Wednesday, March 30, 2011

But Wait, There is More…

I finished packing my suitcase, with 24 hours to spare before the plane takes off. I had bought gifts for several friends and family members, as well as clothing and other little trinkets; they are all packed in tightly into one bag. I am slightly over the domestic weight allowance, but hope they will take pity on me when they see I am travelling straight home to Canada.

Today I made last minute calls to say goodbye to some of my close Uyghur friends. I don’t know if it is a cultural thing, or a friendship thing, but none of them would let me leave empty handed. I was literally showered with presents. Several ladies gave me scarves for my mother; others presented me with fruit and nuts that are famous in our region, not to mention of the heavy bag of rock sugar that one friend thought would we a sweet treat for people in Canada. They offered their tokens from their heart and their generosity was amazing, but my luggage allowance is still just as tight. By mid afternoon I was scared to run into anyone else I knew for fear they might try to load me down with more bounty. One or two of the scarves might make it on the plane, the rest will likely stay here to be re-gifted at a later date ( I better label them so as not to give a person back their own gift).

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Right outside the front gate of my apartment complex is a blast from the past, a look at a trade that has all but gone by the way side in North America. The Cobbler/ Shoe repair man sits outside all day, rain sleet or snow waiting for someone in need of getting their footwear fixed. This guy can shine your shoes, or when it snows he can winterize them by adding a slip proof tread. It is so much cheaper to pay him one dollar to re-sew on the sole or reinforce the bottom of my shoes instead of buying brand new ones. Since I hate the whole process of shoe shopping, bending down, and trying on pair after pair to find one that fits just right, I keep going back to fix the old ones. I think I have done it one too many times, when the guy who does this for a living takes one look at the footwear in my hand, rolls his eyes, and says “These shoes again”.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Governments Got My Number

Ten days ago I turned my paperwork into the visa office; all that was left was to wait for it to be processed. The date stamped on my receipt was March 21st. At 9pm on the night of the 20th I heard my phone go off indicating that someone had sent me a message. I didn’t recognize the number, but I soon realized that the government had my number on speed dial and was sending me text messages in two languages saying “By midnight tonight either submit your new visa application or get out of the country”.

The first time I read the text, my heart skipped a beat. My paperwork was submitted to the office nine days ago, it should be ready for pick up first thing in the morning. Why in the world was the government suggesting I get over the border in less than three hours? What red stamp had been passed over to the point that their computer system was not aware of my application? I was slightly nervous but managed to shake off the disconcerting horde of elephants that had moved into the pit of my stomach. An identical text message arrived less than 30 minutes later. It was the second of seven text messages that they government sent to my personal cell phone in a few hour period. I tossed and turned all night, trying to keep my mind from falling into the deep well of worry. The rare moments of shut eye I got were filled with dark dreams of sprinting for the border without my passport.

So obviously I was up first thing in the morning, dressed and on the bus heading up to the police station to figure out what was wrong. I was the second person in line waiting for them to open. I paid my bill and less than an hour later I was literally strutting down the street with my passport securely in my purse; pasted proudly on its seventh page was a work visa valid until March 30th 2012. I don't care how many police stations or government offices have my number on speed dial, or how many intimidating texts they send me… I have more than a year before I will need to make any middle of the night flights for freedom across the country. It is official I am legally here, working for myself.

139) A yearlong work visa

140) Not having to make a run for the border in the middle of the night

141) Tickets home to Canada – just over a week to go

142) Friends who put up with me and all my stress in the process

143) Guests who refresh encourage me (some visitors can be very draining in their expectations)

144) Wise words to meditate on – words that help me to move towards hope

145) Spring is finally coming… I heard the sound of water dripping off icicles all day

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dust Storm

Yesterday a group of us took a day trip to a city close by that is known for its warmer temperatures. We were able to trade in our winter coats for a day as we played hide- and-go-seek around a two thousand year old city.

As the day went on we could feel the full force of a wind storm blow dust in from the desert. The clear blue sky evaporated and was replaced by air so thick with sand we almost had to chew it. Small pools of mud gathered in the corners of our eyes as we blinked to see through the thick heavy air that was whipping around us.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Office

I realized that I have written a lot about the process and the hassles to opening my own business, but I have never shown you the results. So the following are a few shots to help you feel more like a part of it all.

Our office building (which is located right beside the cities Grand Bazaar – making it convenient to everything)

Inside the office (it is small but cute). The carpet we bought for the floor was much too big for the room. So we cut it up – an act that many would consider disgraceful (you never cut a carpet). We saved a lot of money using the extra pieces as seat covers for the coach. Also noticed how proudly all of our certificates are hung on the wall by our desk.

