Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fiddler on the Roof Uyghur Style

I have yet to meet a young Uyghur girl who doesn’t love the musical Fiddler on the Roof ( even those with a relatively low English level ,still seem to be able to follow and love the story). I think a lot of that has to do with how similar the movie is to real life here.

IMBD’s plot summary says: In the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Jews and Orthodox Christians live in the little village of Anatevka in the pre-revolutionary Russia of the Czars. Among the traditions of the Jewish community, the matchmaker arranges the match and the father approves it. The milkman Reb Tevye is a poor man that has been married for twenty-five years with Golde and they have five daughters. When the local matchmaker Yente arranges the match between his older daughter Tzeitel and the old widow butcher Lazar Wolf, Tevye agrees with the wedding. However Tzeitel is in love with the poor tailor Motel Kazoil and they ask permission to Tevye to get married that accepts to please his daughter. Then his second daughter Hodel (Michele Marsh) and the revolutionary student Perchik decide to marry each other and Tevye is forced to accept. When Perchik is arrested by the Czar troops and sent to Siberia, Hodel decides to leave her family and homeland and travel to Siberia to be with her beloved Perchik. When his third daughter Chaveleh decides to get married with the Christian Fyedka, Tevye does not accept and considers that Chava has died. Meanwhile the Czar troops evict the Jewish community from Anatevka.

So how is that like life here?

1) Tradition. The first song sums it up. Uyghur culture is full of traditions and the people love them. If you have been reading this blog over a long period of time than you know that I spent a lot of time trying to learn and capture these traditions.

2)The Papa’s have the role as the master of their own homes.

3) The mama’s wear their head scarves and take care of the family

4) A matchmaker is responsible for hooking up young couples. “Match maker, match maker make me a match. Find me a find, catch me a catch.”

5) The lead character is fond of saying “As the good book says…” and then he repeatedly misquotes the torah (mainly because he has never read it for himself). I have many Uyghur friends who believe the Quran with their whole heart, yet they have never read it for themselves and often end up relaying to me sections of the hadith and claiming “as the Quran teaches...”

6) Most of the police and government workers in the movie are Russian and they look down on the Jewish minority. Here most of officials are part of the majority people and often leave Uyghur feeling looked down upon.

7) The desire to have a son, instead of being ‘blessed’ with five daughters

8) Kosher verse ha’lal: sure they are different, but both have the no pork thing going for them

9)The younger generation is constantly challenging and changing the traditions that their ancestors have held tightly for so many years.

10) Music and dancing – for as much and Uyghur culture loves music and dancing and intertwines it into daily life, I am really surprised that there is not such genera of local movies as a Uyghur musical.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Roommate Bonding the Continuing Story

My new roommate had been living in the Southern part of the province before moving up here. One of her former local workmates offered to arrange to have her belonging shipped up by train. The train company was suppose to arrange for a driver to swing by her old apartment, load all the stuff on a truck, drive it to the train station, move it from the truck to the train and have it delivered right to our house here in the capital. The first part of the transaction went off without a hitch. However, the driver on this end of the move, pulled the truck up to the outside door of our apartment building dumped the whole load off the truck in a heaping pile at the door of our stair well and wanted us to sign that it had been delivered.

We argued with him that, we didn’t live outside and that he still hadn’t finished his job. We had paid to have these things taken right up to our third floor apartment. He told us the bags were heavy and he was only one man, that he couldn’t be expected to carry them up three flights of stairs. We tried arguing that we wouldn’t sign until they were inside our door. It was one of those ‘put on your fight face situations’ and we started yelling at him in the national language. He condescendingly told us we didn’t understand, and that he had done his job. So we called her former work mate , who confirmed our suspicion that the stuff was suppose to be dropped off inside the apartment. The workmate called the train company, the train company called me and agreed that the driver was not doing his job. I passed my phone over to the driver so that they could yell at him for a change. The driver just kept saying that he didn’t have time to take it all upstairs for us. We could follow his whole end of the conversation, but the story he told us when he got off the phone didn’t match.

Meanwhile a Uyghur guy who is on guard duty in our apartment complex had witnessed the whole thing. He said he was more than willing to find some guys that could move it for us… for a price of course. That price seemed to go up and up and up the longer we waited. At first he said about 15 dollars, by the end he said that was per person and that it would likely be closer to 100 dollars to get it up the stairs. The train company had admitted it was their fault and were willing to reimburse us about $ 35 if we could find someone to move it all for that price. But the gate guard wanted more. The longer he spoke the more I felt ripped off. Moving house is normally really cheap here. But the guy was asking more per hour than I can even make teaching English as a foreigner. I pointed that out and he just stood there almost proud of the fact I was stuck.

It was almost eight o’clock at night, we were standing outside in the freezing cold as two young women (both with bad legs) starring back and forth from her 500 kilo of luggage laying abandoned on the ground to the foreboding stairwell that led to our home. Meanwhile two able bodied men stood there grinning self satisfied smiles around their cigarette butts… knowing full well we would eventually have to pay them the extra money they wanted to solve our problem.

