Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Broken Door

The apartment I share with my friend is on the third floor. I know I have told you before about the lack of elevators in the city. Any building that has less than eight floors is not required by law to have an elevator. That means we spend a lot of time climbing stairs. Living on the third floor really isn't too bad, but this past week the door to our stairwell broke. People coming by to visit can no longer ring the bell downstairs to let us know that they have arrived, and we can no longer unlock the door by simply pushing a button. Instead our friends call us on our cell phone and we have to run down three flights of stairs to open the front door. We walk them back up to our apartment, and after they have visited for a couple of hours we should really follow good Uyghur custom and walk them out all the way to the road, (which of course means going back down three flights of stairs again. Up and down, up and down, it really is quit the work out.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Invitation Letter

So I am still trying to get a work visa. I know I have been talking about this for months now (actually I think it has been more than a year already). I have spent the last five months going from one office to the next, collecting red stamps and handing in copies of my passport. I finally got my Invitation Letter that I have to take out of the country to an embassy to apply for the much sought after work visa. This paper said in big bold letters that I had to return to Canada, and I had to have done it by January l0 (only ten days from the time it was in my hand). The story of my life, having to make last minute trips out of the country.

There was a lack of consensus on this date and its meaning. Some other foreigners who have gone before in this process claimed that the date was only an estimated time frame and that I had up to thirty days after that to get it in. Others said I had to not only have left the country before then, but I had to also have come back before that date.

All this confusion and stress was really starting to wear me down, when I finally used someone else's good connection with a government office, to re-issue me a new Invitation Letter with a date that better suited my own personal travel plans. Now that is what I call a real gift from the government.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Governments Gift

My friends aren't the only ones who decided to give me a gift for my birthday. The local government published an article on the one web page our province has had access to for the last seven months saying that they are going to "slowly start to re-open" international communication (ie: Internet and phone calls). I have been asking my friends when they think this slow opening will have us back up and running full throttle. Most people guess it will be at least another six months before we are back to where we were before this summer's situation. While six months still seems like forever without being able to regularly check e-mail, at least we have an update, at least the government has given us some news, some hope, the mention of some sort of plan.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Timmies Run

If you are a Canadian, or if you have ever been to Canada, I don't need to explain how much Timmie Runs are a part of the everyday ebb and flow of life. When I was in college I use to stop in everyday on my way to work or school and grab a large double-double and a sour cream glazed doughnut. There were many days that I would need another pick-me-up half way through the afternoon. I have so many good memories hanging out at Timmies with my friends, and now I can add one more big one to that list.

With the Internet still being off I don't know when you are reading this....but December 28th was my 30th birthday. Sadly the day didn't start the greatest for me (I was still really exhausted from basket delivery the night before. Yes the Christmas season was just so busy we put off playing Santa until two days after Christmas. We figured people here always celebrate their holidays for days after the event and they would never know the difference). This old body could barely make it out to the living room. My roommate unexpectedly had to head into work for the morning, and I couldn't find my favorite Tim Horton's coffee mug anywhere.

As I was laying on the couch trying to recover from the long trip from my bedroom one of my friends called. She was also not feeling well, I guess she had eaten something the day before that had sent her stomach into convolutions (it is funny this girl and I often are affected by the same foods). She was calling to see if I could come over and take care of her. Normally the three minute trip to her house would not be a big deal, but on days when I am moving slow, and the ground is slippery it seems like miles to me. I made apologies that I just wasn't up to it and hoped she felt better soon.

She called me back a few seconds later to tell me that she had been lying and that she was on the road walking towards my house to pick me up and take me back home with her. I have to admit to being a little mad, I mean if she had a birthday surprise that was worth lying to me for, why didn't she just bring it with her instead of making me go back to her place.

