Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stop me!

I recently found a blog kept by another foreigner living in the same city that I do. I don't know the guy from a hole in the wall, but his opinion of this place has become unceasingly apparent through his writing and I quote:

This is foul, disgusting, backwards, dirty, horrible, filthy, unhygienic, irresponsible behaviour, and I cannot see why it is happening in a major city, in a region which borders so many other countries. What the hell kind of impression do you get of Central Asia if THIS is the first place you see, and THESE are the people who live here? I could understand if it was a village maybe, but a fairly developed city of 2 to 3 million people with cars and Internet, chain stores, internationally sourced goods?

Can you imagine Birmingham, Nice, or Dusseldorf with people like this? This place needs a kick up the arse .

I remember reading this and thinking... "do we were really live in the same city? Is this guy walking down the same streets and taking in the same sights that I am?" I love this place, these people the sights the sounds and the smells as I walk down the street.

And then I re-read my blog from yesterday complaining about the cold and coal dust, and I realised how easy it is to compare life here with the comforts of home and find it lacking. Maybe because the memory of home is viewed through rose coloured glasses, or maybe in the culture stress of not fitting in. But when I started with my blog a few years ago I did so with the purpose statement to others "Join with me as I discover the wonder of this created world and the diversity of its people" A constant digression into the small inconveniences of life hardly fulfills that goal. So please promise me, if I ever start sounding as disgruntled or unhappy with my life here like this fellow blogger is, please, please please STOP ME!!!!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


April 15th is the magic day when the heat all over the city is turned off. It is a sign to all that spring has sprung, and that we have finally turned the corner out of our dismally dark winter. The air quickly clears out the remaining coal dust, and the mountains can be seen once again highlighting the bright blue skies.

That is until the temperatures drop and my first floor apartment gets so cold. When it is damp and cold outside there is no way to heat our apartments, it is like I go around with popcicles as figures for the last two weeks of April. I have to wear three layers in the house, but some days can strip down to short sleeves when I go outside. I miss the days when every house has its own thermostat and temperature control. Oh to be warm again.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I noticed that my last post pushed me over another big blogging marker as it was post number 200 (sadly the topic of baby urine was not the most monumental way to celebrate such an accomplishment). On the KSA Daily's 100th birthday I asked people to leave comments indicating whether or not it was still worth my time and energy to record my insights and experiences in this fashion. After such a blatant plea for feedback and encouragement, I was sadly left with only four comments. Only four people took the time to respond, only four people asked that I continue. And so for those four people I have doubled my efforts and written another one hundred posts. But I must admit it is sometimes hard to keep going when I hear back more often from almost complete strangers, than I do from friends and family.

Recently one of my blogging friends asked her reading audience:

Is what I write about really that boring, or do you just have nothing to say???

You can be completely honest with me. Why doesn’t the majority of my readers leave a comment (that’s you if you’re reading this)???? I am just curious.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lucky Me

Today while I was over at my tutor's house I received what is considered a blessing in this culture. Our teacher had to leave the room for just a minute to grab the dictionary, and she handed me her few month old baby to hold. As I was cooing away at the cute little bundle in my arms, I started to feel a warm wetness in my lap. When it comes to babies some things are not culturally different, which made it pretty easy to guess what my problem was. However, when my teacher returned to the room instead of apologizing ( like a good Canadian would), she exclaimed about how lucky I was. I guess in her culture, being peed on by a baby is considered good fortune, I however, just considered it being wet. As soon as my teacher was settled I did quickly return him to his mom, before he could bestow on me a 'second blessing'.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Rainy Days

It is normally really dry around here since we are close to a desert, but rainy days bring out one of my all time favourite sights. I wish I had a picture to help demonstrate how funny it is, but rainy days force everyone to be on the run and no one feels very much like stopping to pose for a picture, much less me taking the time to pull out the camera, and get drenched while trying to focus it and get a good shot.

