Friday, January 23, 2009

A Night in the Airport

I am currently in the warm sunny south of Thailand. It was a long and adventurous trip to get here, but we made it to the land of good food and warm sunshine.

When we first checked in at our local airport it was interesting to see what items in our checked luggage caught the official’s attention.
We had to open our bags and show off the five jars of peanut butter that we were carrying for friends that had moved out here. They also searched my friend’s bag and questioned her on her “gang of four” which is nothing but a card game, another friend also had his pack of Uno cards called into question. Meanwhile our third bag was filled with a bread maker, blood pressure cuff, and other odd electronic devices that passed through without even the raise of an eyebrow.

We took three flights and had six hour layovers between each flight. We ran into old friends in the Bangkok airport and spent our layover not sleeping on the hard metal benches. Thankfully there was a McDonalds in the airport. A big mac tastes so much better when you haven't had one in months.

Ever since I had my surgery last year I have been displeased by the dark red scars that it left on my knees. But I have finally found a reason to be thankful for them. Going through metal detectors when I have enough metal inside me to be the bionic woman can really make a lot of noise and draw a lot of attention. At one of the security checks that I went through I actually had to pull up my jeans to prove that the sound was coming from inside and that I had nothing attached to me. The security guard looked a little perturbed by the whole thing and actually asked another official what she should do in this case. . Thankfully her co-worker could see the obvious signs of my surgery from across the way and waved me though the metal detector.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Celebrating another Birthday

Today is my roommate’s birthday; we started the celebrations off last night by going out with a bunch of her friends to one of our favourite restaurants. Our poor tutor came along because my roommate had assured him that some of her friends were bringing their husbands, but he ended up being stuck at a table of all girls (you would think that would be most twenty something guy’s dream come true).

All of her friends brought nice gifts, but I think the best was the tea pot cozy that doubled as a hat. You see these elaborate tea pot warmers for sale everywhere in the bazaar and for months my roommate wasn’t sure what they were… was it a pillow, a hat, or what? Well she found her own use for it...

The restaurant we went to is normally known for its show and dancing. First they entertain the customers with a performance. In the past they had two Uyghur midgets dancing, more recently it has been a tightrope walker. The show is always followed by music and an open dance floor. While I was never much of a dancer at home, I have learned to love Uyghur dancing since I moved here. Sadly last night they were remodeling the big room and we didn't have any sort of entertainment (other than one of our friends Patigul – she is hilarious). Oh well, here are some pictures from a few years ago, to show you some of the fun we missed out on.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pakistani Food

Living in central Asia means I am surrounded by many different ethnic groups. In fact one of my friends who lives here is from Pakistan. She is here studying to be a medical doctor. We went out with her yesterday for lunch to a Pakistani restaurant in town. This is not my first time going to this restaurant; in fact since living here I have become a big fan of Pakistani food.

Yesterday we let our friend order for us, since she has a much better handle of what is good. One of the dishes she ordered looked a lot like scrambled eggs, but much to my surprise it was actually brain (we are still not sure whose brain, but either sheep or cow). The first time I tried it I have to admit my gag reflects was on over drive. I think there was something just mentally disturbing to me about eating brain. The whole time I was chewing I couldn’t stop thinking “I am eating some poor animal’s brain, it use to think with what is in my mouth”. But on second taste I tried to convince myself it was just like any other dish on the table and to just have a little with my bread. It was actually really good and I found myself going back for more.

So I have officially expanded my worldview and may even be a little smarter for doing so. Eating brain is definitely one of those things that it is better to ask what you are eating after you have already tried it and know you like it, instead of going into the situation with preconceived disgust.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Set Until the End of August

This morning I went to the city police station to pick up my passport and was pleased to find that I had been granted an eight month visa. I was a little worried this time around since I had attempted to change schools for next semester. This past year I have not had the best learning situation, both the beginning and the end of the semester, were very stressful. In an attempt to avoid the same situation next semester I was hoping to attend the Arts College, which is only a 20 min walk from my home. But after filling in all the paperwork with both my current school and the one I was hoping to transfer to, the Education Commission refused my transfer (frustrating… this really is a place where the government is in control of everything). I was sincerely hoping that they had not tagged my name in the computer system somewhere preventing me from getting a new visa. In fact, the foreign affairs officer at the Arts College was very surprised today when she found out I was still able to get a visa through my old school with out any trouble.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Disney Goes Uyghur

One of my favourite ways to study language is to sit back and watch a movie. It is amazing the vocabulary you can pick up by just vegging on the couch before bed. The only problem with watching Uyghur movies is that they are all so tragic. In everyone one someone dies, someone is in jail, or being cheated on by their spouse, or something very emotional is happening. The movie covers almost always have a picture of someone bleeding and someone leaning over them weeping and wailing. When ever I watch a disk before bed (most movies come on 2 VCD’s) I tend to go to bed all sad. Here is a small clip I found on YouTube, while there are no words being spoken, I am sure you can see how depressing the story line seems to be.

In an attempt to lighten the mood of my language pursuits I have started to buy Disney movies that have been translated. In the last few weeks my collection has really grown. I have Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, A Bugs Life, Shrek, Toy Story, Finding Nimo, Lion King, Tarzan and others. They are a lot more fun to watch before bed… and are actually packed full of useful vocabulary. I have even found such classics as Gone With the Wind and Titanic in Uyghur.