We made the slow cold trek to her house and when the door flew open I was greeted with the most amazing sight. There were all of my closest friends wearing Tim Horton name tags. They had moved the kitchen table to act like a front counter. There was my favorite "missing" coffee mug filled with freshly brewed Timmies coffee (they had had the grinds sent from Canada) and homemade sour cream glazed doughnuts. They had traced the logo off my mug and had made signs for the walls. We spent the morning just sitting around Tim Hortons on the other side of the world, drinking coffee and hanging out. It was the sweetest birthday treat ever.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

10 Baskets in 1 Night

This year my friends and I decided to celebrate Christmas like we did last year, trying to outdo Santa himself by delivering baskets of goodies to friends and neighbours. Last year we were set on the people we wanted to deliver to. We went to homes and if people weren't there we tracked them down at restaurants or offices to deliver our gifts.

This year we were a little more flexible. While we had developed pictures of us with our friends and framed them, we were willing to grab out the picture and change who the basket went to at the last minute. We gave them to our vegetable lady, the lady who owns the photo copy shop, the young girl who works at the convenience store near our house, the wait staff at our favorite restaurants and more. Only one of the homes we went to was a repeat from last year's basket delivery extravaganza. At each stop we sang one stanza of a Christmas carol in both our native tongue and theirs. We also included a letter that we had written in both the local languages that told the reason for the season. It was a great night, but once again we were totally exhausted.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


I don't know how big of a deal this movie has gotten to be back in the west, but out here it is the have-to-see-flick of the year. Everyone on the street is buzzing with talk of this movie. I have now watched it in both English and Uyghur, and while yes the cinematography and special effects are pretty amazing, like when all of California falls into the ocean, the truth is I still don't really know what all the fuss is about.

But apparently this movie has a lot of people worried about the end times. There are men standing on street corners selling nothing but copies of this one movie, reminding people to be prepared for the end. The movie shows rich people being able to buy their salvation. My friends here see themselves as having no hope to be saved if this is the case.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Country Cousin

My Uyghur mom and her family recently took in a distant relative to help them raise their grandchildren. They have two small boys that it is mainly their responsibility to raise. Their son is living in Europe and their daughter-in-law who, lives with them, is a police officer and is so busy with work that she is hardly ever home. That means that my mom, who is almost 65 spends her days running after a five year old who is tough and has never heard the word "no".

I kept telling them it was too much for them to handle on their own. In the end their daughter-in-law asked a second cousin living in the country to move in with them and help with the children. She is a 12 year old girl, who like I mentioned before is not registered. Twelve is a weird age for girls some of them look like they are going on 30, and others, like this young girl, look like they're still 8. She has learned how to read and write along the way, but doesn't really speak any of the national language. She can barely lift the baby but she is very dedicated to helping with the laundry, dishes, cooking, and such.

My Uyghur parents have offered that if she is willing to stay and help around the house they will pay for her to go to a training school after their grandchildren have started school. It sounds like such a sad life for a young girl, but living with my Uyghur mom and dad and having an opportunity to learn a trade is a lot more than she could have hoped for otherwise. Her mom is getting remarried and her soon-to-be-step-father wants nothing to do with her. Sad stories like these are a daily part of my life.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Give or Take a Couple of Million

If you read my last blog post you might have noticed that I took an estimated guess at how many people live in this city. It might not be an exact guess considering I allowed for a difference of up to 2 million people, but population is a hard thing to nail down around here. For instance, there is a law on the number of children a family can have. Uyghur families living in the city can have two, those in the country can have three. But some people don't abide by the law and end up having more children. In order to keep these extra children they either have to a pay a big fine to the government, or else keep the child a secret by not registering them. A non registered child officially does not exist, which means they can't go to school and they are not included in a population count. These children will end up being street sweepers, house cleaners and such. They will never be able to move up in society because they officially don't exist. As sad as it sounds it is actually a very common thing, so common that some people actually figure there are likely two million unregistered, non legal children.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Weird Sights and Smells

So the other day I stepped out of my apartment to see a cow standing by the garbage pile. Keep in mind, we are living in a city of 3-5 million people, but the sight of the cow in the middle of my apartment complex was somehow not that surprising of a sight. I naturally assumed that many of my neighbours would be eating beef for dinner. As sure as sure could be a little over an hour later when I came home there was no cow, but the ground outside my front door was all bloody and red.