Saturday, July 28, 2012

Night Market

Having guest come through does a lot to help me  remember what is unusual and different about where I live.  After almost eight years here I no longer blink an eye at many of the sights and sounds around me.  But going through the photos visitors leave me with after their trips stirs my memory for interesting blog post. 
Right next to my house is a great food night market.  Starting at about four in the afternoon all the sellers wheel their carts into one big open area, they lay down cheap plastic flooring, assemble tables and places stools beside them.  Next they start to prepare their food.  Each cart has something different there are guys selling the standard bbq kabobs, women with piles of cold starch noodles that they drench in hot sauce and top with a few veggies.  There is the booth with “everything on a stick”, from tofu to mushrooms or fried eggs to leafy greens; they all get a stick pocked through them.  The person ordering chooses what they want on a stick and then can watch them get deep fried in the hot vat of spicy oil sitting right next to the cart.  After a few hours the oil starts to take on a mixed flavor of all the ingredients that have been soaking in it.  Further down you can find another guy selling full roasted lambs, but if you are not up for that much meat you can stop by and just grab food from the person selling lamb heads and hooves, or there is stuffed lung and intestine.  All of these food can be toped off with a glass of honey beer (Uyghur still argue whether or not it is actually alcoholic) and some freshly cut melon that has just been shipped in from the country side. 

I end up strolling through this bustling markets several nights a week, but very rarely to I stop to enjoy its fine cuisine… I guess I have got over the joy of nibbling on sheep cheek and calling it dinner. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Saving Face

Ramadan is here again and like every year it means the rules for eating around town have totally changed.  Kabob guys no longer stand in the middle of the street during the day wafting the smell of barbequed meat at passerbyers, noodle carts are tucked into the corner allies out of the main line of vision.  Since fasting is suppose to last from sun up to sun down, the middle of the summer is the hardest time of the year to properly abide by the call to abstain from water or food.  Right now our sun is rising before  4am and setting after 7:30.

I have a few neighbors who are trying to be faithful in the fast, but the longer I am here the more I see the smoke and mirrors which is many peoples dedication to Ramadan.  Tonight my friends and I went to a nice Uyghur restaurant by her house… we wanted to sit outside on the patio under the bright stripped canopies.  The waitress’ first question was: “Are you  wanting to eat right now?”  When we said “Yes”- and answer that indicated we were not participating in the fast, she motioned us to move indoors.  “These seats are only for those eating after iptar  a word used to describe the evening breaking of the fast).”  We stepped into the restaurant only to be met by a wave of hot sticky air. The cool almost night air seemed much preferable to the stuffiness of indoors.  I checked my watch, iptar was only 20mins away.  “If we promised not to eat until afterwards can we sit out there?” I asked hopefully.  “Sure, no problem if you are willing to wait you can sit there.”

We sat outside enjoying the cool breeze, even though they knew none of us were fasting they still brought out the required nan and melon to eat first to help us digest our food.  The whole thing was just an act to save face.  Our waiting until the sky was dark, and starting with a piece of watermelon made the restaurant look like it only catered to the most devote.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

No New Business Partner

Several times last year while we were opening our business I used this blog to vent my frustration over the process.  In fact I’m sure it often felt like post after post was nothing but a retelling of our company woes.  Sadly a year and a half later the story hasn’t changed and the sage continues.

Last October the friend who had run the gauntlet of opening the company with me decided to move back to the states indefinitely.  This was a bit of a blow as I struggled with how I would be able to run the company on my own.  Thankful another good friend in town stepped up and said that after he and his wife returned from having their baby that they would love to buy out her half of the shares and join me in running the business.  I was thrilled with the offer… it was like a light at the end of the tunnel, if I could just hold down the fort for a few month I wouldn’t have to do this alone. 

