Thursday, August 30, 2012

Living in the Rubble

The old city streets are filled with quaint allies, stone walkways and beautiful old wooden doors.  I have always loved strolling through these pathways and greeting the people who call them home, watching the women sit and chat and the children skip and hop down the lanes.

In the name of progress and advancement this country is busy tearing down over 250 year old traditional country homes and ‘improving’ the city.  This progress means that the streets are now reduced to piles of rubble and old discarded bricks.  This time in between the distruction and re-building leave this particular town in a rather sorry state.

The group I travelled with most recently was really struggling with the loss of the history represented by each pile of stones.  They mourned the ‘impoverished’ people who were having their family homes literally torn out from under them.
 One man strolled ahead of the group to get a picture and came back visibly shaken, “Karen, I heard voices back there.  I think some poor family is still being forced to live amidst the rubble”.

I rounded the corner he pointed at and followed the sound of a child’s chatter.  Sure enough a few walls were still standing and the front door of the house was slightly a jar.

The women heard us approached and stepped out.

“Happy Holiday,” I greeted her since the end of Ramadan had just been a few days before and most families were still in the midst of celebrating.

She invited us all to come in, and on her third earnest issuing of the invitation I told the group that we were going in for tea. 

My fellow travelers were awed by the elegance that awaited them.  After passing through the brightly light courtyard we were lead into the living room.  The coffee table, or dustahan as it is called here, was lavishly spread with bowls of dried fruit and nuts, candies and cookies.  We sat on plush thick cushions and admired the interact woodwork on the walls that shelved expensive looking china tea sets. 

The group's ideas of poor and impoverished minority people forced to live in desolated homes came crashing down.  In fact our hosts seemed to have a better overall attitude towards the change coming to her city than any of us did.  The visit in her home ended up being a highlight for many on the trip.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Not Moving - Again

Last week I started to hear rumors of a English teaching job in a city called Pure Water, which is about a 16 hour bus ride from where I currently live.  With all the recent frustration at work, between my American work mate not getting his visa and having to let my Uyghur work mate go, I was ready to throw in the towel and give up on the whole idea of being a business women.  I kept joking “Maybe I should just move down there and teach English instead, it would be a lot less of a headache”.   Eventually some of my friends suggested I at least talk to the school and find out a few more particulars of the job.

I called the head of the school’s English department a guy named Allan and was pleasantly surprised to hear that he was up in the capital city, but just for another day.  I tried suggesting several times and location, but he was very busy while in town and we were unable to work out an opportunity to chat.  He told me on the phone they were very excited to have English teacher and if I would send him my résumé they would start to draw up the contract.  Whoa- that was moving too fast for me, I hadn’t agree to anything yet, I still had a lot of question and wanted to meet them and see the school first.  I suggested my making a trip there in hopes of talking to him and the school’s leaders.

One of my Uyghur friends heard talking to the guy on the phone and got rather mad, “You shouldn’t have to pay for your bus ticket to go down there.  If they really need an English teacher the school should be offering to fly you down for an interview.  It’s a government school after all and they have money”.  “While I still haven’t actually promised to take the job, so I will buy my own ticket, that way I don’t feel any obligation toward them”.

16 hours on the bus… and no one to meet me at the station.  I went to my friend’s house who lives in that town – they were the ones who had told me about the job in the first place.  Mid Monday afternoon my friend took me over and introduced me to the staff of the English department and Allan in particular.  The head teacher was quick to say they could process my paperwork and have me ready to start class by the beginning of September.  “I have a few questions first” I said. They all seemed pretty simple, like how will the classes be scheduled, when is winter vacation starts, and what is the salary.  For each question Allan simply replied “you will have to ask my leader that”.  This unproductive conversation went on for over 20min before I was being ushered upstairs to meet the leader.  The lights were all off in the hallway as we approached the office door, and sure enough our knock went unanswered.  “It appears the leader is not here right now , so I will show you the apartment.  There is a local teacher living there right now, but we will make him leave before you come.”

The apartment was fully furnished with table chairs, bed, coach, hot water heater, fridge, washing machine and tv.  As I walked around and mentally checked things off my “must- have- list” Allan continued to dial the Leader’s number.  “You will have to meet the leader tomorrow,” he finally admitted rather dejectedly.  “I leave tomorrow afternoon, so can I make an appointment to see him in the morning?”I asked hopefully.  “Yes, I will call you in the morning when he gets in” Allan promised.

The next morning it was ten a.m. and I still hadn’t heard from the school.  I decided to head over there anyway and try to remind them of my presence in town.  The gate guard stopped me in front of the school demanding to know who I was going to visit.  I gave her Allan’s name and his position in the English department only to be informed that he was currently not at the school.  I tried calling him, the gate guard rang his number… a teacher who overheard our dilemma also gave him a call, but all with the same result – his phone was power off.  I sat at the gate of the school for half an hour chatting and waiting for him to come back.  Eventually I gave up and told the guard lady to have Allan give me a call the second he returned to the school.  

Hours went by and still there was no phone call.  Eventually my friend called the English teacher one more time before I left.  This time his phone was on, and he had a hundred and one excuses explaining how the leader had been called away to an important meeting and his phone was out of money.  All of it seemed like the Asian backhanded indirect communication style that never says ‘no’ outright.  They said they wanted and needed a teacher but their actions were communicating anything but.  It seemed that maybe they didn’t need a teacher that badly after all.  For some reason after making a 32 hour round trip tour to see his school I left without even know what the job’s salary was per month.  

I really do want to move down south... but this didn't seem like the best situation, so I will keep plugging away and trying to get my business off the ground.

