Saturday, November 27, 2010

Guest Blogger - My Roommate and Businessmate

Since the following post was written by my room/business-mate as a funny story to send home to her friends, anywhere that you see her mention "K" she is referring to me.

As a special Thanksgiving surprise, K and I got a call from the latest office where we had left our growing pile of registration papers, telling us to stop in on Friday morning to visit the head of the department and sign a few more papers.

Meeting department heads is always a big deal; getting them to like you can cut down on official requirements, speed along important paperwork, and generally make life a little easier. Incurring their suspicion, on the other hand, can cause turn a two-day requirement into two weeks or more of head-scratching waiting.

Upon entering this particular office, I immediately glanced around the room to try to determine who the main person we were going to see was, and what kind of assistants were helping him. Everyone looked about the same -- Asian (of course), male, middle-aged, even a promising comb-over or two. We were immediately told to sit down by the man stationed closest to the desk, which I took to be a good sign, since acknowledging your presence usually means the leader know why you're there. The lone open
chair was sitting next to a computer with a huge fluffy stuffed bunny sitting in the middle of a pile of fall leaves as the screensaver; an odd choice in the middle of the solemn dark wood office furniture and
sparse decorations. I commented loudly in the majority language to K about how I thought the bunny was cute, hoping to score a few points. K, as the senior business partner, took the seat while I stood attentively behind her, trying to look like someone competent enough to open and run a business.

After a few minutes of sitting awkwardly, some kind of meeting between the middle-aged men concluded. They shook hands and shuffled out the door, leaving (I assumed) the leader we had come to see. He looked up at us."So, which of you two can write in characters?" he asked.

K and I looked quickly at each other."I guess that'd be me." I answered timidly.

Here's another thing you should probably know -- the business we're trying to open isn't just another restaurant or coffee shop. It's a translation company. And when you've lived in this country for as long as we have, and you've written all of your documents in the local language yourself, there is a certain expectation of your language abilities. In America, this means being able to chat and joke and understand what's going on around you. But in Central Asia, where crowded classrooms and a
dislike of making mistakes influence education, written fluency is the far more important.

"You can write?" the leader said, looking directly at me."I can write a little," I answered. This is the standard response of every student, regardless of if they are completely fluent or can barely write their own name. Unfortunately, in my case it was also true.

"Come here," he said."I need you to write one more thing."He gestured to the leader-chair looming behind his huge desk. Normally, crossing to the official's side of a desk during an office visit is a faux pas that will cost you an extra week or two in document processing time, but his gesture was unmistakable. I lowered myself gingerly down into the chair, half-wondering if there wasn't some kind of trapdoor that was about to swallow me and all of our pages of detailed paperwork.

"Here," the official put several blank pieces of paper and a pen down in front of me."You brought your passports, right?"

"Of course! And copies, too."Please. Only an amateur would come to a high-ranking official's office without multiple copies of everything from passport and visa, to rental contracts and every official stamped document we've received so far in the process. I dug for the copies in our document bag while K covered for my momentary shuffling by drawing the official's attention to her actual passport.

"Yes, well as you can see, here," he pointed to K's visa page, "You entered our country on..."

"August 16th " K filled in quickly, in case the official didn't know how to read the page filled in entry and exit stamps.

"Exactly. And you came on..."

"August 2nd ," I added, pushing the copies across the desk and pointing to my own visa page.

"Yes. So all we need from you is a document saying that."He looked at me again.

I stared at the blank pages in front of me."You want me to write..."

"Just put your names at the top, and then write 'we entered the country on August 16th and 2nd , respectively, and have remained here until today's date."

My hand was shaking as I wrote our names, first in characters, and then in English."We... en-ter-ed..." I was suddenly very conscious of how sloppy my writing must look, like a 4th grader's printing. And on a
business document, no less."... entered the country on..." the official's gaze never left my hand. "re-spec-tive..." wait a minute, how was that written? If I wrote the wrong character, would he kick us out of
his office? Or make us do everything over?

"Re-spec-tive-ly," he said, slowly and clearly, as he drew the outline of the character in the air.

"Right," I nodded, copying out the character stroke-by-stroke.

The official waited for me to finish the sentence, and then continued dictating, "We hereby apply to the Business Bureau to register and open our translation and consultation company. Then sign both of your names and date it at the bottom."

I nodded again and continued scribbling away as fast as I could. Despite having written most of these characters recently, at least on my computer, many seemed to have flown out of my head. The official
continued to stare at me, which only caused my hand to shake even more."We... hereby... apply..." crud, is it with the little radical that looks like an 'i'or without?

The official raised his eyebrows."Like this," he said, drawing in the air again.

"Of course. We hereby apply... to register..." K pushed her registration card to me across the desk so I could copy the correct character for "register" from that." register... our translation..." K nodded toward the paperwork stack on the right side of the desk."That stack is ours, all the characters are on there," she whispered. I breathed a sigh of relief, and pulled the top paper on the stack toward me.

