2004.04.05 Urumqi, China

Grandma's Polo

I'm doing well. I've now been back in Xinjiang for a month and feel much more settled.

I have a schedule of twenty-four hours of language classes per week, split between Uighur and Chinese. I'm actually registered for several hours more, but have opted not to go the Chinese sessions I wasn't impressed with. Conflicts between the remaining courses mean that I can attend only twenty hours, but that's more than enough. Despite what a heavy load that would be by American standards, it's roughly two-thirds the hours most of the local students are taking on.

On Wednesday I met up with the professor with a reputation for Islamic calligraphy, Able-mit. The Ivy-Leaguers--Paul and David--accompanied: both would be interested in instruction as well. Their Uighur is much better than mine, so it was nice to have folks who could fully articulate what we wanted and understand the options. Unfortunately, it turned out that the professor is too busy doing research into old Turkic texts this semester to take us on. There is another professor who may be free after a month's time. Alternately, we might seek out an instructor at the nearby Xinjiang College of Arts. I'm in no hurry. I've been practicing calligraphy a fair amount on my own, and figure on being here through January of 2005.

Though I'm increasingly comfortable, it does feel odd to be living in a campus dormitory and university setting. When setting off I envisioned having my own place in some corner of Kashgar's old city, studying regularly with tutors. The practicalities of that weren't possible. To stay in China as long as I intend requires more than a tourist visa, hence the schooling. I probably would have taken on some language study as well, but not to the degree I am now. Having already paid tuition it's just too tempting to study Uighur and Chinese. Theoretically the calligraphy instruction will be included too, if I track down an available professor here at X.U.

I finally went to that rip-off, mandatory medical exam on Thursday. That completes what I need to obtain a student visa. The paperwork should be sent to the PSB today, perhaps back some time this week. I can move off-campus once my visa status has been adjusted.

Paul, Nisagul, and Rahila
There are a lot of cons to living here. I could get a much larger, nicer apartment for about two-thirds the rent of my humble dormitory. The main doors are locked at 11:00 P.M. local time; getting in any time thereafter means rousing a grumpy attendant. Surprisingly, I'm not sure whether I'll actually move out once I can. That's due to a combination of an increasing sense of the room being my place (i.e. inertia,) and getting better connected with the Ivy-Leaguers. Princeton Paul and I are in the same Uighur courses, though with years of Turkish study he's essentially top of the class. We've been studying, working out at the gym, running around the lake, and taking meals together most days. I know it's healthy to not be completely reclusive, and the proximity is what really allows it to happen.

Yesterday afternoon I went to Nisagul's grandmother's place for lunch. Nisagul and her dorm-mate Marhaba accompanied. The one item on the menu: polo.

Polo is the Uighur pronunciation of a dish common around the world. It's cognate to pilaf, pilav, and pulao, all meaning a rice-based dish, with various ingredients mixed in. Mutton, diced vegetables, and almonds are common additions. I remember Afghani pulao having a large amount of yummy golden raisins, which I don't think are included here. Curious, as Xinjiang has an abundance. This province has a reputation for fruit across China comparable to that of California in the US. Whatever the case, lunch was delicious, and who would I be to challenge grandma's recipe?

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