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


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.