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.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Text Messaging

My new favourite form of communication is text messaging. Writing and sending short notes from my cell phone help modern communication makes one one step closer to being totally impersonal, and yet I love it. The other night one of my local friends and I sent texts back and forth for a good two hours. We could have made an actual phone call and have discussed everything we needed to say in five minutes, but this was more fun.

Since most students here have studied English it is normally our texting language of choice, which gives me the upper hand. Some of their text are so funny based on grammar mistakes or uncertain of what the phraseology means. For instance was when one of my guy friends wrote me a text apologizing for forgetting something the day before, he wrote "I am sorry for yesterday. Have I chance or not?" Which was so not his meaning and made we crack up. I tend to save funny ones like this, until I recently found out from one of my friends who doesn't speak English how cute and funny in an incorrect way, my texts I write in Uyghur are.

Okay here is one that will make you laugh. My friend is a teacher and she recently wrote one of her students that had been sick a quick "Feel better soon" text. The students friend responds by sending her this flower message:

"Just now you showed concern to Peter. So, such is life. What makes us happy is what we have now not what we don't have. We should never complain of life where we live. One's fate is in the charge of oneself; happiness comes from one's heart; only one oneself can makes all come true; so come towards the good not the bad. Now matter how salty the teas are, a smiling face can always make brilliance fly around one, and no matter how long the night is, the dawn can always break the dark. So we should cherish all around us and never lose hope. May you happy everyday, dear teacher"

Oh the joy of texting

Monday, May 11, 2009

What's Missing

Yes it was nice to be asked if I was Uyghur on my recent trip south. It proves that I am making strides in that direction, but it always proves I have a long way to go.

It is like language learning, you really only complement someones language if it is not that great. If you meet someone with an exceptionally high level of language skill, to the point that talking to them seems almost normal, then you would never think to comment on it. You take the fluidity for granted and enjoy the conversion.

The same is true for our appearance. There were thousands of Uyghur ladies walking down that same street, several who were much prettier than we were, but no one stopped to comment on them. In fact no one even blinked an eye or nodded a head in their direction, they were just there. We still stood out enough to make us a topic of conversation. They could tell we had tried, but obviously the difference was still enough to draw almost every one's attention and make us stick out like a couple of sour thumbs.

So I started a list:
What is missing from me looking totally Uyghur?
1. Makeup - Uyghur girls wear a lot of it. In fact one of my teachers had her eye shadow tattooed on to save time in the morning. I have never really bothered with it. I do however own a lip gloss

2. Loose the glasses - it is not that all Uyghurs have amazing eye sight, or even that they all choose contacts. It is just that most of them have never gone for an eye exam, and have instead learned to live with the impairment. My glasses are the first thing I put on in the morning, even before the light, and I take them off after my head is on the pillow.

3. Increase the sparkle and lace count - What we wear to dress up in NA is what a lot of Uyghur ladies wear on a daily basis, they are all about looking their best and that means glitter. I am at least trying in this regard, buying more of my clothing from the local market, instead of having it sent over from Old Navy

4. High Heels - no matter how impractical and uncomfortable, Uyghur women's shoes must be high and they must be pointy ( this is one I will just never conform to).

5. No Camera - we took our camera all around town last week to capture faces and places that would demonstrate the wonder of the city when posted on this blog. Local people don't all have cameras, much less walk around town take such mundane and daily shots of the bread seller or the fruit cart.

6. The speed at which we walked- I really believe that the high heels do a lot to slow the women down.

Friday, May 08, 2009

What Men Want

Some of you might remember the 2000 movie staring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt entitled "What Women Want". I have to admit to never having seen it, but I am up enough of modern pop cultural references to know that the premise is about a guys who is able to hear what women are thinking. Last weekend when my roommate and I were visiting down south, we felt like we were given a similar power, a chance to hear what men are thinking. No fluke accident was involved in our obtaining of this power, just the gift of being foreigners, and able to understand the language.

As we walked down the street guys would look right at us and say things like "Foreigner" "Wow they look Uyghur" or my personal favourite that we heard more than once "beautiful". None of these men had any idea that we could understand a word of what they were saying, they thought the comments were just falling on deaf ears, so we decided to have a little fun and thanked them for telling us we looked Uyghur. It was a compliment considering that we had tried and were dressed very local.
One husband and wife were having an argument in their carpet shop as to whether or not we really were Uyghur. The bus driver hated the fact that we were sitting near the back and he couldn't clearly hear our story, so he started to make up his own version of who we were and why we had come. According to him, and now what everyone who sat near the front of the bus firmly believes, I am Uyghur but my parents immigrated to Canada before I was born (which is why I look foreign and my skin is so white), but I have come back to work here and have great Uyghur because it is in my blood.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Miracle of Air Travel.

This past weekend my roommate and I took a trip down south to check out a job opportunity for me. I have been to this city numerous times, but I have always travelled by train or sleeper bus, this time since we only had three days we decided to fly. What is normally a twenty four hour trip by land, only took us an hour and a half in the air... and the price wasn't that bad either. Our plane tickets probably cost us an extra $20 CAN, well worth it considering round trip we saved ourselves about 44 hours of travel. I think this is a turning point for me, a conversion to the miracle of air travel.

The trip itself was great. I was really impressed with the company, its office, and employees. They have an extra apartment that I will be able to rent. It is about the same size as I have now, but because of the cities remote location the price is half of what I pay now. Anyway here are some shots from around town.
A picture of the Old city as taken from the town ferris wheel

Motor bikes, the best way to get around town

New Friends

Great Architecture

Faces around town