Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Land Flowing with Milk and Honey

I don't know how many of you remember the movie an American Tale, the one where the mouse and his family is moving from Russia to America. To them America was a land filled with promise and possibility, and potential because "there are no cats in America, and the streets are paved with cheese".

Many Uyghurs look at moving going abroad as that same bright hope. As they sit around and compare stories of how great it would be, the reality is often blurred by a dream. I have had many people ask me questions concerning what they have heard about life in North America. Some of them are still accurate "is it true that you can go to the doctor for free in Canada?" Although I do make sure to remind them that health care is paid for out of taxes and such, so really everyone pays for it.

The other day I had a woman ask "is it true that in Canada you have two taps in your kitchen, one with drinkable water and the other with milk?" 'Wow', I thought, 'where did this rumor start?' These people really are looking for a promised land, a place flowing with milk and honey. Sadly those who end up in the west often find it doesn't live up to their dreams. The roads in America, like everywhere else are made of cement, and there are still a lot of cats running around.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Second Hand Clothes

I have lived here for almost six years and I just found the local thrift store the other day. Actually I was really surprised that we even have a second hand clothing store in town, for several reasons.

Recently I had a post explaining how the entire outfit I was wearing was either, tired, sewed or glued in place. The quality tends to be so poor that most clothes don't last long enough to make it to hand-me-down status.

I have heard of Uyghur families threatening their children that if they don't behave they will force them to wear second hand clothing.

When my roommate and I were studying at the University last year we had the habit (like most young women) of borrowing each other's clothes and mixing and matching our outfits. One of our Uyghur teachers was totally insulted by this practice. She told us when you wear someone else's clothes, you actually take their sin upon yourself.

My friend's mother died suddenly last month and she said she was wearing her mom's old clothes but she didn't want to give them away to anyone else because Muslims believe that if you wear a dead persons clothing you must pray for them each time you put them on. She is afraid that other people will forget to say the prayers and her mother will not be able to rest.

Despite all these reasons against thrift stores I found one with some great stuff. The funniest thing is that used clothing stores have the same smell whether in Canada or here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Painted Trees

Every year the beginning of spring is marked by the painting of the trees. The bottom meter or so of every tree in town is painted white. I have asked several friends over the years what the purpose of this is. I think I now have more answers than there are trees. Some friends have said, "it is to look pretty" or "freshen us the city". Others says it is good for the trees and "keeps bugs from eating them". One person tole me it was so drivers could see the side of the road at night.

My personal guess is that it is similar to boondoggling of the 20's and 30's. Nothing more than a make work project. Spring means there is no more snow for the street keeping civil servants to shovel, so instead the government hands them paint brushes and tells them to go to work.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rechargeable Batteries

My friends and I wanted to take some pictures, only I realized that my camera was sadly out of batteries. Locally purchased batteries don't tend to last as long, but I had just changed them the week before, so I was disappointed that they had died so quickly.

"No problem" said one girl "just rub them in your hair".

"Yea the oil in your hair makes them work" said the other girl.

"No, it's the static electricity"

I thought they were both crazy, I didn't know how the oil or my dry fly away hair was going to recharge anything. But the amazing thing was that it worked. We were able to take several pictures.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

It's Back!!!!!!!!

The Internet is back!

With just the click of a button I can look-up anything, answer any question, talk to my friends, read and write emails, check out my friend's blogs, scan the latest news, sports, and weather, chat on skype and so forth. It is so amazing.

It is also a little overwhelming, after 10 months with no regular internet access, I didn't even remember what some of my old favorite sites where.

My friends and I were talking this morning about how we have a unique opportunity to start afresh. North Americans, in general are so use to being connected to the world-wide web. Wire-less at home, the office, and even in coffee shops. Most phones are also able to connect. The amount of time people spend on-line is mind boggling. I know before we lost our connection I was on almost an hour to an hour and a half a day. That worked out to 7-10 hours a week, when I look at my schedule now I don't know where I ever found the time.

The last ten months was like going cold turkey from any sort of internet addiction we might of had. Now it's back and we get to try to balance staying connected with the outside world with all that is going on here.

