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.