Thursday, April 29, 2010

Visa Saga Part Two - Vacation is Not Over Yet

Anytime we enter the country we must call our local police officer and let him know we are back. If you enter on anew visa you must go to his office and have him fill out a new blue residence card. This contact with the police must be made within 24 hours of your return, or you could face fines.

I called our friendly neighborhood policeman while we were in the taxi from the airport to our home. I started out asking about his vacation and was surprised to learn he was still off work. He would be returning to the office in two days. I told him I had a new visa and would therefore need a new blue card, and he told me all that could wait until he got back. So my 30 days had started to tick away while I was sitting at home waiting for his vacation to end.

Two days later I showed up at his office bright and early awaiting his arrival. The officer I was waiting for is a really nice guy and easy to chat with, he was able to fill in my residence card, but I noticed he marked my card ending March 21 (since February has only 28 days - I figured I would have until March 23rd to get it all done). But he is the policeman and what he says goes.

30 days - 2 waiting for vacation to be over - 2 days because February is a short month - 2 days for a weekend = 24 days left and counting.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Visa Saga Part One - Rules of the Game

If you regularly keep up with this blog you will know that back in February I was able to get a work visa while I was out of the country. My friends and I purposely extended our vacation an extra week so that we could arrive back in country after a national holiday was over and civic workers would be back at their desks. The reason behind this was simple; stapled to my new visa in my passport was an important notice that read "The holder of this visa is kindly reminded to go through the procedures for obtaining the residence permit for aliens in local public security bureau within 30 days from the date of entry, to avoid illegal stay."

The procedures for obtaining a residence permit are as follows:

a. Register with the local police in charge of the area where you live (he must fill in your residence cars as well as a letter of verification)

b. Obtain an Alien Employment Permit from the labour department.

c. Register with the local police in charge of the area where your work office is located.

d. Take the above documents to the District Police Station and get their stamp of approval.

e. Drop your passport and above documentations off at the City Police Headquarters in order to get your residence permit.

All of these steps must be done in 30 days or less -- GAME ON!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Texting Is Only for Good Boys and Girls (Jan 28th)

I mentioned that on January 16th we were once again able to send text messages. This fun discovery led my friends and I to have deep text messaging conversations like the following.


Very. Where?


Good. Bus stop 5 minutes?


We had to keep it short and to the point because even after the texting ban was lifted we were only allowed to send a total of twenty messages a day (believe it or not those can disappear fast). But I guess not everyone was keeping their messaging privileges as pure as we were.

On January 28th (just 12 days later) everyone was sent the following text from the government (rough translation): Some citizens have been caught misusing text messaging and sending inappropriate messages. They have been jailed.

So now I don't know how much hope there really is that soon our area will be technologically back open. I mean if text messaging is only for good girls and boys, internet much be reserved for the perfect.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

As Red As a.........

Language learning is an ongoing game. I have mentioned before some of the common mistakes I make in pronouncing Uyghur. Things like; "verb" and "elephant" are only one vowel apart, as are "think" and "house", and "love" and "slaughter". So our teacher likes to laugh when we tell her we "conjugate elephants", have a guest "staying in our thoughts", and that God "slaughters us".

Now a days the challenge is to get deeper into the language. I want to learn how to use idioms and express myself using metaphors and similes that resonate with the culture. To learn how to describe things in a natural Uyghur way.

Today we found out that when Uyghur people get angry, they turn "as red as a lung". When they blush, they turn "as red as a gobbler". It took us two days to remember the English equivalents; sometimes our English atrophies from lack of use. But now I know we beet red when a person is angry. I tried this expression on my teacher, but realized that it fell flat since she had never seen a beet much less eaten one. The comparison was empty to her.

Moreover, Uyghur people don't "get angry"; their "anger comes upon them". They don't "get hungry", they "have an open stomach". Clothing isn't "immodest", it is "open". "Pregnant women" are "two-layered" or "heavy-footed". People who are "generous" are "wide-stomached".

"Putting requirements on a woman" means to propose to her. When your face "turns to the color of a wall", it means you've become pale. To "look to someone's road" means to wait for them.

The Uyghur people give their strongest promise to attend an event by saying "can't not come". (double negatives always threw me for a loop in English). They have the same word for "bitter", "spicy", and "angry". There are two words for jealous--one with a good connotation (like "I'm so jealous of your new car") and one with a bad connotation (I'm jealous of my brother"). They have ten or twenty expression for happiness depending on situation, mood, and accompanying actions.

The heart also plays a key role in the unified language. To have "half a heart" means that you're sad. To "lift someone's heart" means to comfort them. To "put someone's heart on the ground" means to disappoint them.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Picture Perfect

A favorite activity among Uyghur people is going to have pictures taken. This can be an elaborate
affair involving traditional clothing, make-up, hair (often fake), and several hours in a studio. Since we were on school brake some other foreign friends and I decided to take a day to get this done. Here are the results.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I mentioned a few weeks ago that the government had given me a birthday present by promising to open up communication again in our province. Today we had our first hint that they intend to keep that promise. Today, (January l6th) I got a Text message from my friend.

