Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saying Grace

I overheard a class of English students putting on a skit. They were sitting around a table and the 'father' started the meal by trying to imitate the act of giving thanks. He said:

Oh my God,
Everything is okay.
Let us eat beef.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You’re Getting Married NOW!

Drama, Drama, Drama! One of my Uyghur friends is almost 25 and not yet married. While her family still lives out in a country village, she has been living in the big city since she was 18. Her family always figured her move to the city would allow her to meet a more wealthy and influential man to seal her future. But after seven years of singleness her parents were getting desperate.

A few weeks ago her mother came to town to announce that she had to get married NOW! She was disappointed with her daughter’s slowness in this area, and saw it as having a direct negative reflection on her as a mother. She really thought she had lost face in their village for raising a daughter that was either so inept that no man wanted her, or so wilful and headstrong that she wouldn’t accept a perfectly good match. When her mother came to town she came armed with a man to match her daughter up with. His parents were from the same village and approved the idea of their two families being joined. The guy was also living in the city, he was divorced with a child and was almost 15 years older than my friend. He needed a new mother for his soon to be teenage son.

Unbenounced to my friend’s mother was that her daughter had a boyfriend (Uyghur young people don’t tend to tell their parents about their love life until they are ready to start planning the wedding. At that point the young people often try to arrange a match maker to go to the parents and suggest the match. In the city some couples have been together for five years before their parents learn of their significant other). My friend had to quickly call up her boyfriend, who was spending three months out of town on business, and tell him to take the 24hour bus ride to come and meet her mother, or else she just might be married by the time he was done with work.

Two men, one wedding date (already set and arranged by the family) the drama between a concerned/ overbearing mother and a daughter with her own ideas ended with my friend keeping her families wedding date and plans, but switching out the groom. She and her boyfriend hadn’t been together long, they had never talked about marriage, and she isn’t sure she loves him, but at least she knows him and that seems better than marrying a complete stranger in just a few weeks.

I am so thankful, that even though I am 30 my parents are NOT forcing me into a life long union with a complete stranger.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bike Riding

My friends and I went out of town last week, there were five of us, which is one more than fits in a taxi, so we decided to rent bikes. As some of you may know I have no idea how to ride a bike. We made quite a sight as we drove through town. It was fun to watch the locals’ response, to our parade through town. As the first bike drove by their was surprise at seeing a foreigner, the second bike made them smile, and by the time I pulled up the rear of the party they were out right laughing at what they had seen.

At least it had a long battery life and we were even able to take it off-roading in the woods. It was a great weekend.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Nice Hot Cup of...

We had a friend stop by last night who is expecting. Because of the baby she is trying not to drink so much tea, since the black tea here is sooo full of caffeine. She loves fruit tea, but sadly we didn't have any to offer. Finally my roommate had the brilliant idea of preparing a steaming hot pot of koolaid. The bright red liquid looked so fancy pouring out of our flowery tea pot and into china tea bowls.

We ended up drinking the entire pot of koolaid before the night was over, and I had to stop myself from asking our guest "What colour is your tongue?".

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Canadian Thanksgiving

94. Invited to a beautiful thanksgiving dinner with the other Canadians in town. The host family had heard through the grape vine that I was going to be out of t own for the weekend (a mix up since that is going to be this coming weekend) and didn't bother to call or tell me about the party. When someone else kindly pointed out I hadn’t been invited and didn’t seem to know anything about dinner, the hosts felt so bad and quickly called to include me in the event. Being the last one called meant that all of the dishes were already being prepared and all I had to do was stop and pick up some coke and juice. I am thankful for great fellowship, other Canadians and a beautiful feast that I didn't have to help prepare.

95. Warm blankets to snuggle under as we wait for the heat to come on in four more days.

96. Step three finally being finished

97. Friends birthdays to celebrate: we did a murder mystery dinner night and it was a blast.

98. My roommate had a French press since my coffee maker broke yesterday morning.

99. For newbies who don’t know the cultural value of nan, and therefore don’t feel bad throwing away our old moldy bread outside of our nieghbourhood.

100. Arthur Family phone call times every Saturday morning at 7am

101. When I visit a friend’s house and they serve me anything other than noodles.

102. The smell of fresh cleaning clothes hanging in my office to dry.

103. Draino, and its ability to break up the pieces of raw potato stuck in our toilet pipe (long story)

104. For people who respect personal boundaries

105. That our new house is finally a place where everybody knows our name. The other day another ex-pat came to visit us. She was sure which building or entrance we lived in, but as soon as the neighbours saw her white face they asked “ are you looking for the foreign girls?, because they live in that building on the third floor. I can show you if you want. “

106. The smell of sweet potatoes being cooked and sold on the street.

107. The great book that I am borrowing from a friend. I read this book a long time ago, but I am enjoying it afresh.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Persnickety Lee

Step 3 has been causing us a bit of a problem. After writing and translating fourteen pages of documentation and 5 face-to-face office visits, we weren’t any closer to getting approval from the woman in charge of the paperwork (who we have nicknamed Persnickety Lee). She just kept sending us back every time, and mostly for very small details(she commented on font size and other formatting issues. We are intelligent young women who can professionally format things in our own culture, but even that is different here).

