be stopping in the capital city for a few days to visit friends and gather some more information. In the last few days I have heard that the tensions and ethnic struggle that brought me home for the summer, is still rearing its ugly head in some places.

Don't know when I'll be back again. Not only do I not know when my next trip to Canada will be, I don't know when I will next get a chance to update this blog. While I am in the Capital with friends, I will still have access to the Internet, but after that who knows.

Tell me that you'll wait for me... or at least check back in with this blog periodically over the next few months to see if I am up and going again.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Pincushion

On Wednesday I had an appointment with my rhuematologist. Even though she is a very "in-demand" doctor with a long waiting list for appointments she always tries to fit me in when I am in Canada. The other day she gave me five cortisone shots one in both of my angry ankles (as she called them based on all the swelling) and one in my shoulder. I was expecting five needles, so I actually walked away less of a pincushion than I thought I would be. Today I woke up and could tell the drugs had started to work, my shoulder didn't hurt for the first time in months and had actually let me have a good night sleep. So I am very thankful and am in good shape to head back on Tuesday.

Monday, August 31, 2009

I Want to Win Coffee

Tim Horton's, my all time favourite coffee place, is having a contest this summer. We had to write a true story about how our summer road trip included Tim Horton's. My trip home at the end of July might not count as a 'Road Trip" per say since I flew the whole way... but it did make a good coffee story.

You can check it out, my story is entitled "Friendly Stranger". Please feel free to vote for me. One of the prizes is a years supply of coffee. I hope they are willing to send that overseas if I win.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What's Important

I think we have all been asked that good old ice breaker question: "If your house was on fire, what three things would you try to save?" The question is meant to test ones values and point to what is really important in life. In my case the question is better asked "If you only had 50lbs luggage weight allowance, what would you take with you to the other side of the world?"


Everyone answers that question differently. The other night I was helping my friend at an English corner he and his wife run for new immigrants. One of the girls that participates is from a near by town in Central Asia. I happened to notice the pen she was using to take notes was a very famous local brand from that part of the world. I jokingly made a comment about the pen looking familiar and she said "Oh I like these pens, so I brought a bunch with me." I have to admit that at first I thought it a bit of a waste of her precious suitcase space... but then I remembered I have also taken good ball point pens, or one year I took a lot of scotch tape. Sometimes we are just more use to the quality and style of things we grew up with.

So I am in the midst of packing and creating my wish list of things to take back. The guest bed room is starting to be over run with my shopping for new shoes, books and other goodies. It is hard to anticipate what I might miss or have a craving for six months from now. So my question is: What about you? What would you have packed in your suitcase?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Visa Road Trip

Monday morning dad and I got up at 2:30 in the morning and did the crazy road trip all the way to Toronto in order to submit my visa application. We were standing in line outside the front of the consulate before the doors opened. I handed in my paperwork with no problems and paid the extra for same day processing. After meeting up with a friend in TO for lunch, I was able to go back to the consulate and pick up a six month double entry tourist visa. The only down side was the $30 parking ticket we found in our window.

As soon as we got home yesterday I got on line and started looking at flights back. Last week I had seen a ticket for only $500. I hadn't bought them since I didn't have a visa yet... but by the time I was ready to make the purchase the ticket price had gone up to $968. Talk about frustrating. Oh well I bit the bullet and paid the price, and now I have both Visa and tickets in hand. I will be heading back September 8th.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Restaurants Open for Lunch

We are now officially in the month of Ramadan. This is when Muslims world wide fast from sun up to sun down every day for a month. They will raise early in the morning before first light to have breakfast, and wait until after dark to eat dinner. The fast is such an important part of the year and peoples schedules, that local restaurants often close right down.

Even during the years I have chosen not to officially participate in the fast, my eating habits have had to conform to when the restaurants around me were open and serving food. During these times I have had to resort to sneaking snacks in my own home to help tie me over. Which is why I was so surprised when I realized Ramadan had already started this year. Being home in Canada means every restaurant is open at lunch.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Not Bad For a Foreigner

I once again set my hand to the task of Uyghur cooking. This is not a new experiment for me by any stretch, but unlike in the past my guests today have actually lived in Central Asia... they know what the food should taste like.


The menu consisted of one dish "da pan ji" literally translated "big plate of chicken". It is a large platter filled with; potatoes, peppers, garlic and of course chicken. When I first moved to Central Asia five years ago I hated it. I found it way to spicy. But now it is one of my favourites. I try to make sure I get some da pan ji at least once a week.


In Central Asia they use what we fondly refer to as chainsaw chicken, a whole chicken that has just been hacked up into bit size pieces, but today for my families enjoyment I used boneless skinless chicken breast. The real question is... can you tell the difference?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Thanks Mom and Dad

This weekend my family and I took a road trip up to my old college stomping grounds. I was able to reconnect with several friends, profs at the school, and even got a visit in with both of my grandparents. It was a crazy busy weekend, and I never would have been able to pull it off with out the help of my mom and dad.

