Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wedding Princess

A Uyghur wedding would make any Disney princess jealous -- sparkles, big hair, fake eyelashes, tons of make-up, huge flowers, full skirts, ballroom dancing... if only they could figure out the pumpkin carriage, they'd be all set.

In the afternoon the men and women are separated for tea times. The girls eat, gossip, fix their hair and make-up, and EAT some more.

Corsages for close friends and family - you got to love the glitter and fake feathers. The best thing about the corsages is that we can TOTALLY wear them again.

The men break into the woman's tea to steal the bride, but first they must dance and sing for her guests.

Uyghurs also have a similar saying about tying the knot... so for their first dance the bridal party tied the couple together.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

In Loving Memory

I am the type of girl that loves to read biographies of those who have gone before. In some way they act as mentors in my life, I might never have met them but their lives challenge me. At times I think my life out here is difficult, but the trials of finding worms crawling on my table is nothing like the exploits I read of in their biographies.

Today some friends and I made the trek outside of town to visit the grave site of foreigners who lived here years ago. These people sacrificed their very lives to see this place grow and develop. That sort of commitment and love for this place is a huge personal challenge for me. Two of the graves in the pictures below are those of babies or toddlers who died as their parents persevered in this place. It was both a sobering and challenging day. So this post is dedicated in loving memory of those who have come before to this place. They have tilled the soil and opened doors that I can enjoy my life today.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Carpet from the Carwash

The last piece of our new home is finally in place. We picked up our freshly cleaned carpet from the carwash. It is one of the odd combination business; carpet cleaning and carwash, (I think the flower and cigar shop close to my college still counts as the weirdest mix of all). Just wanted to show off some shots of the new place. I know a lot of people might not really care, this post is really just for my Mom.
The Living Room

Kitchen Space

My Bedroom

The Office/ Clothes Drying Room



My roommate even drew a floor plan to help her mom better understand how the whole place is set up (So 'my bedroom' is hers, and 'K's' bedroom is mine).

The clean Carpet that my grandparents sent me money to buy back in 2006, when I thought I was going to move to Achuk. My friend has been carpet-sitting it for me for the last four years. This is the first time I'll really get to enjoy it.

We are already having friends over and enjoying the new space.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Unwanted Company

The new house is starting to take shape, although it seemed to take us forever to get the shower, toilet, washing machine and internet up and going. We started inviting friends over before the process was finished. So even though there were no couch cushions to sit on, we tried to make our house warm and welcoming to our guests, by setting out dishes of snacks on the table.

I grabbed a few pistachio nuts to nibble on as I talked. Suddenly, I was distracted from our conversation by a little tickle crawling down my thumb. It seems like the pistachios were older than I thought, and a little worm had moved with us to our new house. I tried to discretely brush him away without drawing my guest attention to our other little friend. I was rather embarrassed by the infestation of my snack table.

A few minutes later I notice my friend was tapping the shell on the table before eating its contents; sure enough a little buddy also fell out onto the table and started to slither along the surface. Another Worm! What was this a whole family of unwanted company, come to munch on our food? I really shouldn’t let it bother me so much. I don’t know how many times I have been at a person’s house and had to eat around critters in my fruit or crawling out of the bowl. But this week it was my house, Oh the shame.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Still Thankful

