Sunday, December 31, 2006

Lack of Communication

Due to a recent earthquake in the area, internet access is very limited, and will continue to be so for the next week or more. For instance right now it is almost 2 in the morning; I thought it was the only time of day I might be able to connect. So for a little while the KSA Daily should more rightly be called the KSA whenever I can get connected. Sorry.

Class is Over; When I say it is Over

I remember the days of school schedules and time tables. When you knew the first day of September when would be your last day in May. Everything was written out for you and kept.

School here works very differently. Over Christmas everyone was asking when my last day of class was. There were many times I had to plead ignorance on the matter. We had cancelled class for both Christmas and Boxing day. When we reported back to class on Wednesday our oral teacher informed us that this was going to be out last day of class, and that our exam would be on the 8th of January after she got back from her in-laws. The next day on the 28th (yes I did go to class that day), both of our teachers likewise informed us that we were having our last class (they were getting to busy to teach us). They also said that since we had just finished a lesson and it was pointless to start a new one that we should just sit around and talk (If I get the teaching job next semester this might have been my last official day of formal education, talk about anti-climactic). One of our teachers said she would call us when she had time and give us our exam, but not to worry about it too much since she was planning on photo coping another teacher's exam from a different class, so some of the material might not totally match what we have studied. She told us we could work on it together at home and she would collect it 2 months after winter vacation was over.

A Treeless Christmas Pizza

Merry belated Christmas. The day of Christmas seems very much the same, but the build up as I said before is very different. This year I didn't set the tree up in my room, instead we took it over to my classmates house. Part of the problem is that all the Uyghurs know about Christmas is what they have seen on TV and movies, that information is then reinterpreted through their own understanding. Some think we worship the Christmas tree (I guess one to many movies have scenes with westerners standing around the tree holding hands and singing "Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree"). So to avoid misunderstanding I did not decorate.

I spent Christmas day with some of the other foreigners who live in town. We exchanged gifts and had a pot luck. The only thing is that luck was not totally on our side, none of the people in my group had the good fortunate of being excellent cooks. Dinner, therefore, consisted of whatever people could make. We had pasta, stuffing, sweet potatoes and pizza with a fruit and whip cream dessert. It was good, just different.

I think we all tend to miss home most at this time of year, so many of the foreigners spend a lot of time together celebrating and eating food from home, in the midst of the festivities I found myself asking where the mutton was. I was eating so many hamburgers, and wraps that I really missed the whole big bone of meat just being set in front of me.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Eating for Ears

Winter is now upon us and locals believe that on the first day of winter or the shortest day of the year it is important to prepare for the cold that is coming. One way they get ready for the winter is by eating dumplings. They think the dumplings resemble the shape of your ear. The line of reasoning goes that if you eat enough dumplings on the first day of winter you can protect your ears from falling off in the cold. You will be pleased to know that I ate enough to keep my ears in place for another year.

You should ask my family about eating dumplings. I took them out to my favorite dumpling place when they were here last year. I ordered 50 to start figuring we could order more if we needed them. I know I ate at least 20- 25 of them, and the rest of the family only finished about 12 all together. I guess it is an acquired taste. My only warning is wear a hat this winter, because if you didn't fill up the other day..... Who knows where your ears will be come spring.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I Have a Dream

The middle of the winter is cold and dark. One of the things that helps get me through is the knowledge that over winter vacation I have to go for further schooling in Thailand. I dream of when I will trade in the the cold, dark, coal dust polluted days for the bright sunshine of summer.

from this...

to this

Only one more month and counting.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Sounding Local

I am so proud of myself; tonight my friend and I were standing at the side of the road trying to get a taxi right at change time. Every night between 5:30 and 6:00p.m., as everyone is getting off work, the taxi drivers also switch from the day shift to the night shift. It is next to impossible to catch a cab, either they already have someone or they are heading back to headquarters and are no longer taking passengers. Despite this I was able to hail one tonight.

We were standing on the side of a busy four lane street in the middle of rush hour. We had been waiting for a while in the cold when I finally spotted an empty taxi on the other side of the street, three lanes away. In my best possible local voice I yelled “Whay” (the h is very throaty and the ay is kind of shrill). The drive must of heard because he turned his head, nodded at me and made a u turn as soon he could. Once we got in the car and I heard how loud he was playing the music, I was even more impressed with my shouting ability.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

This Santa Thing is Getting Out of Hand

Yes Christmas is right around the corner. I can imagine that at home you are almost constantly surrounded by sights, sounds, and smells that point to the coming of the holiday season. At home all the stores would be playing Christmas music, brightly coloured lights would be flashing from almost every window around town, and fresh baked good would be constantly pulled out of the oven. Christmas really is only 10 days away.

Here, however it is not a national holiday. Students still have school, infact some of my friends even have their final exam on Christmas day. Everyone still has to go to work on the 25th, it is just another day on the calendar. But you wouldn’t know it from looking around town. Santa’s face is everywhere. Every store seems to have bought a cut out cardboard copy of it and placed it in the window. Here anything that is western is considered cool. That is way so many people are learning English, why so many people want to watch American movies and wear American style clothing. The more of western culture the more they try to take it in an imitate it.