What they weren’t counting on was the fact that we have friends. I called some of the American guys who also live in town and they said they would grab a few people and come right over. The guys arrived and willingly lent a hand. The four of them took several trips up and down the stairs never complaining about having to leave their evening plans or heaviness of the bags (okay, they did make a few snide comments about the lack of chivalry in this country- where two guys could stand around and watch us suffering without offering to help. Within twenty minutes of their arrival, all the bags and boxes were safely in our apartment. Although some of them were covered in a weird smelling, sticky blood like substance - we think her boxes/bags were packed on the train next to a shipment of meat or animal skins, thankfully it didn’t soak through.

So since the train company is still willing to pay us as an apology for the lazy driver that dropped the stuff at the door, we have money to treat the guys to a nice thank you dinner.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Medical Test – Roommate Bonding at its Best

So I arrived home from vacation with lights shining from the windows of my home. I opened the front door and was greeted by my new roommate. I have lost count somewhere along the way as to what number she would be, there is just so much coming and going and saying goodbye with people who pass through here. In the two weeks I was absent my old roommate moved out and a new one took her place.

As part of the bonding process of getting to know this new girl living in my apartment we decided to go together to get our yearly medical check-up. For every foreigner living in this country we are required to have these test done every year in order to apply for a new residence permit.

We got up early in the morning to make it all the way across the town to the medical facility. As we were walking across their long icy driveway we were passed by a large bus filled with airline employees who are also required to get yearly check-ups. As we hurried forward we knew that each person that disembarked from the bus represented a long wait in line for us. Sure enough we got into the room to fill out our paper work and there was nothing but a sea of people standing between us and the front desk (people here don’t really believe in lines as much as a mass of people pushing forward all at once). You could hear their leaders voice struggling to be heard above the buzz “line-up everyone, show some etiquette”, but to little affect.

The longer I live here the more this push and shove mentality grows in me. I stuck out my elbows and pushed my way to the front. I wanted to get a form so that I could start to fill it out while she registered all of the airline employees. I handed over my passport copy and two mug shot photos of myself. She glanced at the pictures and shook her head. “Those are too small” she said curtly. “But they are the same size as hers”, I said pointing to the local women standing next to me. “You are a foreigner, you need to submit bigger ones” . My new roommate offered to fill in both forms as I headed back out the door and up the long driveway to a picture/photocopy place that was out by the gate. I was afraid it was going to take me a while as they shot new pictures and took the time to photo shop away all the blemishes on my face. But thankfully they just scanned my small ones and blew them up bigger.

I hurried back to the medical office and fell in line squarely behind the whole pack. My new roommate and I moved from room to room, having our blood tested by women who never change their gloves between clients (and were very interested in our hand sanitizer since they had never seen any), whipping off the cold jelly from the ultra sound machine, holding the curtain so that the Uyghur guys behind us in line wouldn’t stare while we were getting our EKG done. We bonded over holding each other’s coats while the other one got poked and prodded and X-rayed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Coming Home is Not the Same

Every year when I leave to go away on winter vacation I play this silly game with myself about how few clothes can I wear to run out and find a taxi to the airport. Considering the temperature was about -15 when I left, it is rather ridiculous to going running out first thing in the morning with no hat, no gloves, no boots… just a t-shirt and a light fleece jacket. But the alternative is being strapped with a heavy wool coat in your luggage while laying on the beach. Normally the anticipation of beautiful sunshine and warm weather is enough to ward off frostbite during the unpredictable hunt for transportation. The dream of the beach and warm sand blocks out the unpleasantness of frozen toes and an icy nose. But the way home is just awful.

This year my traveling companions and I had mixed up our return dates. We thought we had one more day to enjoy the relaxation of a Thai message, we were dreaming of what our final meal was going to be, we were planning how we could extract every last moment of fun from our vacation, only to realize we had to leave a day earlier if we were going to drive down to Bangkok and make our flight on time. This disappointment of a lost day, and the ever increasing chill in the air as we headed north didn’t do much to excite me upon my return. It is a not hard to run through the streets when you're freezing but spurred on by great expectation of what is to come… it is a lot harder to retrace those same frozen footsteps when the only thing to drive me onward is knowledge of more winter to come.

All that to say I made it home safely!

Monday, February 13, 2012


I recently posted about some helpful strangers and neighbors who willingly gave me a hand to get around the icy streets. Over this vacation I have been touched with how helpful my friends are at supporting me and lending a hand to help me scamper over tree trunks and wet rocks so that I can see amazing sites and waterfalls.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Two Wheeled Road Trip

The lack of posting is due to the fact I am currently on vacation with some of my friends. We decided to escape the cold winter temperatures and hit the Thailand beach. Part of our relaxation and fun included renting bikes and hitting the road. At first I was a little nervous, and rightfully so in light of the traffic rules we are use to in Central Asia. But it was actually pretty tame, no drivers honked their horns excessively, and everyone stayed on their own side of the road ( which is opposite to North America, but the guys were getting use to it by the end). I felt so safe that I even agreed to move from the side car to actually riding on the back - a big step up for me from our last trip.