Sunday, December 30, 2007

I am Canadian

I remember back when I was in grade ten or eleven our school hosted citizenship court. I helped plan the ceremony and serve at the luncheon after. I remember it being the first day I really thought about how fortunate I was to be born in Canada. Our school gym was filled with people from nations all over the world who had left their home in search of something better, in search of a new life. They all clutched so tightly to their new Canadian citizenship paper as they took pictures with everyone and anyone (I remember a few people even asking me to be in the shot, and I was just serving punch that day). Their joy that day was contagious, and their love for my home land really made me stop and give thanks for my nation and nationality.

Today I was over visiting one of my old Uyghur friends. She had new pictures her daughter had just sent from Canada. Among them were shots of the whole family at citizenship court. The looks on their faces were no different than what I had seen that day at high school. Without thinking I blurted out “Oh look, your daughter is Canadian now!” I was sure this older woman must share in the relief and joy of knowing that her daughter and grandkids now have official citizenship in such a great country. But instead of seeming grateful she seemed upset. To her these pictures did not represent a day of celebration, but a day of doom. In her mind her daughter had turned her back on their culture, their nation, all the history she had tried to pass down. “Why did they do that?” she asked, “they didn’t need to be Canadian, they were already Uyghur.” For every person at court that day, there was a family back in the homeland worrying and wondering how this was pulling their family away from them.

My friend saw nationality as a major definition of who a person is. The more I thought about it the more I was glad that while yes I am Canadian, that is not my number one citizenship.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bling for my Birthday

For me dressing up means putting on my jean skirt instead of just my jeans, it means my black jacket, or maybe a nice sweater. I like to fool myself by calling it an ‘elegant, understated sort of style’, but to my Uyghur friends it is just plain, simple, and boring. Dressing up requires more, it needs sparkle and colour and zing. All of the Uyghur ladies I go out with will have on makeup and jewellery; their dresses are often caked and incrusted with sequence and glitter.

This semester I have had a real journey to try to add some bling to my outfits (I don’t want these ladies embarrassed when they introduce me to their friends). I don’t know how many times I went to the stores to look. I always wanted to get the smallest delicate necklace I could find in the shop, but the sales ladies would often pick up another one and tell me how much more beautiful it was. The war inside would begin: I knew I should get the one the local people like if I really wanted to fit in, but I just didn’t like it that much. Normally the frustration and tension inside would mount to the point that I would give up and leave the store empty handed.

The truth is that jewellery is more than just a status symbol with the Uyghurs, it is a way to care for your family. Every girl at a rather young age is given a pair of gold earrings by their family. The logic is that if the girl ever finds herself desperate for money, the family has provided something she can sell to survive. So the glitter also has a practical side.

The other day for my birthday my tutor (and Uyghur mother) gave me a pearl, jade and diamond necklace, which might sound like overkill but is actually really pretty. Now she doesn’t have to be as ashamed of my drab appearance in public. But really it is more than that, the pearls are all real, so now my Uyghur family has helped take care of me.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

McDonald's at Midnight

Last night my classmate came back from a more populated part of the country. The airport that she flew out of had a McDonalds. As a very thoughtful gesture she stopped and got McDonalds to go. It was than a five-six hour flight across the country. When she came back we ate our cold hamburgers. Even cold they are still an amazing taste of home.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

T’is the Season to be Jolly

This semester as I have been getting to know some of the older ladies on campus I was surprised to hear three or four of them tell me about the same Christmas party they had attended many years ago. I guess there had been some other foreign students who had thrown them a party. They had played silly games like the “I’ve never” game, or little Christmas presents in the middle. They had eaten Christmas cookies and listened to Christmas music. It sounded like fun, but nothing really special. The thing that amazed me though was that all four of these ladies still remembered the night in such detail almost nine years later. Some of them even claimed they had never had that much fun in their life.

After hearing all their stories I decided to throw a party of my own. The goal was not to out do the one from years before, but to add another good memory to the season. It was a small party, only three ladies. We eat cookies I had decorated, listened to music and played the game where you wrap a small gift in each layer of paper and then pass it like a hot potato, when the music stops the person holding the gift removes a layer and gets to keep that gift. You would have thought I had invented the light bulb with how much they gushed about what a great idea that was for a game, and how much fun they had. Before they left I gave them all scarves that I had hand knit for them.

I hope some of the real light of Christmas shone through the simple party we had.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My Amazing Mind Boggling Abilities

I was invited to join my teacher at another Chai she was giving. However this time she had to go early, and I had a few earns to run first, so I promised to come on my own later. We were meeting at the same restaurant as last time (which is only three bus stops down from my school).

When I arrived one of the women was very surprised to see me. She had assumed since I didn’t come with my teacher I wasn’t coming at all. The whole idea that I a rather young (I think she thinks I am only 18 or 19) foreigner could find my way around town with out being guided by a local, seem totally impossible. She kept questioning me: “how did you get here?” “I took the bus” “What bus did you take?” “101” “How did you know to take that bus?” “Because we are only a few stops down from my school” “How did you know what stop to get off at?” “Because I have been here before, so I knew where the restaurant was” No matter how many questions I answered this woman still remained totally amazed at my ability to make my way down the street on my own. The fact that I had been there before, or that I have now lived in this city for over three years, the fact that I can speak some of both of the local languages, or that I ride that bus at least once every single day still left her flabbergasted.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

May I Have Your Autograph?

The other day my teacher and I went book store hopping after class. We were in search of a dictionary of Uyghur idioms (which we never found by the way), but we did find a number of other interesting books. It seemed that every book shop we went into my teacher would pull a different book off the shelf, look at it and laugh, then open the front cover and show me that she was the author of the book. Some of them were books that she had worked on almost twenty years ago, and she was surprised you could even still buy.

The area of uyghur scholarship and the printed word is just starting to explode, but for years the number of books was very minimal. I guess that is how I can know so many famous authors. In fact all of my textbooks from the last three years have been autographed by the author. I wonder what sort of a price a signed copy of “Essentials of Uyghur Grammar 2” will fetch someday on e-bay?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Contestant Number 6

Yesterday I took part in my school’s Uyghur speech contest. When I was in elementary school and high school I was big into the speech scene. So in many ways yesterday was kind of a flash back for me. The only difference was that this time my speech was suppose to be in another language.

My teacher had forgotten to mention the contest to me earlier so I had exactly four hours to prepare (all of my fellow contestants had been busy memorizing for three weeks). All of the other contestants were students from the majority people. It ended up being a very uneventful night. I sat there for two and a half hours listening to speeches I couldn’t understand well, either because their pronunciation was so poor, I couldn’t make out what they were saying, or they copied the text from such a high level book, that it was still way above my head.