Part of the weekend involved playing Princess with my friends kids

When I am home I not only don't have a car to drive around... I don't even have a licence to drive a car. I never have. When I was 16 and the age that every teen is biting at the bit to take the keys and hit the road, my legs were so bad that I couldn't really move my foot from the gas to the break without taking my hands off the wheel and using them to help move my leg over the couple of centimeters. My father deemed this an unsafe way to drive; I think we was scared that I would hit a cat or a dog or a kid or something with that slow of a reaction time. By the time I was in university I lived on campus and the grocery store was just across the street. I didn't need to drive anywhere and I didn't really have to money to afford a car anyway. So I put off taking my drivers test.


Since moving to Central Asia I have never really even considered driving; for one the traffic and driving style is insane, and two the bus system is superb. A bus comes rolling into the stop in front of my school's gate on an average of every 35 seconds. Each bus ride only costs about 15 cents. It is the most convenient thing ever.


But when I return home to Canada, I am always struck afresh by how much North American culture is about having your own car and getting yourself around to where you want to go. I still can't do that. I have tried looking into taking the test now, but with this graduated licencing program and never knowing how long it will be between my visits back... it is hard to proceed. So instead I must lean heavily on my most gracious parents, who seem willing to help me out. There were several times this weekend that I left my friends house, or came back from chatting with someone, only to find them both patiently sitting in the car reading their books.


Thanks mom and dad for all you do to help make my time here run smoothly and for helping me catch up with friends. It was a great weekend.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Over my shoulder

Where I live in Central Asia it is a known fact that there are some topics we just don't discuss out loud in public. Anything about the government and politics or religion could easily get you in trouble if over heard by the wrong person. We as foreigner to the area have learned to either avoid having in depth conversations about these topics in public places, or we speak fluent English at a rapid pace in slurred hushed tones, choosing abbreviations or words that we know most local people have not studied. This way of life has become so normal to me over the past few years that I don't really think of it as that unusual anymore.

Last night when I went out with one of my old friends for coffee (yeah Timmy's when ever I want), we had a great conversation. We not only touched on the superficial topics like the weather and whatnot, we started taking about politics (even complaining about how the garbage pick up strike was handled) In Central Asia you never criticize the governments handling of an issue out loud. From there we moved on to religion and our own personal beliefs. It was a great chance to catch up.

About an hour or so into our conversation my friend asked me what I was looking for. I was rather confused by her question and she told me that I kept looking around. Anytime we changed into what would normally be a sensitive conversation to have in such an open location, I found myself taking a quick glance over my shoulder. I was checking to see who was in ear shot, and if they seemed to notice us or be paying attention to our conversation. I must have repeated this "check out our surroundings" glance several times throughout the night. I didn't even consciously know I was doing it...but our conversation just seemed so open I wanted to make sure no one was watching us. It is just another way that living over seas has changed me. I now view what we often take for granted as 'rights' in Canada, as really a gift of freedom many others around the world do not get to enjoy.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Garbage

As I was getting ready to board the plane from Toronto to Windsor last week one of the people at the airport commented to me that I must be glad the strike was finally over. I naively asked them "what strike?" Only to find out that city workers in my hometown have been on strike for almost 16 weeks. That meant there had been no garbage collection going on. No wonder my dad was wandering around the house today so excited that it was garbage day. I guess it has been a bit of a long smelly strike.

This got me to thinking about the garbage houses where I live. When ever I am heading out I can grab my trash bag, whether it is full or not and just toss it into one of these huts on my way by. There are several of them located in every apartment complex. Once every few days a large truck will come and back up next to the hut, and all the garbage will be shoveled into the back. It is important not to walk to close the guys working because sometimes their aim is not the greatest and old banana peels will come raining out the other side of the truck. Normally a few hours before the collection guys are due to arrive you will see people picking through the piles of bags pulling out bottles and other items they can trade in for money.
I already find it pretty stinky walking by these deposit spots, and I have to work on intentionally not scrunching up my nose in disgust as I go by. I guess if they hadn't picked it up in almost 4 months, I would be like my dad, pretty excited about garbage day.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Things I miss

So I have only been home a week, but as I was watching my pictures flash by on my screen saver this afternoon I realized there were already a number of things I miss. I think what it really boils down to is that I miss a world where the most usual sights seem like they should be normal. It really is a wonderful world where the following do not seem strange:
A big load on a little bike

A donkey cart at the front gate of a major university

A bird carried on the bus

A little lamb following Mary through the department store.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Man Hug

I am always surprised by the little cultural things that freak me out when I return to what should be my home culture. This time it was the hugging.