81. Movers that can carry half my stuff on their back at one time
82. Friends who let you keep coming back to shower at their house, since I still haven’t got the water issue fixed at my new place.
83. My first morning with coffee in a month (now that Ramadan is over)
84. Likewise being able to eat whenever I want
85. Nice neighbours to visit over the holiday. We hadn‘t meet any of them yet, so we just waited to Rosa Heyt and then went door to door introducing ourselves. They all gladly welcomed us in to join. Can you imagine a strange foreigner coming to your door on Christmas expecting to be ushered in to join in the celebrations?
86. Hosts that only make you eat half and melon, couple of handfuls of nuts and raisins and a few bowls of tea instead of forcing you to eat three days worth of food in three hours. (Two homes didn’t actually feed us full meals)
87. Being able to buy a replacement fuse box , plumber’s tape, and the flotation thingy for in the toilet even though I don’t know any of those words in either local language ( based on my use of the word ‘thingy’ I don’t think I know proper terms in English either)
88. Hardware store owners who like playing charades, and are willing to pull apart half the store to help me find what I am looking for.
89. Another step checked off the list in the ‘we are trying to open a business’ red tape
90. Getting the map hung up in my new bedroom, which always makes a place feel more like ‘home’ to me.
91. That the new neighbourhood kids seem to be getting tired of the ‘run up to our door, bang on it, and giggle’ game
92. That students who went home for the summer are back in town
93. It is only a $1 taxi ride from my old house to my new one

Friday, September 10, 2010

2:30 is a Great Time for Noodles

The human body is truly an amazing organism. I’ve heard stories of people who have lost their ability to see, but whose bodies adapted by becoming more sensitive to the small noises, smells, and textures that would have otherwise gone by unnoticed.

As foreigners living in a Muslim city, our senses have adapted in other ways.

From up to two rooms away, I can identify the thwack of freshly pulled noodles slapping against a countertop. The thunk of a knife chopping a cantaloupe in half. The scraaape of a cooking pot being taken out of a cupboard.

Recognizing these sounds is crucial to our survival here. Guests in local homes are expected to be able to eat on command. And while there are ways of avoiding eating a full portion (only eating when the host is in the room, putting part of your own meal on someone else’s plate, etc.), there is no getting around the fact that sooner or later, you have to eat something.

Normally this isn’t a big problem – after all, there is no need to visit more than a couple of houses in one day. But this week is the end of Ramadan. Our Muslim friends have spent the last month fasting from food and drink during daylight hours, and now it’s time to party! During the next few days, anyone can knock on anyone else’s door and expect a warm welcome, complete with tea, snacks, and a hot meal.

Since K and I just moved into a new house, we decided that this would be a great time to meet our new neighbors. Knowing that there are at least 7 or 8 Uyghur families in our apartment building, we decided to plan carefully. We had a light snack instead of breakfast and lunch, and planned on visiting neighbors between 1 and 4 p.m. in order to avoid mealtimes. That way, we could just drink tea and pick at snacks on the tables, visiting a lot of new houses without having to eat too much or stay too long.

Our plan started off well – we were in and out of our first house in just fifteen minutes, with only a few mouthfuls of melon and a cup of tea. But the second house wasn’t quite so easy. Our hostess was excited to tell us that they had only just finished eating, and immediately brought us two bowls of noodles so we wouldn’t miss out on the meal.

I should probably mention that Uyghur noodles are basically like homemade spaghetti, with a little bit of saut̩ed lamb and green pepper thrown on top in place of sauce. The noodles Рa fairly tasteless tangle of starch Рare the main event, and the more the better.

Luckily, bowl number one wasn’t too big (about half of an American portion), so we polished them off with no problem and headed to our next house. A few quick introductions and melon slices later and we were on our way again. The next house we hit another snag; the woman who answered the door was alone, and dressed very conservatively, which is usually the sign of a big feeder. Sure enough, within a few minutes of being seated in the living room, we hear the telltale thwack, thunk, and scraaape coming from the kitchen – noodles and melons. K and I did our best to wolf down a full-sized portion of noodles, plus a couple of slices of melon and several cups of tea, thanked our hostess profusely, and headed out again.

Our last stop was a big family gathering. Almost immediately upon entering, the grandma of the family brought out plates heaped with dumplings, rice, and fruit. K and I didn’t budge. So she brought out a second plate – more fruit, meat pancakes, and bread. Full teacups were pushed into our hands. “Eat, eat,” urged the family members.

