Sunday, November 27, 2011

Old Classmates

Recently my former classmate from out here posted the following statement on his blog:

I have to admit, though they drank way too much, there was lots to be enjoyed there. Here was a group of classmates approaching sixty years old. They still get together once or twice a month. They laugh, reminisce about old times, and continue to share life together. There is something special in longevity of relationships like that. Though I have thoroughly enjoyed life until now, I've often missed the familiarity that comes from being in one place and having continuity of friendship.

He was referring to the local woman who he calls ‘mom’ and all of her classmates. The entire class still gets together regularly for lunch and renewing their relationships. They are not the only classmates in this country that keep in community 50 years later. I have a Uyghur grandmother in her 70s, who invited me to join her chai (Uyghur women’s party were money is exchanged), ever month she meets with 12 of the women she went to elementary school with. I don’t even think I could name 12 kids from my grade school days, much less see them regularly and still be part of their life.

When we step back and look at social structures in the life of the Uyghur community, the classmate network is very influential. In North America we talk about looking out for our “friends and family” (interesting enough in that order)… my Uyghur friends often talk about “family, neighbours and classmates” – it is assumed that their friendships have grown out of those close relationships.

As my friend mentioned our culture is very mobile, moving from place to place and influencing structures to friendships. This flux allows us clean starts and the opportunity to hear the different opinion of new people. My Uyghur Grandmother has complained about the longevity of relationships, people who have known you all your life “know everything dumb thing you have ever done… and they still gossip about it 3 decades later”. At her chai she says they sit around and retell the same stories that haven't been news in years. The way she sees it doesn't have the same idealistic slant that my classmate perceived the situation to have.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Great Curry Cook-off

Last weekend my friends and I planned a ‘The Great Curry Cook-off and Bollywood Night”. The plan was simple everyone make a pot of curry, dress in Indian apparel and watch “Bride and Prejudice” (Bollywood made accessible for Westerners) . For most of the week building up to the big event it looked like only two of us were actually going to brave making food ( I say brave since I have never before in my life made curry – but I figured how hard can it be, you look at a few recipes online and then improvise).

Upon arrival it seemed that many of the guest figured the dressing up part was just a joke ( I, however, was looking most forward to this aspect. Ever since I was hospitalized days before our Christmas concert in grade four where I was supposed to be the little girl from India. I was always sad I didn’t get to dress up and wear a sari, so I saw this as my chance –finally).

I was ready to defend the weak attempt of cicken curry as they best of the two, but there was a last minute entry that blew us out of the water. One of our friends who is actually from India came and of course his food blew the rest of ours out of the water. But thankfully he was willing to share his cooking tips.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

EFL Gone Wild…

Today, I had the students talk about hobbies. I started by having them brainstorm what activities they enjoyed, and wrote their answers up on the board so everyone could see. Most of them were normal – swimming, biking, dancing, etc. A lot of students said “sleeping,” which apparently is a luxury in the high-pressure student world. One guy in the back even yelled out “kissing,” which I decided to ignore.

After that, the students were supposed to get into groups of 4-6 and talk about their favorite hobbies. I put up some questions on the board to keep the conversations going: Is your hobby difficult? Is it expensive? Why do you like it? Is it a group activity or something you do alone? Would you recommend it to others? etc. I could tell by the buzz in the room that the conversations were going well.

At the end of their small group discussions, I called on students representing different groups to share what they had talked about with everyone else. Again, most of the answers were nothing to write home about. “I like listening to music because it makes me feel relaxed. And I think Lady Gaga is the best!” “I like sleeping because then I don’t have to sleep in class.” But then we got to a small, quiet guy in the back of the class. This is what he said (other than correcting the grammar, I promise I am not making this up!)

“I like kissing. Maybe for some people it is difficult, but for me it is not. I am good at it! It is not an individual hobby; it is something I do with someone else” [to which the class responded – “Who? Who?” and he just smiled] “It is not an expensive hobby, but it is a nice hobby. It gives me energy. I recommend it to others!”

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Favorite Phenomenon

Winter is officially here! Today the sky has been dishing forth a generous helping of rain, sleet, and snow. All of which have spent the better part of the day vying for their opportunity to fall on the heads of ill prepared pedestrians. My grade three teacher would have labeled it : A dark, damp, drizzly, dreary, depressing, dismal day. The chilliness in the air, and the ensuing soggy clothing would normally sever to put a damper on my mood – but not today. Today on my way home I was greeted repeatedly by one of my all time favorite sights. It is a phenomenon that really only comes out on wet days.

I know I have blogged about this before, but I just can’t help myself. As I left my office building I had to avert my eyes, choke back a laugh, and try to hide my silly stupid grin as I passed a well dressed older Uyghur man. He was in his suit and appeared to be heading to some sort of important meeting. Most of him looked rather distinguished and dignified, until you got to the top of his head that is. There preached for the entire world to see was a plastic shopping bag, the name of a local store printed in bright red letters leading the way. He was a man without an umbrella , caught outside on a bad day, trying to do the best he could with what he had.

But he wasn’t the only one. As the first few drops of snowy sludge plummeted downward, all the men seemed to instantly transform into bag heads. They were protecting their dearly loved doppas ( a Uyghur man’s traditional hat - staple part of their wardrobe). I was so thankful this summer while we were traveling my friend was brave enough to snap a picture of this man rainy-day ready. I hope it makes you smile too.

Friday, November 11, 2011


In Canada November 11 is Remembrance Day, a time set aside to look back at the end of World war 1 and other battles were brave Canadian men and women have given their lives for our freedom. School children pin bright red plastic poppies on to their coats, similar to those that grow between the cross’ in the soldiers grave yard.