I am use to physical contact with Uyghur woman... in fact sometimes they are a little more touchy- feely than I am use to. It is not unusual to sit on the couch holding hands with a Uyghur girlfriend... sometime she is holding one of my hands and using her other hand to stroke my knee or pat my back. This sort of interaction is normal... even expected between female friends. Every time they greet each with an embrace and a kiss on both cheeks. Women often walk down the street arm in arm, or swing their hands like school girls. I remember finding all this physical touch stuff hard when I first arrived, but now it seems normal. In fact when I am back in Canada I often wonder why my friends sit on the opposite side of the couch, or why they just give me a quick embrace as a hello greeting.

My teacher and I are close friends and often sit with our arms around each other

Men, on the other hand are a totally different story. I went to church with my parents the other day and was shocked and slightly uncomfortable with all of the men who wanted to give me a hug. I know it is totally normal here, and doesn't carry any extra connotations... but when I go for months with out any physical contact with the opposite gender ( I don't even shake hands with guys out there in public), it really threw me off.
Me keeping my distance from even some of my closets Uyghur guy friends

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Safe - In Canada

If you follow the news at all you may be aware of the fact that in recent weeks the Uyghurs have been making the front page. There were riots in the the northwest area of China, as Uyghur people responded to other violence in Guang Dong province. This was more than just a retaliation from these events, but a culmination of years of frustration over not having their own country.

As a result of the recent violence among the Uyghurs the government where I live also decided to shut down Internet activity and block international calls in hopes of preventing this incident from spreading to some of the other Central Asian countries where Uyghurs live (Mongolia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Northern India).

The university I attend took further precautions this week by sending all of their foreign students home for summer vacation. They did not want to be responsible for us while school was not in session. So on Tuesday I was called into the Dean's office and told that I had 3-5 days to pack up my stuff and return to Canada. Students are invited to return for their studies at the beginning of September.

Friday morning I jumped on a plane and after more than 28 hours of travel I called my parents from our hometown airport. They had no idea I was coming home (since I had been unable to really contact them), and I think they really liked the surprise of knowing I was here.

My return plans are still uncertain at the moment, as I had already notified the school that I do not plan to continue my studies in the fall, but instead pursue a business opportunity. The paper work needed for my work visa is also currently on hold.

I did dye my fingernails with Henna the night before I headed out and told all my old Uyghur lady friends that I hoped to be back before all the colour grew out and my nails turned back to normal colour (that gives me about 2 months).

Sunday, July 05, 2009

International Freedom Festival

Growing up on the Windsor/ Detroit border, the beginning of July was a double celebration of freedom and Independence. July 1st is Canada day, followed a few days later by Independence day. The two cities combine their firework budget and have the biggest display imaginable off of three barges in the middle of the Detroit River. They purposely use to have this display on the 2nd or the 3rd so that it officially fell on neither countries birthday, but celebrated both. We even had a jingle to commemorate the event; International Freedom Festival, Nation to Nation, Friend to Friend.

This week I once again tried to get as much play out of the holidays as I could. All of the Canadians in town met on Wednesday night and had a great time. We let off fire works ( left over from Lunar New Year), drank Tim Horton's coffee and sat around reading the you know you are Canadian when list.

You know you are Canadian when...

  • You stand in "line-ups" at the movie, not lines.
  • You're not offended by the term "Homo Milk".
  • You understand the sentence, "Could you please pass me a serviette, I just spilled my poutine".
  • You eat chocolate bars instead of candy bars.
  • You drink pop, not soda.
  • You can drink legally while still a 'teen.
  • You talk about the weather with strangers and friends alike.
  • You don't know or care about the fuss with Cuba, it's just a cheap place to travel with good cigars and no Americans.
  • When there is a social problem, you turn to your government to fix it instead of telling them to stay out of it.
  • You get milk in bags as well as cartons and plastic jugs.
  • Pike is a type of fish, not some part of a highway.
  • You drive on a highway, not a freeway.
  • You know what a Robertson screwdriver is.
  • You have Canadian Tire money in your kitchen drawers.
  • You know that Thrills are something to chew and "taste like soap".
  • You know that Mounties "don't always look like that".
  • You dismiss all beers under 6% as "for children and the elderly".
  • You know that the Friendly Giant isn't a vegetable product line.
  • You know that Casey and Finnegan are not a Celtic musical group.
  • You participated in "Participation".
  • You design you Halloween Costume to fit over your snow suit.
  • You have an Inuit carving by your bedside with the rationale , "What's good enough protection for the Prime Minister is good enough for me".
  • You wonder why there isn't a 5 dollar coin yet.
  • You brag to Americans that: Shania Twain, Jim Carrey, Celine Dion, Michael J. Fox, John Candy, William Shatner, Tom Green, Matthew Perry, Mike Myers, Neve Campbell, Pamela Anderson Lee & many more, are Canadians.
  • Like any international assassin/terrorist/spy in the world, you carry a Canadian passport.
  • You use a red pen on your non-Canadian textbooks and fill in the missing 'u's from labor, honor, and color.
  • You know the French equivalents of "free", "prize", and "no sugar added", thanks to your extensive education in bilingual cereal packaging.
  • You are excited whenever an American television show mentions Canada.
  • You make a mental note to talk about it at work the next day.
  • You can eat more than one maple sugar candy without feeling nauseous.
  • You know what a toque is.
  • You have some memento of Doug and Bob.
  • You know Toronto is not a province. (...yet)
  • You never miss "Coaches Corner".
  • Back bacon and Kraft Dinner are two of your favourite food groups.
  • You actually get these jokes and forward them to all your Canadian friends.
Then yesterday, July 4th, one of my American Friends decided to have a party with some of her local friends. Since she needed help cooking dinner for the 12 guests she had invited, and because I could sing all of 'The Star Spangled Banner', I was once again invited to join in on a US Holiday. We made Sloppy Joes and watched Independence Day, the old Will Smith movie in the National language.