Men around here are known for wearing hats, called doppa's. They say you can tell where a man is from based on his hat, since each oasis town around the desert has a different pattern for the men's hats. The hats are all hand embroidered and are a piece of work to be protected.
Since these hats are such a big part of the culture the men would never think of not wearing their hats, even on rainy days. Instead they take a cheap plastic bag like you would get at the grocery store and they put their hats in the bag, tucking the rest of the plastic inside, before fitting the whole thing back on their head. They go from showing off beautiful stitch work, to having local labels and logos bouncing on their heads. It is quite the sight to see dignified older men walking around town wearing plastic bags on their heads.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pee Pipe

Trust me when I say you don't even want to pretend to be smoking one of these things. The purpose of this trinket is to direct urine and save on diaper changes.

Actually the Uyghur cradle, also called a bixuk plays a major role in the culture. These cradles are made of wood and are carved to be both beautiful and practical. Forty days after a child is born there is a special ceremony for him or her in which they are placed in the cradle for the first time. A child will spend much of the next two years tied into the bixuk, which is why is it often called the second bosom for Uyghurs.

As I said the baby is tied into the bed, they claim that it will help legs and arms to grow straight. His parents usually wind cloth about two meters long around the sleeping baby. This allows parents to do other things around the farm after the baby has fallen asleep, because there is no fear of them falling out. The pee pipe also negates the need to take the child out for changing and such.
To our western way of thinking it may sound a little barbaric, but it has been working well for the Uyghur people for generations.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Wooden Pipe- Uyghur Trinkets Final Instalment

The last items in our guessing game are finally here. These wooden pipe looking items are still used in modern Uyghur culture, because they are :

A: A high pitched instrument used by local shepherds to call the sheep in and help herd them homeward after grazing on the mountain side.B: A shuttle for weaving fabric on a traditional loom. Uyghur people are famous for their Atlas, a silk fabric that is woven the old fashion way.C: A diaper for babies at night time. Uyghur cradles have a hole in the bottom and these tools help to direct the pee out the hole and into a waiting pan that can be emptied in the morning. It really cuts back on the land fills out here.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

I Am 15 Going On 16

The roommate clock continues to click higher and higher as yesterday I invited number 16 to move in too. In someways it was a bit of a hasty or emotionally charged invite, but I think it will work out alright in the end. She is one of my classmates and a good friend out here.

Ever since the semester started there has been rumors floating around all the campuses in our city that foreign students were going to be forced to move onto campus. Our school had basically said that students had until May or when their current lease ran out ( there are over 200 foreign students at our school, most of whom are 18 year old kids from other central Asian countries, whose true motive for being here is to drink, party, and have a good time living away from home). The school currently does not have on campus housing enough to accommodate everyone.

In the midst of this my classmates registration card expired and she was unable to get a hold of her landlord to go with her to register at the police station. The Police therefore gave her three days to move or she would be fined. She knew that she would soon be forced to live on campus she started to investigate different housing options. Our teacher knew of an empty apartment in her stairwell and arranged for a meeting of my classmate and the landlord. Since most tasks out here take a bit of a fight face, we normally find it better to go with a friend (someone to run interference for you).

The night we went to see the place there was no electricity (no one had lived there in five years). We used my key chain flashlight to peek around in the dark and get a general sense of the place. As we were leaving the landlady called a price that was significantly higher than what she had originally told our teacher. Even after a day long stalemate she refused to budge on the price and my roommate reluctantly agreed.

The following morning we showed up bright and early at the apartment ready to clean and polish the place (five years of coal dust can do a lot of damage). All of my roommates Uyghur friends pitched in and five of us worked steadily for almost 12 hours - okay so I didn't quite make it that long, but the rest of them did. Night came and no signed contract.

8:30 the next morning my friend was rushed along by the moving truck guys who had arrived 30 minutes early. Their efficiency is amazing, I wish I had taken pictures, these guys can carry six boxes of heavy books on their backs at one time up five flights of stairs. Which meant by 10
a. m. she had all her boxes moved into the new apartment. We then trialed the landlord for the rest of the morning as we went from office to office paying all the bills. We got back to the apartment tested the water and electricity, called a repair man and started to talk contract. This is when she springs on us that one of the bedrooms is not included. She plans to lock it and keep her stuff in it (without lowering the rent, or even acknowledging that it was one of the rooms we had painstakingly cleaned for her the day before). She asked to take the contract home for the night to go over it and so another day ended with no key in my friend's hand.

Day three ( the day she must be moved) greets us with a landlady unwilling to sign a standard lease agreement. She did not want to take responsibility for repair and maintenance of pipes and such. She had also made a detailed list of the things she was lending my friend to use in the apartment - things like the refrigerator and washing machine were expected on that list, but the plastic garbage can that you could buy at a dollar store that she wanted returned in perfect shape after a year, was a little much. These contract negotiations almost had both my friend and I in tears (partially frustration, partially pure exhaustion from the last three days). Each item she disagreed with on the contract made the knot in our stomachs tighten.

It was too much and my friend turned to me "Is that offer to live with you still open?" I willingly agreed - anything to save a friend from this nightmarish situation. So we told the landlady on the spot that unless she signed it as we gave it to her we were walking. Five minutes later we called the moving guys again, they re-picked up all the stuff and brought it to my house. Welcoming Roommate 16! She is unpacking boxes as we speak. The recently added Roommate 15 will still be staying with us 3 nights a week, and so my quiet house has become very active.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Traditional Medician Shop

For all those of you who liked the sound of the Uyghur Medicine man grinding both your cinnamon and your snake skin in the same grinder, you will love these photo. Here is the traditional Uyghur Medicine shop, I don't even know what half this stuff is used for, and to tell you the truth I am a little too scared to ask.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Snake Skin - Uyghur Trinkets 4

A) While it is true that the Uyghur people are Muslims, much of their faith and practices comes from folk Islam, which is much more mystical and superstitious. That is why the snake plays such an important role. It is believed that having a dead snake in the house will keep people from sinning (since sin entered the world through a snake). The dead snake shows victory over that and an ability to walk on God's road. You will often find them hidden somewhere by the front door of a home.

B) Kids at home are often forced fed cod liver oil or other natural products for health purposes, here it is snake oil that is said to keep children healthy.

C) This dried snake skin can be ground into a powder and put in a medicinal tea. The guy at the dry good store will use the same grinder for your snake skin as he does for your cinnamon sticks, so that everything can gain that nice reptile taste.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Roommate 15

Just a month and a half after my roommate returned to the states and I have already filled my extra bedroom with a new person. While yes it was true that I was enjoying the quite and solitude, it is fun to have someone around. My current roommate Patty is a Uyghur girl ( this really isn't allowed, which is why I have never lived with a local before) who is just staying with me three or four nights a week. I actually first meet her via Roommate 13. She is a fun out going girl- as you can likely tell from the picture with the tea cozy on her head, who teachers English at a near by training center. Her language ability is amazing, but she tends to get tired of speaking it after teaching nine hours of class each day, and so when she get in at night she prattles away at full speed in Uyghur. She was originally living with her parents on the other side of town. It took her an hour and a half on the bus just to get into work each morning, now it is only a 20min walk from my place. We share the same hobby of cross stitching, so at night we sit around like a couple of old women with our embroidery in hand chatting about whatever.

I threw her a welcome party the other night so that she could meet all of my friends at once. These parties are always fun and they are a mix of three or four ethnic people groups all speaking together using a combination of three languages. It was funny to witness how peoples personalities changed depending on what language they were talking. When speaking Uyghur people tend to be more boisterous and out going, which is a hallmark of their culture, when speaking the national language they seemed a lot more reserved and so forth. My new roommate is one of the few people I know that can be her same outgoing self no matter what language she is speaking. She really did impress all of my friends with her stories and quick sense of humor. I think it is going to be a good roommate experience.