It is sad actually because they do not know what is it they are pretending to celebrate. I asked one of my local friends what they knew about Christmas and they said that it was Santa’s birthday. Talk about having your facts mixed up a little. Some of these stores that put up decorations now will keep them up for months. Back in September I was in a little bakery across the street from my school and they had a “Happy Christmas” sign hanging up. I don’t care whether they were early or late, Christmas decorations should not be up in September. Down at the Grand bazaar there is even a cut out of Santa riding a donkey and playing a rewap(local stringed instrument). Or the hotel that tried to combine cute ideas by decorating with a "Finding Nemo Christmas" They had a big Santa wearing a scuba diving mask. It is just wrong.

It is one thing to celebrate or at least recognize the historical part or Christmas, since it is universal. But they have just witnessed the commercial elements of our holiday and are trying to adopt them without any background. This is how I feel about the whole thing.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Red Hands

I am getting the urge to dye something again. I remember when my roommates in college would get this same urge, normally it meant it was time for a new hair colour or just a few high lights around the face. However, when Uyghur girls get the urge to dye something it is normally their hands or their fingernails. I must admit I have dyed mine three times and actually kind of enjoy it.

When dying your hands there is only one colour RED. The girls buy henna powder on the street for just pennies a box and then mix it with hot water. The paste can be put on the palms of your hands, soles of your feet, nails and hair. You have likely seen the beautiful designs that they use henna to make in India, unfortunately here the effect isn't quite as decorative. I have asked a number of my friends what the henna symbolizeses. I have read that in strict Islam it is related to fertility. Most of my Uyghur friends have never heard that, they say that there is no meaning, that it is just like makeup to make you beautiful.

Don't you think it is beautiful?

Don't worry it does come off the skin in five to seven days, but will stay on your nails until they grow out. The deepness of the red depends on how long you leave it on. Most times I make up the mast, apply to my nails, wrap each nail in a little bag and than sleep like that for the night. When I get up in the morning my nails are a dark blood red. The first few days are a little scary because I often forget that my skin is dyed and when I look down it looks like I am bleeding. I have to keep reminding myself how beautiful I look to my local friends.

I will follow this local makeup tip, to try to fit in, but I think It will be a long time before I go out and buy the plant they use to get the unibrow look (which is also considered very beautiful by people who live in villages).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Black Hands

One of the most satisfying things about living out here in the winter is washing your hands. As I have mentioned before ever single surface gets covered with a layer of coal dust, your hands are not exempt. As I use hand railings in staircases, or touch things for sale on the street my hands also get covered in it. There is nothing more satisfying than coming home and washing them (okay I guess if I actually had warm water to wash in that would be a little more satisfying) just watching the dust and dirt and grim drip off and get washed away. The end result is fresh, white, clean hands.

The coal dust does not only turn my hands black it turns everything black. I often keep a tea set set out on the table so that I can serve guests when they come over, however now I have to dust it every day.

Worst of all is the white snow. I am listening to Christmas music as I type and all of the songs are about white Christmas’ white winter wonderlands, but not here. This is what the coal dust does to the snow just a few days after it has fallen.

Pretty isn’t it.

And that is one of the offending coal piles that I use to look out at, when I lived at my old school.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Bu Yao

Even here in central Asia there are a number of north American foreigners we all often get together to hang out and enjoy speaking English at a normal pace. All of these friends have really become a family far away.

One thing we often do is bring our old things. Anything that at home you would put out on the front lawn and sale at a garage sale, we take to our get-togethers and give away to each other. Parents bring the clothes that their children have out grown, others bring DVDs that they have watched or books that have been sent from home. Recently I found one of the greatest finds out here. Someone was giving away a ergonomic keyboard.

I had one of these things in college and it helped my sore hands type longer and faster, but it was just too big to put into my suitcase and bring over when I moved. All emails for the last two years has been a little slow and painful. But now thankfully I have a new one. You can tell by looking at it that its previous owner had been learning Russian, since the keys also have the Russian alphabet, but who cares it works.

When ever you go to someone's house for the night they will announce that there is a pile of bu yao stuff in the corner and to take what you want. Literally translated the words mean don't need, previous owners are getting rid of what they don't need. But the fun thing is that when said slightly differently in sounds like "oh yah", or something we might say at home when we found something really good. If you live here long enough you will see the same things you bu yoaed two months ago being re-given away by the next person. One persons junk really is someone else's treasure.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Doggie Bags

When we get left-overs at home we always talk about taking them home in a doggie bag… which means there is a nice styrofoam container. But here doggie bag, really means a bag. When I first arrived I was very amused that when I got food to go, it was poured into these thin, see-through, plastic bags. Over time the novelty of it wore off and actually became quite common place. I have even caught myself grabbing a plastic bag to put the rest on my homemade food in the fridge instead of one of the nice Tupperware containers I brought from home.

All of this is well and good until something like tonight happens. I was walking home from dinner with my friends. I had not been able to finish my food so I brought more than half a bowl of soup home in a little baggie(yes even soup goes in the bag). I was walking and swinging the bag at my side. When the handles broke, the bag dropped and the soup spilled on my leg. My pants were all wet and by the time I walked the rest of the way home they had frozen solid.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


The building I live in is only seven years old… but by the amount of problems it has you would swear it is a lot older. For instance I woke of this morning to the sound of water dripping form somewhere up above (thankfully in the hallway and not right in my room). I found out that someone’s faucet on the fourth floor had burst and water was everywhere up there. I spent a good two hours helping my friend dry out her room.