So Happy Birthday to both Countries. Even living on the other side of the world I get to celebrate the International Freedom Festival, Nation to Nation Friend to Friend.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Waiting Game

Some of you may know that I am once again in the process of trying to move south. I say once again because I tried it three years ago to no avail. Sadly we can't just live where ever we want or where ever we find work in this country, we need to get a hundred and one stamps of government approval first.

I have already been offered a job in a city that is about a 24 hour train ride from here. Not only have I been offered the job, I have signed a contract and rented an apartment. The job is with a Uyghur handicraft export business. My roommate and I went down to check it all out the beginning of May, but to agree to work for them and finding a home was just the beginning. Now the waiting game starts.

The company is in the process of getting my paperwork done. They originally anticipated that it would be ready by the end of June, which is why I had hoped to be in Canada already ( I have to go back to my country of origin to change from a student visa to a work visa). But paper work takes forever, the company keeps sending me updated spread sheets with an estimated time as to when they should be able to get me the stamped paper work I need to take home with me. At first it was moved to the first week of July, then July 17th, next July 27th and just yesterday they sent me an email saying likely not until about Aug 5th. I can't really buy air tickets home until I have all the local government approval. So I wait.

My friend and I at the office down south, standing in front of one of the carpets that I will be helping to export.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Climb Every Mountian

After last weeks run in with the the dance performance manager, my friends and I realized we had a few days free. We were scheduled to help him from Tuesday until Friday of last week. Since no one was expecting us we deiced to head to the mountains for a bit of a vacation.
The city I live in is surrounded on almost every side by mountains, which you can see on beautiful clear days from almost anywhere. It only costs about a dollar to hop on a bus and have them take you out to a point from which you can start hiking. Sadly these mountains are turning more and more into a tourist trap all the time. There are big hotels and restaurants, and even gate fees to pay to hike in certain parts.

We were able to talk with a Kazak family a little about their horses (Kazaks love horses, they are a vital part of the culture) and in the end the wife told us the round about path we could walk to avoid paying the entrance fee.
We hiked for about three hours before stopping for a picnic lunch ( huh, I might not be able to dance, but I can participate in some physical activities). As we hiked on we noticed that the rain was moving in and decided it was time that we find ourselves a place to sleep for the night. All through the mountains are Kazak yurts, where you can make a deal with the owner for dinner and a nights accommodation. But you have to be willing to bargain hard.
I don't speak Kazak ( it is linguistically close to Uyghur kind of like Spanish and Italian are fairly similar), I know a few simple rules of how the languages are different so we muddled our way through a conversation. I did pull out all the stops to try to get us a good price. I repeated the fact that I was a student over and over, I even showed off my skinny wrists to prove how little I eat. In the end I got the price down to $4CAD a night per person. I thought this included our dinner, but I was wrong, she ended up charging us an extra $5 for our food ( not to mention the $2 she charged us for coal to heat the fire and keep the yurt warm at night). I felt like we were getting riped off.

The outside of a Kazak yurt (traditional home)

The inside of the yurt (I am the one on the left with my head covered trying to get some sleep)

A cute little Kazak baby, dressed really warm against the summer chill ( except for its little bum sticking out of the split pants).

But since returning home my teacher asked how much we spent on our night in the mountains. I have learned over the years to turn the question back on them. If I answer first with how much I spent, my local friends will always tell me I paid way too much. But sometimes if I can get them to estimate the price first they will name something higher than I paid and I end up proving to them that foreigners can do alright at the bargaining game. My teacher thought a night in a yurt plus dinner for three people should run about 300-350 of the local currency. So you can imagine how surprised she was to learn that I had only paid 110 (for a grand total of $6CAD per person).

