David reads this current entry, Don't Mess with Juicy, aloud 5.2 MB

2005.05.23 Urumqi, China

Honk, honk!
David and Rahila
eat smoked goose
It's been a pleasant weekend. It's nice to have some time to wind down after Ben and Sandra's visit, just taking it easy, visiting with friends around town.

Friday night I took dinner with Siddiqjan, an acquaintance from when I first arrived in Urumqi. Siddiq was close friends with the Ivy-League spies who lived down the hall from me while I was staying on campus. I still see him every now and then, but the lack of proximity since I moved out last year has meant we meet infrequently.

Siddiq teaches English at Xinjiang University's south campus. Over dinner he encouraged me to take a temporary teaching position there, filling in over the last five weeks of the semester. The gig would be only four hours per week, but pays fairly well. (I realized when hashing it over with Nisagul that I would make more in those four hours than she does in one month working full-time at the Fu Bar.)

Even before Siddiq asked me, I had actually been considering this sort of arrangement come autumn. Rather than paying tuition at Xinjiang University I could work a nominal amount of hours, allowing me to stay in the country legally.

I'm still mulling it over. The south campus is far enough away that commuting would be a factor. Also, I would probably have to arrive late to one of my Uighur courses, a clear drawback. Worst of all, the courses start at 9:30 Beijing time, which is in reality 7:30 A.M.. It's hard enough for me to get out of bed and attend my own courses at that hour--I'm skeptical how well I would do up in front of a class then.

Both Rahila and Nisagul stayed over Friday, making for a late night. Our standard modus operandi is to play chess over iced mochas or watch a few DVD's until the early hours of the morning. For whatever reason we did neither of these this time. I taught Rahila how to juggle, which devolved into a beanbag fight.

I spent Saturday with Naoko, introducing her to my favorite dumpling house. The location is not close, a 40-minute bus ride across town, up by the Medical University. The journey is worth it though. It's the only place I've found that fries the dumplings after they've been boiled, turning them into "pot-stickers". They have just the right combination of flavors, such as chicken/shrimp or chicken/crab couplings that are irresistible.

Saturday evening was spent with Tiffany, exploring a night market that neither of us were previously aware of. Most of the food stalls were run by Muslims, either Hui (ethnic Chinese Muslims) or Uighurs. We sat down over crispy mutton, liver kebabs, and large drafts of local beer.

After dinner Tiffany and I wandered around the shopping stalls of the night market, looking for interesting t-shirts. It's hard for either of us to find clothing that will actually fit our western bodies but the English on what people wear around here makes the shirt worth buying, regardless. I was particularly looking for two designs I saw worn on girls in Xi'an. The first was a black t-shirt with a message in glittery silver spangled across the chest. Large block-type letters proclaimed, "DON'T MESS WITH JUICY". The second was a white shirt with pictures of red, blossoming trees. The only words on the shirt were cursive script above her right breast: "Oriental Cherry".

I couldn't find either of those shirts but did bargain with a vendor over a baseball cap proclaiming, "I JESUS", which I wore for the duration of the evening.

Tiffany and I decided to stroll to the Fu Bar after our time in the night market. In her weblog Tiffany describes an incident that took place en route. It is worth going back through previous entries on her site to get the full context--but, in short--for some reason homeless Chinese men are constantly drawn to her, running up on the street and yelling, grabbing, or swinging objects at her. She articulates the event well, so I won't restate the details. I will, though, add to her narrative: my words to the man (which he surely could not have understood) were, "Hey, you want some ice cream?"

Nisagul and I were supposed to visit Rahila's family's new place Sunday afternoon for lunch. Rahila's parents just moved up from Kashgar and are currently living together with most of their adult children in a new Urumqi flat. (It's fairly common for people here to live with their parents until they get married, regardless of age.) While I'd like to meet her parents some day I was secretly glad that Rahila cancelled lunch earlier that morning, allowing me extra hours of sleep.

Nisagul guards entry to the Hookah Room
Nisagul guards entry
to the Hookah Room

Nisagul and I instead took lunch at Sabbath, a Brazilian spot frequented by Urumqi's nouveaux riches. It's clear who's making the money out in Xinjiang: while all food is halal, the diners have consistently been Han Chinese whenever I've visited.

It was a bit ironic to look around at the other customers when a Brazilian band took the stage. "How can they not move during such a beautiful song?" Nisagul wondered aloud. Nisagul was the only one swaying and dancing while the Chinese sat stiffly in their seats. "If only Rahila were here now," she continued. "We'd be together on the floor, dancing like crazy."

I've found the kinds of dance my Uighur friends love impressive, if unexpected. There are traditional local styles that they can all do beautifully, but Rahila's favorite dances are waltz and salsa. Nisagul is a hip-hop fan.

"If only you could dance," Nisagul went on. I don't know whether I actually blushed, but did feel ashamed that I was essentially in the same inert state as the Chinese at the other tables. We made a bargain that if she would teach me some basic steps I would take them both to dinner at Sabbath some future night.

I think I'll be getting the better end of the deal on that one.