After what felt like several days later, I signed my name at the bottom of the page, and passed it over to K, who signed as well.

"Okay, just two more to go," said the official.

"Two more?"I said, trying to keep the panic out of my voice.

"Here," he pulled a blank sheet of paper to his side of the desk. "Just copy this sentence above your passport and visa copies, and sign your names underneath."I thought I detected a tiny smile as he wrote out, in printing as clear as any elementary school teacher, exactly what he wanted. I didn't even stop to try to read what he had written, but immediately went to work copying it out on the other two documents.

With everything copied and signed and dated, the official thanked us for our time and sent us on our way."We'll call you when this is processed," he added as we headed out the door.

I didn't let myself breathe again until we were out of the office."He was actually really nice," K observed."And patient!" I added.

We were still chatting away our nervous energy when we got on the elevator going back down to the lobby. Since it was lunch time, we were squished in with all sorts of different uniforms, all making awkward small talk about the day so far.

Suddenly, at the tenth floor, the doors opened, and everyone but us abruptly left the elevator, while a new group of officials got on in their place. They continued to wait for the next elevator while ours,
only about half-full, continued down.

When we stopped at the seventh floor, the doors opened again. The group of officials waiting there saw who we were riding with and immediately stepped back away from the elevator."No, no, you go ahead, we'll catch the next one," they all exclaimed in their most polite tones, smiling and nodding all the while. The doors closed again.

K and I looked at each other."Should we have gotten off the elevator too?"I whispered."Who are we riding with?"

I guess even scary high-ranking officials are scared of people who are ranked higher than they are.

We never found out the identity of our elevator buddies, but did we manage to make it out of the building without further incident. So now we're just waiting for news on this latest batch of documents. If we get approval, we'll have two of the three main certificates done, which would be huge.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Proving My Point

I may not be American, but I did get this text message this morning from one of my close friends. It is over the top cheesy.

"I open my wallet, find no money.
I open my pocket, find no coin.
I open my life, find you,
then I know how rich I am!
Forever My Dear Friend
Happy Thanks- Giving Day! :-) "

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Points for Texting

A great way to demonstrate friendship and care for people out here is to send a text message. The more flowery and over top the language the more you vaule the person.

On Korban I sent all my friends a message simply wishing them a "Happy Korban Heyt" I got points for remembering to send them a message, but I forgot to make it over the top with beautiful language. They sent me back messages that basically said

"May the great Allah bless you with Grace, Peace, Faithfulness Love and Hope on this beautiful and Holy day of Korban"

Yesterday I saw my opportunity to once again send my friends messages that demonstrate I not only understand the culture I live in, but also show how much I like them. The weather finally turned the corner from a crisp fall to a bitter winter wind. I need to upgrade to my winter coat and so I quickly grabbed my cell phone and wrote a text.

"Dear friend, the weather has turned cold, winter is here. Please remember to wear more clothing and take care of yourself."

It was so sickly sweet I almost chocked on the words as I typed them in. Personally I hate these rebukes to wear more clothing. I easily overheat and don't like to wear to many layers, but I have learned it is a very local way to scold someone lovingly.

My friends texted me back expressing their appreication for my care:

"Thank you my lovely friend for thinking of me. I was moved by your text and cried at how much you care."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Celebrate Good Times

In the past I have been quick to publish all the gruesome and bloody pictures from Korban festival (the yearly Muslim celebration remembering Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, by once again offering a lamb). It might sounds like a gross holiday, but when you live here it is easy to get caught up in the excitement and joy of it all.

Days before the actual holiday I was walking through the bazaar buying dried fruit and candy for our table, greeting neighbors and talking to sellers about the meaning behind the holiday. There was electricity in the air rivaling that of a mall in North America the week before Christmas. Everyone was talking about the holiday and their plans; everyone was preparing their home for guests and generally enjoying the idea of something to celebrate. I was so caught up in the fun of it all I didn’t even mind having to step through the piles of sheep poop that are everywhere as the streets are flooded with these wooly creatures.
On the morning of Korban my roommate and I headed outside to interact with our neighbors and participate in all the activity. As we step out of our stairwell the kids came running toward us.

“Big Sister, Big Sister, come see my sheep”
“That one over there is ours” said one boy as he ran after his sheep and swatted it on the bottom, laughing when the lamb complained in a loud voice.
The next day these same kids talked the parents into coming to visit at our house. Everyone celebrates the holiday here by going from one home to another visiting family and friends and helping them eat their freshly slaughtered lamb. The kids dragged their parents up to our apartment, even before they made it to their real aunt and uncle’s place. We pulled out our leg of lamb to serve them meat, and gladly told them the story of the three sacrifices. They kids even borrowed our Uyghur copy of the Prince of Egypt movie. Other than the stomach ache from overeating it has been a great week.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I'm Loving It!

