Meenday's Mother

March 23, 2007

I've been neglecting my website for the silliest reason: I have written too much to post.

The last updates I posted were from Burma, a place where Internet access was restricted, making it hard to relate events as they happened. I kept a pen-and-paper diary there and wrote so much I haven't found the time to type it in and get it on-line.

I like releasing what I write chronologically, but have realized that--as it's been two months that I've been sitting on what I've written--I'd better just skip ahead to the present: I'll fill the previously written entries in later. Theoretically pieces from Beijing, Bangkok, Laos, and Burma will be snuck up sometime soon.

I am back in Urumqi, and madly busy. I've declared this to be my last semester at Xinjiang University. Even having four months of class yet, I still feel my remaining time here is short. This term I am going full-out, attending full schedules of both Chinese and Uighur language classes, as well as calligraphy tutorials for each language. Ultimate Frisbee started up again this past Wednesday, there is so much demand that we've increased the schedule to twice a week. I'm considering silkscreening shirts for the UUU: Urumqi Ultimate Union.

I just returned home from a night out (dinner followed by foot wash and body massage) with Meenday and her mother. Meenday's mom has come from their hometown of Hejin. It's a small city not far from Bayan Buluk, an area of Xinjiang where traditional Mongolian nomadic lifestyle is still the norm. I hope I can spend time in that area before I finally do leave, it sounds like a beautiful and unique corner of the planet.

The visit to Urumqi is actually because Meenday's mother needs an eye operation, so she will have to stay here--in and out of hospitals--for about two weeks. Despite the circumstances of her coming, I'm glad to have gotten to meet her and become acquainted. If nothing else, she was a nice, friendly, older woman who happened to be the mother of a close friend of mine. However, it's only now striking me how rare the two them are, not only relative to the rest of China but the entire outside world: How many people are descendants of the Mongolian armies which conquered the globe--and can still speak the language? Both Meenday and her mom are two. How many people can write that super-cool looking traditional vertical script which Mongolian used to be written in? Both Meenday and her mom can.

Mongolian Script
While the land she lives in is now very much a part of China, Meenday's mother doesn't speak Chinese very well. There just weren't very many Chinese around Xinjiang until very recently, and it was within her lifetime that the area was part of an independent country: East Turkestan. Even today, Beijing is far: all of her neighbors are Uighur, so Meenday's mom speaks that language with no hint of an accent.

The three of us took dinner at The Vine, a Caribbean restaurant which is one of Urumqi's older foreign-owned restaurants. I was impressed that she was willing to try something new: all the locals I know seem to have some issue or other with food, except the Mongolians. All of my Uighur friends have been initially hesitant to try anything not from their traditional menu, which itself lacks variety. Just the opposite is Meenday, who I've come to realize will eat anything; I hadn't presumed that flexibility would also extend to her mother. Instead, I found myself sitting across from a petite woman in her sixties, chowing down on alien dishes such as chili, pizza, and salad.

Our lack of language overlap meant that conversation was necessarily flipping into a different language whenever turning to address another person. Meenday and I spoke with each other in Chinese. Meenday's mother and I spoke with each other in Uighur. The two of them spoke with each other in Mongolian. We could all speak with each other, though not at the same time. It was a lot of fun.

Times like this make me feel I should try to squeeze study of the traditional Mongolian script and the basics of the language into my remaining months here. But if I start on that, I may well never leave Urumqi...