This brought back memories of last year. Two weeks after I moved into this building the guy across the hall from me had a leeky squaty potty, sewer water was coming out into the hallway. He was home in the states so we had to clean up for him. It was so smelling and gross and happened repeatedly over three days.

The second flood of last year was in my own room. Our heaters in the rooms are pipes with boiling hot water constantly being pumped though them. Every few days you have to release the extra air in the pipes. Only when I tried to do that the little knob fell off in my hand and within five minutes my whole room was under three inches of water. Even though the room is small it took seven people three hours to get it all dried out(including the uyghur man from down the hall who didn’t want to get his pants dirty so worked in his stripped long underwear).

Exactly six months to the day of my first flood, my room was once again covered in water. This time the room next door’s toilet tank would not shut off. Because of the way the floor is slanted in our building (as I said it seems old), hardly any water went into her room, but I was once again completely flooded. This time the owner of the building was waking me up at three in the morning. After that I gave up buying carpet for my room, it is just to hard to pull out the dripping drenched mess. From then on it has been tiled floors for me.

Floods I guess are a common part of life here. I am now an expert water remover.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Slaughtering Sheep and Conjugating Elephants

As any one who has ever studied a new language can tell you, you WILL make a lot of mistakes. The Uyghur culture is largely built on shame and losing face, so they joke: ‘when learning a new language you have to put your face in your pocket’. I just reread that in English and realised that it really doesn’t translate well. Hopefully you understand the meaning; a person can not be scared trying.

For the last several months whenever I am speaking I tend to forget the Uyghur word for “so” or “therefore”, instead I use the national language word. Not on purpose, it was just kind of what came out (it has gotten so bad that I have my classmate kick my under the table whenever she hears me use the wrong one). I recently learned, however, that in Uyghur it sounds very close to the word slaughter, like how they slaughter sheep on the holiday.

Today in class my teacher pointed out another mistake I had been making for months. Every time someone asks me how my Uyghur studies are going, or what I think of the language, I always comment on the verbs. There are over 1200 different ways to conjugate a Uyghur verb. I normally tell my friends that verbs are hard and I am never sure what to do with the back end of them. The only problem is I have not been using the word for verb, instead I have been telling them that the back end of elephants are very messy and I don’t know what to do with them.

Since my face is already in my pocket, here are some other funny things I have unknowingly said over the past two years in either Uyghur or the national language.
-“I rode a carrot” = “I rode a camel”
-“did you fire your seeds?” = “did you shave?”
-“I’ll need to ask the banana” = “I need to talk to the principal”
-“Is someone at the donkey?” = “Is someone at the door?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving,

Okay I know I am a little late on sharing these wishes, especially considering that I am Canadian. But just last night my classmates, who are all American, and I hosted thanksgiving dinner for our teachers. We went all out with green beans, mashed potatoes, stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce (which my classmate proved could be made from dried cranberries that had spent two months in the mail) , sweet potato casserole, bread , and chicken ( turkeys are really hard to find out here, and ham is forbidden). It tasted so good; at least to those of us from North America, I think the teachers thought it was a little weird. We tried to teach them the English expression “Going for seconds” but I don’t think to many of them actually went.

Since we had planned the whole thing rather last minute considering that I just got back from down south, I think some the teachers felt obligated to come, one lady couldn’t find a babysitter, so brought her five year old son along. Our rooms are very small(considering the guest list of seven and a full buffet table), with not a lot of interesting things to occupy an active kid, he ended up playing with my classmates computer, which I don’t think she was the most thankful for. We did the traditional go around the circle and tell one thing that you are thankful for this past year. Most of our teachers were not that original and all said that they were thankful to be our teacher, and get to experience a western holiday. One of our teachers announce during this time that it was her birthday. They all had to go pretty early and left us with a lot of uneaten food.

So 15 minutes after they left, which was just enough time to rinse off some of the plates and silverwear, we started our second thanksgiving party of the night. This time we went all around our dorm building and knocked on all the other western students’ doors asking them to come and join us. This group ate till they were full, even though the food was now all cold. Despite the second party it will still be leftovers for us for the next week.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cleaning the snow

I know I have written on this topic in the past in my emails and letters, and I am sure I will mentioned it again in the future, but every year when the snow first arrives I am always amazed at what a great equalizer it is.

The day after the snow stops falling the pounding, scraping and shouting begins. Every business is responsible for clearing the snow from in front of their shop, not only the side walk but also the road. You will see ladies from fancy dress shops out in their high heeled shoes with a pick axe in their hands, working next to the butcher who still has blood on his apron and a shovel in his hand. Every business sends all but one of its workers outside. The whole street becomes alive with the sites and sounds of snow removal. It is like a street party with a purpose. The buses stop running and everyone joins in. Even on our campus each class (except of the foreign students, thankfully) is assigned a portion of side walk or road that they have to clean off).

It is funny because in Uyghur the verb for shovelling is actually cleaning the snow. And it sometimes seems like that is what they are doing. Today when I was out for a walk I saw a guy trying to shovel off the snow using a big over sized broom. I really can’t say how successful he was with his tool, but he was cleaning the snow.

The first day after it snows is also special for other reasons, it is one of the few days in the winter that we are blessed with clear skies and white snow. The falling snow does a lot to clean the pollution out of the air. The snow is white for all of a few days before it is covered with a light layer of coal dust that make it look black. I better enjoy it while I can.

If it never snows than what do you call the white stuff falling from the sky?