Sure enough in March this couple came back and jumped right into the processes of formerly changing the paperwork to remove my original business pattern’s name and show that he was an investor in the company.  He had originally planned to bring in more money from the states and increase our companies overall invested capital… right now Fusion is only worth $5000 USD.   He was advised by one branch of the government, in an early step, not to bother investing more money, but to just buy my friends original half of the shares out from her.  He was told it would mean a lot less paperwork and hassle for everyone.  In this short of case it is always wise to trust the guy behind the desk, and so we started signing and stamping multiple copies of paperwork that allowed for the transfer of ownership.

After three months of his own running around from office to office adventure my new business partner was waiting outside of the country for us to send him a corrected visa invitation letter ( the first one had his middle name spelled wrong).  The invitation letter allowed him to go to a consulate and get a work visa to enter the country.  After obtaining the work visa there are still five office visits needed to switch it to a residence permit.  He flew through the first four offices with record speed, indicated that there seemed to be no complication with the process.  Ever sheet of paper was in order and handed in at the final location… they printed him off a slip and said “come back in two week to get your visa”.   As he left the office he breathed a huge sigh of relief, the effort, struggle and running of the last few months was soon going to be totally worth it.

Less then a week later they called him in and said “our company did have enough invested capital to host four expat visas”.  My workmate tried to argue that there weren’t four of us, only three they one girl had gone home to get married and never planned to work here again.  He also reminded them of his original intention to invest more money, but that a different level of government had advised against it.  The officer offered to consider his case a little longer.  On Monday he sent someone to stop by our office to make sure we were working.  I was leading a group on a culture walk about town, one of the services our company offers, and he was doing in person negoistating translation work between an American and their landlord.   We were both busy out making money, but in this country it is only appearances that matter and since no one was in the office it did not look like we were doing anything.  They called my work mate and demanded that he come back to their office the next day.

The next morning my business partner wasn’t alone as we traipsed into the office ready with our fight faces on.  It had been a stressful night worrying about what they would say, practicing our answers.  We had enlisted the help of two local friends to come with us… one of them even had good connection with officers who worked at their level of the police station.  The women behind the desk looked at us blankly, “we didn’t call you to come in.  Maybe you should try this other office”.  While we were sure the phone call had come from them, if they didn’t have our application red flagged for some reason we didn’t want to be the ones to draw unnecessary attention to it.  Instead we all jumped on the bus, hurried across to town to the office she had mentioned.  They seemed equally as surprised by our visit and insisted they didn’t have a problem either.  In fact they tried to send us back to the first place again.  We were ready to give up for the day, while our friend kept making phone calls on our behalf.  

Day two saw us bright and early once again up at the office ready to plead our case.  The top officer called us into his office.  He didn’t seem interested in talking to my business partner… instead he began to focus his questioning on me. When he found I wasn’t great at speaking the national language, he quickly sent for a Uyghur translator and continued to question me on the company’s activities and why we weren’t making loads of money (Which was rather unnecessary considering I could understand what he was saying in the first place).  After ten minutes we were told rather briskly that we could leave, our questioning was over. 

We exited the police station and found a patch of shade to stand and debate how the mini interrogation had gone.  We didn’t have to wait long before the police guy called us back and confirmed they were going to turn down his application.  My friend was not being given permission to work for his own company.  The labor department agreed, the foreign investment bureau had given their stamp of approval, the local police station for both his home and our office building seemed fine with him coming on staff. All along right up to the very last step the answer had been a resounding ‘yes’… and suddenly he was saying “NO” load and clear.  

A merida of emotions swept over all of us, anger, frustration, resentment, sadness, disappointment and more. It have been an indescribably long week and  I am still not sure what sort of effect this visa rejection will have on me or my company long term… but we will continue to work hard and do our best. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012


You take one look at this adorable face and you can’t help but want to hold this little girl and kiss those cheeks.  I was so excited last week when I got to to travel with one of my good friends and her precious daughter.  Two days hanging out with them gave me quite a window into the reality of life for expat families with small children. 

