2005.06.18 Urumqi, China

An introduction to the hookah, after hosting dinner for the family of a classmate

This last week has been pretty slack. All of my instructors were asked to proctor college entrance examinations, which meant rescheduling our meeting times to some future date. Given how things operate for foreign students at Xinjiang University I don't know whether those make-up classes will actually take place. I'm not sure I care. Despite having paid tuition, despite feeling that the courses are still beneficial, it is the end of the school year. It's been another year, the sun is out, and my brain is full.

I'm not sure what brought it about, but something in my outlook has shifted in the last couple weeks. I still feel content living here, spending my time exploring languages, calligraphy, and the region itself. However, I no longer see my existence in Xinjiang as so open-ended. I've realized that regardless whether remaining time is measured in months or years, my stay here will be finite.

I think this mental re-orientation has motivated me to devote more time to areas of interest recently. I've been spending every day practicing calligraphy and listening to Uighur-language radio. I'm finally feeling a strong sense of ability in those areas. My spoken Uighur is broken, but I am expressive and am able to comprehend a lot. I've only now felt comfortable sharing glimpses of my artwork with local and foreign friends. Perhaps it's owing to this new sense of competence that I have started to contemplate life beyond Xinjiang.

I'm not sure where I'll move on to. My application for residence in Canada is currently in the early stages of review. I'm sure that will be a slow process, even if everything proceeds smoothly. I'm also preparing myself for the unexpected: perhaps there will be requests for additional documentation or other unanticipated delays. I'm hoping that the final stages of that process coincide with the point in time when I'm ready to move on from Xinjiang, allowing me to head straight to Vancouver.

I still have no timeline, though suspect I will leave at some point in early 2006. I'd like to head west when I go, taking some months to travel overland to Europe. It might be best to wait for spring, allowing travel across some of the mountain passes that separate borders along that journey.

Yesterday afternoon Nisagul and I prepared for her upcoming English test over iced-mochas at Eversun Coffee. Sharing one study-guide, I read the English passages upside-down, Nisagul sat across the table with the text correctly oriented. I was disturbed to find that I can no longer read English quickly when the words are flipped. Letters that form other sounds when turned about slowed me down. I would often stammer, having to mentally transpose from "q" to "b", or from "n" to "u".

I realize that the ability to read upside-down quickly is a dubious skill to have. What bothered me was that I was always able to do it before without effort, the infrequent times I happened to try. Finding difficulty where it never previously existed felt like a tangible example of deterioration.

To further compound the sense that I'm no longer as sharp as before, I found myself unable to pinpoint the names of two of the old standards played as background music at the coffeehouse. It was an annoying tip-of-the-tongue sensation, knowing that the knowledge was somewhere in my head yet I was unable to access it. I did feel somewhat relieved when, after obsessing for several minutes, I finally got both of them: Dream a Little Dream and As Time Goes By.

To balance my fears of mental deterioration, I have been happy to find that my physical condition isn't as poor as I thought. The weekly Ultimate Frisbee match has continued; these days I can no longer run circles around everybody but am still in competitive form, able to toss the disc far and leap high above others to bring down a long catch.


I took dinner with Mahira last night. It was the first time she and I spent time together without anybody else along. I'm still not sure what I feel: I could dismiss my reason for spending time with her as opportunity for Uighur language practice, or just meeting up with another of my various Urumqi friends. But the conversation felt date-like, very much getting-to-know-you. That could have been owing to the limitations in my speaking ability. Or, the fact that we still scarcely know each other. Still, it was pleasant in that certain way getting to know somebody new can be. I shall have to contemplate...

While taking the bus home yesterday evening I was excited to see a woman wearing a nonsensical English T-shirt I had not previously seen. At first glance I thought it was some sort of Hallowe'en design, as it was a black shirt with large patches of orange and green. On closer examination I found that the orange areas were hearts, flourished by swooshy green designs. White text in blocks repeated two phrases. Both the patterns and the text were upside-down. The text read:


The shirt actually wasn't that weird compared to many others I've been seeing these days. Two weeks ago I was on my way to play Frisbee when a slender teenager walked past me, wearing a shirt I'm sure she couldn't understand:

feels good