Party!

We invited several of our Uyghur friends over for an Easter party, complete with egg dyeing and an Easter egg hunt – in our living room. :-)

Whenever you get a group of Uyghurs together, it’s not a complete party unless there’s music and dancing. Our party was complete. :-)

Below are the links to two of the songs that we played and sang at our party. As you will see, it was an interesting mixture of Uyghur and American culture. And they sure had fun using their cell phone cameras to videotape each other!

Ap AkhCountry Roads

Uyghur Noruz Party (or, “Is he a Uyghur or a foreigner?”

Today I attended a Noruz party with several of our Uyghur friends. Noruz is the Uyghur New Year, and it always takes place on the first day of spring. Yes, I know, today is April 1, and the first day of spring this year was March 20. However, this is Xi’an, not Xinjiang, and most of the Uyghurs who live here are students, far away from their home in Xinjiang. So they organize their New Year celebration whenever they can.

This particular Noruz party was held at Jiaotong University across town. When I first heard about the party, I just wanted to go see what it was like. But once some of my Uyghur friends knew that I wanted to go, they wanted me to not only come watch but also play my dutar for the party, and they wouldn’t take no for an answer! As if I tried very hard to say no. :-)

I had attended several events like this while we lived in Kashgar, so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what it was going to be like. Nope, wrong assumption! The biggest difference that I found was that me and one of my Uyghur friends were the only two people who were wearing a doppa, a decorative Uyghur skullcap. That was a big surprise to me, since just about everyone who attended a party in Kashgar wore a doppa.

Another difference was that I, one of the very few foreigners attending the party in the midst of a sea of Uyghurs, was the only one who played a traditional Uyghur musical instrument. Oh, there were lots of songs performed, but all of the other songs were sung with an accompaniment track (think karioke), no live instruments. Maybe the circle of friends that I had in Kashgar were more musical than most, but I don’t think so.

Since we arrived several hours early, we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and practice outside on the grass. It wasn’t too long before we attracted a small crowd of Chinese students who wanted to listen to the Uyghur music. It was interesting in an amusing kind of way to overhear some of their comments, “Are they all Uyghurs?” “I don’t know.” “I think maybe the old one (referring to me) is a foreigner.” “No, I don’t think so.” The same thing happened when we went to a small restaurant on campus for dinner. Most people just assumed that I was a Uyghur.

It’s hard to describe what I was feeling during the whole day today. For pretty much the whole time that we’ve lived in China, one of the most difficult things to bear, day in and day out, is the fact that I’m always seen as the different one, the foreigner. Most days it’s not a big deal, I can make a joke about it with kids who point at me and say, “Lao wai!” (old outsider, meaning foreigner). I sometimes point right back and say with a smile, “Xiao nei!” (little insider). But sometimes it gets to you, and you just yearn to fit in.

Today, I felt like I almost fit in with my Uyghur friends. Almost.

Choka Tal Festival (or, “I love you, so stand still so I can hit you!”)

Tonight I went with a Uyghur friend to a restaurant on the other side of Xi’an that was supposed to have good Uyghur food. The food turned out to be okay, but the company was great.

As we discussed many different topics, he told me about a traditional Uyghur holiday called Choka Tal Festival. This festival takes place around the time when the willow trees put out its new growth in long slender switches, called “tal” in Uyghur. Apparently, the way the Uyghur boys celebrate this festival is that each boy breaks off one of these long switches, goes to find the girl he likes, and proceeds to whip her with the switch!

Obviously, since the switch is new and tender, it doesn’t hurt at all. After all, it’s supposedly intended to be a way for the boy to show the girl that he likes her. My friend told me that he distinctly remembers the first time that he did this, when he was in junior high. After he expressed his admiration to the girl he liked, she went out, found a bigger switch, and proceeded to beat him with it! He said, “The first time I tried, and I failed miserably!” :-)

Hmm…maybe he should have woven the switch into a circle and given it to her as a wreath to put on her head instead of beating her with it. But then, you never know. Maybe she was just returning the admiration!

Holiday Travel In China

Here’s a quote from the China Daily, one of the two English language newspapers published in China, on Jan. 4, 2012:

“China’s railways are expected to carry 235 million passengers during the coming Spring Festival travel season, a year-on-year increase of 6 percent, which means an average of nearly 5.9 million people will travel by rail every day. However, the average daily capacity of the country’s railway system is about 3.8 million.”

So how much room do you think there’s going to be on the trains in China during this holiday season? :-)

A Team Christmas

For the first time in our married lives, Wendy and I were not able to spend Christmas with our children. Our children. Hmm…Yes, they ARE our children, but now that they’re not with us this Christmas, it’s hit home more forcefully that they really are all grown up and on their own now. Which makes us all the more thankful for our surrogate family – our wonderful teammates.

Our whole team had a great time exchanging gifts with each other…

…and we were even able to tie in our team this year with so many previous years, by having them all sign our Christmas tablecloth.

Even though we couldn’t share this Christmas with our children, we have MUCH to be thankful for!

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas!

Several students came over to our apartment to help Wendy make the first batch of Christmas cookies of the season, and to help me put up our tree. Okay, it wasn’t much of a job to put together the three different sections of our fake tree, but it sure was fun for everyone!