When I arrived I was quickly ushered to a seat up front and given a cup of tea. I told the student severing me, that I was also a contestant in the competition, and therefore shouldn’t be being given tea. I ended up sitting right next to the judges and teachers, and was introduced along with them as “our foreign guest for the evening”.

My speech itself was a mess. I was planning on just reading the text I had found and written out (my teacher had said that would be okay since I had just heard about the competition that day). It was the story of a father who had two sons. The youngest takes his inheritance and foolishly spends it. But in the end it is a wonderful picture of forgiveness and acceptance. Thankfully I knew the story well, because I couldn’t read my own hand writing, and I had to tell it from memory. The grammar was all wrong, but the judges seemed pleased to be listening to something other than another over acclimating piece about ‘unity in diversity’ or ‘world peace’.

After I was done sharing, one of the senior students got up and gave the others a lecture (in the national language) encouraging them all to study as hard as I do. So that one day all the students in the room could speak as well as our ‘foreign guest’. Talk about wanting to eat your face off.
I guess I don’t have to tell you that I came in first place. I think the minute I walked into that room with my ‘blond hair’ and foreign passport the whole thing was rigged. This means I have to go back tomorrow for round two and sit through another couple hours of speeches.

This picture was taken three years ago at the last school speech contest I attended. That time they ended the evening by having a special photo shoot for all of the "foreign guests" and judges.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

What’s Hot and What’s Not

As I mentioned in my last post I have been coughing a lot from the coal dust. My constant hacking however does inspire the concern of a number of older Uyghur ladies. All of them are full of ideas and suggestions to help me feel better. They keep underlining how important it is for me to eat hot food. Some sicknesses need hot food to help with recovery and others need cold food. The problem is that I still don’t really understand what is hot and what is not.

In our western way of thinking a food is hot, if the temperature is hot. We talk about warming up with a hot bowl of soup, hugging a mug of coffee, eating stick to your ribs steaming porridge, or settling down with a cup of hot chocolate. We believe all of these will warm a person up from the inside out, because they are foods that are served hot.

Eastern thought doesn’t care about the temperature of the dish, they care about the food itself. The Uyghurs believe that some foods warm up your blood and some cool you down. I still have not learned how to tell hot food from a cold food, I am just slowly starting to learn what category the foods I like fall into. For instance, mutton and horse are considered warm meats, where as chicken and beef are cold. Even veggies can be separated into these two categories, apples and cucumbers are warm, and mushrooms are cold.

Therefore you can have cold dishes that are hot, or hot dishes that are cold. After walking out in the snow, I often am tempted to stop for a hot bowl of beef noodle soup, however, according to my friends this will only make me colder, since beef is a cold meat.

It is all way to confusing for me, I just know that if I don’t want to have older Uyghur ladies lecturing me for an hour on how I am not taking good care of my cough, I need to watch what I am eating in their presence.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Black Lungs and Tight Abs

Winter is here. The coal dust is thick in the air and thick in my lungs. But you know what they say: every cloud has a silver lining. It has taken me three years to find the silver lining to my annual winter hacking cough that develops as a result to the bad air condition, but I have finally found it; tight abs. Yes all the coughing and sputtering is better than any crunches, sit-ups or gym membership. The bright side of coal dust is keeping in shape.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Season has Started

Yesterday may have only been December 1st, but the Christmas celebration has officially begun. My classmate and I held a decorate my apartment party for some of our friends. We started the night by watching the classic Charlie Brown Christmas special. The girls helped us make popcorn strings, and paper chains with words related to Christmas like love, light, hope, peace and such written over them in three different languages. They enjoyed hanging the shiny decorations, and tying bows, and some of the girls even cried at the official lighting of the tree (we did it up right, turned off the lights, counted down and plugged in the tree).

Okay confession time: the girls worked hard to decorate the tree last night; I left it for all of 10 hours before I ripped it apart and started over. As much as it was fun to have them around and to share the experience; there are certain ways to decorate a tree and also ways to not decorate a tree (like three gold balls all hanging from the same branch, while there is a huge bald spot right beside it). If I am going to look at the tree for the next month, I needed it to look reasonable. Just in case the girls come back over, I did leave the big love sign on the top (mainly because I don’t have a star or an angel).

Friday, November 30, 2007

More Insight on Underwear

Today in class I experientially got more insight as to why local people wear so many layers. Our classroom was freezing. In fact my teacher and fellow classmates don't even bother to take off their coats any more. They spend the whole four hours of class time bundled up tight enough to go sledding. I just can't do that. It is too hard to sit comfortably for that many hours with my winter stuff on. But if the heat inside is going to be that ineffective I can understand a little better why people might need extra layers.

The average classroom here is nothing more than cement floors and walls, nothing fancy and nothing warm about it. These pictures were taken in the summer, but they do represent the average classroom here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Some Cute Pics

Last week my classmate and I had a number of girls over for American thanksgiving dinner ( I love living in a international community that lets me eat thanksgiving dinner twice a year). We had stuffing, sweet potato casserole, green beans, gravy, rolls, roast chicken, cranberries and more. We had made a ton of food, but the only thing the girls really ate was the sweet potato and the roast chicken. Why those two? Because they are most like Uyghur food. In fact with the chicken we kind of cheated and just bought two already roasted chickens off the street from the Uyghur version of Swiss Chalet. We had also bought the sweet potatoes on the street. Come winter men walk about the street with these large metal drums filled with heated coals, the use the drums to make baked sweet potato. The smell is so intoxicating. I had bought the potatoes from him to save time and just added the extra milk, butter, and sugar. The girls seemed to like the party, but in truth they only ate the food they were use to.

One of the girls had studied up on American holidays before coming. She was asking me to tell her more about the chocolate eating holiday. At first I thought she meant Valentines day, but she looked it up in the dictionary again, and really wanted me to tell her all about Easter. As you can see she listened quite intently though my whole explanation.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


I almost got a job this week at the top university in the province. Halfway though the semester they realized they were short an English teacher for four hours a week. When I heard about the crunch they were in I offered my services. NO one asked for my school transcripts, my English teaching certification, or a resume. In fact they didn’t really even seem to care about that… all that mattered was that I was a native English speaker. Talk about a demanding standard and a competitive job market. The top school is willing to hire profs part time, who just volunteer to teach. They were offering to pay me 100kuai an hour, which is more than three times what I pay my tutor, who is a real retired prof from the school. The guy in the office said he would try to work out the students’ schedule to match mine and get back to me. The day before I was suppose to start to teach I went into the office to make sure everything was set. I needed to get the text book for the class, and know what building and room we were meeting in. I arrived only to find out they had already hired another Canadian guy without telling me. When I inquired as to why I didn’t get the job, they said “oh, the other guy had more free time on Tuesday” (that is what I call a superior job qualification).

