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.