The next few posts are still going to be coming to you from the past as mom catches up with the ones my computer sent her while it was on vacation, and I take a couple of weeks adjusting to this new life in the loop, and getting in touch with friends.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Computer on Vacation

In order to get this latest set of blog posts sent out, I actually sent my computer on vacation without me. One of my friends was leaving our area for a week, so I talked her into taking my computer and hooking it up to the Internet so that it can have all its virus software updated, and send and receive the last three months worth of e-mails.

I hope my computer has a good time, I hear the weather there is beautiful this time of year.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Local Quality

Sometimes I bring clothes back with me from home, or my mom mails me a nice outfit, while these things last a long time and look great, they never totally look Uyghur. The best way to look local and fit in is to wear clothes purchased here. It also means you have to put up with local level quality. Today my socks are mended (twice), my purse and my jeans are superglued together and my boots are tied by a string. Despite all that my friends think I look great.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

No Solution

In North American culture we are taught from childhood "no pain, no gain", "if at first you don't succeed try, try, again", or "where there's a will there's a way". All of these slogans encourage us to "be all that we can be". These are not the phrases that Uyghur children are taught. Instead people tell them over and over that there is "no solution".

It is a very defeatist attitude. Everything is viewed as to hard to even bother trying.

After running the gauntlet of visa offices for over a month, and hitting road blocks at every step I can understand why people who have been raised to think there is no hope give up before they on till the end.

I got my passport back in hand with a 50 week long visa pasted in it April 1st (no joke). So the celebration can begin.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Visa Saga Part Seven - Not Done Yet

Monday morning, my first day in over a month that I don't have to run on any visa related tasks. I plan to sleep-in and then study for a little bit.

8:30 a.m. - the phone rings. It is the city police telling me that while my health check is officially still valid for another 2 months I am applying for a yearlong visa, and therefore the overlapping time is not sufficient I will need to get a new health check before they can finish processing my visa.

I quickly get dressed and head up to the travel medical centre (more than an hour long bus ride from my home). In order to register I need to have a copy of my passport. I explain that I don't have my passport sine it is in being processed at the city police. No passport copy, no medical check. I know I have a scanned copy saved on my computer at home, so I jump on the bus and head back across town.

In the afternoon I try again, back on the bus, back up north, back to the travel medical centre (which i find out is sadly only open in the morning) and back on the bus home. That means I spent a total of almost five hours on a city bus and have nothing to show for it in other words I have accomplished nothing.

Tuesday morning with passport copy in hand I try again. This time successfully. Blood work, urine, EKG, ultra sound, chest x-ray, blood pressure, height, weight, eyes, ears, mouth and nose all checked and done within the hour. The results would be finished and ready for pick up Wednesday afternoon.

I got it turned in on Thursday morning. I hope I'm finished, but I am holding off the celebration until my passport is safely back in my hand with a yearlong visa pasted in it.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Visa Saga Part Six - I'm Not an American Male

When I woke up this morning I realized that March 21 (the day my paper work is due) is a Sunday. That means I don't really have seven days, I only have five. I need to get the paper work in by Friday morning. It is time to come up with a 'Plan B'.

Monday morning I call whoever this guy is, (it takes about four tries before I get a hold of him), he suggest that I go up to the city police and see if they can grant me an extension until this woman is back from her vacation. The hour bus ride up to the city police turns out to be fruitless, since she can't do anything without a stamped paper from the district level office. She makes a few calls on my behalf and tells me that Wednesday afternoon after the political meeting the woman will be back in her office for an hour or so.

Tuesday I went with my friend to her private English school to look into a job. They figure they could get a visa in one day if I needed it. In fact, I could come in as late as Thursday afternoon and be all set. So I promised I would call her Wednesday night when I had news.

I was not the only one who got tipped off that the woman would be in her office for about an hour on Wednesday afternoon, the place was packed with people waiting. I'm still not good at the cultural thing of pushing to the front of the line (I use the word "line" loosely, it is more like a mass of people who push and shove in on one another), therefore I am the last person she serves. When I finally get my letter I stuff it in my bag and go skipping outside, texting all my friends with the good news that I have my paper work finished and with still two days to spare.