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Goodbye Mountains, see you in Spring

Our annual pilgrimage into darkness has begun. The mountains and backdrop of the city is fading into the haze. The city I live in is surrounded by large mountains that can be seen from all over town, or at least in the spring. I was walking down the street today and realised I could no longer see any of them. The coal haze has gotten too thick. It is time for them to make it snow and clean out the air.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Long Underwear Fashion Show

When it gets cold here people pull out their long johns. It makes every one look like they have gained several pounds since all of their pants fit tightly. Underneath everything there are two or three pairs of long underwear. This layered looked makes a person comfortable when they are outside in the frigid cold, but makes it a little too toasty when they come inside. That is why stripping is considered totally appropriate. Not only do people take their shoes off at the door they sometimes take their pants off too.

Yesterday our teacher came over for dinner and to watch a movie. After we had finished eating my classmate invited her to get comfortable to watch the movie (she meant grab a pillow or feel free to put your feet up on the bed and stretch out), our teacher looked relieved at the invitation and stripped off her skirt. I guess it was too tight with all her pairs of tights on underneath, she was also getting pretty warm.

Another time I went to visit my friend’s home, it was the first time I was going to meet her parents, and she assured me they were very excited about the visit. When I arrived my friend greeted me at the door wearing her long johns, but it wasn’t just her both of her parents were walking around the house the same way. It was hard work keeping a straight face throughout my visit as her dad sat across from me wearing purple long underwear.

A few years ago when my room flooded the older Uyghur guy who lives a few doors down came to give me a hand. He helped me scoop water for three hours, the whole time wearing nothing but matching top and bottom stripped pink, green, and blue long underwear. While I was thankful for the help, it was a little too much information about my neighbour.

In this way I am not doing the best at enculturating myself. I still refuse to wear any long underwear. In my mind it is a ten minute walk to class I would prefer to be cold for ten minutes and comfortable for the four hours I am in class, or any time I am inside. Needless to say I get told hundreds of times a day, and in a variety of languages that I am wearing too little, that my clothes are too thin. Well I might be wearing too little, but at least I am wearing real clothes. For your sake I am choosing to not include pictures with this blog. I think I have created enough of a mental long underwear fashion show, that we can skip the real thing.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Night in Square

Every city around in county has its own Peoples Square. In reality it is nothing more than a cemented over area in the middle of town that features a monument or a statue commemorating something famous. But in practice it is one of the most happening places. Ours features a ten foot squared television screen where they will often show sporting matches, rides for kid, dancing for adults. It is the heart beat of the city. Despite all of its amazements and distraction, I rarely make the trip on the bus anymore because it seems whenever I go I draw way to much attention.

If you saw the video I sent home a few years ago, you may remember the scene with the expatriate youth doing a crazy Olympic night, we held that at the Peoples Square. That night we gathered a crowd of over a hundred people just standing and staring at us.

The other night one of my friends asked me to join her at the square. I was once again overwhelmed by the number of activities that go on there and the number of people just hanging out. After wandering around for a while, my friend and I joined a group of people who were painting ceramics. It beats me as to what is so fascinating about two western girls doing crafts… but at least thirty people stopped to watch us. Even one of the guys who worked there taking pictures for the tourist stopped by with his camera. I told him we didn’t want our picture taken. But he insisted. He didn’t want to sell us the picture of ourselves; in fact he wanted to use it at his booth for advertisement. So now I am forever promoting the fun that comes with a night in the Square.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I Can See Clearly Now, the Dirt is Gone

I finally broke down and hired someone to clean my room. Almost all of the foreign community along with many of the upper working class locals hire people to clean their homes. One hour of labour costs just one Canadian dollar. But I had been being stubborn. The main room of my home is only seven feet by seven feet, as a single girl with no family I should be able to find time to keep it clean, but I have finally come to admit it is not a time issue or even the size of the room issue, it is an ability thing. The windows in my room are five feet tall and you have to climb to clean them. Since I am not much for standing on rickety things, I just ignored my windows and let them fall into neglect. It had gotten to the point I couldn’t even see clearly any more. So last night I finally broke down and hired help. In just a little over two hours two girls had washed the windows(removing two years of coal dust grim), swept and mopped the floor, dusted everything, and straightened up. I sat there talking to them, and practicing Uyghur. In fact they even helped me with my homework.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Keep Fit for Surgery

Before I came back in the fall I met with a physio therapist from the Arthritis society… she gave me a piece of ther-a-band (this stretchy oversized elastic thingy) so that I could be doing exercises to keep my muscles strong for surgery. But I hardly need it here. As if all the stairs, walking and climbing up and down off of buses, wasn't enough to keep a person in shape, there is also the play equipment.

Every where you go there is play equipment; some of it is more like the type of machines you would find at the gym. There are at least nine sets of equipment on my school campus, alone, not to mention the ones that you find in every apartment complex, or just randomly out on the street. Most of them feature a nice plaque put in place by the government, claiming “For the People, a physically fit and healthy future.” And it is true the people do use them, at any time of day you will find both young and old, physically abled and disabled at the playground, working towards a healthy future.

I know my first few months out here I found it funny to see these old ladies outside flexing their muscles, but now it just seems normal. In fact I can’t help but wonder why our school yards and apartment complexes don’t have better workout equipment. No one would need to pay expensive monthly gym fees any more, and they could build community by working out along side their neighbour. It a great idea, which I am taking advantage of for my own physical fitness.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I have been feeling a cold coming on the last few days. All of my friends have been coughing, sneezing, wheezing and all the other gross stuff that comes with the territory. I have been trying to avoid it and stay as healthy as possible, but I am being to think it is inevitable.

I have been very fortunate while living here, only getting really sick a few times. Some foreigners find that they are always sick since their bodies are not use to the different set of germs that float through the air here. But this new bout of feeling under the weather has caused me to reflect on the first time I was sick out here.

I had spent the whole night feeling awful, I couldn’t breath lying down, I was to weak to sit up, I kept having to run to the bathroom… it was just awful. I decided to skip class the next morning, but forgot to call my classmates to let them know I was not coming. When I didn’t show up for class and I wasn’t answering my phone ( it was to far from the bed for me to make it in time)… both my classmate and my teacher came running over to my room to see what was wrong. The teacher went to get the school doctor, but my classmate started to make me chicken noodle soup( it was just a package of cup-of-soup), but it smelled so good and reminded me of home. I had just gotten propped up in bed ready to drink my soup when the school doctor and the teacher arrived. The doctor took one look to see what was in the cup and deemed it unsuitable to drink when I was sick. And then in a flash of a moment, before either my classmate or I could do anything to stop him, the doctor took the hot cup of soup out of my hand and tossed the contents out of my second story window. Trust me I had enough energy to scream out my protests… but the doctor insisted it was unsuitable… that I needed to be drinking flour water. Boiling hot water with two to three table spoons of flour in it. GROSS. Both my classmate and I were so mad, that soup had come in a care package from home… we have to use that stuff so sparingly, I mean even if I wasn’t allowed to drink it, my classmate could have.