My Business Card

Saturday, March 12, 2011

It is finished!

On Friday I officially finished opening my business. I am the co-owner of a fully invested, fully foreign owned fully set up and ready for operation company. I have run the gauntlet of over 90 office visits and passed the test, collected all the needed red stamps and even put in my visa application to be the first worker for this new company. It is finished, the battle is over, Fusion Translation Consultation Station is up and ready for business!!!!

135) All of those who have been thinking of my business partner and I over the last few months

136) That all the paperwork is submitted and approved

137) That the process is behind me.

138) The Lazy day I had to day (I literally did nothing all day)

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Buying Flowers

I had a couple come into the office this morning asking me to tell them about my last six years overseas. It is hard to sum up in a few hours all the joy and struggles that I have faced since I left home in 2004. One thing their question did force me to do was reflect on some stories from my first few years (even before I started keeping this blog). Those were the days when everything seemed like a challenge. I was equal to less than a two year old in my understanding of language and culture, trying to find my way around town and make myself understood. I am still not a fully functioning member of society, but I feel much more competent in daily life and the variety of interactions it throws at me. It is so humbling to look back on those early days.

The following is a story from my first two weeks in town.

I was invited to attend an ex-pat ladies tea, and we were all asked to bring a flower with us. My roommate was sick and couldn’t make it, so I was left on my own to find the florist and go shopping. My roommate had given me pretty good instructions about where to go to find a flower shop. I was pretty sure I was on the right street, likely even the correct block, but since I couldn’t read any of the signs I had no idea where to go.

I got the attention of a couple of people walking by and started my attempt to ask directions. I knew the word for flower (well I sort of knew the word). The trade language is tonal so I tried saying it with every possible combination. Since I was sure my pronunciation was likely very off I decided to add a little mime to my question. I acted like one of my hands was a bud blossoming to life, while I took a deep breath of its fragrant smell. I kept repeating myself in multiple ways I could think to say the word flower. When I could tell my growing audience had finally guessed what I was trying to communicate I moved on to the next part of the question.

I pretended to look high and low, shrugging my shoulder to indicate that I was uncertain of the location. And tried to ask as clearly as I could “WHERE?” The question’ where’ and the answer ‘over there’ can also sound very similar, so I wanted it to be clear that I had no idea which direction to head. As I kept up my elaborate display, I could hear those who were watching giggling to themselves at the dumb foreigner.

Finally one gracious man took pity on me and my over the top acting skills and pointed across the street. I couldn’t clearly tell which building he was pointing at so I tried another question.

Thankfully I knew how to say the colours.

I asked, “RED?” , by which, if I had been a fluent speaker of the language I would have said, “Are you pointing at the building across the street with the large red sign?”

Thankfully he could tell he was dealing with an idiot, and answered very simply, “No, blue”. I looked across the street and noticed that beside the building with the big red sign, there was a blue painted building, and sure enough I could see flowers in the window. I had found the florist and another day of communicating in a new and strange country was behind me.

Looking back I am so glad those days are over!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Dead, Dead, DEAD

I love the ancient tradition of calling your wares, vendors taking their goods to the streets. You can often hear these sellers wandering down the lane calling out what it is they have to offer. From my house I can hear their voice echoing as they go… there is the person peddling their cart filled with freshly steamed corn on the cob, or the man who can sharpen your knives or clean your stove top. Some of the older ladies use wood clappers or bells to draw the attention of the crowd to the goodies they tote in their baskets.

The other day I was walking down the street and I heard the most particular version of this trade. The man was riding his little bike and singing as he went. The tune was happy and cheerful and his manner was drawing a lot of attention from passer-byers (singing in the streets is not a normal thing to do anywhere). This melody was accompanied by the strangest of words.

“Rats or Spiders,

Mice or Cockroaches.

If you don’t want them I can help.

I have poison and traps,

To kill them all dead.

Rats, spiders, mice and cockroaches,

Dead, Dead, DEAD. “

I don’t know who his lyricist is, but he had this little ditty down pat. He would repeat it over and over as he travelled through the neighborhoods. His voice rose into a frenzy as he belted out the last line ‘dead, dead, DEAD”. I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I listened to him sing it through a second time. I soon realized I wasn’t the only person on the street chuckling over this sales mans impromptu musical. Walking towards me was a very devote Uyghur women; she was wearing a head scarf that covered everything but a thin opening for her to look out. Our gazes met as we passed each other, and I could tell just from the sparkle and joy in her half hidden eyes, that she too was enjoy the travelling musician.