It is kind of funny to see what they have done with some of the songs in the Disney cartoons. As you can imagine it is hard to translate a song and get the syllabification to fit in time with the music. In some cases they have kept the English song and just have a Uyghur voice over speaking the meaning of the song. In other cases they sing the song in the national language hoping the Uyghur kids will be able to understand some of it. In some movies they have sadly cut the video short by cutting out all the songs. And in others they have kept them in English, some songs like “A Whole New World” have become popular world wide and don’t need any translation.

Monday, January 12, 2009

At Home In My Own Home

Last weeks flu brought to light some more cultural differences between our North American ways and the way things are done here. The main one that caught my attention was the act of blowing your nose. We consider it very appropriate to grab a tissue and blow your nose, even if other people are around. Here, however, that is the rudest possible thing to do, even if you have a cold. Instead of blowing your nose in a tissue it is considered more polite to: snort and spit, or to cover one nostril and do the good old farmer blow. Either of these polite alternatives can be done on the street, in the stairwell, or even in the school hallways (which is why you have to watch so closely where you are walking). Even tonight as I was walking home I saw a woman all dressed up fancy spitting on the sidewalk.

To local people the whole idea of using a Kleenex is gross. They can’t understand why we would want to wrap up our snot and often reuse the same piece of paper to blow again. They are equally offended by this action as you likely were with reading their practices. In my process of fitting in to this new life style I have found this adjustment very hard. I will admit to occasionally spitting when I am outside, but I can’t bring myself to do it in a building. I often excuse myself and go and blow my nose in another room away from my local friends.

Which is why when my tutor came to our house last week my roommate and I both were jumping up and heading to the washroom whenever we had to blow our noses. This got to be very distracting to class (since we were both so sick and every five minutes or so one of us would have to leave the room), we eventually just brought the whole roll of toilet paper into the living room and plunked it on the coffee table. Our tutor spends about ten hours a week at our house, and he has told us more than once that it feels like the most free/relaxed place for him. We figured if he can feel relaxed at our house then we should be able to too. And so for the first time in four and a half years I blew my nose in front of a Uyghur person.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Little TLC is the Best Medicine

The silence this past week has been due to my being sick. For the last several days I have been down with a sinus infection, added to my regular winter cough and I have been feeling pretty miserable. It was the type of week that I would have just liked to stay in bed and groan (which I did get to do some of).

But despite how I was feeling there were things that needed to be done. My own visa was coming due, which meant I had to go to the school and pick up the proper paper work, which then
had to be taken to the city police station and submitted (I should know by Wed. if I have a new visa for the next eight months).

Also a new couple moved to town and I had offered to try to help them settle in. Once again getting set up out here takes work and a lot of running from office to office obtaining the proper red stamp. There are trips to the school, meeting the landlord, the local police, the city police, medical checks, setting up cell phones, and home phone and so much more. I tried for the first day or so, but my head was swimming so badly and I was so cold and feverish that I could barely focus, much less translate well. I was so thankful when a friend stepped in and offered to take over. He willingly interceded between them and the landlord, accompanied them to the local police station and even set up their phones.

I have been offered so much advice over the past week on how to get better that I almost drowned in it.
There was the obvious advice of :

  • Wear more/thicker clothing
  • Drink tea with honey it
But I was also told:

  • Put Vicks on the bottom of my feet
  • Drink snake tea
  • Eat black nan
  • Eat only Hot foods
  • Use a humidifier and air purifier
  • Drink flour and water mixed together
  • Go get an IV (Uyghur cure for everything)
  • and so much more
All of these suggestion were given in love, but what I really needed was rest. This weekend one of my friends invited me over to her house on kind of a retreat. She told me to just come lay on her couch and she would take care of me. Another friend came by and made me homemade chicken soup. I think these acts of loving kindness have gone further than any home remedy to helping me feel better. To have someone jump in and take over with responsibilities that I just couldn't handle, to have someone buy the soft tissues so that my nose wasn't getting beat up by a fourth roll of toilet paper, to have chicken soup, to be given a hug, all of these things have demonstrated the love of my friends out here. Thanks guys!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A New Look for a New Year

Happy 2009.

In honour of the new year ( actually I think it had more to do with celebrating class being over for the semester than anything else) I decided to go for a new hair do. I have gone to beauty shops around here before, but it is hard to explain what I want exactly, and I always seem to walk away with something a little more Asian funky than I was hoping for. So this time I let one of my classmates have a go at it. She came highly recommended after having cut someone else's hair once. It is a little shorter than I originally intended, but this way I had enough to mail my ponytail to Locks of Love. Oh well, it will grow back (now the only thing is that you will all be able to tell when I am lazy and just use old file photo's on my blog-which trust me I do often since things haven't changed much in the four years I've been here).

All of my Uyghur friends are mourning the loss of my hair, since they place a high value on a woman's long locks... but the rest of the ex-pat community seem to think it is really cute.

Enough about outward appearance, I do hope that 2009 is a year in which we will grow in the important areas of life and that we will continue to walk the walk.