That night before going to bed I decided to pull out the letter and gaze at it with gratitude that I was finally finished. BIG PROBLEM - the letter is not mine. I have some American guys name on it. None of the information is mine. She printed a second copy of the guy in front of me as my letter. I'm in trouble. I already told my friends boss that I didn't need the English teaching job, and thanked her for all the help.

I was just about at the end of my rope. My roommate could tell I was about to lose it, so she took over.

"Here is what we are going to do. Tomorrow we are going back to that woman's office, if they tell us she is around, we will try to track down her personal phone number and go to her home if we have to."

Thankfully she was in the building, covering a different job. When I found her and pointed out the mistake she promised to fix it when she had a moment. An hour later I was leaving with a letter with my name on it. We took a taxi straight up to the city police and I got all of my paper work turned in.

7 days -week end - 1 day calling and finding no solution - 1 day interviewing for an English teaching job - 1 day getting some American guys letter - 1 day getting my own letter = getting my letter turned in with only 1 day to spare.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Visa Saga Part Five - Waiting for Vacation to End

Take the above documents to the District Police Station and get their stamp of approval. This is one of the last steps in the process and I am anticipating being done quickly. Monday, however was International Woman"s Day and the lady I needed to see decided to take the day off.

Tuesday morning the office was crowded but at least the woman was working. She too needed to come by the office and inspect it before she could sin off the paper work. She promised to call me sometime between Wednesday morning and Friday afternoon when she was on her way to the office. Since I didn't know when she would come, I planned to sit at the office and just wait for her. I didn't hear from her on Wednesday, the phone didn't again ring on Thursday, by Friday at lunch I was still sitting there by myself. I left the office to grab a quick lunch, and ran into a New Zealand woman who was also working on her visa. She told me that when she went by the District Police Station in the morning there was a notice on the door stating they would be closed until April 5th (two weeks after my 30 days is over).

Seeing is believing so I swung by the office to read the note myself. Sure enough the woman I spent three days waiting for was gone and wouldn't be back until it was too late to help me. One of her work mates was able to give me the phone number of a guy "who might be able to help".

Recap: 14 days - 1 week (7 days) = 7 days

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Visa Saga Part Four - Shut Up and Kiss Me

Step three is to register with the local police in charge of the area where your work office is located. I had tried to go to this office while I was waiting for the labor department to move, but was strictly told that I could not process the paper work out of order.

The morning after I got my Alien employment permit I was busy and couldn't make it to the police office until the afternoon. I went in and the officer was just getting up from his desk. "I have a meeting" he said "but you can sit down here and wait for me to get back". I sat on the couch he had motioned to and waited, and waited and waited. After about two hours I realized why his meeting was taking so long. In this country every Wednesday afternoon everyone student, bank worker, police, garbage man, everyone, has to attend political meetings. These often go until four or four thirty in the afternoon. I decided I didn't want to wait around that long, so I headed home.

The next morning I went back to his office first thing in the morning. He told me in order to fill out the needed paperwork he had to come to our office and make sure it was suitable. He had no time to come that day but told me he would by be by around 9 a.m. the next morning. Before I left he held out his hand to shake mine. This always creates a problem for me. In Uyghur culture man and woman who are not family should never touch each other. In fact, one of the ways a man can say he is engaged is that he touched a girl. I never know whether I should follow Uyghur culture and refuse the outstretched hand, or accept the fact that they are mimicking my culture and proceed like it is normal. I figured since he was the police and we were officially in his office that a hand shake seemed like an official way to seal our meeting for the next day (mind you I did wait to put on my gloves first so that our bare hands did not touch).

I went to the office for eight thirty in case he were early. I got the tea on and sat down to wait. Almost two hours later he called to say he was in the lobby and could I come down and meet him. As we were riding back up on the elevator to the 18th floor (our office is on the 17th floor but the elevators in our building only stops on even numbered floors) the police man decided to practice his English, here is what he knows:

"kiss me"

I try to gauge his seriousness without actually looking at his face. I can see his reflection slightly in the number panel above the door (the same panel that sadly tells me we are only on the 6th floor). I laugh nervously "that is what you've studied in English? It is rather rude; you need to find a new teacher."