As some of you might already know I am looking into the possibility of moving next semester and teaching English. My friends I left on Wednesday night to make a trip down to the school to check it out and talk with officials. Thankfully we where able to take the train instead of the dreaded sleeper bus.

On Wednesday we where overwhelmed with our first snow fall of the year. Instead of just a few flurries… it dropped buckets. I was excited to be headed south to the edge of the dessert and escaping the winter furry that had been unleashed. When the guy meet us at the train station on Thursday morning ( it is a 13hour train trip) we where pleased to see that the sky was clear, the trees still had some of their fall leaves hanging on, and there was no slipper white stuff covering the ground. We asked our host from the school how often in snows in this part of the country, and he assured us it didn’t. Buy the time we left the meeting at about 6pm it had started raining, and after a little supper, the rain drops where starting to look a little fluffier and a little whiter.

The next morning when we woke up the ground was covered with the slushy type of slipper snow. Our host blamed us for bringing it with us from the capital city, but in reality winter is just here. We took the bus back this morning and found out that it has now been snowing for four days straight. Everything is covered in the white winter wonder land.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Wet Blanket

About this time of year many different indicators of the cold weather start to appear. Today, for instance was the hanging of the blankets. For some reason, that is still unknown to me, almost every building hangs these heavy green blankets in their door ways. These green blankets often get wet from the snow and rain, and in the dead of winter they freeze solid.

Since I am not the strongest person in the world I don’t always push them hard enough out of my way, and then the wet blanket swings back and hits me in the face, trust me once they freeze over, it kind of hurts. The other weird thing is that you can’t see through them, so you never know if someone else is coming or going in or out of the door. This often leads to collisions. I know they hang the blankets to keep the cold out, but if they would just close the existing doors (that only swing one way, and have windows so that you can see on coming traffic) a lot of pain and inconvenience could be avoided.

Okay so this is not the most interesting post in the world. But after just one day of having the blankets back in the doorways I have already crashed into two people who were exiting the building I was trying to enter.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Roads Where We Are Going We Don't Need Any Roads

Today I was very nearly hit by a car, which considering where I live is not that unusual of a thing. Every day when I cross the street it is like playing frogger. Cars don't stop you just have to time your crossing right and go one lane at a time. This often means that you have to wait in the middle with cars trying to hug the line on both sides of you. I remember when I first arrived I would always wait for locals to cross the street and then just try to fall in step with them. I have since finally honed my own skill. Ask my family, I think the whole process of crossing the street really stressed them out when they were here last year.

Today's near accident, however, did not take place in the middle of the street, or even on the side of the street, in fact I was no where close to the street. I was walking on the sidewalk when I heard a car horn beep behind me (which is in and of itself is not that unusual). So I jumped out of the way, only to discover I was inches from the front of another car heading the other direction on the SIDEWALK. I don't think people realise that the word walk is in there for a purpose. Cars are not suppose to be driving there. Between the guys selling things and cars driving up and down there is almost no room for pedestrians to walk on the SIDEWALK.

Don't worry about me too much the cars that are one the sidewalk are only travelling about a mile per hour, so if they do hit you, you just hold your ground, turn around and start yelling at the driver to watch where he is going. He will also start yelling at you, but you just need to shrug it off. Cars on the sidewalk just make life more fun.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Night in the Bathroom

It is pretty sad that even after living here more than two years my stomach still has not totally adjusted itself to the food. I must say when you are sick, and you can’t bend all that well, Squaty-Potties are just not the most helpful thing. I was thankful that the shower is right there to help with clean up. I will save you from the details, but I think this picture of my bathroom will give you a pretty good idea.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

My New Toy

I grew up all my life hearing stories of great explorers and heroes of old, who traveled to other countries and distant far off lands to study culture and learn language, much like I am doing now. Part of the adventure in these stories were the struggles and hardships faced by the travelers. Things did not come easy for them, and learning to live in a new country was filled with daily challenges. Many of the languages they had to learn had never been written down and the sounds were so foreign that a person would have no idea how to make them.

But this is a modern world we live in, and even the life of the foreign student has in many ways been made easier. Most recently, for me at least, was the purchase of Ernie (if you know me at all, then you know that I always name my computers and other electronic devises). Ernie (his Uyghur name is Irpan) is a electronic dictionary that translates from Uyghur to English and back again. He even has the national language and a Arabic dictionary and is small enough to fit in my pocket (although I would not keep him there for fear of tempting the pic-pockets beyond what they can endure). Ernie goes everywhere with me. The dictionary was designed and built by Uyghurs who are studying English, but it works just as well for us English speakers trying to learn Uyghur.

Since I bought him last week I have started to believe that the company should be giving me a cut of their profits. I have told all of the other Uyghur language students at our school and many of them have made the purchase or are planning to do so soon. And now I am even spreading the wonder of this little toy to all my friends and readers at home. I really am the best advertisement they have.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Kids in the Kitchen

When I was younger I took a class from our local community centre that was called “Kids in the Kitchen” We were suppose to learn some simple kitchen safety as well as how to cook some simple dishes. Instead all we did was stood in the kitchen and watched the instructor cook for us. Now don’t get me wrong I am never against eating food that someone has slaved over making for me… but the point of the class was our learning how to cook for ourselves.

Any time I have tried to help an older Uyghur lady cook I feel just like I did in that class, like a dumb kid who can only stand there and watch. Before moving out here I was invited to a party in Ontario where all the Uyghur immigrants had gathered. That weekend I offered to help and started peeling carrots. Two minuets later the knife was snatched from my hand. A much older woman told me I had weak wrists and that I should go sit down. My only consultation that weekend was that five minuets later my mother was also shoed away for offering help (I don’t know what excuse they gave her)

Despite these scaring events I keep offering to help, hoping that one day I will do more than just stand in the kitchen, but actually get to chop, or fry or stir something. On Friday I talked my tutor into teaching me to make pollo for class. By the time I arrived she already had half the carrots chopped, she did let me cut two, but I think she was able to finish cutting the last eight in the time that it took me. For the rest of the morning I just watched as she fried up the meat, washed the rice, added the veggies and ever other step that goes into the process. I was allowed to carry the plates to the table, and even pour the tea before we ate. I know you have to crawl before you can walk, but my only question is how many years must I just be a kid standing in the kitchen.

I might not know how to cook all of this...

but I sure know how to eat it.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Who Needs a Cart or a Booth When the Ground Works Just as Well

Today in class we were asking our teacher how much we should expect to pay for certain things around town. So much of the art of shopping here depends on your bargaining skills. If you don’t know what sort of price to aim for on a product… you may never know how badly you are being cheated. Some of the more major department type stores or even some of the chain stores have fixed prices… but anywhere else it is everyman for himself. The best rule of thumb, as a foreigner, is to take the price they give you and offer them 1/3 of it. Work you way up to half… if they still haven’t agreed then just start to walk away.

When we told our teacher that we did not bargain at home, she was amazed. Her first question was “not even on the street?”. Both my roommate and I had to stop and think about it for a minute… “How do we buy things from street dealers at home?” The answer is we don’t have them at home, at least not the type of thing she is referring too.

As you walk around town you will see any number of sellers with their things spread out on the ground. Some of them have carts that are loaded down with all their wares. Others, however, don’t see the need for a cart when the ground works just fine. From the ground you can buy everything from meat to fruit, clothing to toys. You can always tell when someone gets wind of the fact that the police are coming by. In a matter of seconds everyone with a cart is in on the run, and people whose things are just on the ground pick up the corners of the blanket and go.

My shopping habits will never be the same again. I wonder how the Walmart sales lady will respond to my finely tuned bargaining skills.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Sitting with Strangers

At home restaurants often run into the problem of too many guests and not enough tables to seat them all at. So you end up having to wait for a table. I have never faced this problem since moving to Central Asia.

Last night my friend and I went out for dinner at one of the busier restaurants in town. At dinner time there is not a free table in the place, but then who ever said we needed our own table. Instead we looked around and found a large group that seemed to have a little room at the end of their table. I asked if we could squeeze in, and the next thing you know we were having dinner with strangers. This is a very common occurrence out here. In fact I often end up making a lot of new friends this way, since the people at our table are always amused by the foreigner’ attempts to speak their language. Last nights stranger were especially nice as they shared some of their food with us.

The following are pictures from some of my favourite resturants close to the school.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Who needs an Alarm Clock when there is Basketball

Directly behind my dorm building is the school’s basket ball court. Students here love to play basketball. They often try to get a game in before seven thirty classes start. It doesn’t matter if it is summer or winter, they are out playing basketball.

Since my window looks out on the court I am woken up every morning by the sound of bouncing basketballs. Some days I am really lucky as miss aimed balls bounce off my window and scare me awake. This constant sound of thump… thump… thump, starts most morning between 5:30 and 6 am and goes steady until 10 pm, when dorms are locked for the night and students must be inside. I had a friend come and visit last year and she compared the sound to the cultic drum beats she heard while visiting Haiti.

The only morning I am granted a break from this rythemmatic pounding is days when it is raining or snowing first thing in the morning. I know what the weather will be like during the day before I even get out of bed based on how many balls I hear being dribbled at one time. And so I have had to learn to live with a constant beat being kept in the background of all I do.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Counting as I Climb

Oh for the days of elevators. Out here a building is not required, by law, to have an elevator unless it is more than seven stories tall. In order to save on the cost of having to install one, most building stop at the seventh floor. I was warned of this before I came, but even so I don’t think I fully realized what I was getting myself into.

Take my Thursday class schedule for instance: first period I am on the fourth floor of one building, at class change time I have 15 minuets to descend 72 steps (while about a thousand other students are also coming and going), and then make my way to another building where my class is on the 5th floor (another 96 individual steps). There are many days I have to count my way to the top in order to make it. No need for a step master out here.

I remember my first semester I was living on the 5th floor of the apartment building. Everyday before I left my house I triple checked to make sure I had everything that I needed. You hate to get to the bottom only to realize that you forgot something. Thankfully for the last year and a half I have been living on the 2nd floor. I can say one thing for all the stairs… it is really doing something for my quad muscles, I’m in shape.

This is the building I lived in when I first moved here. My porch was the one in the top right hand corner. As I said I only lived here for one semester.

