Friday, March 27, 2009

Four Out of Five Dentist Suggest Miswak

I always include this trinket as kind of a joke, considering I have never seen a Uyghur person actually using one. They all do the same thing we do and go to the supermarket and buy a regular toothbrush. But these fancy stick versions can be purchased from all the street vendors who set up shop in front of the Mosques. The use of the Miswak stick as a toothbrush is not just a Uyghur thing it is a Islamic practice. While not actually mentioned in the Qur’an, the use of the miswak is frequently advocated in the Hadith (the words and traditions of Mohammed – which well not considered up there with holy law, they are said to be examples for life). In the Hadith Mohammed is quoted as saying “Were it not that I might overburned believers, I would have ordered them to use the Miswak at every prayer”.

I have to admit when I hold this broken off piece of branch in my hand I fail to see how it could even compare in teeth cleaning power to the “double- action- triple- rotating- head –super- toothbrushes” that are on the market today. But as I did some more reading on the topic I found out here might actually me some modern day scientific support for rubbing your teeth clean with a stick. Miswak, is a natural toothbrush made from twigs of 'Salvadora persica' tree. It is said to strengthen the gums, prevent tooth decay and eliminate toothaches, as well as supposedly eliminate bad odour, improve the sense of taste and causes teeth to glow and shine. Chemical analysis has revealed it contains 19 natural substances, beneficial to dental health. Miswak's natural antiseptics kill harmful microorganisms in the mouth, the astringent tannic acid it contains protect gums from disease, and miswaks aromatic oils increase salivation. Supposedly miswak itself tastes "pleasantly bitter".

Add to that the fact that it is disposable, biodegradable and the ultimate environmentally friendly toothbrush that can be carried in your pocket and doesn’t require water or toothpaste, and you have the latest in dental hygiene for those who want a green tomorrow.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Stick? Realy??? Uyghur Trinkets 3

A) This is a toothbrush - just like the one Mohammad use to use
B) This is a hairclip, you don't need anything fancy if you are just going to put a headscarf over it.
C) This is the root of a locally grown plant, that gets boiled in tea to add a full and robust flavour.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Bread of Life

The correct answer is the bread stamper. Uyghurs use this tool to make nan bread. This is a very important cultural food. In fact Uyghurs will say that Nan is the bread of life. And for that reason they would never consider eating it outside, for fear that a crumb might fall to the ground and be wasted. In the same way nan is never to be thrown or wasted. It will keep for days. When it is too hard to eat on its own, it is often soaked in tea. Nan really is a staple in the Uyghur diet but since it comes in six or seven varieties it is hard to get bored of. They used the same type of dough to make all the different types of nan. The difference is either in how much the dough was kneaded ahead of time (more kneading will produce a more firm finished product) or how it is shaped before it is placed into the tonur. But they are all delicious, and they have all been stamped by the handy nan stamping tool. On every street corner there are nan stands, and the intoxicating smell of fresh baked bread fills the air.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Not Over Yet

I was going to write a post the other day about the coming of spring and the melting of the snow... but considering this is what I woke up to this morning, I think it is a good thing I waited.
The weight of last night's snow fall even caused tree limbs to break off. I guess winter is going to be here for a little longer.

Get to the Point- Uyghur Trinkets 2

This little tool is very common in Uyghur life:

A) They use it to brush the wool for making carpets. Uyghurs are famous for their carpet production… their hand tied masterpieces are thick and soft… but if you want a soft carpet you need to start with soft wool.

B) We eat a lot of lamb meat here, which is good, but it is not tender. Mutton is known for being hard to chew, and so this tool is used as a meat tenderizer. You can find them in every Uyghur kitchen.

C) This is a bread stamper. The Uyghur people eat bread called nan. It is a flat bread and in order to keep it from raising in the center they stamp a pattern on it. Which is handy since it also makes it really pretty.

Caught Red Handed

The box of henna can be used to for dying hair, but more often ladies use it to dye their figure and toe nails a bright red colour. It is considered cleaner than using nail polish. Although the Uyghur people like to dye more than just their mails, they often cover all the sounding skin. The red on the skin lasts about a week, but the dyed nails stay a bright blood red colour for almost three months, until they grow out.

I remember once when I dyed my nails the night before flying to the capital. They were bright red and, if you weren’t use to the cosmetic appearance of it, it looked like I had some sort of contagious disease. I went to Starbuks (a joy of visiting a major city), the lady behind the register looked at my hands like I should be quarantined. She tentatively reached for my money and dropped it in the till as if touching it might cause her death.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Uyghur Trinkets

A friend of mine who is living in the country capital asked me to mail her a few of the traditional Uyghur cultural trinkets that we can buy readily here at the bazaar. Before heading out on my shopping trip, I changed into my long skirt and such - I have learned over the years that if I wear good Uyghur clothes I get a good Uyghur price. Every item out here has several prices. There is the foreigner price, get ready to pay more than double what it is worth. The local our Uyghur price – if you can get that you are not doing to bad, just paying a regular mark-up sort of price… and finally there is the good friend price.