We eat our share from the edges of the rice and sipped our tea slowly. The grandma reappeared, this time with two bowls of noodles. “Here, I made these for you,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. We both did our best to smile as we took the bowls, which were full to the brim. “You eat so slowly!” one of the girls remarked, watching us mechanically shoveling noodles into our mouths. “Don’t you like it?”

Eventually we excused ourselves, narrowly missing another round of dumplings and rice, and went home to rest. In just three hours, we had each eaten three helpings of noodles and half a melon. I decided to skip dinner.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

What’s in a Name?

My business partner and I are in the process of selecting a name for the Language Consultation and Translation Company we are hoping to open. Names really are tied closely to both the language and the culture from which they come; it is hard as an outsider to pick a name that will resonate with native speakers.

Three years ago I was walking to class, when I was stopped by a few local students who wanted my advice in choosing a good English name for a hotel. I asked what it's name was in the original language, and tried not to laugh as they seem to go on and on, with a long flourishing name.

“So in English that is literally ‘Imagine Peace and Happiness Everyday Hotel’” she told me proudly “What do you think? Is that a good name?”

I shook my head, “It is too long to be a good name and it is way too cutesy”

“What about ‘Imagine Peace and Happiness Hotel’?”

I shook my head again. “You could try just calling it ‘Imagine’”

“No,” she said firmly “ What about ‘Everyday Peace and Happiness Hotel?’”

We were nearing my classroom building and I was getting frustrated. “I already gave you my suggestion as to what I think most native English speakers would like for a name”. And with that I quickly dismissed myself from the decision making process.
Skip ahead in time until last week. My business partner (who is also from North America), and I were trying to come up with good local names to register our company under. The form said we needed five names in case our top choices were already taken. Most of the names we liked were two words, short and sweet type names, although we had only come up with four suggestions. I needed to fill in the fifth spot, so I wrote in a joke, just to make my business partner laugh.

As a joke I had taken a local saying which basically means “One heart and one mind”. It is kind of a cliche way of talking about being unified. The word they use for ‘mind’ is pronounced very similarly to the word for translation. So I switched out the last word and wrote ‘One Heart and One Translation’. My business partner saw it chuckled and said “Funny, but no way, it is too long”

One of our local friends accompanied us to the office, she saw the list of names and her eyes were immediately drawn down to the bottom of the list “Oh is this the one you are going to use? It is so meaningful”

“No that was just a joke, we don’t really like that name, we just needed a fifth option”

“Oh” she said sadly

After seeing her reaction my business partner grabbed the list and asked a group of random people which name they liked the best. Everyone resonated with the long and cumbersome cutesy choice. Remembering how much I disliked having my opinion as an English speaking discounted in picking an English name and not wanting my own culturally based pig headed preference to hold back our company, we decided to listen to the masses and use our final option as the number one pick.

We are now officially ‘One Heart and One Translation Translation and Consultation Company’. With such a solid name blazing a trail for us, I can’t help but imagine peace and happiness everyday for us in the business world.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Proud to be a Canadian

My friend and I were out running around town the other day and getting things ready for our new apartment. We were both pretty worn out and not really in the chatty mood when this story took place. Here is how my friend explained the interaction on her facebook page:

"So you're students?"

I looked at Karen. I don't feel like talking to strangers today, I whispered in English. Let's just nod and smile and say yes to anything he asks. Karen nodded.

"Yup, students." (actually, Karen works at an export company).

"But you speak our language; you must have been here a while... maybe a year or two?"

"Uh-huh." (reality: me -- 2.5 years, Karen -- 6 years)

"So what will you do when you finish school?"

"We're going to open our own business."

"Oh, teaching English?"

"More or less..." (Reality: we're starting a translation company)

"And you're from America?"


For the first time in this interaction, Karen's national pride got the best of her: "Actually, she's American, but I'm Canadian," she jumped in. The stranger and I both turned to look at Karen, but that was all she had to say.

Which just goes to show you that in the levels of "what it's okay to fudge the truth about," letting a Canadian be taken for an American is never okay.