2004.08.16 Urumchi, China

Nisagul, Marhaba, Yasin, and Aaron

I believe I'm currently maintaining more of a social life than ever before. The past couple weeks have found me with others every night, either hosting; hanging out; dining out; studying together; or visiting with people all over Urumchi.

This is partly owing to those three UW students having moved into the same dormitory with me. I'm also getting to know more of the non-missionary expatriates around town. (The missionaries are generally nice people, but tend to socialize only with local folks and each other.) There is a private school here, English First, which employs a dozen native English speakers at their Urumchi location. Matthew's girlfriend Catherine teaches there, and in many ways she and I share common, yet opposite ground. She too is half-Cantonese, though on account of her mother. (I owe that distinction to my father's side.) She speaks perfect American English, but was raised in Hong Kong--I grew up in the U.S. I've also been spending more time with New Zealander Jonathan. Australian Ivy-League spy David and I caught up over the past few days while he was here on his way back from Samarkand. I think it must be time for a second Cast of Characters entry.

I see Uighur friends often. A couple nights ago Aaron and I went out to karaoke with Shahnaz, who--after four weeks in the hospital--seems hale and hearty enough to smoke and drink once again. I spent this evening with Shamsiya, her last night in Urumchi before a three week visit back to her hometown of Ghulja. (Alert readers of my updates will recognize her as the one I give guitar lessons throughout my gallery pages.)

I haven't yet moved: that should happen on the 25th, which is right around the final day of the intensive Uighur summer session. In some ways I wish I could move earlier: if the other UW Uighur students were to accompany, even for a brief time, that would produce plenty of fodder for future entries.

I'm in one of those happy phases of learning when everything seems to be gelling. This past month I've become far more articulate speaking Uighur. I can now spit out so much more than before. During the last class, conversation instructor Gul-Chehra expressed surprise, asking me just how this leap happened so quickly. It's funny she should have to ask: I have to attribute much of my progress to her instruction. She enunciates clearly and slowly, with a certain motherly demeanor which makes awkward conversation impossible.

After bidding farewell to Shamsiya this evening, Aaron and I went out for dessert. Summertime finds men around the Uighur parts of town churning ice cream by hand, creating a buttery, sweet treat. Aaron and I went to one the branches of Avral, a local restaurant known for its ice cream. We wound up spending an hour or so chatting (in Uighur) with the owner, an ethnic Uzbek and shrewd businessman. He outlined his plans for expansion, breaking down his anticipated profit over the next ten years. (I'm seldom interested in talking about business, but this was a great opportunity to practice listening and conversational skills.) He's in the process of opening up a new restaurant in the Grand Bazaar--International Ice Cream--which will import Häagen-Dazs, Italian gelato, and other delicacies from Europe. He hopes to undercut the other chi-chi places around town by offering everything on the menu for a flat 7 RMB. His new location won't open until April, but I'll surely be frequenting it once it's in business.

My right hand has nearly healed. I'd say its regained 95% of it's pre-injury functionality. The wrist is still stiff and weak, so strumming a guitar or standing on my hands is awkward. I have returned to working out at the campus gym, but don't have the same flexibility. More importantly though, my fingers have regained their former level of dexterity. I can finger-pick an instrument as before, and my handwriting is indistinguishable from what it was prior to the accident. I had previously worried that being able to play music and write calligraphy might be completely lost, but that, happily, is not the case.