Wednesday, April 20, 2011

International Coffee

I remember my first trip back to Canada. At that time I was overwhelmed at the speed my brain could process it’s native language and therefore the amount of information I gathered through unintentional eavesdropping. I would be at a large group event and struggle focuses on the person in front of me because my ears, rejoicing at hearing the familiar buzz of English, would pick up bits and pieces of everyone’s conversations. I knew about the new puppy one family had gotten, or how poorly one women’s son was doing in his high school physic’s class, I knew the girl across the way was waiting to hear back from the cute guy she had gone out with the other night and I knew who had spent more on redoing their kitchen. At that time I still lacked the listening skills to be able to interact with the world around me to that level in Uyghur.

Now that I have been living overseas for almost six years I find myself equally as subconsciously taking in the event s of the lives of my neighbours in Central Asia. I can understand when they call their friend from the bus to inform them that we are running late because we are stuck in traffic. I can hear the girls sitting behind me comparing answers they got on their afternoon math test. I know that the women and her daughter were just looking at dresses for the daughter’s upcoming wedding. The more I understand the more I feel more like a part of life there. I have also come to realize how similar the topics of small talk are around the world.

That is why I was shocked last week when I was sitting in Timmies sipping my double double (for all you none Canadians out there, that is a Tim Horton’s coffee with two cream and two sugars). Since I was sitting at the table alone I found my attention being drawn to their other coffee shop customers. I quickly realized that I couldn’t understand a word of what anyone was saying. The group directly behind me was speaking Cantonese, I think. Those to my left sounded more German, on my right I heard the semi familiar sounds of Spanish… or was that Protégées they were speaking. Finally above the din of the mini UN meeting taking place over several hot cups of coffee I distinctly heard someone say “while my granddaughter just loves her kindergarten teacher”. There it was, there was my mother tongue, there was a group of people speaking English again, there was the familiarity that I was craving.

My trip to the coffee shop left me slightly in disbelief at how much I miss even in my own context, but it also left me very proud to be a Canadian. If one coffee shop is any sort of microcosm for the rest of our nation, than here in Canada we have something quite unique. Here we are sounded by the world, people from all different ethnicities, countries and backgrounds living in one area, not to mentioned joined by the common love of one great cup of coffee ( no this blog post was not sponsored or paid for by Tim Hortons- but I wouldn’t say no to a free cup of coffee if their offered it).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Finding Fabric

Back in January I was in the Uyghur material market shopping for fabric to have a dress made. I had a basic idea of what I was looking for, but as I started to wonder through booths waiting for something to jump out at me, I was accosted by many eager sales people. In good local tradition some of the sellers grabbed bolts of fabric and actually intersect my path as they loudly called out to me and waved the material in front of my face: “Miss you like this one, very cheap for you, I give you good price”. Normally the items they chose to show off to me are about the last thing I would ever consider buying. I remember on this particular occasion one man was determined to show off one particular pattern. He stood there lovely running his figures over this brightly colored fabric. “This would look very pretty against your white skin miss” he said as he held the end of the roll up to my face. The hideous material looked like it had fireworks exploding all over it in multiple shocking colors. These bright bursts were in a shocking pink, and electric yellow and even and an over the top green. My tastes have changed greatly since living overseas (my family use to be known for our love of a lackluster navy color wardrobe and now I proudly don atlas for any formal event), but this rainbow explosion seemed to me they type of pattern only a Uyghur person could truly appreciate the beauty of. I politely shook my head to indicate it wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but he insisted again that it looked great on me.

Considering my strong revolution to the material he had suggested, you can imagine my surprise when shopping at the mall this week in Canada to see a dress made out of the exact same fabric. I had gone into the store and the woman at the counter had greeted me upon my entrance telling me to feel free to look around. As I searched through the racks of summer dresses I saw a section filled with outrageous patterns. Sure enough right in their midst was the explosive fireworks of color that I had turned my nose up to on the other side of the world. The dress was a shot, tub top style (something no Uyghur women would ever wear for the sake of modestly), even in light of its lack of material it was still the most flashy one hanging there. I guess I should have listened better to my local Uyghur sales man; it would have looked great on my skin and allowed me to be in fashion on both sides of the world.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Biography Quote

I am currently in the middle of reading a famous Uyghur biography. This individual also took a chance in starting their own business. One particular quote caught my attention and reminded me that the struggles we faced last semester with all our running around are just par for the course. "These critical governmental procedures required me to work with the bureacuracy myself, though it is something I would have much rather delegated. For many of these additional stamps, I was required to revisit the same bureaus at least fifty times, waiting and waiting for my turn. Each stamp of approval peeled away only a fraction of the bureaucratic layer. I thought that anyone else would have given up on this project just because of the bureaucracy."

