Mijit Pen II

San Xi Xiang
September 16, 2008

I'm back in Urumqi for a few days. Everything feels so regular again. Over lunch I've been seeing my instructors from Xinjiang University: Abdu-Shukkur, Gulchehra, Zulhayat. Yesterday, Shamsiya and I spent a lazy evening getting my hookah repaired out in the San Xi Xiang area north of the Grand Bazaar. After that we strolled down to Izhar on Consulate Road for the best homemade ice cream in Urumqi.

I've been riding the bus routes, walking the paths, and frequenting the places I went to on a regular basis in years past: it feels as though I never left Urumqi.

This afternoon I stopped by the Mijit Pen store on Tuan Jie Road. I was already in the area so figured I might as well pick up a couple more Islamic calligraphy pens. The old shopkeeper recognized me; we chatted about generalities: "Where have you been all this time? Back in America? Are you still at the university?"

I was pleased that my Uighur skills could keep up with the conversation. The shopkeeper has a thick Kashgar accent which I found hard to follow when I first met him several years ago. As we were chatting, I noticed that he kept eyeing my wristwatch.

"What's that on your watch there?", he finally asked.

"It's a compass," I replied.

"Oh!" His voice started to show the excitement I'd already detected in his eyes. "Such a thing would be very useful for my prayers."

Fortunately for me and for the Mijit-Pen-selling shopkeeper both, I bought 1,000 of these very compasses last year. I had packed a few spares along with me on this trip--for just this sort of scenario.

"Here," I offered, slipping the compass from the band of my wristwatch. "It can be worn on any watch at all. Let me see yours."

He released the clasp of his watchband; I slid the compass on.

"Do you have a sheet of paper? Of course you must have a pen handy, too."

I wrote out the cardinal directions in Uighur next to the corresponding English initials: N, W, E, & S.

The shopkeeper was grateful beyond reason. Walking out of his shop I reflected that it was a shame I hadn't packed along a few more of those compasses before setting off on this trip. They really are the perfect trinket to have handy when meeting people around Muslim areas.

Pizza at Rendezvous
Dinner tonight was a continuation of my present routine visiting with friends at places I used to frequent. Bahar and I took dinner together at Rendezvous on lower Yan An Road. Bahar has been through a lot of life change in this past year. The chief reason: she's become a mother. She's had to cut back on her hours teaching English. That's probably just as well. I recall that she really hated at least one of the classes she was teaching last year.

"How about your plans then?", Bahar asked me.

"I want to open a hookah lounge in Canada! That is, if my green card ever comes through..."

"Oh, why don't you open one in Urumqi instead? I'd love to work for you."

"What! Wait tables at some smoky hookah lounge with a bunch of drunk guys trying to hit on you? You'd really want to do that?"

"It'd be way better than teaching English at the high school. Let me know if you decide to do it. Really."

"Well. Yeah. I guess I'll think about it."

Actually, I had thought about it before. Nisagul expresses continual interest of a similar nature whenever I mention my idea of opening a hookah lounge some day. Bahar and Nisagul would be great workers and I could trust both of them implicitly. I suppose I'll have to start thinking about the other side of that conditional, "If my green card ever comes through..."

I finished the day off with a call to Lu Jun, that traveler who I met in Tibet a few years ago. Lu had sent me a text message a few days earlier saying that a colleague of his, the editor of the Overseas Chinese newspaper wants to re-publish my website updates every week. They'll lift them directly from this 'blog. Lu Jun will do the translation into Chinese; we'll split whatever the payment is. Sounds like easy money to me.

To top it all off, Meenday is sitting across from me right now, reading aloud my most recent article. The latest edition of World Vision just came in today's mail.

It's past bedtime but I feel charged. I feel like there are so many options and directions I could take. With two periodicals paying me to write about travel in China I could probably break even on expenses. Hmm. Hmm. Hmm...