This time I am going to stay away from any school doctors and just administer my own treatment of orange juice and chicken noodle soup in the quietness of my own room.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fast Money

In Uyghur Culture there is a simple way to get cash fast… throw a party. They call it a chai it is more like a money borrowing system with your neighbours and friends. A group of ten to fifteen people take turns throwing a chai every month. Today I had the honour of joining said party and learned a lot about the culture and how money and friendship interact here.

The party I went to today was made up of a group of fifteen ladies; they are all retired and from the same hometown. Some of them have been friends since middle school. These ladies know everything about each other, good and bad. Trust me when I say that don’t let anyone forget any of it. There was so much gossip spinning around me at such a fast pace I was actually glad I couldn’t understand it all.

We went to a very fancy restaurant where we were given our own private room off to the back. The room had one large table, a TV and DVD player and a small dance floor. The meal itself was very extravagant, taking us more than three hours to eat it all. In order to join the Chai each one of the ladies was expected to bring 150 kuai with them (about 20 dollars, which trust me is a lot considering I can normally go out and eat at a restaurant for only 1 dollar). You can do the math 15 ladies X 150 kuai = 2,250kuai (or about 280 dollars). As we were eating the ladies made sure to ask the hostess how much the meal cost, and then compared the price with how much they had spent the last time they hosted the chai. It seemed that on average the hostess spent about 400-500 kuai to throw a chai. This means they make at least 1,700 kuai. That is a lot of money here. But as I said early a chai is just a way to borrow money from your friends and neighbours, because next month they will be invited by someone else in the group and expected to pay 150 again to join the party. In one day they can make some fast money and then spend the next year paying the loan off to their neighbours. And trust me they keep track, if one person missed one chai, the hostess of that chai is not expected to pay the other person for attending theirs.

The Uyghur people have a saying that says “good friends keep count”. This is true at chai, or any other time you go out to eat. I remember in college when a group of people would go out to eat, the bill would come and we would spend twenty minutes trying to break it apart and figure out how much each person owes, we would add in the tax and count down to the penny. But Uyghurs hardly ever split the bill evenly. One person is always treating. Fights break out over who will give the money, but even as everyone is fighting they all know whose turn it is. Part of being good friends is remembering who paid last time and making sure to pay them back next time with an equally valuable meal. It gets complicated after a while if you have a lot of friends.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Thanks Blair !

I got a package today. This is always a highlight for all of us… not just the package recipient, but everyone close to them gets excited when fun things arrive from home. I think part of it is that we are just glad to have proof that people at home still remember us. I just want to say a big thank you to all my friends at Blair who put together and sent a great parcel. My classmates are already waiting for the hot chocolate to be opened and shared around, and they have all softened their hands with the hand cream. Thanks guys, not just for the fun stuff, but for your continued thoughts and encouragement.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Simple Mathematics

This morning while visiting one of my Uyghur friends I learned that some mathematical expressions are universal. For instance I purpose that if you go any where in the world you will find that:

1 room full of women + 1 baby = higher pitched voices, increased amounts of silly
talk, lots of cooing (not by the baby), funny
faces, kissy cheeks, Peek-a-boo, and laughter
whenever the child so much as moves a finger.

When I first went to my friends house she was sitting in the kitchen with three of her granddaughters. We all sat around for over an hour chatting and such, when suddenly a cry came forth from the back bedroom. All regular conversation stopped, and the next hour of my visit contained nothing but the results of the above math equation. I know I contributed to the silliness this morning. It was actually a very good language lesson on how to talk baby talk. I tried to study what sounds they changed, and what sort of ‘cute endings’ they added to words. In all the differences in culture and language that I face everyday, it is nice to know that some things are as predicable as math.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Eating Humble Pie and Everything Else

This week marked the end of the Islamic fast. After a month of only eating when the sun is set, the Uyghur people break the fast in style by feasting and eating. If you have been keeping up with this blog since last year, you may remember all my rules for eating (or should I say not eating over the holiday).

Over the first two days of the holiday this year I visited seven different homes, and thanks to my trusty rules of eating I was able to get away with only minimal snacking: several pieces of cake, a few pieces of fruit, and a handful or two of candy, two bowls of soup and two steamed stuffed buns. I walked away from my two days of holiday visiting without that constant uncomfortable stuffed feeling. I was so proud of the fact my pants still fit I started boasting to all my uncomfortably over stuffed foreign friends about how well I had learned to survive the onslaught of food, and how comfortable I still felt.

But you know what they say about the prideful having to eat humble pie… on the very last day of holiday visiting I only had one home to go to, and it was one of my friends who is a college student. Her parents live in another town hours away, but they do keep a small apartment here in the city, which is where she had invited us. Both of her parents happened to be there and thought it was a big deal that their daughter’s ‘American’ friends could join them.

We sat down to a table covered with nuts, fruit, and candy. After ten minutes of munching out came the spicy jelly noodles with chick peas. Next, it was followed by a large plate of mutton stew. Our host kept putting more pieces on our plate, she wanted to make sure we got all the big chunks of meat. To help sop up the extra gravy the mother had made a pile of handmade noodles. By this time, I was starting to feel the discomfort coming one. Once the stew was cleared away we were given melon (normally the fruit coming out again is a good sign that the meal has come to a close) but yesterday it only indicated intermission. We still had a large plate of pollo (the rice, carrot, and mutton dish that is very famous with the Uyghur people) and big bowls of soup. Once all of the above had been consumed, the fruit was brought back out, only this time the father insisted that we all try a fresh big pomegranate from their home town. The whole meal of course was washed down by cup after cup of tea. Okay, so maybe during the 3 and half hour ordeal humble pie wasn’t on the menu, but I am pretty sure every other food known to man was.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Gloves are Coming Off

For the last two weeks I have been wearing gloves to bed. I know it is only the beginning of October, but in many ways this feels like the coldest time of year here. The temperature has been dropping down to negative 2 at night. In and of itself this is not cold (considering the -35 winters we face here), but during the first week of October there is no place for a person to get warm. A few days ago I got out my heavy jacket and bought a pair of gloves. The sad thing is that I needed them more when I was in my house than when I was outside. I have two extra blankets on my bed and have the sweatshirt and wool socks always close at hand. The last two weeks have been spent either huddled around an electric space heater, or snuggled under quilts.