As you can see it was a beautiful and restful place to get away (and yes mom, these are all file photos from three years ago. We didn't have a camera on us to capture the beauty this time, but I have in the past.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Subject of Political Incorrectness

I always thought that this whole political correctness had gone a little far. I thought people should be able to say what they want without everyone taking offense. However, I guess I have grown accustom to a certain level or standard of politeness conversation. But this week I was the one who was on the down side of a tackless persons conversation.

I have told you about the famous foreigner phenomenon out here. People think if you can get a white face to participate that the whole things seems a lot cooler. So this week my friend was asked to find another foreigner to join her in a live on stage song and dance performance. Since a lot of the foreigners out here are sick of this sort of thing, it wasn't like there were that many people biting at the bit to participate.

We were running 5 minutes late on Tuesday morning when we were to meet the guy who was organizing our portion of the performance. He had been calling on and off for the last half an hour wanting to check and make sure we were coming ( we used a very local expression and told him we were coming on a horse, this can buy you up to almost an hour of waiting time in the local culture). When we arrived he didn't introduce himself, he didn't greet us, he didn't say anything, he just took one look at us, got in the car and we headed out.

We figured he was mad that we were running 5 minutes late, but considering it was 6 a.m. we weren't going to feel to bad about it. Twenty minutes into our car ride he turns to my friend and says "That was really irresponsible of you to not tell me the girl had bad legs. We can't have her in the performance".

We were shocked and surprised that he would be so blunt about it. In North America it would be the height of rudeness to so blatantly point out someones disability, or to use it as an excuse to exclude them from an activity. We have become so inclusive in our culture and so sensitive to political correctness, that this statement seemed like a slap in the face. We tried assuring him that I could Uyghur dance, and in fact that I did it all the time. But he considered the matter closed. I was not good enough for his show. He quickly called another white face that he knew, to see if she would sub in for me.

When we finally got out of the car and into the waiting area I ended up having to leave the room, I was more hurt by his senseless discrimination than I thought I would be. Once I was out of the room, he turned on my friend and yelled at her. Culturally here the whole idea of saving face is a big deal. He had been asked to find Westerners to perform and he was afraid that if he brought less than perfect white faces to the party he would lose face in front of his superiors. So he tried to pass the blame onto my friend.

Anyway she refused to take part if they were going to disqualify me without even letting me try. To top it off the replacement they found was also a friend of mine and refused to participate as well. In the end we all walked away, and last I heard they had to cancel our part of the performance because he couldn't find anyone else willing.

In North America we have really made advancements in how people with a wide variety of disabilities can participate in daily life. Unfortunately here, most of that is still hidden away in shame. The idea of celebrating a persons ability to overcome is unheard of. Instead they want to present a perfect facade and in turn sweep anyone with blemishes under the rug. I often forget how much my being here despite of my limp and other physical disabilities stands in stark contrast to cultural norms.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

40 Days and 40 Nights

No this post is not about Noah, but I am sure some mothers out here must begin to feel just about as stir crazy. A few months ago I commented on the fact that a Uyghur woman is expected to stay at home for 40 days after giving birth. One of my friends commented that she wasn't sure if this sort of confinement would be relaxing and healing or simply drive her crazy.

Last week some of my friends from the states gave birth to their third child. I thought her post on the forced home stay was rather funny and I thought you might enjoy her insights (Beth this is for you).

Our boy is just over a week old now, but according to local custom, we need to keep him inside- and I should for sure be inside with him, lying in bed- for one whole month after birth. I know this and I really do want to honor the local culture as much as possible, but this is really tricky! We don't have family here to take over caring for me, the baby, the house and the big kids, and I admit, I am very Americanly productivity minded. Matt has been a Super Dad (absolutely extraordinary!) but still, he can only do so much.

So, I confess, I have ventured out already. Several times actually. Matt took me out for breakfast to a cute coffee shop nearby for my birthday. It was just me and my men (Isaiah was still a bit ill so he didn't go to school, but Marian did.) I tried to find an exit out of our building where I wouldn't have to pass by the usual line up of people-watchers or hear too many comments before hopping in the back seat of our electric bike. But the plan failed.

I ran into an unexpected crowd of very concerned neighbors. What was I doing out already!? And WHAT was I doing wearing no socks, even daring to expose virtually my whole calf (calves) so soon after giving birth? (It was about 80 F.) How old is that baby?... Basically they were all of one mind and voice: "go upstairs this instant and don't come out again for three more weeks!"

Then I met two more ladies, one about 50 and the other about 70 years old. The younger asked me "do you know that we have a custom..." and she went on to explain the "Man Yue" custom of spending the first month lying down.

"Yes, I know."

"But you don't follow it?"

"I know there is lots of value in that custom. I think it is very nice and helpful, but it's not what I'm used to and I also have two big kids I need to care for so I can't really practice Man Yue like you do."