I mentioned that while I was away last week I took the opportunity to partake of some yummy McDonald's and other treats that have not made it out to this part of Central Asia. It is always a big thing for us to have a Happy Meal whenever we get away for a few days. As I bought my vegetables today I was reminded that even though you can't get a Big Mac anywhere in this city, McD0nalds does have a bit of a presence out here.

The bag that I got at the veggie seller to carry my stuff home was none other than a McDonald's dogie-bag.

A fruit seller's umbrella in the southern part of our province

The Pakistani restaurant where I eat brain, may be called Madina, but the first time I saw this sign I was sure civilization had finally made it's way out here.

The rip off version of McDonalds, that only sells chicken sandwiches, trust me when I say the quality of the food really does only deserve one golden arch.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Couch Surfing

I am currently sleeping on the couch of a bunch of strangers almost 2,200km from home. I flew up here late Monday night on a hope to head home on Friday. The purpose of my trip: to get a certificate of true copy for my passport. In the process of opening our business one office decided that our passports, in all its standard internationally accepted glory, was not official enough of a document. The lady at the desk wanted us to travel to our closest embassy and have it verified. Thankfully my friend had friends who live in the same city as the Canadian embassy, so at least I was provided a free place to crash.

When we went to the embassy yesterday I was enchanted with the simplicity of this office visit. Being Canadian at the Canadian embassy is being treated like you have come home. The staff is friendly and things are handled according to the same logical order that I myself tend to think in. The guy behind the desk was friendly and actually joked around with us a little, in stead of yelling at us like so many other offices have in the process. Our business was completed in under ten minutes (yes that does mean I spent 3 ½ hours on a plane, to do a 10min job). The saddest part was that the Canadian embassy had just sent a representative to our city five days ago, who would have been able to process our information on sight, but we had no idea of his visit. Oh well, this trip is turning in to a mini vacation since we found the import store and bought microwave popcorn and flavored coffee.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Warning: If You Don’t Like the Mention of Blood, Don’t Read

The other day I went to one of my favorite western restaurants for lunch. As I got off the bus at the stop nearby I could tell a small crowed was mingling around the front door. As I headed towards the steps a man stumbled out of the midst of them with blood dripping everywhere. He had a blood soaked towel pressed to his face, and his clothing looking like he had just emerged from battle. His appearance made me do a double take at who was standing around the restaurant entrance; it was then that I noticed that a lot of them were police officers.

“Karen” my friend yelled from the doorway “go around that way and get in here quickly!”

I followed his instruction cutting a wide path around the group and entered the cafĂ©. Inside the staff were busy filling buckets with water and starting to scrub down the floor, which was splattered with blood. I could tell my friends were visibly shaken and the story of the last few minute’s events quickly poured from their lips.

Apparently there was a couple peacefully eating lunch in the restaurant, when suddenly a second man came storming in and accused them being together. He didn’t give them time to defend their presence together at the restaurant, before he pulled a knife from his pocket and stabbed the other man in the face, cutting a gash straight across the bridge of his nose. The two man than began to chase each other around the small restaurant (which normally has much more of a Grandma’s kitchen sort of peaceful feel), and the women yell “Stop, stop, it is not what you think”. The staff was able to force them outside, and the police, who were stationed right next door quickly made an appearance.

When I arrived five minutes later, the stabber was still there un-handcuffed (which is why my friend suggested I didn’t cut right through the middle of the crowd) and the bleeding man had still not been taken to the hospital. I might have missed witnessing the worst of the event, but seeing the blood splattered around one of favorite places to get a coffee and relax did shake me up a bit.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

In Loving Memory

I got an email from my family yesterday informing me that my Grandmother had passed away. I wanted to take this opportunity to honour the wonderful person that was Grace Arthur.

From my grandmother I learned the importance of eating sweets in order to have a sweet personality. Whenever she went grocery shopping it seemed like candy and other goodies would just “jump” into my grandmother’s cart. She was quick to share her home made fudge, and fresh maple syrup.

From my grandmother I learned the importance of “taking five” when what you really need is an hour long nap to refresh yourself.

From my grandmother I learned that you can down play your faults by claiming “that’s the first mistake I‘ve made all year”. Somehow she could still get away with saying this in December.

From my grandmother I learned that the child-like excitement of Christmas can last well past the age of retirement.

But the most important lesson I learned from my grandmother was to always have a soft heart towards the Word of God. Every morning at their home my grandparents would read the Bible aloud over breakfast. If it was grandma’s turn to read, she often had to pass the book off midway through the passage because she was so chocked up with tears. She was filled with joy over what God had done for her. This sensitivity to her Savior was evident in her abundant service in church, her gracious interaction with family and neighbours, and her own well worn copy of the Word.

This classy, feisty and lovely woman was the wife of my late Grandfather, Lionel Arthur (Art). Her ninety years of life will be long remembered by all those who loved and looked up to her. It is hard to be so far away from my family right now, and not get to join in with them in the sharing of fond memories and celebrating a life spent running the race for His glory.