Heat inside buildings and apartments is regulated by the officials. The average temperatures are fingered out for each city and a magical date on which to give the people heat is determined. In the city where I live we wait patiently for October 15th. One of my friends said recently that every day between October 1st and October 15th feels like a year.

Today however we were all shown grace. The heat has come on two days early. I am sitting here beside my radiator, shedding the gloves as we speak. No more icicles for me, I am warm.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Time’s Time and Half a Time

Daily life out here is quirky for a variety of reasons. One of the most notable is that no matter where you may be throughout the province, you're functioning within two time zones simultaneously.

Technically the whole country is supposed to set their clock to one uniform time. That choice is of course based on where the sun is relative to the capital--a city far from where I live. The use of one time zone throughout country is akin to the Canadian government declaring that all people will run there life by Eastern Time (as found in Ottawa). This would mean that 8 in the morning was the same time in Newfoundland, BC and everywhere in between.

The sun may be at its highest point when striking noon in this countries capital but it takes two or more hours to make it to that same place here, and still another hour to reach its zenith above the farthest western reaching parts of this country. The Uyghurs, along with other indigenous minority people groups, tend to ignore the concept of this “One for all” time zone imposed from several thousand miles away. They simply use their own unofficial local time. This presumes the entire province to be two hours behind everywhere else in the country.

Setting local clocks to the capital's time doesn't make much sense. People around the world prefer not to function when it's dark outside. So the government offices, banks, and other institutions that are obliged to follow official “one for all time zone” policy a way to circumvent this problem by shifting business hours to later than they would be held in the eastern cities. Doors at such places tend to open at 10:00, rather than 8:00, to simultaneously address the directive of the central government and serve the local population.

While just using local time would seem a more logical way of operating, the existence of Capital’s clock confounds everything. Posted operating hours on businesses are often qualified with the notion “official time”, aka that of the capital. Arranging to meet with anybody will almost always end with the question "Capital time or local time?" It's a general rule of thumb that the majority people keep their watches set to the official time, and the ethnic minorities' run two hours behind. However, no matter how carefully appointments are scheduled, everybody is at some point bound to either stand a friend up, or arrive somewhere two hours earlier than they needed to. ( Trust me, it still occasionally happens even after living here for three years, which has inspired this somewhat long and biter diatribe against time zones)

It may seem trivial, but the choice of which time zone one uses out here is to some degree loaded. Operating on the same time as the bulk of the country’s population doesn't offer much convenience, but does signify volumes as to the “oneness” the government is trying to establish here. And while it's not much of a rebellion against capital, it is significant that the locals choose to ignore what is perceived as a silly mandate from the central government.

The actuality of which time people really function at seems to fall somewhere in between. My perception is that those who run their lives by official time tend to stay out late. Those who go by local time turn in early. For what it's worth, I keep my clocks set to local time. I've always been an early riser, so I think it marginally moves my schedule closer to normal. I would be so tired if I thought I was going to bed every night at 1 am, but 11 pm feels reasonable. I would also think I was being very sluggish if I didn’t start my days activities until 9:30, but being up for classes at 7:30 am feels just about right. Two times at the same time, it is almost apocalyptic (or science fiction, since I can time travel ahead two hours, by just walking next door).

Monday, October 08, 2007

If it Looks like Ham and it Tastes like Ham, it just might be….

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving. Today didn’t seem like it was going to be much of a holiday with six hours of class scheduled. But one of my American friends offered me the use of her house and help to host a thanksgiving dinner for other Canadians living out here (talk about diplomatic relations between our two countries).

You can’t buy a butterball turkey out here, and for obvious reasons ham is a no no. But there is a compromise. One grocery store sells smoked turkey legs, once they are cut off the bone they look just like slices of ham, and the smoked flavoured makes them even taste like ham, but they are totally halal.

So this year I am thankful for:
1) Meat that looks and tastes like what it is not.
2) Friends who help host holidays that are not their own
3) My family, and the fact that we can still stay in touch so well
4) The internet and how it spans the world
5) The chance to live here and learn Uyghur
6) My summer at home and my opportunity to see all of my friends
7) Most importantly My Rock, My Foundation, My Rest

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Fabric of Our Lives

Third year university students around the country are required to participate in the picking of cotton. It is meant to be an equalizer of sorts, a way to get the educated class involved in the hands, daily struggle of the common man. Picking cotton is a common experience that is woven into the lives of almost all the citizens.

Each year I have seen my friends come back from their two weeks of required labour with rough worked hands and sore muscles. They talked about the large daily quotas that each student was expected to pick, the blazing hot sun, or the bone piercing cold wind. I had yet to find a student who enjoyed their break from the books and a chance to work the land.

Yesterday my friend and I wanted to get out of the city for the day. We took the bus to a near by town that neither of us had ever visited. As we were riding along we saw cotton fields everywhere. They were filled with students and labourers who were bringing in the yield. My friend and I both agreed that it looked like fun. We imagined the students singing songs and having competitions for who could fill their bag of cotton first. In fact we so romanticized by the notion of ‘cotton picking’ by quoting lines from Gone with the Wind, that we actually wanted to join them.

So now I have knit myself into the very fabric of this place. I have a shared experience with almost everyone of the local people. I have picked cotton. I am a cotton pick’n kid. Okay so my experience is not totally the same as everyone else’s. After arriving in town and taking a city bus to the outskirts of the village, my friend and I reported for duty at about 11:15 in the morning. After talking with the ladies in the first field we came across, and getting a lesson on how to properly pick cotton. I worked for about half an hour (of which part of that time was spent taking pictures, and answering the ladies question about where we were from… and why did we want to do this again?) After half an hour I started to get frustrated, picking cotton is not easy on crutches, they kept getting caught in the bushes. Also my friend was wearing our backpack full of goods for the trip. We knew we wanted to see more in town and so we thanked the ladies for the experience and left. I guess half an hour, and being able to quit whenever I wanted, doesn’t really make me like the locals, who have to do it for two weeks straight despite their screaming muscles after all the bending down (which I also have, but I can nap today to help with recovery).

Sunday, September 30, 2007

People, People Everywhere

I was recently comparing two pictures that I have taken in the last few months. One of the shots is in my neighbour back home in Canada. It is a picture of me walking down the street in front of my house. As you gaze down the expanse of street behind me, you will notice that there is no one else in the picture. I am the lone person on a long and quiet street. I recall going for many afternoon walks at home and not really coming across anyone, other than the rare person making the hasty dash from their house to the car or vis versa. Communities are quiet and people tend to keep to their own homes and spaces.