This is the building I live in now. This girl in the picture is obviously not me ( she lived here last year and I took the picture so she could send it home to her family to show them where she lived, but as I was writing this post I realized it was the only picture I have of this building) so this time you get to see Sarah's smiling face instead of mine.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Stood Up… Again

I am at home alone tonight since I was stood up once again by one of my local friends. In North America we are all about making plans and appointments in advance. The further ahead you make plans the better, it gives someone the opportunity to pencil it in and work life around the plan. Tasks and appointments are very important to us and we very much live by our watches.
Out here, however the rules are all different. It is all about what you are doing in the moment. The most important plans are announced at the last minute so that you can be guaranteed that no one will forget. Important meetings at work and wedding invitation are no exception. Even here at the areas biggest and most important university students are told just a week before when their vacation time will be. The later you get told about something, the more important you can assume it is. So if I make plans to see my friend two days from now, and they get a better offer before we meet, I am often left standing around. Calling isn’t always considered necessary because we made our plans so far in advance.

I guess the old saying holds true… when in Rome do as the Romans. The sooner I learn to live spontaneously and throw away the day planner… the less nights I will spend stood up alone in my room.

Monday, October 30, 2006

My Friend’s Rules are Even Better

So my last two posts have all been about eating, and the enormous amounts of food you are expected to consume as a guest in a Uyghur home. Last night I was walking down the street and ran into a girl I know from Australia. She was complaining about how much weight she always gains over local holidays. We then got talking about the games we play to survive the onslaught of food. I told her my rules and she shared hers.

When ever the host leaves the room she simply takes food off of her own plate and adds it to her hosts. “As of yet”, she says, “none of them have noticed”. I tell you this woman is a genius.

After all this talk of getting rid of, avoiding, or trying to eat less food, I don’t want you to think that I dislike Uyghur food. In fact most of it is very good, if I am away from the area on vacation I actually have Uyghur food cravings. The bottom line is that I have a very small appetite.

A plate of pollo for one

Sunday, October 29, 2006

I Forgot an Important Rule

Visiting over the holiday is not just a one day event but continues for the whole week and some Uyghurs will even tell you it lasts an entire month. Since I still had time, I went with my classmates to our teacher's house on Saturday. Once again the table was filled with food, and our teacher was slaving away in the kitchen.

After we had been encouraged for over half an hour to eat the dried fruit and nuts in front of us our teacher brought out a large plate of pollo. Pollo is one of the Uyghur peoples favourite meals. It is rice, carrots and mutton all together. She also had prepared about six side dishes including vegetables and chicken wings. It was enough food to feed an army instead of just three girls that had come for an afternoon visit. I worked hard to follow all rules that I posted the other day, and was actually quite pleased with how I was doing. I was just hitting a comfortable level of fullness when the large plate of pollo was finished.

But As I was still patting myself on the back, I realised I had forgotten one of the most important rules: Never, Ever assume that the food in front of you is all there is. There is always more food on the way.

The plate of pollo was removed from the table and replaced by an even bigger plate of Kordock. This is a dish of small noodles and thinly chopped, fried veggies on top, with of course more mutton. The game was far from over… in fact I felt like we were starting back at the beginning.

I once again left my friend,s house painfully full, but I guess if my biggest compliant about life out here is that they feed and host me too well, then life is pretty good.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My Rules for Eating

Yesterday was one of the biggest holidays in the Muslim calendar. It was the breaking of the fast. Uyghurs celebrate this day by going from house to house of family, friends and neighbours. At each house you visit the amount of food on the table is just overwhelming; fruit, nuts, cakes, breads, candies, and sometimes several bowls of each. Over the past two years that I have lived here I have developed three rules of survival when being a guest in a local home:

Number One: The only food that counts is the food they see you eat. Therefore whenever your host leaves the room stop eating.

Number Two: Always be in the middle of eating something. This may mean you need to take very small bites to make the same piece of food last a long time. If your hands or plate are empty, your host will give you more food. Out here it is considered polite to put food on someone else’s plate. Therefore if you don’t keep your plate full they will do it for you and give you way more food than you can eat.

Number Three: If your plate gets filled for you, in a moment of weakness against rule two, you can hope you are visiting with another foreigner (especially male, or a girl who is an eating champion). The next time the host leaves the room take the opportunity to give a large portion of your food to your friend.

Number Four: If you are eating from a common plate you must learn how to rearrange the food so as to look like you have eaten a lot. This can be done by slowly pushing food to the middle.

Number Five: After just a few minutes start announcing how full you are (even if you are still hungry), by the time your host finally stops insisting that you eat a little more you will have reached the painfully full point. If you don’t start announcing it soon enough you will have to eat a lot more.

These are my rules of survival. Yet despite the long hours of trial and error I have put into developing them, I still went to bed feeling almost sick yesterday. I visited a few of my friend’s homes and by the end of the day I knew I had eaten a weeks worth of food. Oh well I tried.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Fashion failure – Fashion fabulous

If you read my last post you might have taken notice of the dress I was wearing in the picture. I know… I know, it looks like a rainbow threw-up on me. But as hideous it looks to you and as much as I felt like a fashion failure wearing it, the truth is, out here it is the height of fashion fabulous.

The dress is made from a very famous fabric called atlas. Traditional atlas is made from silk and then dyed bright colours and woven into intricate designs. When I was down south I got to go to the factory and see the process first hand. As interesting as it may be, the material is still a little much for me personally. But every time I inculturate myself and put it on, I get so many compliments. As far as fashion is concerned the Uyghur rule is the brighter the better.

Thankfully right now I still live in the big city on the university campus. Most of the girls at the school have been effected by western culture and TV. Therefore most day I can get away with wearing just jeans and a sweater. But watch out for holidays when I pull out the atlas and try to fit in.