Friday, August 10, 2012


In case you want to try making some good Uyghur food tonight at home.  I got this receipt off a friend who spent hours watching her Uyghur friends cook.  Most locals don’t measure ingredients; it is all done by a general feeling of “that’s enough”.  She would then ask to take their handful or pinch of whatever and try to measure it according to our system of teaspoons and cups.  Hope you enjoy! 

3T. – ½ Cup of oil   
1 potato cut in thin cubes
150-300g. mutton cut in strips  
2 leaves of cabbage, cut in narrow strips
Ginger, diced or 1/8t. ginger powder 
½ large (very red) tomato, diced thinkly
1 small onion, cut thinkly  
3 hot gree peppers, seeds removed, cut in chunks
2t. salt       
1 dried hot red pepper, soaked 10min, sliced finely
2T. soy sauce* 
3-5 garlic cloves peeled and diced finely
Green beans, cut in 2 cm. pieces**      
Black or white pepper, optional

1 heaping C. flour
1t.salt ( or a little less)
½ C. water

* Can substitute a combination of 1t. soy sauce and 1 T. black vinegar if desired
** Can substitute and/or add other vegetables such as 8-10 leaves of spinach or ½ an eggplant cut in chunks

Make the Dough:  Slowly mix water into flour.  When you push finger inot the dough and it leaves a small imprint it is ready.  Knead dough really well ( until it slowly rises back up when you push on it with your finger).  Let sit 10-15minutes.  More time makes it softer.  When you notice bubbles in the dough, it is ready ( but holes in the dough aren’t good and means it needs more time).  Flatten dough about 1 ½ inches think.  Put oil on each side and cut into strips 1 inch think. Stretch each trip a little by squeezing it in your hands.  With one hand holding the strip, rub your other hand back and forth across the other end of the strip moving down the strip, unitl it is long and approximately 1cm in diameter.  Oil the plate.  Before setting it aside coil each strip.  Coiling from the middle of the plate out.  Rub oil on each layer.  Cover and set while preparing vegetables.
Prepare the Topping:  Put 3 T oil in the pot and heat.  Fry meat and then add chopped ginger and onions.  Cook briefly and add salt and soy sauce.  Add green beans, potatoes, eggplant if using, red pepper, cabbage, and tomatoes ( stirring a minute between each).  When potatoes are almost cooked, add green peppers, garlic, pepper, and black vinegar.  Add spinach , if using and water.  Bring to boil.  Taste.  Take out and cover while preparing the noddles.

Make and cook the Noodles:  Boil water.  Stretch the noodles ( run through one hand and the other, roll to keep it round as also stretch).  For stiff dough do this 2 times; do only once if soft.  Wrap around hands ( one under, one over until hands are covered and dough is used up).  Stretch and slap several times.  Boil 2-3 minutes.  Lift the noodles form the pot and dip first into a basin of cold water.  If your guests want their noodles hot, dip them back into the hot water before serving.

To Serve:  Put noodles on a plate and then pour topping over the noodles.  Make sure there are at least a couple of pieces of meat in each dish. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A Good Thwacking

The Uyghur girl who is staying with us for a few weeks cooked dinner the other night.  It was really good.  As we praised her skilled hand in the kitchen she started to open up and tell us a bit more about her past.  “For the first two years after I got married my husband and I ran our own restaurant.  I spent all day I the kitchen cooking.”  That explained how she had in recorded time cut and fried up all the toppings.  If I had been the one cooking, I would have still been standing at the counter trying to peel the potato.  

Truth be told I am not that great in the kitchen when preparing common north American food, I am even worse when it comes to making Uyghur food.  I have had the knife taken out of my hand by an old women, who when she saw how slowly I was working, kicked me out of her work space with the lame excuse of “Your wrists are too weak for this, go rest”.   Having skilled hands for cooking is an important trait for a good wife in Uyghur culture.  One more than one occasion when a person finds out if that I am over thirty and still single I get asked if I can cook Uyghur food.  I try hard to turn the question into a light hearted joke. 

In traditional Uyghur cuisine  80% of the diet is made up of just two main dishes:   Polu and Laghmen.  In order to make Laghman properly there is a complex process of stretching, wrapping and thwacking the noodles to make them thin and long.  My noodles inevitably break on the first pull.  So when asked how I fair in the kitchen I explain my noodle pulling frustration and then with a light Scarlet O’Hare shrug to my should and a chuckle in my voice I say “I end up just giving up and making saomian instead” .  (Saomian has all the same ingredients as laghmen,  but it is just refried with small square noodles).  The older Uyghur ladies laugh at my light hearted joke, but behind their eyes I see a sadness reflecting displeasure at my incompetence.  

The real reason behind my singleness is finally out, if only I could learn to give the noodles a good thwacking I might have a chance of getting married.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

All Wet

In dryness of the dessert shop keepers will often save the extra water from cleaning their shops and use it to keep the dust down out front their store.  At different intervals throughout the day you might see them toss a whole bucket of water out the door.  This is not all that interesting or really even worth blogging about except for the fact that yesterday….

I happened to walk by at the exact second the guy sent the water sailing through the air in front of his small electronic store.  The bulk of the water fell on my head and started dripping down.  The poor shop owner looked horrified to realize he had caught a passerby.  Others stopped mid stride watching and waiting for my response, expecting me to lose my calm and yell at the guy.  I was slightly grossed out, not knowing what else this potentially dirty, gross water had been used for, but I was also kind of refreshed by its cool wet relief in the middle of a stifling hot summer’s day.