In contrast, a friend captured an image of me coming down the stairs toward her apartment complex the other day. In the background there are some people walking by, while others sit out in the sun playing cards and enjoying each others company. It is a picture filled with life. Infact it is hard to take a picture anywhere out here with out the background filled with the commotion of others. Neighbours still know each other by name and life and activities are fussed into every street corner.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

My Friend's Blog

I was reading one of my local friends blogs the other day, and I wanted to copy what he wrote so you could all read it. This guy is part of one of the other ethnic minorities that live in our city. A few of my friends and I took him Uyghur dancing for the first time in his life. Here is what he had to say about the experience:

tonight ,i and Jeff met Jen ,Ruby,Karen.they want to go to uygar restaurant for dinner and watch uygar party,so we had dinner in uygar restaurant ,but when we finished,seems no body
want to dance,so Karen--she can speak uygar call waitress and want them play music then we can dance with other uygar customers.
Music started and Jeff and Jen,Ruby,Karen going to dance and calling me go together,actually i nvever dance before ,because when i was young ,my mom told me "dance club is bad place ,you should never go there,"so i never think about go to dance in club and learn some when they called me i was afraid that,because i could not dancing,then maybe they think i am getting shy and they did not want give me pressure ,they three went to dancing,Jen leaves to took care bags
Restaurant played uygar style music ,Jeff and girls try to dance like other uygar ,then second song started,they invited me to dance,actually i prepared to dance but i was still afaid ,because i am worst for dancing ,i was prepare to dance because when i watched them dancing,i got a special ideal,i think they are enjoy the life ,they enjoy the friendship and time .
Jen cames back to took care bags and hope i can dance with them ,it is hard to me,but i am save my face in my pocket ,i was tanding and go to stage dancing with my friend and other customs,music is beautiful and i am very happy ,i thought that because i did my first dancing and i was dance with my friend ,we were enjoying our time ,enjoying our first time dancing together!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Should I Stay or Should I Go???

This semester I have been spending most all of my time with older ladies on campus. This is a big change from college students all the time, but wonderful in so many ways. These ladies have time all day to sit and talk; we are not constrained by their class schedule, or needing to finish homework, or meeting their boyfriends. The only block is my language skills (since none of them have ever even thought of studying English).

But even though they have all day, I never know how long they really want me to stay, or what is the normal length to visit. Should I leave after an hour, 2 hours… 4 hours? And the Uyhgur culture doesn’t help me out at all. After I have sat visiting for a long time I notice that they are starting to look tired, or I start feeling bad because they have gone to so much trouble to prepare food for me. I then start to suggest that I should take off, or move to leave, the lady pats my arm and gently pushes me to sit back down all the while saying “sit down longer, stay, stay”.

In Uyghur culture you can never even hint that a guest should get going. You will always be told to sit longer. The other day when I was told to stay, I sat back down and kept visiting. After about half an hour she got a phone call, and I could tell from listening to her end of the conversation that someone was waiting for her. When I asked her about the call she admitted that her nephew was getting married today and that the family was at the restaurant. I quickly gathered my stuff and started heading to the door. All the while apologising for troubling her (this is also a very cultural thing to do). She also started getting her coat, but even while we were at the door she said again “oh please sit down stay a little longer, stay, stay”. I never know if I should stay or go, when do they mean it and when are they only saying it because the culture demands hospitality?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


I arrived back in country over a month ago. One of the first places I went was to the foreign affairs department of my school to start working on my visa. Thirty six days, over ten hours of just sitting and waiting, three trips to the foreign affairs office, and five trips to the police station later I am the proud owner of a Visa/Residence permit, valid through March 1, 2008.

Friday, September 14, 2007

American’s Don’t have Problems

This past week I have started using my crutches again. Don’t worry my knee is not locked or anything like that…. It is more of a preventative measure. I found that with all the walking and stairs the pain was getting worse, and I wasn't sleeping. When I use my crutches, I don’t put as much weight on my legs and can make it further around town and still sleep at night.

Over the years I have always been stared at for one reason or another. When I was in high school it was because of my wheelchair. People might not have even realized they were doing it, but everyone in the mall or on the streets would lean back to try to get a better look to see if they could determine what was wrong with me. Since moving here everyone stares at the foreigner to see what I am wearing and how I will act in certain situations. Humanity has a fascination with what is different. I guess I have gotten use to the looks and stares over the years. I hardly think anything of it any more, unless of course the person staring walks into a pole, falls off the curb, or gets into a car accident because they are looking at me (all of which have really happened in the last three years since living here).

However since I have started to use my crutches out here the looks have increased both in number and intensity. People first notice the crutches, and then they look down at my feet to see what is wrong… on my feet they notice very western foreign shoes (I still can’t wear Uyghur lady shoes that all have these crazy high heels and very pointed toes). Since my feet look foreign they next have to look at my face. When they notice I look like an American they have to start the staring all over again, crutches, feet, face, crutches, feet, face. They have such a idealist view of the west that they can’t believe any American would have health problems like this. The land of opportunity and advancement must have a medical solution for someone on crutches.

Good things that have come of this are: I now always get a seat on the bus, even if they are jam packed someone will offer me theirs. Drivers give me time to cross the street instead of trying to run me down. The taxi drivers will walk around and open the door for me. It’s great.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Starting Class

We learned this weekend that class was due to start on Monday, the only problem was we didn’t have our class schedule yet. I figured that if I headed to the department heads office first thing in the morning he would be able to tell me when my classes were. But apparently I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Packed into this one tiny office were more than 100 irritated foreign students. Most of them are from Russia or other Central Asian countries. They come here to learn the language so that they can be involved in the export industry, or atleast that is why they say they come. They are all eighteen and this is the first time they are away from home, and they want to party. The office was already hazy from their cigarette smoke when I arrived.

It took me awhile to push my way to the front of the loitering group and pick up my schedule. I waited until I had successfully squeezed out of the office and back into the fresh air of the hallway, before looking at the paper. After just one quick glace I called my classmate to tell her something had to be done about this. We had six hours of introduction to Uyghur, even though this was suppose to be the third year class, we had four teachers, all teaching different things using different books. It was a mess. Not to mention that we had the teacher that was known for only speaking the native language in class, and never using Uyhgur to teach Uyghur, she is also known for being a racist against Koreans ( which both of my classmates are). We also had the male teacher that has a reputation for hitting on his American female students and trying to play footsies with them under the table.

I headed to meet my classmate, but one the road was stopped by one of the schools best teachers. She was headed to the same office. It is the first morning of class, and even the teachers don’t know who they are teaching yet. She asked to see my schedule, and I was pleased to tell her we had her for four hours a week, but would have loved more.

She called twenty minutes later while my classmate and I were still mourning our disastrous schedule. She wanted to meet us in front of our dorm, because she had a plan.