Boiling the silk worms

Weaving the fabric

An atlas seller in the local market

Monday, October 23, 2006

Memorable Me

Our trip south a few weeks ago did a lot to boost my self confidence. I went from being a mere nobody at home to being famous here. Since I had just travelled to some of the same cities less than two months ago with our summer students, many people recognized and remembered me. People who worked at the hotels, remembered and asked where all my other friends were, people at the tourist sights remembered and asked what I was doing back so soon, ladies in the market remembered me and actually commented that my language had improved. Every where I went I ran into people who I had just met. In one town someone mentioned seeing me on TV ( I have been on local TV programs three or four times, another story for another day).
On our last day in one town I was walking down the street and passed two men working away, as I walked by, one man said to the other, “oh that girl is from Canada, but lives in the area capital and is studying Uyghur language at the university.” It seemed like everyone not only knew who I was, but they also knew everything about me. At first I thought, “Wow, these people have good memories, or else nothing better to do all day”. But the more I thought about it the more I had to admit I must seem like a strange commodity to them. I am sure not many Canadian come through town who speak their language and walk with a limp. What ever the reason: I am famous ;)
I meet these two woman in the summer and actually went back to visit them in their homes.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A Game, an Adventure and a Snack

My daily fruit diet these days seems to revolve around whatever is in season at the time. Unlike supermarkets at home that will sell all fruits at all times… the little carts on the streets and local sellers just sell what is fresh. So every few weeks I go from eating melons, to devouring grapes, to indulging in apples.

Right now it is pomegranates, and I must admit I am addicted. This juicy red fruit however is more than just something to eat, it is a game and an adventure all in one. My classmate refuses to let anyone eat them in her room unless they are standing over the kitchen sink, because each one of these bright red morsels is a stain just waiting to happen. When you crack one open you have to be wary of where each little seedling lands, so as to avoid squishing it under foot and turning your socks red. The fear and the anticipation can really get the heart rate up. Not to mention that they seem to be hidden all through the thing, it is like a game of hide-and-go-seek with every fruit.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Somethings are not that Simple.

Out here some things seem to be so much easier than at home, and other things just seem to take forever to get done. And there is no way to know which is which until you have started a task.
Fast task examples:
- When Mel was out visiting last year we bought her new glasses in record time. She had an eye exam, chose new frames, and got them made all in less than forty minutes ( we even had a coffee break in there).
- Have anything custom sewn. You can get custom clothes, curtains or bedding done very easily. At one seamstresses shop you can choose the material and be measured. If they are not too busy you can pick up you tailored clothes in two days and they are prefect.
I have to remind myself of the easy tasks when I run into days like today. I went to get my blood tested. I was at the hospital for over an hour still hadn't felt the prick of a needle. I have to go back in the morning for the actual test and then return the next morning to pick up the results. All I did today was register at the hospital, talk a doctor into giving me the tests I needed and pay to have them done. When I whet to the blood test laboratory they told me they could only do those tests in the morning (to tell the truth a lot of my time was spent arguing with the lady at the lab trying to convincer her that she could do it now). Now I have to take time off of school to get this done. We have a saying out here that sums it up perfectly. Ma Fan. It means to be troubled or hassled in a situation and that is what I feel. Oh well there is no other solution.

Monday, October 16, 2006


Every morning I go for a walk around the track at school with one of my Uyghur friends. We take turns, one morning we only communicate in Uyghur and the next morning we only use English. Today was a Uyghur morning. As we were walking around the track other students were outside doing their morning studies and review. Thanks to a recently published book entitled “Crazy English”, students like to read their daily texts out loud, at the top of their lungs. So as we walk around the track I am often distracted by people shouting out introductions of their family, or other weird comments in my native tongue. This morning to add to the linguistical chaos, one boy was speaking on his cell phone in the national language (which I spent my first year out here studying). In a matter of two seconds my brain heard and understood three different languages, but I was too overwhelmed to know which was which, or to even continue talking with my friends. It was just way too much to take in.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Don’t Talk to Strangers?

This lesson was drilled into my head as a child. And yet now that I live in Central Asia I not only talk to strangers, but after only knowing them for two minuets I give them my phone number, tell them where I live and invite them over any time (okay mom if you are reading this you can feel better I have never once given my name and number to a scary looking guy, only young college girls and nice old women). After a while however I forget half the people I have given my number to.

A woman called me earlier in the week and told me she was Arzigul ( a name around here that is almost as common as Jennifer). Then she told me she was a teacher at some school (she said the name really fast and my Uyghur listening level on the phone is still pretty low) and that we had met one day on the road in front of my school. Since I didn’t catch the name of the school, that narrowed it down to about three Arziguls that I knew who are teachers. So I just guessed which one (based on who I had seen most recently and who tended to call me the most) and gladly agreed to go over to her house for lunch on Sunday.

Sunday at 11:30 I hear a knock on my door and assume it is time to go. When I swung the door open there were two teenage boys standing, asking if I was ready to go. Since I didn’t know what else to do I followed them out of my building and towards the teacher housing at the back of the campus. When we arrived at a home I realised the woman was not the Arzigul I was expecting… in fact I had only met this woman one time about six months ago. It has taken her that long to get up the nerve to call me.