As I stepped into one busy shopping area I was greeted by the guy at the first booth yelling out “oh look, here comes a foreigner” ( it still bugs me that they can pick me out so quickly , I feel like I fit in, but apparently I don’t). His bold announcement basically declared to all the surrounding shop owners “Look, here comes someone we can totally rip off.” And so I did just what he told me to… I started to look around me, after doing a full 360 I looked back at the guy and replied “where, where is the foreigner? I can’t see anyone that doesn’t belong here”. This got all of his buddies laughing, and in turn got me a really good price on my purchase.

So what are Uyghur cultural trinkets? I have decided to ask you that question. (Some of you may have played this game last time I was home, and if so please forgive me). I am going to show you a picture of one thing I bought and give you a multiple choose answer. Please leave a comment containing you guess.

Let's start with a pretty easy one

a) This is a box of hair dye, just like you would find at any local drug store at home

b) This is a box of dye used for nails, because it's long lasting and considered more clean (halal) by Muslims than using nail polish

c) This is a box of dye used by local police to catch criminals red handed.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Over There

I love getting directions in Uyghur. The whole concept of instructing someone to turn left or right at certain major landmarks is completely missing. In fact no matter where you are or where you’re going the directions given are always the same. With a swift wave of the hand you are told “Uuuuuuuuuuuuuu yarda” meaning “Oooooooooooover there”. The length of time that first syllable is held indicates how far off the mark you are. And so you start walking in the general area to which they pointed. When you feel that your travels equate in length to the inflection with which they were given, it is time to find another friendly face and ask them. Hopefully this second person still points in the same general direction and hopefully they only tell you “Uuuuu yarda” (if you are fortunate you are now within sight of the final destination and it can actually be pointed out for you). The problem comes ( as I recently found out again) when the second person points back from where I just came and gives me an even longer “Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu yarda”. This back and forth, back and forth trying to judge the estimated length simply by a person’s tone of voice can go on for a while. Or you can do like I did and give up and ask some one in the national language, and get real street names and proper information about what to do when you arrive at various intersections.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Trickery' s Hero

The show we went to see the other night was more than just a collection for flips, and tricks, stunts and such, it was a cultural introduction to a famous Uyghur folk hero. The greeting in the title was being addressed to none other than the famous Nasreddin Ependy. He is a hero to all Turkic people groups (and perhaps all of Islam) best-known as a trickster. His legendary wit and droll trickery were possibly based on the exploits and words of a historical imam. The performance the other night told the story of Nasreddin, and his always present donkey, using the stunts of their trade to save friends from hard situations. There are as many as 350 anecdotes that have been attributed to Nasreddin, many of them are found in our text book.

Around here you can see pictures of this hero everywhere. Sharing a Nasreddin story that relates to the situation is like sharing a proverb or piece of wisdom. However, sometimes the trying to make him fit into all areas of life gets a little out of hand. ( I not sure if Santa is trying to be Nasreddin or whether Nasreddin is trying to imitate Santa)

Below are a few of his famous tales, ( the story telling my seem a little stilted, but that is my fault, I just quickly translated them from out textbook).

Those Who Know Tell Those Who Don’t

One day Nasreddin stepped up to the platform to speak. He started by asking the crowd “do you know what I am going to talk about today?”

“No” said the people.

“I don’t want to talk to people who know nothing about what I am gong to talk about” replied Nasreddin as he stepped down to leave.

On the second day when he stepped up to speak Nasreddin started with the same question

“Do you know what I am going to talk about today?”

“Yes” responded the people

“Then there is nothing left for me to say” Nasreddin once again left them standing there uncertain.

The people decided if this should happen again then some of the people would respond that they knew and others would respond that they didn’t know.

On the third day when once again asked the same question “Do you know what I am going to talk about today?”

They answered “Some of us do… some of us don’t”

“Wonderful,” said Nasreddin “Those of you who know can tell those who don’t” and with that he left.

Eat, My Coat, Eat

The Nasreddin was invited to a banquet. Not wanting to be pretentious, he wore his everyday clothes, only to discover that everyone ignored him, including the host. So he went back home and put on his fanciest coat, and then returned to the banquet. Now he was greeted cordially by everyone and invited to sit down and eat and drink.

When the soup was served to him he dunked the sleeve of his coat into the bowl and said,

"Eat, my coat, eat!"

The startled host asked the Narsreddin to explain his strange behavior.

"When I arrived here wearing my other clothes," explained the Nasreddin, "no one offered me anything to eat or drink. But when I returned wearing this fine coat, I was immediately offered the best of everything, so I can only assume that it was the coat and not myself who was invited to your banquet."

