Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hatred on the Bus

The bus is a great place to meet new friends, when you find yourself squished uncomfortably close to a stranger you are faced with two options, ignore them and hope the awkwardness goes away or strike up a conversation. The girl next to me was writing messages with her hand on the frosted over bus windows. She was very surprised when I could read what she had written. We struck up a conversation and I was excited by how pleasant and outgoing she was. I could judge by her appearance that she wasn't originally from the city, her clothing and demeanor screamed country side and sure enough she quickly started telling me about her home town. She was anxious to know what I thought of the Uyghur people and their culture. She seemed so kind and gentle that I knew I had found a new friend.

At the next stop two more girls from a different people group, one that has long lived in tension with the Uyghur people got on. They ended up standing packed tightly right behind us. My new friend picked up the edge of her headscarf and used it to cover her mouth and nose, the way you might if there was suddenly a foul smell. Her face suddenly took on a hard edge “What do you think of those people?” she asked with contempt. I looked at the girls as they stood giggling behind us, deep in their own conversation. I knew my new friend was a devout Muslim, so I decided to appeal to her religiosity “I think Allah created all people on the earth, Uyghur, Canadian and their people group. I think we must love and respect all that comes from His hand”. Almost as if I hadn’t spoken at all “I hate them, I hate all of them,” she spat out with distain.

I was confused and hurt. Where did the nice gentle girl I was speaking to just a few minutes ago go? How was she replaced with this prejudice, hate filled young women? I made a comment about how our hearts could never know peace and happiness if they were so filled with hate for other humans, but once again my words fell on deaf ears. Her face remained hard set and scornful. Thankfully it was my stop, and I gratefully escaped the tense situation. I was still contemplating the complete change in her personality and the way hatred overwhelms a person when she called me on my cell phone “did you make it home safely on the icy streets?” obviously the nice version of this young women had returned.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bridesmaid Dress Nightmares

During our girl’s weekend away, we also went wedding dress shopping for one of my friends. While she found a beautiful gown, we saw plenty of ugly, mainly in the form of some pretty hideous bridesmaid dresses. Just proving universal, cross cultural truth of what they guy said in 27 dresses “no bride wants to stand beside a bunch of girls that actually look nice."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Not the Spa We’re Looking For

Recently my friends and I spent an evening at a five star hotel as part of a girl’s weekend. Earlier in the week we had called to check and see if the hotel had nice accommodations and fun services. Our chosen destination boasted a sauna, spa, and pool. Before going out to do some shopping we decided to stop by and see what time the different services were open until. The day spa was a little out of our price range with expensive salt water scrubs and such… but the sauna facilities seemed much more reasonable. There wasn’t really anyone there to help us the first time we stopped by, but we did see a price list that claimed the sauna plus a back and foot massage was only about 15USD. The sauna area said it was open until after midnight, so there was no rush to get back. With a tantalizing evening of relaxation ahead of us we headed out.

After dinner when we returned to our hotel I was pretty ready to just put up my feet and take it easy ( I am not a huge shopper and we had walked around quite a bit). The group voted to head down for our hour of pure pampering. This time there was staff at the front desk and we pointed to the package that we wanted. They said the sauna was only for men, but they could give us a foot message if we wanted. To demonstrate the woman slowed down her speech ( you know when talking to foreigners you just have to speak slower and louder and eventually they will understand) pointed on her own body and said “We will message from your knees down, ok?” We pointed again to their sign, “This one says it is foot AND back message”. She interrupted by repeating “this one is just for men” and she pointed to another deal that was just a foot treatment and was $8 more “this one good for you. We do your feet”.

None of us really wanted to pay more, nor did we like being spoken to like we were idiots, so we left. Eager to get out of there we jumped on the next elevator that came, it was going the wrong direction, and so we had to repass the sauna floor before getting back to our room. When the elevator stopped there again, one of the workers who had bore witness to our uncomfortable exchange got on the elevator with us… “Sorry about that. Most of our services are just for men, you know how they like to pay for sex ,” she said very bluntly .

We have all lived in this country long enough that we recognize and know the normal signs indicating this sadly booming service. We know to avoid the so called “Tea Houses” in the more expensive apartment complexes. We have all talked to girls who work the evening/night shift at the hair salon, not to mention the glaring read lights that shine in the night as we walk home. We know that this perverted business is alive and thriving all around us. Now we can add ‘sauna’ to our list of euphemisms.

And that is sadly how we spent some of our girl’s weekend trying to pick up a prostitute (a first ever as far as language acquisition goes). I guess it wasn’t quite as nice of a hotel as we thought. Not to mention how disturbed we all were with the realization that sex was that much cheaper than a nice real massage at a relaxing spa.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Perfect on a Cold Day

There is nothing like a steaming hot bowl of noodles to warm you up when it is freezing outside.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

TV on the Bus

For the rest of the population (those who aren’t willing to get up and dance to their destination) the public transportation department has provided its own entertainment. All of the newer city buses have TVs on them, which tend to play the strangest loops of programming I have ever seen. There are of course commercials for stores and companies around town, but there are also reduce reuse and recycle suggestions as part of the governments green intuitive (most days this place seems anything but environmental, but at least this bus add campaign is a start).