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Driving- and Outsiders Look at Road Rules

The following is taken from an email my friend sent to summarizing his week long trip to visit us in Central Asia:

I did learn some important things about driving during my visit. The roadways are shared by a variety of both modern and outdated modes of transportation (foot, bike, taxi, donkey cart, bus, three wheeled scooter...) and has an interesting set of traffic guidelines. Here are some basic groundrules:

1. Don't wear a seatbelt. We are not quite sure what this part of your vehicle is meant to do, but until you find out, it's best to leave it where it is.

2. When driving, remember blindspots. Blindspots have to do with people who have no vision, and have nothing to do with motor vehicles. Since you have eyes, keep them looking straight out the windshield in front of you.

3. Make sure your horn is working and test it frequently. Honk when you pull blindly into traffic, merge lanes, cut someone off, pull a uturn in oncoming traffic, or drive on the wrong side of the road. If you haven't touched it in the last few minutes, give it a quick honk just to make sure that sucker is still working.

4. Sidewalks. Read that again, slowly this time. P a r k i n g area. There, that's better. Of course there are people here- use your horn! Pedestrians have the right to get out of the way. Sidewalks also can function as a great alternative to getting where you want to go faster that the traffic jam in the actual road.
5. Left hand turn lanes. Left hand turn lanes additionally function as the ideal point for positioning yourself to overtake the traffic stopped at the red light. If the lane is empty, scoot right in. Then when the light turns green- voila! - you can cut right back into traffic (remember the no blind spots rule and to use your horn dramatically). Blinker completely unnecessary, and a waste of time. Plus, that hand probably has a cigarette or a cell phone in it already, and it would be a shame to stop talking or texting or give up on the smoke for the sake of a little blinking light. (priorities, people. Priorities. Get them straight.)

Near accident experiences: 325. And then I stopped counting the second day.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Thankful for a smooth safe trip

146) Found a taxi right in front of my house when I left Thursday morning at 5am – I was not anticipating the idea of dragging my suitcase on a ten minute walk through the streets trying to hail one. 147) No mention by the lady at the check-in counter that my bag were 3.7 kilos over weight. 148) On my two longer flights there were only two of us assigned to sit in the bench of three seats, so it meant we could spread out and have a little more room.

149) I had to change terminals during one of my layovers; two strangers generously helped me lift my heavy bag up the steps onto the bus.

150) I stopped at Starbucks during my first layover… that is only a practial thankful thing - the price of Starbucks at the airport astounded me, I paid basically the same price that myself and two of my best friends can eat for when we go out for a nice dinner at home.

151) Fun movies to watch during the 12 hour flight

152) I made it through Canadian customs… I wouldn’t have thought that was a difficult thing, but when the officer saw how long I had been out of the country he made me scratch out my parent's address as my residence and fill in my address in Asia. He also spent a long time challenging the fact that after being gone for 19-20 months that I was really only bringing about 375 dollars worth of goods back with me. I was glad to get by the mini interrogation and be safely in my home country.

153) That first sip of a hot Tim Horton’s Coffee and a fresh Sour Cream glazed doughnut.

154) Making it home during Roll Up the Rim Season – although sadly neither of my first two coffees have won

155)My flights were all basically on time, I even got in a few minutes early.

156) My mom standing there waiting for me and waving enthusiastically, and the ensuing great big hug.

157) My bag made it back in one piece with nothing broken. I had packed three Uyghur tea pots, 18 tea bowls, and a cream and sugar all in my check in luggage. Each item was wrapped in tank-tops and other soft clothes to help protect them… and it worked.

158) A good night sleep in my own bed.

159) Cinnamon toast crunch cereal for breakfast.

160) Relatively little struggle with jet lag – I made it through a bridal shower for my soon to be sister-in-law without dozing off.