Even though I knew nothing about the family or the woman I was visiting we ended up having a great time. Her husband just started studying English and so had convinced his wife to call the foreign girl. When I got there he proudly declared “I have cats” and pointed to the two big fur balls on the floor. That was all the English he could remember from his first week of class. So the rest of the after noon was Uyghur language class for me as a family of four all tried to talk to me at the same time. They have invited be back for lunch every Sunday.

Out here the best things come from talking to strangers. I am very thankful.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


The heat has finally come. For the last week and a half I have been constantly cold whenever I am at home. The outside temperatures have actually been warmer than my room. Because of the cement walls and the tile floor when it gets cold outside my room just seem to trap the cold and keeps it like an ice box. I would wash my hands ( with cold water since that is all that comes out of my taps) and then they would literally freeze as I sat in my room. One night I even wore gloves to bed to try to warm them up.

But no longer the heat has come. Instead of each room having its own individual thermostat that can be adjusted to meet the needs of each tenant,I live in a city were every ones heat comes on on the same day. All the buildings are heated with coal and they all start on basically the same day: October 15th. Last night I was in bed wearing wool socks, and a sweater with my pj’s, I also had an extra blanket. When I fall asleep I was still shivering, part way through the night however I woke up to the sound of water filling the pipes ( a slightly scaring sound considering last year it burst and flooded my whole room). An hour later I woke up again and had to toss off the extra blanket and sweater. My room was warm… the heat had finally come.

The only down fall to this wonderful event is once the city starts burning the coal, our beautiful brilliant blue skies are overshadowed by a thick grimy grey haze. That will hover in the sky and fill my lungs until they finally turn off the heat on the 15th of April. Oh well, I won’t think about that today, I will just be thankful that I am warm.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

That makes Christmas shopping seem tame

I use to hate going Christmas shopping. All of the malls in Canada seemed to become a zoo throughout the month of December. The pushing, the crowds, the noise, the sites, the sounds… all of it together overwhelmed my senses. But Tuesday Bazaar in the village made me long for the mall even on Christmas eve.

My first sight upon arriving at the village market last week during my trip south was the donkey cart parking lot. As far as the eye could see were lined up donkeys and carts. I have no idea how at the end of the day one family can find their matching set and drive home (although maybe a Uyghur lady would think the same thing if she saw a picture of a mall parking lot).

After you have walked though the material market, the metal and tool market, the food market (where you can buy any part of the sheep including lungs, intestine and heart cooked the way you like) you come to my favourite section of the market: the animal section. Where sheep, cows, donkeys and horses are being sold and traded as fast as you can imagine. New purchases are then dragged away by their back legs, kicking and complaining the whole way. It really is a site to see a man drive away with four sheep and himself loaded on his motorcycle.

Last week was not my first trip to a village bazaar but each time I am overwhelmed from every angle. The smell of cooking meat and too many people crowed into one space, sight of sheep’s blood being spilt on the ground and stuff strewed on the ground for sale,. the sound of prices being called out in a foreign language combined with the animal grunts, yelps and squeals. I now understand the quote in Anne of Green Gables part two “this is not a Turkish bazaar girls” In deed it is not, Miss Brook for nothing can quite compare to the craziness of a Turkic/Uyghur bazaar. As overwhelming as it is I love it. This is Uyghur culture at its best… just be careful not to get run over.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ode to the Sleeper Bus

I remember back when I was in college one weekend my roommate and I decided to make an unexpected trip to London, just to get away. Before hitting the highway we stopped in at the corner store to buy road food. There was no way we could survive the whole hour long drive without fuelling up our own systems on junk food.

Oh for the day when driving an hour was considered a road trip. Last week was a national holiday. With our week off my classmate and I decide to hit the road and go travelling. She had never visited the southern part of our region. I wanted to take her to my favourite little town in the area. The only draw back is that it is a twenty hour bus ride. You read that right 20 hours on the bus. But not just any bus… the dreaded sleeper bus. The first time I rode a sleeper bus out here I swore to myself I would never do it again. Unfortunately it is the only means of transportation to many of the surrounding towns and therefore I have broken my promise to myself at least 15 times.

Why do I write an “ode to the sleeper Bus” you might ask. I mean in does sound more comfortable than sitting upright for that long of a time. But Oh those sleeper buses, are anything but comfortable. I am a fairly small sized adult and even still I just fit onto the bed. My head brushes the top; my toes are painfully jamming into the end. If I put my purse on the bed beside me (which is necessary if you want to leave with all of your money and documents) I feel like it is hogging half of the space. It is not just the minisculeness of my sleeping space that sparked the Ode… but rather the whole experience. In a regular sized bus they cram in three rows of double stacked beds. In the middle of the night they pick up travelers on the highway and sell them cheap seats. These people end up sleeping in the aisles, so that when you wake up there is a stranger sleeping only inches from your face. The whole bus smells of feet odour since everyone takes off their shoes. To reduce the smell the driver will sometimes come through and spray air freshener until you can’t breath and wind up gasping at the sealed shut windows.

So in our one week holiday my classmate and I spent over 40 some odd hours enjoying this cultural experience. You will have to wait till the next blog to hear about bathroom stops along the way.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Not Another Blog to Keep Up With

Since blogging has become such a poplular past time, I thought I would try taking advantage of it. My aim is to bring my two worlds, and in turn the ends of the earth, closer together through sharing my daily experiences. In many ways life in Central Asia is vastly different from home in Canada, yet the longer I am here the more I become aware that some parts of life and experience are universal. I hope you enjoy joining me in discovering what those are and giving thanks for them.