Then the younger woman, who apparently was already familiar with foreigners ways, explained the whole thing to the older woman. "These foreigners don't rest for a month. She walks around with no socks on. She probably even drinks cold water- really cold."

The elder was flabbergasted. Certainly not cold water! (It would make my stomach upset and my milk undrinkable for our little one.)

Then the younger continued..."She probably brushed her teeth the first day after she gave birth."

The elder promptly replied: "That's impossible. If you brush your teeth that soon, all your teeth will fall out."

Lots to keep in mind!

And, it's not just a few people who have shared thoughts like this with us. These views honestly seem to be held by at least 9 out of 10 people we meet.... and people do share their opinions very (very) willingly. There's basically no holding back when it comes to people declaring what they think of you!

The gate guard at the kids school is another friend of ours. He's always careful to look out for and care for our family. He told me, scoldingly (which means he cares a great deal for us) that he doesn't care if it's not what we're used to... and then he laid on us the equivalent of "when in Rome, do as the Romans."

Yes... Somehow...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Time is Money

I took my roommate up to the airport yesterday morning for her early morning flight. After she was all checked in and through security , I looked at my watch and decided to take the bus home since it was only 6 a.m. and I still had a few hours before I was to meet someone. The two hour trip home gave me a good opportunity to consider how the values of time and money are vastly different between the east and the west.

In the west we are all about saving ourselves time. We will willingly pay a little extra money to have food delivered to our house... we like our one hour photo finishing. We are all about pre- packaged food and minimum prep time. Even the fact that every house hold has a car, a washer & dyer, microwave, and dishwasher are examples of how we spend money to save time. To us it would be totally reasonable to pay someone to do a task for us, or pay the premium if it will save us an hour of our time. We value time over money.

It is the opposite here, and I proved it with my bus ride home. It would have cost me less than $8 to take a taxi right from the airport to my front door. The whole trip would have taken no more than 30 minutes. But instead the local mindset has started to sink in. I figured why pay eight dollars, when I could walk 15 minutes, sit/stand on a crowded bus for an 1 1/2 hours, and then walk another 15 minutes back to my place for the low, low price of only 30 cents.

People here will often walk for 20-30minutes to go to the store that is selling vegetables pennies cheaper, they will stand in long lines and spend long periods of time haggling over the smallest price variations. Almost all meals are still prepared from scratch and while you can find microwaves for sale, they are not that common in homes. Here people are willing to spend as much time as it takes to save a buck.

Time is money or money is time, I guess it all depends on what you value.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Heavy Load

Thanks to a new ruling by local officials, all foreign students need to move on campus. Officially this is said to be for our safety and protection (which is just funny).

The other day I helped friends of mine make the move. Moving here is actually one of the tasks that is surprisingly simple. I called the moving company the day before and told them about what time we wanted them to come. As long as you don't have a piano, a safe or an aquarium that need to be moved, the cost is only about $12 for the truck and another buck fifty for each floor. So for instance my friends were moving from a first floor apartment to a fourth floor one... five floors in total cost them about $7.50. Which means in theory one can move for less than $20 (Sadly my friends were deemed to have too much stuff to fit in one truck, so the guys had to make it two trips and it cost them double).

For that low price two or three guys will come with a truck and move everything you have with lightening speed. My job was to sit out with the truck and make sure everything made it in, and nothing was ripped off by passer-byers (it is a hard job sitting in the sunshine watching other people engage in heavy labour). It always amazes me that the guys they send seem to be the scrawniest, little movers you have ever met. Yet despite there size they can make a pack mule look lazy as they stack up their load for each trip and start climbing up to the fourth floor (remember no elevators).
My friend's new apartment building




The movers hard at work

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Modeling, Mocking, and Moving

A few months ago I posted pictures of my friend and I in our matching local dresses. While we love the clothes, we saw the whole twin thing as a bit of a joke.

When spring came my Uyghur roommate suggested that we all get matching dresses to celebrate the season, and our friendship. She was so excited about the prospect, that my American roommate and I couldn't help but agree.

So we had our fabric made up into different pieces, but with the same matching theme. Unfortunately it wasn't enough just to own the clothing, our roommate told us we had to go around campus and take model shot photos of all of us together. The two of us from the west wanted to roll our eyes or gag a little at the cheesiness of it all. Can you imagine doing this in North America, the mocking from friends would be eternal.

We not only took photos but we also shot a short video clip of us walking around and holding hands so that she could look back with found memories of our time together as roommates. She found this whole twin and togetherness time very moving. She has already printed up pictures as well as sent them to all her friends and family.

I was originally going to mock myself in this post, and claim how silly the whole thing was. But instead I will let my roommate set the tone. Isn't it wonderful to think we will always have these pictures and these clothes to remember this time.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

You Can't Get There From Here

The road by the front gate of my school is currently under construction. This means that my normally very convenient place to live has become a VERY inconvenient place.

When my family was here to visit four years ago, my brother averaged it out and said that a new bus arrived at the bus stop every 35 seconds. I have been spoiled with the ease of it all. Now the bus stop is an extra ten minute walk away. Added to the extended walk to get to the bus, is the extended length of time spent on the bus. There are so many buses being redirected that traffic jams are now prevalent on the smallest little lanes. Sometimes they are trying to go down roads that you don't even think could fit a bus, much less one going each direction.

Traffic laws here run under the assumption that the first person to get their nose into a small spot gets to have it. So three lanes of traffic will often compete to meld into the same narrow space. Here is a file photo of a relatively calm intersection, where you can see a traffic jam in the making.
All of this has resulted in a lot more walking for me. I have realized that any location within a half hour walking radius is likely easier and quicker to get to on foot than it would be by bus. So I guess that means I will be walking for a while ( they estimate finishing the construction in Oct)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A "Snow" Cone

The day we have all been waiting for with baited breath and great anticipation has finally arrived. The Ice Mountain Creamery has finally opened it doors. This is a fully foreign run and operated ice cream shop here in town. It is sooooo good.

Ice cream has never really been anything to write home about, until now that is. Here in town we really only had two options; bad local ice cream that is a lot more ice and a lot less cream, and Uzbek ice cream which is wonderfully creamy and rich and sweet, but the only problem is it only comes in one flavour. Now I grew up use to the idea of a ice cream shop offering 31 flavours... and I have to admit that after five years, this one sort of caramel, sort of vanilla, sort of like those flavours you just can't seem to put your finger on what it really is, has gotten a little monotonous.

We did have one other option, a small container of Hogindos, which cost a small fortune ( since the price was high, they weren't selling, and you just knew they were sitting in the stores collecting freezer burn) and no one ever bought.

Until today. When I went by the Ice Mountain Creamery they had five flavours for sale (strawberry, banana, Walnut crunch, Cream, and Winter Snow). I bought a waffle cone of Winter Snow. The name itself is ingenious. It is a traditional cookies and cream, with oreo's crumbled up in the ice cream. But the combination of the dark on the white, made the owners think of the coal dust that covers the snow in the winter here. It is a joke that any ex-pat would think was hilarious. I normally can't find much to laugh about in the dark, bleak winter, but give me a nice summer day and a scoop of ice cream and the whole thing seems like a big joke.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Appealing to Local Logic

I have mentioned several times how the older ladies in my neighborhood are always after me for not wearing weather appropriate clothing. I have grown accustom to just smiling and letting the comments roll off me, but for my friends with children it is even worse.

Every time they go out they are accosted by neighbours who comment on how little the child is wearing, and how they are going to get sick. The kid could be wearing a wool sweater in the middle of the summer and some caring neighbour would feel obliged to tell them the child will get a cold. It really is all said out of love, but it really does get annoying after a while.

An American couple brought their two kids to this baby party the other day. The child being honoured was dressed in thick corduroy overalls, and a flannel shirt (under which I am sure he was wearing a layer of long johns). The western family had taken advantage of the bright sunny summerish day and dressed their baby in a cute flowery summer suit (sleeveless with matching shorts). You could almost hear the mutual shocked intake of breath from around the room as they entered.

But the father was prepared. He used their own local logic to explain how he was best caring for his child. He said "You know American babies are different. If they wear too many clothes they sweat a lot. If they are then out in the breeze that sweat and wetness can lead to a cold. So if I keep her in such a way as to prevent sweating she will actually stay healthier." The poor old lady who had instigated the conversation had no idea how to answer this... you could tell she had paused to consider it. And it even seemed to make some sense to her. But in the end she retorted with the good old tried and true come back "Our babies aren't like that, and you need to put more clothes on your baby, or she will get sick".

Oh well, nice try. At least the kids I'm playing with don't seem that cold in their summer outfits.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Way Too Much Food

We went to a party for one of my friend's new born son yesterday. I guess the tradition is to have the party as a celebration after the first month (both mother and baby are required to stay inside... and something about not washing for the entire first month after birth, lest one of them get sick). So you can understand why they would want to celebrate with a party.
What always overwhelms me at these events is the amount of food that is both served and wasted. The waiters and waitress have to perform quite the balancing act. All of the food is placed in the center of the table on a lazy Susan. Starting with cold dishes and slowly adding more and more. The turn table is soon full, the dishes have to start being placed on top of/ supported by other ones. When one dish is empty etiquette demands they are to take it away, but it is often crucial in the holding up and supporting of a dish that just arrived. This dilemma throws the staff into a whirlwind and they quickly rearrange everything on the table. The most impressive part of this edible balancing act is that as they are preforming their magic of getting everything to fit we, the guest, are often still spinning the table and grabbing food the whole time.