While riding the bus I have learned how to rinse out my cooking oil container cut off the top and use it to store children’s toys. I have learned how to properly fold a bed sheet so that it takes up less room in the cupboard, how to make cute crafts out of toilet paper rolls and different ideas for reusing flour sacks after they are empty. Yesterday they had a 5 minute segment on how to use the rest of the powder/foundation in your compact after it is dried out and clumpy. Every ride is a new lesson; many of them leave me scratching my head asking “how is that Green?” But as traffic gets worse and worse in the city it is nice to have some sort of entertainment as we stand squished like sardines for over 30 minutes.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Dancing on the Bus

Buses here are known for being over crowded. The running joke is: “How many more people can you fit on the bus?” The answer is always: “One more”. Some of you may remember a few summers ago when my foot almost got broken because of a crowded bus.

People were squished at the front of the bus so tightly that the driver told me to jump on the back. I passed my money in and ran around to the back door. There were already two people occupying the back bottom step, and the three of us hung on until the door was shut tightly behind us. When we arrived at the next stop the back door flew open with force right on my foot. This left me limping on a very swollen foot for the next few weeks. Overcrowded buses are just part of life here.

That’s what made our experience the other night seem even odder. My friend and I got on a bus and it was empty. Just us and the driver. We had the whole space to ourselves. We ended up tossing our purses on one of the nearby seats and dancing up and down the aisles like our life was a musical. This was unique in that there was no one else squished in next to us. When our bus pulled to a stop at the traffic light we could see that drivers in the cars next to us were craning their necks to see what was going on in the bus. That didn’t stop us, we kept dancing till we reached our destination. One other passenger eventually joined us, but you could tell was uncertain of what was going on. He timidly stayed seated in the chair right behind the driver as we continued to swing and sway our way down the street. When we got home we found this video on Youtube, a different part of the world, and a different mode of travel- but these guys get the joy of dancing on public transportation.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Baby Bird

On one of my recent trips leading a tour group south we went to visit a Sufi mosque out in the middle of the desert. This sight is said to be the location of a great battle, where at the last minute a miracle took place overthrowing the enemy and giving great victory. I wish I could go into more detail about the actual event, but all the details are a little fuzzy (it is one of those stories that if you ask 12 people what happened, you get at least 20 different versions of the event). The reason this mosque has become a stop on the trips I lead is because it shows a much more folk Islamic side, with prayer flags waving in the wind, and people making the arduous journey through the desert in hopes of earning merit in their worship.

As I stood in the courtyard pointing out highlights for the group, I was reminded of my first trip back in 2005 to this supposed sacred spot. At the time I had just started studying the Uyghur language and was anxious to practice with anyone who would give me the time of day. This mosque not only severs as a place of worship for many on a spiritual quest, it is also home to those who want to dwell in its walls of safety. At the time they said upwards of 20 people actually called the mosque’s courtyard “home”. As my fellow travelers were lead into the kitchen area to hear the prepared speech, I broke away from the group to find someone to practice language with.

In a room off to the side I found six women sitting on the floor eating lunch. They kindly invited me to come in and join them. As I sat on the floor running through my list of first year language learning question (aka, “What’s your name? How many people are in your family? and so on), one women kept persisting that I eat some of their food. Rations looked scarce in this remount desert location so I shied away from eating someone else’s portion. This same old lady next to me, took a heaping spoonful and chewed away intentionally on it. After a several minutes she spit the softened food back on to her spoon and insisted again that I eat. I opened my mouth to protest once more, my gag reflex was at a high just looking at her pre- chewed food waving on the spoon in front of me. The spoon moved closer to my mouth and I gaped in surprise as I realized for the first time she was offering me her very own, straight from her mouth food. My open mouth stare gave her just the opportunity she needed to shove the spoon in. At which point, gag reflexes or not, I had no choice but to chew and swallow the food she had so generously deposited in my mouth.

I had seen Uyghur women do this before for their babies, softening the food by pre-chewing it and spiting it directly into their young child’s anxiously awaiting mouth. I have no idea what convinced this older women to treat me like a baby bird, but in her tender expression of care for me, she saw fit to share her own dinner. This event still tops the list as one of my grossest and most culturally abrasive moments I have encountered in my seven year here.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2011 A Year In Review

This last 12 months have seemed rather uneventful compared to 2010. When I did a review post last year one of my friends wished me that 2011 would bring more peace and rest. Thankfully it really did, but for my own sake of processing it is worth going over and reviewing some of the high lights and low lights

1. Fusion Translation and Consultation Station officially opened and I got a yearlong work visa as the boss of my own company.

2. On a trip to Thailand I had the chance to sit down with a counselor who after hearing the stresses of life, was surprised that I was not just a puddle on the floor. She was very encouraging.

3. Ate a grasshopper

4. Was proposed to, again :)

5. Got caught in a desert sand storm

6. Spent 3+ months at home in Canada . While there I got to attend a conference in Washington ( that place is beautiful ) and audited a free class.

7. Spent some good bonding time with my now sister-in-law and had the honor of standing up in their wedding as she married my brother

8. Got to hang out with all of my friends from college and got to rejoice in old friendships

9. I am still alive after having my appendix burst and getting an infection

10. Took four trips to the southern part of our province, most of them were for work acting as translator for tour groups. Thankfully no one got lost or died on any of these adventures, which is pretty amazing considering the bus fell off the highway, we took unknown medicine, I was asked if I was pregnant and we spent hours and hours on the sleeper bus

11. Watched a woman get hit in the head by a brick during a wind storm, learned later that she had died because of it.

12. Helped several people settle in to their new life here by sharing years of crazy stories

13. My roommate, business partner, and good friend (all the same girl) started dating a guy back in the states and decided to move home.

14. Improved my Uyghur dance skills while wearing leopard print and sparkles

15. Celebrated holiday with both local and foreign good friends