By the end of five office visits, K and I both felt beaten down; we were incredibly discouraged at the length of time that this step had been taking, and the total lack of encouragement from the officials.

About an hour later, I called K. I t old her said that when I went to the office, Persnickety Lee was in a meeting, so I had to waited outside in the hallway until the meeting was done. While I was standing there, a minority woman (who we’ll call Helpful Hebiba) that I had met on two previous visits happened to come walking by. She and I struck up a conversation in her Uyghur, and several other office workers, surprised that a foreigner could speak their language, came out to listen. They all agreed that we should have gotten approval long ago,
but weren’t sure what could be done.

At that moment, the meeting ended and the office door opened. I and a gaggle of minority women all swept in together. Persnickety Lee was surprised to see so many Uyghur office workers there. Hebiba and the minority workers immediately began to talk me up (switching back to the main business language for Lee’s benefit), saying what a hard worker I am, how my business would be really beneficial to the province, and how many languages I spoke (I’m pretty sure she mentioned “Korean” and “Spanish” as part of that list, but at that point I was happy to have someone else talking).

When Lee began to nitpick through the forms again (“really, points 3 and 4 should be switched if you wanted the document to be perfect”), I started to get upset and tried to explain that this was my fifth visit, and that everything required by law was in the pile of documents, but Hebiba whispered to me(in Uyghur) to let her handle it. Hebiba then went on to explain, in her most flattering tones, that of course Lee wanted everything to be perfect, and that was completely understandable, but couldn’t she make an exception just this once, seeing as there was another holiday coming up and this cute little foreign girl had worked so hard? In the end, Persnickety Lee stamped the necessary documents, and Hebiba, myself, and the rest of the Uyghur workers trickled back into the hallway.

So we’re going to continue with the step-by-step process of opening a business. I’ll keep you posted as we work through the next 32 steps, hopefully a lot faster.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Business Scavenger Hunt

Starting a business in East Asia is a little like doing a scavenger hunt. I often wonder if the next step will read something like: “Get the signature of a man in a red hat eating a banana. Then take the document he signed to the purple building on the corner of 4th and University to a woman who goes by the nickname “Kiki” to get instructions for the following step.

Okay, it’s not quite that ridiculous. But there are a LOT of forms to download, fill out, make up from scratch, translate, etc. And then we still have to track down the right person at the right office, on the right day (who is most likely coming in late, leaving early, and taking a 2-hour lunch break, in addition to being out on national holidays and “doctor’s appointments” conveniently scheduled just before or after national holidays).

Bottom line: while opening a small business is crucial for my business partner and me in being able to get long-term visas here, it is in no way crucial to the hundreds of small offices that we have to visit in order to get everything in proper legal order. Plus, every time we ask someone to approve a form, it means a little extra work for them, which they would often just as soon avoid.

So rather than reject our applications outright, they find little things to nitpick. The font is too big. The copy is too light. The date should be at the top rather than the bottom. The bank statements don’t look official enough. The translations need an official stamp. And every rejection means another re-write, another appointment with a friend to check the newly added information, and another day of work lost.

In all, there are 35 consecutive steps that need to happen in order to get a new business opened. And they all need to be completed in approximately 6 months, or else the forms from the first few steps start to expire.

We started going to offices at the beginning of September, and have so far completed… 3 whole steps. With each step we finish we added a link to our paper chain commemorating all we have been for. Stay tuned for more details on the struggle of step 3.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

House Warming

As if going to visit all of our new neighbours over the holiday wasn’t enough, we decided to throw a housewarming party for ourselves and show off how local our new home looks. We knew our neighbours were all curious to see inside because anytime our door was open even a little; people would try peering through the opening or flat out walk in. One day a lady at the front gate offered to help carry my groceries in, and then took the liberty of walking all around our apartment and commenting on everything.

To waylay their fears and satisfy their curiosity we invited all the Uyghur families living in our stair well (8 households in all). We had no idea how many people would actually venture to come. While extending the invitation I made sure to inform them that our house was halal, and that we bought all our food from Muslim stores so that they didn’t need to worry.

We pushed back all our furniture and put the servring space on the floor, just like they would in the Uyghur country side. We made sure there were plates and plates of snack food, even though they barely touch any of this stuff.

My roommate and I both showed off our hand at making traditional food. K made Pollo (rice cooked with lamb, carrots, and raisins) and I made da pan ji (literally big plate of chicken, which is chicken, potatoes, peppers and local spices). Wearing the head scarf in the kitchen really does help prevent the oil from settling in your hair (Uyghur food is very oily), just like the apron almost kept it all from splating on my nice atlas top.

When the guest finally came we spread kurpas on the floor to create a soft place to sit. In the end five women and eight children came over. They didn’t eat much of our feast, but they did all seem to have a good time. The kids stole the camera and got this great shot of two very tired hostesses. Tired or not we are now officially part of the neighbourhood.