"Shut up", his vocabulary is improving about as fast as the elevator is creeping upwards.

Once we are in the office I sit down to wait as he snoops around for a few minutes. He finishes rather quickly and comes and sits right beside me on the couch (I am really glad one of our employees is just in the other room). Only then does he tell me he forgot the paperwork in his office and I will have to go back there this afternoon. As he says this he starts hitting my hand in a very playful, very flirty, very very inappropriate way. "You know I could process your paper work faster if you promised to teach me English" by this time I have moved off the couch so he can't swap me again.

In the afternoon I headed to his office armed with a plan. My friend is a teacher at a private English school, (the prices are way above what this guy could afford for private lessons). I went in and introduced her as the best English teacher I know. She gives him her business card, (that only has the schools number on it and no way to contact her personally). We sat on the couch, first she put her coat at one end, then her bag, then she sat down. I sat right next to her. I put my purse on the couch next to me and my coat spreads out to the other end of the couch. The police officer had no choice but to sit on the chair across from us, and fill out my paperwork.

19 days - 3 days spent interacting with the inappropriate police man - a 2 day weekend = 14 days left.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Visa Saga Part Three - Moving Day

On day 24 I went skipping out of my local police office, and decided to head straight for the labor department. The two offices are on the same street just two or three blocks away, very convenient.

As I walked through the labor department door I had to flatten myself against the door frame to allow room for a large desk to be carried out. The desk was followed closely by chairs, tables, and all sorts of furniture headed for trucks parked just outside.

The security guard at the front desk looked at me funny as I headed for the stairs to the third floor. "You can't go up there" he yelled after me. "No one is there".

"When will someone be back in the office to approve alien labor permits?" I ask innocently. Just then I see a cart loaded down with computers also heading for the truck outside and a light goes on in my head.

"We're moving up to the north part of the city. The office will open again in its new location on March lst."

I wisely got the man to write down the address for me as I left the office. "February 24th" I thought to myself "that means they will reopen in four days".

Five days later (I wanted to give them a day to settle in) I got into a taxi handed him the address (I couldn't really read the guys writing, so taking a bus was out of the question). When the guy at the desk told me they were moving up north he meant way up north.

The taxi driver let us off at a bus stop, when I asked him which was the right building he said he had no idea. The paper just listed the name of the bus stop, and nothing more. He drove off and my friends and I looked around in bewilderment, we don't really know this part of town. Thankfully there was a police car parked right there so we asked him for information. The police man pointed left and said "maybe that direction". We walked left for a couple of minutes but didn't see anything like a government building. So we stopped a street sweeping lady who pointed in the opposite direction. Another course adjustment and we headed off a while in her suggested direction. Seeing nothing that looked promising we decided to go into a hotel and ask for help at the front desk. Sadly the hotel staff had no idea either. They at least took the initiative to call information on our behalf. Information, however, is not up-to-date and still gave us the address from last week. The only good news is that they did have a phone number we could call. Thankfully we were still in the general area, our searching only put us off a few blocks.

Once we found the new building we were impressed by the size, however, it looked like they were still in the process of moving in. The door guard told us the office we wanted was on the 5th floor. The people working on the 5th floor told us we needed to talk to someone on the 8th or 9th floor. Neither floor had a reception desk so we randomly started walking into offices and asking whoever we saw. Finally someone told us we needed to go the 10th floor office 11.

The 10th floor was empty. Most offices were nothing more than cement floors, with unpainted walls. Some of them didn't even have doors yet. My friend and I were convinced that no one was even up here. But we counted off offices until we found number 11. There sitting in the corner of an unfinished office at a small wooden desk sat the woman we are searching for. Thankfully she was able to give me my Alien Employment Permit in just five minutes.

24 days - 5 days for their move = 19 days and still three offices to go!