I know that at least three more dishes arrived to our table after I had taken this picture.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Long Name No Can Say

A few weeks ago when I was buying airline tickets for one of my trips there was a Uyghur couple in line ahead of me. They were having troubles buying a flight for themselves. However, their problem had nothing to do with overbooked flights, conflicting time schedules, lack of cash or any of the other common problems one might anticipate when trying to fly somewhere. The problem started with the guy's name.

Names derived from the national language normally only take up an average of three spaces in the computer. In comparison a full Uyhgur name, (first name combined with the father's name acting as their last name) can be much longer. The computer system at the travel agent's office was equipped to enter a name up to 8 spaces long. This gentleman's name, however, was a whopping total of 10 spaces. The man behind the desk kept insisting he couldn't sell him a ticket. He was denied his right to fly based on the length of his name.

There is a saying here that literally means "there is no solution". Often people say it when a task seems a little difficult or the normal means won't work. Coming from a culture where I have been taught "where there is a will there is a way" or "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again". It is hard to hear over and over, "there is no solution". This seems like an excuse to me, like people are just to resigned to the system to try to figure out new and inventive ways to do things. The longer I live here, the more I hear these same words coming out of my mouth. But the other week I refused to believe their was no solution. The guy working at the office kept trying to dismiss his Uyhgur customer and motion me to the desk. I just sat back and said "Oh no, take your time and find a solution for him first. He is here trying to buy tickets".

Even after 45 minutes the Uyhgur guy left empty handed, cursing and saying he was going to buy a bus ticket (now he has a 24 hour trip instead of just 1h 30m). Poor guy, his name was just too long, he couldn't travel by air.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Stay Off the Grass

The other night after dinner at the hotel restaurant on campus, my friends and I decided to go outside and enjoy the nice spring night. The hotel has a small stretch of grass that forms their lawn situated off to the side. We all grabbed a piece of paper to put under our bums ( a very local thing, no one sits down on any outdoor surface without first making sure they are sitting on something. Sometimes the only clean paper they have is a receipt and hardly covers ones whole bottom, but they sit on it anyway) and plopped down. In my mind this is what a grassy lawn was made for. It was made to be enjoyed by people, as they spend their idle hours out running, sitting, picnicking, flying kites, chasing kids and enjoying nature.

That has not always been the view of grass in this country. In fact it is only in the last 10 or so years that they started to replant grass in the cities. It use to be considered an extravagant luxury that only those in the western world would waste land and energy to plant and maintain. I remember reading in a history book about how school children use to spend their study time pulling up the grass by hand in an attempt by the government to rid themselves of it. For years this place was nothing more than a concrete block. As green grass now finds its way into more corners of the city, its value on it is becoming more apparent. Grass is to look at…it is for decoration and to add to the beauty of the landscape…most definitely NOT TO BE walked on.

If these were lovely manicured thick green blankets of soft grass I could understand a little better, but most of the lawns are “butcher-cut”. My friend looked at it and remarked “…my father would have kicked my bottom if I would have cut our lawn like this and tried to sell it as a job finished!” It was uneven, patchy and dry, but despite that it seemed like a nice place for us to stop and rest.

We sat there on the lawn for a good fifteen or twenty minutes before we were discovered by the grass police swat team ( okay so it wasn't that bad). A young man dressed in his hotel suit was purposefully striding our way. He could have been out for a walk, or on his way to somewhere else but no, it was pretty obvious WE were the destination. He did not mince words, we were asked to get off the grass… it was not allowed for people to use this well established, butcher-cut strip of landscape to place their bottoms on!

Spring has sprung and we are enjoying it from a distance.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Your Asian Twin

I was back on the road again this week, to go and hear a speaker from a university in the States that had come out to Central Asia so lecture on issues relevant to life out here.

While travelling I ran into a girl I went to university with, well at least I ran into her Asian twin. I haven't seen or really even thought about Wendy in eight or nine years, but there she was standing in front of me. This girl looked just like Wendy except for her Asian features, the comparison came to mind immediately.

She is not the first person whose Asian twin I have met while walking down the street. Some times it is a person's clothing, walk, or mannerisms that remind of a friend from home. Sometimes it is their voice or personality that makes a comparison pop into mind. Sometimes it is immediate, like the Wendy look-a-like that I only saw for a second across a busy street, and sometimes it is after a long interaction with a person that I finally realise who they remind me of. I have found peoples twins in all the nationalities out here. Once on a bus there was a Tajik guy that looked just like my friend from New Zealand, as blond as the Kiwi guy was the Tajik guy had dark features, but other than that they were the spitting image of one another. I have found peoples twins among the Russians, Koreans, Chinese, Kazak, Uyghur, Tajik and more.

It's cool to look past the obvious differences in features and find home in the faces of the strangers around me.