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)