adventures in the people's republic of china and beyond

Saturday, October 20, 2007


An evening in Urumqi

From the bookstore, we took a bus all the way down to the Erdaoqiao market. I mentioned before the streets of Urumqi are confusing - there are two long roads that connect uptown and downtown, and we hopped on a line heading all the way down. The bus was quite new and had announcements in both Chinese and Uyghur. I wasn't too sure where to get off, but seeing all the golden-domed mosques around, I figured we were in the area.

The Erdaoqiao market was indeed touristy, but the general area is fun to walk around - it's hard to describe, but there's a nice big-city atmosphere that's different from other Chinese cities. Lots of Uyghur pop music like Shahrizoda and Zulpikar being blasted from CD shops, vendors selling things all around, lots of Uyghur faces to be seen strolling around this area.

An urban mosque.

Busy street near the market.

Get your Uyghur Disco right here!

Walking further down the main street, you can walk down the stairs into a small underground shopping mall and cross the road. Climbing back up on the other side, you'll hit an area with lots of Uyghur music stores, restaurants, and a couple big mosques. There were plenty of fashionable young Uyghurs walking around dressed much less conservatively than their Turpan counterparts. I've never been to Turkey, but I imagined this is what it would be like. I went into a music shop and bought a CD that looked fun - "Uyghur Disco."

We noticed a nice-looking Uyghur restaurant and stepped inside. I don't know what it is, but the Uyghurs have a way with making restaurants cozy - there's just something different in how they're laid out compared to Chinese restaurants. You might say they're more Western in style - built around corridors and wallside booths, rather than large rooms filled with tables and chairs. We had the dapanji, which is a large plate of chicken cooked with potatoes and bellpeppers in a savory-sweet sauce. It's a great hearty dish and the semi-crisp potatoes in the sauce is a special treat. I also tried narun, which I was curious about after seeing it on menus before, but it wasn't very interesting - just beef and noodle soup (think Campbell's, not niuroulamian).

Delicious dapanji, a regional specialty (ask Urumqi-ers where they eat theirs)

Narun may sound like an exotic Central Asian dish, but it's just beef noodle stew. I suppose every culture has to have their obligatory boring dish.

After dinner, we strolled around some more, walking into an Arman supermarket, another Uyghur grocery chain. We were surprised at the bakery with all manner of Uyghur pastries, and bought a couple cookies to take home. We headed back up the street, passing the market area, where there were lots of night vendors set up hawking all sorts of things. A young Uyghur garment seller waved some underpants in the air like a flag, shouting out "five kuai, five kuai!" We grabbed some watermelon, then jumped into a taxi, angering some Uyghur youths who had been waiting for a cab.

Arman and Ihlas are the two major Uyghur supermarket chains.

Arman Cakes, your one-stop shop for Central Asian pastries. Do Uyghur supermarkets actually sell anything besides pastries, candy, dried fruit, and that cough syrup drink?

Our taxi driver was the highlight of the night. He was quite talkative and spoke Chinese better than most Uyghurs I'd met. He asked if I was from Beijing, if Rebecca was French(many Uyghurs think Rebecca is French for some reason). We chatted about Urumqi, about dapanji, and about American cars.
"Do they have Santana in America?", he asked, pointing at the dashboard. For some reason, all
cars in Xinjiang are Santanas.

The Aksaray hotel.

The discussion shifted to our home countries. The driver laughed and said "I could pass for a German!", turning the rearview mirror to show his smiling face. Minus the embroidered square cap, he did resemble a fortysomething Western European. He taught us a few Uyghur phrases - yakhshim siz(how are you) and mening ismim(my name is...). I didn't quite catch his name, but I believe it was something like Mumin Jan. Our taxi driver friend let us off at the hotel with an English "t'ank you very much" and sped off into the night.

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