I know that doesn't sound like a big deal to most of you, but if you are a faithful reader of my blog you will remember that I used to be addicted to texting friends as a short simple means of communication. Since July of last year the government has turned off our ability to send and receive text messages. The only ones we have gotten in the last seven months were text from the government either reminding us to be good citizens, or ones telling us how they have punished people who weren't.

But today's simple text message is like a ray of hope in our world. Today text messaging.... tomorrow international phone calls or Internet?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Coughing, Whistling, Stomping and the Such

The lights in our stairwells are sound sensitive, meaning they come on whenever you make a loud noise. It is the same idea as the 'Clapper" that was popular in the Eighties, It is not just the stairwell in our building, but everyone around the entire country. As you sit in your apartment you can hear different people ascending and descending the stairs using their own unique ways to get the lights to come on. Some people stomp (I find this hard on the knees), others can make a high pitch whistling sound, I personally find coughing/clearing my throat the most effective noise to make to turn the lights on.

The other night as my friend and I were walking home late at night we noticed that many of the street lamps on our block were out. Without even realizing it I started coughing loudly hoping more light would come on. Apparently I an not the only one that has this reaction to darkness. You could hear other pedestrians clapping, whistling, stomping and the such, in hopes of lighting their way home.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Snow a Blessing and a Curse

Over the last two days the city has once again been blanketed in a thick covering of snow. Every snow fall really is a mixture of good and bad, both a curse and a blessing.

The days leading up to a snowfall are often bitterly cold and gloomy. The air is heavy with pollution that sticks to the inside of your lungs, and is so thick you can't see across the street.

The only thing that can solve this problem is falling snow to clear the air. And when it does it is a welcome break......

But then the roads are slick and icy, the bus lanes are slippery, and getting around town seems so much more dangerous.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Not Setting the Price

Around town there are real taxis and fake ones. Real ones are red and come with a meter that clocks the fare as you go. Black ones (actually they can be any colour, we just call them black, like the black market) are just any guy driving his own car who is willing to take pity on you and give you a lift where ever you are going.

I use to stay away from the black taxis because I was convinced the driver was going to try to rip me off and charge me way more than a normal fare should be. When I first started being willing to go in fake taxis I would make sure I had negotiated the price before even getting in the car (and trust me they always seemed to call a higher price the minute they noticed my white skin), but the more I travelled with local friends the more I realized none of them did this. They just get in the car, tell the driver the destination, and when they are getting out give him the amount that everyone knows a ride that fare should cost.

I wanted to try it. So I started taking more blacks taxis and just stated my destination as I climbed in. I find that if I just sit there they still end up wanting more money, but if I speak to them in Uyghur and try being all cute and adorable (my friends words not mine) I often get offered the ride for free, or can at least get away with paying less than a regular cab. In fact even when I don't have correct change they will break up my big bill and give me back more money than I expected. This new strategy is not only saving me a lot of money, it is giving me a lot of language practice and keeping me updated on current events (taxi drivers in any culture hear a lot of news and have a lot of gossip to share). The only thing about taking fake cabs is that my marriage proposal rate increases. Taxi drivers are good they can go from "where are you from?" to "will you marry me?" in a ten minute ride or less.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Buying Bruises

My friends and I had a hard week last week and in order to encourage us to complete tasks we were dreading we had set up a reward system. If we got certain tasks finished we were allowed to go for a massage (in hopes of removing some of the tension).

My friend went for the whole body massage, but I have tried that before and the massage therapist spends more time trying to get my legs to move in directions that they can't reach. So I decided to just get a simple back and shoulder massage. When I asked the price they told me something reasonable and then said it was an extra two dollars for something else. They lady was speaking really fast and I didn't really catch what the extra two dollars was for, but I agreed anyway and lay down to relax.

The first thirty minutes were great and I was almost asleep, when it was time for the two dollar extra bonus part of the message. The next thing I felt was this huge suction cup feeling on my back in not one or two places but a total of nineteen places. They take glass jars, light a candle inside them to suck up the oxygen and create a vacuum or sorts before sticking them to your back. The vacuum sucks up the skin and creates big black and blue bruises.

When I realized what they were doing to me, I tried to ask what the purpose of this particular treatment was. The answer was somewhat confusing; it was something about keeping me from getting sick by getting rid of the cold in my body. I didn't have a cold and I didn't feel like I was getting sick, and I really didn't see how bruising me was going to help get over these none existent symptoms.

It was a good cultural experience, but it was a little painful sleeping on my back filled with nineteen bruises all about four centimeters in diameter for the next few days.