But here this same date has a totally different meaning. Locals look at the repetition of the digit 1 and have named November 11 Single day. It’s a time to go out with your girl friends and celebrate the fact that you are not in a relationship. People send each other text messages back and forth like this one ( but only to their friends who are not yet married):

Today is 2011.11.11. Here singles day falls on every November 11th. And as the name indicates this relatively for people who are still living the single life. Maybe we are only country in the world that has set aside a special day for singles to celebrate their lives. So Happy singles day to my dear friend.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

In the Air There's a Feeling of Korban

Blogging seems to take on ebb and flow as the years pass. Time is marked by the celebration of each major holiday and after a while what once felt like a new and unique experience fades into an everyday aspect of life. This week is Korban hyate. The holiday that all the foreigners love to hate because of all the blood that lays splattered on the ground, or because of all the lamb fat that they eat. In past years I have posted way too many pictures of this gross affair that I won’t burden you for another year.

Yesterday I left the house in hopes of joining in the joy and community environment of my neighbours celebrating outside. For the first year ever the weather was fairly nice and no snow was falling to cover up the blood. Instead the wind was whipping around forcing the still unfallen leaves to detach from the trees and swirl around in an excited flurry of activity. The children, dressed in their new fancy holiday clothing, ran around outside from one sheep to another taunting them with sticks. Older women in their aprons traded each other sheep organs and intestine with their bare hands and a cheerful “thank you” as they now had more of the pieces they needed to cook their feast. Men gathered up the sheep skins and loaded them on the carts to be donated to the Mosque as part of their alms of generosity.

As much as all of that is part of the annual Korban hayte adventure, my day was different than expected. Sadly I witnessed the shedding of more than just sheep’s blood. As I walked down one street I saw a huge camel being tied up by several strong young men. These neighbours had worked together to get a lager animal to sacrifice. The camel protested loudly as the man wrestled him to the ground and prepared him for his fate. I got the attention of one of the women standing next to me “I thought his holiday was in memory of when Abraham sacrificed a ram in the place of his son?” “It is,” she said with a smile. “Then is it okay to offer up another type of animal in remembrance?” I asked since this was the first time I had seen anything like this. As it often happens to me in this culture, I start by appropriately talking to a woman or two in the corner, but soon the men over hear the foreigner using Uyghur to having a deep conversation and push their way into the center. The women have been taught their place and silently move aside letting the “white bearded” or wise men of the community discuss theology with me.

In a different apartment complex I visited, the wind picked up with such ferocity that a brick was sent airborne from a 6th floor window ledge. It fell smashing the back window of a nearby vehicle causing glass to shatter and spry into the air. The echoing sound of the car alarm covered the sound of terror and it was few seconds before we all realized an elderly women had also been hit (whether by the brick or the glass I am not sure), but she was out cold laying on the ground, her blood trickled and mixed in with that of the sheep. The neighbour men came to their senses and dropped their butcher knives to the ground. Several of them gently lifted the women onto their shoulders and moved as swiftly as her weight would allow to the hospital that was only a block away. I still don’t know how she is. I hope to go back and visit one of her neighbours tomorrow. I will post an update as soon as I know something, but until then, if you are a praying person please remember this women and her family… what an awful event to happen right in the midst of the year’s biggest celebration.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

That Guy

Okay, so I flat out stole this post from my friend's blog... but considering part of it is my story too I felt justified in sharing it here.

Yahximusiz!", came the high-pitched greeting from the young woman walking toward us. I was walking with my former classmate. Since we studied in the same class several years ago, she has gone on to study Uyghur and opened a translation business here. After they exchanged the obligatory hug and kisses, they shared a few pleasantries and parted ways. "Who was that?", I asked as soon as we were out of ear shot. "I HAVE NO IDEA! But she asked why I haven't stopped by in so long and told me to come by soon." As it turns out, my friend is a bit of a celebrity. She has appeared on TV several times and met lots of people through studies, english corners, and her business. "I wouldn't know where to go even if I wanted to stop by", she said. She did feel a bit awkward for not knowing who the girl was but didn't have the heart to admit it in light of the very warm and excited greeting she received. She felt awkward. I felt relieved that it wasn't me.

Then, it happened. I ran into the convenience store outside the front gate of my school. Turning from the cash register to the door I came face to face with a big smile. "Jesse!", said the young man standing in front of me. "How are you! It's been a long time." There was a momentary blank stare. I have to confess that I have a rule in studying language: Fake it til you make it. If I don't understand, I just pretend and usually I can get the jist and move on without admitting defeat. Whether right or wrong my fake-it-til-you-make-it conditioning kicked in. "Hey you! How are you?", came out before I could even think. We exchanged a few pleasantries about being busy and classes and then I excused myself. Keeping with local custom I added an obligatory, "If you have free time, give me a call", thinking that would be the end of it. People often invite you to come by or call without always meaning it. Alas. He grabbed his phone and said, "Jesse, I don't have your number." I told him my number and he immediately called my phone. What could I do? I saved him in my contact list as 'That Guy'. He probably won't call anyway, I thought.

Just now my phone rang. 'That Guy' came up on the caller id. "Hey! You! Hello!", I said. By the end of the call we had a plan to have lunch. I'm debating whether I should just confess I don't know his name or play it cool and see how it goes. It seems there is an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry forgets the name of some woman he keeps running into. Maybe I should watch that for some ideas. Or maybe you have a better idea...?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


Someone mentioned to me that my last point sounded bitter and unlike me (Thanks for calling me on it guys). That was not my intention. To show you all that I am still happy, healthy and well adjusted I thought I could join the masses and post some Halloween pictures. This is my roommate’s favorite holiday (hence our birthday party last year). We had a simple night at home, decorating our front entrance, wearing our cool socks while watching “Nightmare before Christmas”, carving pumpkins and waiting for our two annual trick-or-treaters.