Right after lunch my classmate and I headed back to the office, where the chaos had passed and the air had cleared. We gave the headmaster “beautiful words” as they say in Uyghur. We were sweet and kind, but informed him that in our third year we didn’t need to take an introduction class. We asked instead if we could have more hours we the good teacher. We thanked him for giving her to us last semester as a teacher, and said we had really gotten use to her teaching style. After 30 minutes in his office, listening to him yell at us, and our teachers on the phone ( which he had to do since he had messed up our schedule, but couldn't just change it without losing face) we left the office with a perfect looking semester.

There are only three of us in our class, and we have who I would consider the schools two best Uyghur teachers. We had to forfeit two hours of class a week, but that is a small price to pay to not have your teacher trying to touch your ‘blue eyes or yellow hair’.

After all that craziness, we finally started class Tuesday morning. So I am officially a student once again. No need for withdrawal pains, I am hitting the books with a vengeance.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

I like Flowery Happy English All the Time

There are so many people in town who are trying to learn english that more and more products are starting to bear english text. Students find them fun to own, even if they can't understand them. I find them fun, becuase even though I am a native english speaker, sometimes I can't understand them either. I recently started to buy poor english products just for the fun of it.

First, it was a small writing tablet. I wasn't looking for anything special, but sifted through the different options anyway. Most of them looked about the same, depicting cute drawings that might appeal to children. The notepad I wound up buying was typical of the selection, with the words Fresh Fruits above a picture of an apple and inchworm. It was the caption below that made my decision: In moonlitht I remember your laghter and your droll behavior...

Next came a tube of toothpaste. I needed a new toothbrush as well, so was already attracted to the inexpensive brand which bundled both together. I can't say for sure if it was the flavor (orange), the free toothbrush, the cheap price (2 yuan, about CAD $0.25), or the text which finally motivated me to buy it: Firm Tooth Smell Well

A couple nights ago I wandered into one of the small shops off-campus to buy a bottle of water. I happened upon a clone of Oreo cookies. I've seen imitations of Western products around, but this one was skillfully done. The packaging used an identical shade of blue, similar typeface, even the red triangle where Nabisco's logo should have been. The name of the knock-off is Olino, above which this mysterious description appears: Pandemic Cookie

On the top of on of my blue storage bins is a sticker which depics a blobby creature. The left side shows him flexing his muscles while looking skyward. The middle shows him with eyes shut, blissfully contemplating the cheeseburger in front of him, a small red heart emanating from his body. The text states: Diversified blue genius offers you boundless dreams and wishes. B L U E Genius

As I was walking across campus the other day I crossed paths with a student wearing a T-shirt bearing huge English text. This one was a perfect example of how irrelevant the meaning was. What was cool was the English text emblazoned across the chest, not whatever the message might say. Her shirt merely said, Design T-Shirts Store Graphic.

It is fun to stop and try to read and understand my own language. Fancy phrases and misued words is part of what makes life fun here. So as my local freinds would say at englsih corner "my home town is very lovely, Welcome you come greatly"

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

All the Stores look the same

When I was home last month I was amazed at all the building going on. It seemed like every city I visited was having one or two of these big box stores built. You know the ones with the oversized book store, shoe store, clothing stores, and restaurants. Add those to all the existing malls, and I was wondering where they would find people to shop at all these places. I guess the nice thing is that every community now has one of every shop close by.

That is not the case here. I was sitting at the bus stop waiting for my friends yesterday and noticed that all the shops I was facing sold the same thing. They were all paper stores, if one didn’t have the colour of paper you needed, or the type of pen you were looking for all you need to do is head to the next store, just a few feet away. The more I got thinking about it the more I realized that is how all stores are out here. There are all the baking supply stores down one street, the toilet seats sold on another street, shoe alley, the used cell phone corner, the computer market, the sporting good stories, the DVD market, and carpet shops, even all the shoe shining guys seem to sit side by side in the same place. The convenience of having one of everything is gone. If you want to buy something you have of think where in town are the shops that sell that stuff. Talk about competitive sales… if the guy in one store doesn’t agree to your bargaining price you can just walk next store and see if they will give you a better price there.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Soldiers Everywhere

Three years ago when I started class out here I was more than a little frightened to see so many soldiers wandering around my campus wearing their army fatigues. There were more than a thousand of them, and every morning, noon, and night, you would find them out in the court yard or on the sports field practicing drill. When I would see them walking around the campus I would check my purse to make sure I had my passport and all my papers. I wanted to be prepared in case one of these soldiers asked to see my paper work. Every year the last week of August or the first week of September, the flock of soliders return to campus, and all over the basketball court there are groups of soldiers.

I learned pretty quickly that these soldiers were not worth being afraid of, in fact they are part of a country wide initiation to college. All freshmen start school a week early for military training. In a lot of ways it is more about teaching them discipline and group co-operation than any real military manoeuvres. I can hear them singing and chatting outside my window, almost as often as I hear their drill leaders yelling “right, left, right, march”. It is funny to watch the sophomores loiter close by, trying to look cool since they are now upper class men and are too old to be in camouflage marching for hours each day.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

No Cockroaches

I went to one of my old favourite restaurants the other day. I didn’t recognise it right away since they have renovated the place. The outside really isn’t that much nicer, but inside it is clean. During our whole meal I didn’t see a single cockroach on the floor, wall, or table. How exciting is that!

The students at school have a saying about the cafeteria: “You know you are in first year when you get a cockroach on your plate and refuse to eat your dinner. You know you are in second year when you use paper to pick it off your plate and drop it on the floor. You know you are in third year when you use your chopsticks to shove it to the side of your plate. And you know you are in forth year when you are excited about the extra meat.

Even though I am in my third year of language studies, I am still like a freshman in so many ways.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Asian Gifts from North America

I went to the dollar store a few weeks ago in preparation for my return. I mainly picked up stuff from their Canada collection. It is always fun to give someone a key chain or a pencil that is symbolic of where I live. The one thing I have to watch for though, are the items that come marked “made in Taiwan” “made in China” “made in Indonesia”. Almost everything you buy in the dollar store is made in one Asian country or another. I try to buy the ones that have it written on a removable sticker so my friends here won’t know. The irony is not lost on me, that these cheap little gifts are made in the east, shipped to the west and then hand carried back here to the east.

It wasn’t as funny yesterday when I gave one of these key chains to this lady who has become my friend. She held the key chain in her hand, rocking back and forth, muttering “oh my, oh dear”. When I asked what was wrong she started to cry and said “such a great gift. I have never owned something for a foreign country before. Oh, thank you, thank you.” She then took the key chain and touched it to her forehead, which is a way the Uyghur people honour a gift and the person who gave it. She seemed so impressed with the small token of my homeland that there is no way I could have told her it was really an Asian gift, which had been just temporarily for sale in the North America.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Gift of Re-gifting

I have learned a lot over the past three years about getting and giving gifts when visiting a home. I have bought bags and bags of fruit and nuts to give to different hosts. I have bought material for dresses and suits. I have bought bread. Likewise I have also got a number of different things. I have been given four liters of milk, candy, and once I was even given nylons.

