Monday, January 31, 2011

Live Wire

Bangkok – a great place for vacation and adventure. We arrived about a week ago, but most of that time was spent in meetings and such. We did have our evenings free to go exploring the city and seeing the sights. Since this is not my first trip here I feel like I am pretty use to the flow of this place, the western feel, the tourists from all over the world and even the lady men don’t shock me they way they use too. Every time I have to take a day or two to readjust to looking right and then left before playing a mad game of frogger to get across the street. Thankfully the hotel we stayed at was right beside a pedestrian walking overpass, making it much safer to cross the busy main street we were located on. The first time I climbed the stairs to stroll above the traffic I, almost quite literally, got a huge shock. Running parallel to the medal handrail that I was using to help pull my weary legs up the steps, was about a million high voltage electrical cords just inches from my hand. When I saw it the old J.I.Joe commercial about never touching power lines vividly sprang to mind. Since knowing IS half the battle I slowly limped my way up the rest of the steps careful not to touch anything.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Don't You Look Pretty

Growing up my family and I joked that we should be called Amish R Us due to our love of all things navy and subdued. Since coming to Central Asia I have expanded my definition of what looks great. In fact I am to the point that I may actually even agree with the dictionary.

I don’t know if it was a translation mishap or a perfect expression of the culture. The word gaudy is defined in English as: ostentatiously or tastelessly showy or ornamented. The English -Uyghur dictionary translates this same word as beautiful. Perhaps it is their love of colour, lace, sequins, rhinestones and sparkles that make an over the top item look downright pretty.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Men Don’t Wash Dishes

Some of you may remember that over the summer I helped my friends out at the Texas café by filling in until the new managers arrived. I still go back often for dinner or to visit the staff and see how things are going. The new mangers are great. They have really turned the place around in a very short amount of time. Between movie night, English corners, deals on food, and a great atmosphere they are packing in the customers. But all of this has not come without a fair amount of struggle.

The restaurant’s dishwasher left suddenly and they asked the cooks to fill in for a while. They did for a few weeks, but demanded more pay for the extra work. The new management agreed because they needed the help, but in all actuality they were not even asking the chef to put in over time, but to use the hours when no one was coming in or when the restaurant was unbusy, to get their hands wet and do something instead of just sitting there. To us it seems like a natural request, if you are an employee at a business and your boss says, “Don’t just sit there, wash the dishes”.

In asking for this simple task to be complete, the new mangers were making a huge cultural faux pah . In Uyghur culture men DO NOT wash dishes… no way, no how. Growing up, it is his mother’s job to cook and wash the dishes for him. After a man gets married it becomes his wife’s job. In fact the worst position to be in the Uyghur family is the youngest son’s wife.

Traditionally as each son gets married he brings his bride back to the family home. This young newlywed girl is ushered right into the kitchen to start her work of serving the family. Her days are filled with washing, cooking and cleaning for her husband’s family, almost like a slave. She only gets a promotion from the kitchen when the next oldest brother gets married.

With this cultural back ground, let’s return to the café. The cooks filled in where needed for few weeks, but quickly put up a fuss that they would no longer do women’s work. Even when offered more pay they refused to get their hands wet. They stubbornly clung to the traditional mindset. One of them actually claimed that his mother forbid him from washing the dishes at work. Some of these men are engaged and need more money for their wedding, but refused to do the work that could help to line their pockets even a little. When my friend’s husband, the manger from the States, rolled up his sleeves and started to try to set an example of being willing to do whatever was needed, the employees sat around doing nothing but watching and laughing at his softness.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Coca Cola Bridges the Gap

In every one of the major shopping centers here customers are required to put their bags and purses in a locker near the front door. Greeters wait at the store entrance more intent on making sure you don’t have a bag to shoplift with, than actually welcoming you to their establishment. These locker spaces can also be put to good use for hanging notices and advertisements. Recently the Coca Cola Company posted this picture.

Every part of this picture screams Uyghur culture, from the woman dressed in atlas wearing a headscarf, the men in hand stitched traditional shirts and dopas, to the table filled with fried noodles and fruit. The coke company simply plucked the tea pot from their hands and exchanged it for a bottle of pop. I thought it was hilarious.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Remedial Stamping Classes

I have been told it is all in the wrist work, but I think I need to practice stamping our companies red business stamps. We were at the bank yesterday trying to open a new wire funds accounts, which took longer than necessary based on my workmates and my inability to evenly press down and mark our name. We tried to improve our sub-par stamping skills by practicing over and over again on the back of an extra sheet of paper, before stamping the official document. Some practice stamps were too heavy on the ink, making all the words blur together as one, others were faint making the numbers hard to discern. Despite our remedial review, the bank called us back this morning and asked us to come in and do it again. We have a long way to go before we are pro business women in Central Asia.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

2010: A Year in Review

Whenever people have asked me over the last few weeks “how are you doing?” the only answer I can seem to come up with is I am worn out. As I reflect on all that has happened in the past year it is no wonder I am a little tired.

-No internet for the first five months of the year- this black whole of communication was stressful on all of us. It was hard to write home, talk to family, check email or even hear outside news. I remember I was sending my computer on vacation with people leaving the province just so I could down load a couple of months of email.

-Got my first ever year long work visa – a process that included over 15 trips to government offices, police guys trying to kiss me in empty elevators, getting taken as an American man, and almost starting at an entirely different job.

- Living in a police state were during different tense times throughout the year we would notice an increased presence of troops walking around our streets with big guns

-Helping and giving support to a friend who was going through a difficult time. This became a constant concern for several months.

- I was given the challenging task of teaching over 10, three hour lectures in Uyghur.

- 8 books/papers edited into Uyghur.

- Filled in at the Texas café for a month while it was between managers.

- Grieved along with two of my good Uyghur friends, who both had parents pass away this year

- I was on a bus that got in an accident, causing a lot of pain to my back and shoulder and forcing me to bed rest for a week.

- Worked through some personal conflict with another expat couple living in our city

- Help new people settle in, by arranging an apartment to rent, taking them furniture shopping and showing them the ropes.

- Attending a week long intensive training course and considered how it will affect my day to day life. Also turned around and re-taught much of the information with friends here.

- Helped host at least 8 different groups that visited our city and took them on the official Uyghur cultural walk

- Moving: my roommate and I had strict parameters for finding a new place. We wanted a two bedroom apartment, no further than a five minute walk from a bus stop, no higher than the third floor, in the center of town and for no more than 250 dollars a month. We looked at a lot of places before we found a one that was clean and safe and met all of our specifications.

- Attended five weddings representing three different cultures .

-Felt very far away from my family in Canada when my Grandmother passed away

- Met all of our new neighbors and visited them in their homes over main local holidays

- We also found an office space and set it up, thankful only a five minute walk from out new home.

- Two trips out of the country and five trips to other cities in the country.

- 63 trips to different government offices, numerous phone calls and a total of 182 hours spent over the last four months trying to open our own company.

There are many part of the above year that I would not want to relive. You know how they say that 'whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger'. I can testify to the fact that all of this has certainly lent itself to strengthening one important aspect of my life. I have often looked to these words: “ We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint”