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?