Since coming back from being home, I have spent a lot of my time with some of the retired teachers on my campus. They all treat me like their daughter and invite me into their home for tea or lunch. The first few times anyone visits a home it is expected that they will bring a gift. Yesterday I started at the fruit lady’s stand and after visiting for 20 minutes or so I bought some bananas and headed off to visit others. I gave the bananas to the lady at the first home that I went to. Before I left, that lady made sure I had some grapes to take home with me. I went right to visit my next friend, and I presented her with the grapes as my guest gift. Before I headed out the door she handed me some cake she had just made that morning. When I arrived at the next house I handed off the cake. After several rounds of gifting and re-gifting my gifts I headed home with bread in hand. The whole concept of re-gifting really saved me a lot of money and time (instead of always running back to the fruit stand) it’s like a gift in itself.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hot Pot makes it official

I have been back a whole week, but now I know I am officially here. I went with some of my friends to have the best meal that this part of the world has to offer, Hot Pot. If you are at all the germaphobic this entry might be a little much for you to handle, but trust me the taste is out of this world.

You sit at a table with a hole in the centre, each table has its own gas burner. They then place a big pot on top filled with spices and add water. As it starts to boil you can select what types of meat and veggies (all raw) you want to put in your soup. They all come on individual sticks so you can decide how much or how little of each food you want. Once you have made your decision you stick them in the water and watch them cook. Don’t worry about picking up raw meat with your chopsticks, if you leave them daggling in the water for an extra minute the germs will get boiled away. When things look ready everyone goes fishing in the soup with their chopsticks to pick out their favourites.

The longer you sit there the hotter you get. I have to wear light layers when I go just to survive the heat. In fact the restaurant is so hot inside that the windows (and your glasses) are constantly fogged up. The smell of soup is so strong in the air that you have to wash your clothes after a visit… but it is all worth it for the taste. After having hot pot I know I am home.

The soup (it comes in both spicy and mild)

The sticks of veggies and meat

The enjoyment ( yes this is a file photo from when Mel came to visit in fall '05)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Silence in the Noise

I was out for a walk today and couldn’t get over how quiet it was. Mind you as I walked by sellers were still calling out prices loudly from their booths, the breaks on the buses were still screeching and grinding as they came to a halt, cars were honking at each other, the children were still running, laughing and playing, the old women still gossiped and greeted each other on the street, and music still flowed from the restaurants enticing people to come in, and the general bustle of big city life buzzed around me. Yet despite it all, I was amazed with how quiet it was, and how much I was alone with my personal thoughts.

I remember thinking the opposite back in March right after I went home. I was at a conference eating dinner and could barely focus on the person next to me from all the noise and distraction around. It may have only been the sound of forks scraping the last morsel of food from the plate, and the sound of people talking amongst themselves, but it seemed overwhelming. It was the talking I couldn’t tune out. Everyone was speaking English, and without even intentionally doing so, I found my self eavesdropping on everyone's conversations. I could have told you what the lady at the table behind us made for dinner the night before, or what was wrong with the guys car across from me. I knew how much the teenage girls paid for their new purses, and I knew the score of the hockey game. I was so overwhelmed with the amount of information that was coming at me.

I hear just as many people talking here, but my brain can not compute foreign languages at the same speed it can English. I still have to work to understand what the person I am talking to is saying, much less understand the guy across the street. In some ways it makes for a much quieter walk, to be able to enjoy the silence and self reflection. But it other ways it saddens me. Before I left I felt like I was making head way in the language, being able to carry on a conversation, but the silence in the midst of noise reminds me how far I have to go.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I’m Back

After 30 hours on the go I have arrived safely with all my bags here and intact, which is quite amazing considering how tight of a connection I had in Vancouver. In local time I got into my dorm room at 10:30 p.m. I amazingly still had energy (I think I had hit a fourth or fifth wind), and I started to clean my apartment. It was all still packed up with boxes everywhere, since I had thought I was going to move. By 1 a.m. I had found the bed and a clear path to the washroom and decided to get some sleep. I had visions of sleeping in as long as it took me to get over the jet lag. But the construction workers in my building had other plans. By 6 a.m. the crashing, banging, and sawing had begun. No matter how many pillows I put over my head, the sound would not be dimmed.

This was the look of my hallway when I returned. It took a little work to carry all my suitcases over the rubble.

Friday, August 03, 2007

We Have a WINNER

In the latest KSA Querterly I said . I will still give a prize to the first kid that learns to say my name. But it seems that no matter how long they sit on my lap and I whisper “Karen, Karen” all that comes out is “mama”. Yesterday I got a phone call from my old college roommate. I answered the phone and she said. "we won. Listen to this. David, David come here.... who is this in the picture?" A small voice responded "Aun' Karen" Way to Go David you did. Check your mail for a free small french fry coupon at McDonalds.

Here is Our WINNER David Baptist

Some of the runners up (and equally loved kids I have meet this summer)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

An Intellectual Challenge

For the last five weeks I have been on the road. I have visited Brantford, Ottawa, St Tomas, Cambridge, London, and Toronto. On of the highlight of my trip was getting to attend class. I have been called a professional student, others have suggested that studying might be an addiction in my life that has a stronger hold than coffee. But the truth is this past semester (January- May 2007) was my first semester since 1984 that I have not been a student. I have been suffering withdraw pains, but thankfully for me this year September came early. To help celebrate my back to school endeavours my old college bought me a bright neon flower power binder (very seminaryish).

For the past three years in Central Asia I have been a language student. It was a very humbling experience to go from Graduate studies where every day I was thinking, critiquing, and incorporating information, to language school where I learn how hard it is to count to 10 and say hello. I audited both of my classes which means I listen to the professors, participate in group discussion, and not have to do any of the assigned homework. The nice things about my classes this past month is that not only where they intellectual challenges, they challenged my heart and how I was going to use and apply the information.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Earth’s Loss is Heaven’s Gain

On Saturday, April 28th my grandfather Lionel Arthur (Art) joined the praising crowd around the throne of God. At the age of 85 he had lived a long and full life that was an example to all of us who loved and admired him.

While he may be gone, the lessons that he taught us about life and faith will carry as a legacy for generations to come. I feel fortunate to have been raised in the shadow of such a great cloud of witnesses. I hope that I will be able throw off everything that hinders because by faith Art lived his life as an example for his family.