What Type of Book

Nasredinn had a friend who often borrowed his books, but would not return them. This made Nasredinn very mad. One day while he was sitting out side reading this friend came along to join him.

“What are you reading?” He asked Nasredinn

Nasredinn answered without lifting his eyes from the page, “One that I paid for”.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Fly Through the Air With the Greatest of Ease

Last night my classmates and I went to the theatre downtown to take in a performance entitled Yakximosiz Ependy – literally ‘Hello Sir’. It was an amazing two hours filled with singing, dancing, juggling, and acrobatic tricks. In one act eight of so girls came out riding unicycles. Each one had a number of tea cups stacked on her head. They started by doing a line dance type number where they rode their bikes in unison in every different direction across the stage. Next they started taking the cups off their head, balancing them on their feet and kicking them to another girl across the stage. She would effortlessly catch the flying cup on her head on top of the stack of six she was already balancing… all of this while still riding way up high on their bikes.

In another act contortionists bent this way and that, balancing against each other. This act alone was pretty amazing considering they could move their bodies in ways I never even considered possible… but to top it off they did it all with lit candles on their heads.
And my personal favourite was the tight rope walkers who can not only skip and dance on a little wire high above the stage; they can balance other people upside down on their head while doing it. At one point in the act three of four guys were standing on the rope at intervals of several feet. A fifth guy climbed up on the shoulders of the first and then proceeded to jump from there to the next guys shoulders and so on down the line. It was Amazing.
This art form is called "dawaz" in Uygur means aerial tightrope walking. According to historical records and uncovered relics, this form of art has at least a history of over 2000 years and it originated in part of Central Asia. Dawaz is an ancient sport widespread among the Uygurs. Since then Central Asia has been a breeding ground for such acrobatic arts as pole stunts, ball juggling, sword skills, magic, and animal taming. Traveling showmen who made their livings from acrobatic shows have taken these breathtaking skills far and wide. We talked to the father of one of the performers after the show who said his fourteen year old daughter has travelled to the Middle East, Canada, and Japan performing these stunts.

Our white western faces once again served us well as we were invited back stage after the show to meet the performers and take a few pictures with them. These guys told us they had been practicing and rehearsing for this show for almost three years, and trust me when I say it was worth it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Dynamic Equivalent

I was talking with one of my fellow expats the other day about the coming of spring. I was going on and on about how the ‘open weather’ was doing so much to lift my spirits. She laughed and said “that is a really wooden translation from the Uyghur, but I know what you mean.” The sad thing is I didn’t even realize that wasn’t a proper English expression. I have gotten so use to hearing it in Uyghur, or hearing Uyghur English speakers express it in those terms, that I just figured I was speaking my native tongue properly. I even noticed that I phrased it that way in my previous post, which got me to reading over a few recent posts to see if there were other examples of my declining English ability.

It is bad enough that I still speak the national language like a three year old, or that I speak Uyghur like a six year old, but if my English also escapes me I will be left making a fool of myself in three languages. The longer I am here the more I do question my own English… I am forever asking “is that really how we say it? Is there a better way to translate that? What is the dynamic equivalent?”

Sunday, March 01, 2009

In Like a Lamb

For all of you who care about the weather and the fact that it is the first of March, I am pleased to announce that we started the month with a beautiful day. Our temperatures actually got as high as -3 (almost spring jacket time).

You could feel the sense of excitement in the air… the anticipation that our long dark winter might soon be drawing to a close. It is still a little early to expect a full onset of spring, but the sense of hope has begun. Everyone has started to peek their heads out of their homes again. The streets were busier with pedestrians, while the buses seemed to have a little more room (I wasn’t standing in some man’s arm pit with a woman’s purse pushing into my bottom). Not only did the weather seem more open, so did the general population’s mood.

This lightness of heart is really absent here over the winter. I feel like we all live under the same dark cloud of gloom. I remember the first time I heard some one talk about seasonal depression. I thought it was just a hoax, made up by people who were to scared to handle a real Canadian Winter. I need to publically apologise to all of you, for so drastically underestimating the seriousness of this condition. Since living here and suffering through the dark winter, when the sun can’t shine through the pollution ( a Canadian paper recently list the city I live in as one of the top most polluted in the world), when temperatures of -15 seem like a fairly nice day, or when all of our friends would just rather stay inside than endure the elements to come and visit you (mind you I only offered them to come over, so that I didn’t have to get bundled up in my winter gear to go to their place), I have had to face the reality of seasonal depression. It has never gotten to the point I can’t get out of bed, or function through daily activities, but everything I do in the winter feels like it is being done in slow motion, under a black cloud. And it is not just me, it is the whole city, we have a population of between 3-5 million people and we almost all collectively spend the winter struggling with feeling down.

But some how the darkness of those long winter days, make a day like today, days when March comes in like a gentle lamb, seem even more refreshing and reviving.