I couldn’t count the number of people that came up to my friend just to comment on the baby.  They would tug on my friends arm to get her to stop so they could pull out their cell phones and try to snap a picture.  Other people would outright grab the child out of her arms so they could not only hold her, but carry her back to where their family was sitting to show off the little ‘doll’.  My friend lives in another part of the country and she says this happens all the time.  Everyone wants to stroke her kids blond hair, they want pictures of the bright blue eyes.  People are always tugging on her kids arms, pointing, giggling,  giving them food and candy and even making suggestions on how my friend should raise her children differently.   

All this stopping, touching, grabbing, nagging and picture taking wears on my friend’s nerves.  After only two days of watching all this 24/7 attention I wanted to yell, “STOP IT, all of you… she is not an animal at the zoo or a circus freak… she is a little girl. Leave her alone”. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Romeo and Juliet

This past week I went to the eastern part of our province ( new territory for me- I normally travel south).  One day our hosts drove us to their home town in the mountains.  After two hours of driving through stony peaks with little to no vegetation, the road opened into a beautiful lush green valley.  The town itself was small, but famous for the graves of the Uyghur Romeo and Juliet – better known around here as Merdan and Jin Moden .  

This couple is said to have lived in the 1700 hundreds and they were in love.  He was a poor farmer boy and she was a beautiful young women.  The King of the area took notice of her beauty and sought her hand in marriage.  Now like any good legend, this is the place where facts get a little mixed up based on who the story teller is.  One person told me they ran away together, and when the king found them he had them put to death or maybe they committed suicide before the king could find them.  Another friend explained that the king had the young farm boy killed and took the young girl as his wife.  She was so miserable in her marriage and wanted to be with her true love so much that she threw herself off the tallest mountain.  
I don’t know which one is true… but I guess every culture has their tragic love stories ( I know Uyhgurs has more then just this one) that endure through the generations as an example.   

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Watch What You Say

My roommate and I were walking home the other day when we took notice of the cute outfit the women in front of us was wearing.  We started walking faster in hopes of over taking her.  Soon we were casting a causal glace over our shoulder looking to see what the front of her dress looked like.  “Oh,” my roommate said “not nearly as cute from the front.”  “Yeah,” I agreed, “the sash of lace down the front really ruins the look”.
That’s when it hit us… we were having this less than complementary conversation about her outfit right in front of her.  I am so use to the fact that most people around here don’t speak English, it’s like our own secrete language,  that I have gotten in to the habit of not biting tongue or holding in the unneeded commentary on those around me.  Even though we spent the rest of our walk home not only acknowledging and scolding ourselves for this problem,  I found myself falling back into the same unhealthy pattern again today.

There I was on the bus talking to another expat friend about how painful one woman’s feet looked squished into her high heeled shoes.  We couldn’t help but feel sorry for her poor toes that had to be screaming regret over her footwear choice.  In the real world you can’t have open conversations like this about people right in front of them.  It’s rude and I totally realize that because Uyghur people do it to me all the time.  They figure I’m the dumb foreigner and can’t understand a word of what they are saying.  I never appreciate overhearing these have inappropriate comments directed towards me and some day if I can't learn to hold my tongue I am going to equally hurt one exceptional English student by speaking so freely. 

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Enjoy the View

The village itself has been called the called the Roof of the World, located high in the Pamir mountains, surrounded by snow capped peaks and brilliant landscapes  The view may be spectacular, but the road getting there can be a little hairy.  Depending on the state of the highway it can take anywhere from 5 to 12 hours.  Bumping over the road and twisting with every mountain curve, I have witnessed the dangers of the journey… buses that rolled off the mountain edge, boulders falling down and causing an avalanche, glacier freezing ice water rushing down the slopes and washing out whole section of the road, transport trucks overturned and smashed in the side of the rocky ledge.  As I said it is a dangerous stretch of highway, but the views along the way are magnificent.  People behold sights of wild camels, the black lake, the father of all Ice Mountains, grasslands, and small Tajik villages.  The group I went with a few weeks ago were gracious enough to leave me copies of the pictures they took as they leaned far out the window of our van with the shutting of their cameras snapping in every direction.  So without further ado, you can enjoy the extravagant beauty without the taxing expedition.