Milk Tea

Kazakh Children outside our Yurt
Kazak Children
outside our Yurt
May 21, 2006

Much of my recent time has been spent showing Bonnie B. around Urumqi. Unfortunately for her trip, Urumqi has seen unseasonably cool temperatures and rain well into May.

I had hoped that Bonnie's visit would coincide with fair weather. During summer the streets of Urumqi are full of people out well after dark. Families are often out with their children. Locals take advantage of decent weather to sit outside, sip beer, eat kebabs, shop around the various night markets, and play dubious games of skill to win prizes. One common game is to roll a hoop towards packs of cigarettes or cheap toys laid in lines along a sidewalk. To win the item, the hoop must fall exactly around the object, encircling it entirely.

There wasn't much of that sort of atmosphere while Bonnie was in town. In spite of the cool weather, we did manage to see a fair amount. We took a night in a Kazakh yurt in nearby mountains south of the city. We went with friends for massages and foot washes on three separate occasions. Bonnie made solo adventures to some of the attractions in areas outside of Urumqi, including a day in Turfan and a day at Heaven Lake.

Since she returned to Seattle about a week ago, I've spent my time getting back into the routine of my Urumqi existence: attending class, baking cheesecakes, and playing Frisbee Saturday afternoons. I ditched a fair amount of class while Bonnie was in town, but have since been attending more regularly.

I'm still torn as to whether I should continue to attend my Persian class. There are so many reasons in favor of attending: I do intend to travel to Iran sometime within a year or so, which makes continuing on seem logical. I don't have to pay anything extra to the university to take part. The entire class is made up of Uighur faculty and graduate students, so the teacher uses Uighur as the medium of instruction. I'm not taking a Uighur class this term, but have found the Persian class to be doing a lot for my Uighur abilities.

Shahnaz & Hookah However, the class is getting to a point where I will have to take time to prepare the lessons if I'm going to continue. I've managed to coast along just fine without preparation since the beginning of the semester--I can see that I won't be able to do that much longer. I've also realized that even the six hours per week I attend that class mean less focus on Chinese, the language I'm theoretically concentrating on this term.

I did make it to the last class session, but might just call that my final day of Persian.

I'm getting a bit more competent in Chinese. I actually had my most enjoyable class yet last week: our reading text described a certain type of puzzle, where a sentence laden with puns describes a certain Chinese character. Such sentences cannot be read literally, the clues come from the shapes of the characters used and implied meanings. I found solving this sort of puzzle to be exactly like deciphering the clues in a "Cryptic Crossword" puzzle.

It was a welcome change to have engaging content. Previous texts had been about boring topics, such as the increase in the percentage of elderly people among China's population in recent decades.

Below are a couple of puzzles, taken from the text. To solve them, it's necessary to come up with the one Chinese character which is being implied. Readers who are familiar with Chinese can send me e-mail if they would like the answers.

  1. 有土可种庄稼,
  2. 人多一点

Shahnaz called from Beijing a few days ago. There's surely no prize for predicting that she would break up with whichever boyfriend she might presently have. I did feel a bit surprised though, when she called to let me know that she had just dumped her boyfriend then gone and bought herself a hookah. I had speculated three months ago that a break-up over such differences might be in the cards, but hadn't expected it to happen in such a connected manner.

Meengday and I have been spending more time together. Whenever I come over to her flat she prepares milk tea, a beverage which neither the Chinese nor the Uighurs drink. She makes it in the Mongolian style: various powders are first placed into the teacup, then drenched with boiling milk tea. I'm not sure what all goes into the cup. One of the ingredients seems to be a sort of dry, crumbly, sour cheese. Another might be some sort of grain. Whatever does go into the tea, the taste is delicious--I'm happy to have something a little different from what I generally find available around Urumqi.

Meengday Prepares Milk Tea
Meengday Prepares
Milk Tea
I've noticed that elements of language which I find exotic and difficult to comprehend are second nature to Meengday, while certain things I find ordinary and routine befuddle her. Cases in point: