adventures in the people's republic of china and beyond

Saturday, October 06, 2007


Turpan, day 2

Freshly baked nan bread.

After I had recovered from heatstroke, Rebecca began feeling quite sick and had a craving for juice. I was pretty hungry, so I went out on the town to do some shopping.

I picked up a nan bread, and noticed that in front of the market there was a stand with a sign advertising fresh homemade yoghurt! I sat down and a blue-eyed Uyghur fellow served me up the most amazing yogurt I’ve ever had.

The best yogurt ever.

First of all, the yogurt you get in Chinese supermarkets across the country is far superior to any yogurt I’ve ever tried in the US. I don’t know how to explain it – it’s just better. It probably has to do with which bacteria they use to culture it – I’ve heard that the bacteria used to make Yakult was actually taken by Japanese in WWII occupying what is now Inner Mongolia (where all Chinese yogurt is made).

But compared to inner-China yogurt, the yogurt I had in Xinjiang was heavenly. I still miss it. The guy at the stand had served me iced yogurt, a form of durap, which is yogurt but with chilled water, shaved ice, extra sugar, and sometimes syrup. It is amazingly good. So good that I bought a bottle to take back to the hotel room. I had yogurt many other times in Xinjiang, but none as good as that stand in Turpan.

Unassuming, but delicious. Note: Do not confuse with milky soggy diarrhea-inducing porridge sold by old ladies in front of market.

As I slurped down my yogurt, the yogurt guy sat down across from me and chatted a bit. He cheerfully asked me if I was a Northeasterner, which I thought was humorous, but hey, I’m as Han Chinese as they come. I have to say, it was a pretty good feeling being the most standard speaker of Mandarin Chinese around, given that people sometimes think I’m Korean back in China proper.

Xinhua bookstore. Most signs in Xinjiang are bilingual Uyghur/Chinese.

Rebecca was still feeling ill, so we decided to stay another day in Turpan for her to recover. I went for a walk on the town, checking out the Xinhua bookstore I’d seen earlier.

To my surprise, the entire first floor of the bookstore was filled with Uyghur books! Since most of the locals didn’t seem to speak much Chinese, I browsed around for a book about learning Uyghur, but was unable to find any. The shop clerk pointed me to the only book they had in stock – a pink covered book entitled “300 Uyghur Sentences.” I bought the book along with the tapes and was on my way.

Uyghur books in Xinhua Shudian.

I checked out the market some more. The yogurt stand had opened, and I sat down for another bowl of yogurt for breakfast. The Uyghur guy manning the stand, who was brown-haired, blue-eyed, and looked like he could come from Omaha, beamed and handed me a bowl of delicious chilled yogurt.

After breakfast, I looked at flat caps in the market (none fit my big head), bought a small tape player, and ventured into an Uyghur CD shop, picking up a CD of Shahrizoda’s greatest hits. Shahrizoda are an Uyghur pop group whose songs are playing constantly around Xinjiang, especially this one (youtube link).

Cooking polo!

I ducked into a hole-in-the-wall for lunch, noticing a big batch of polo cooking outside. Uyghur food is largely noodle and bread-based, but they do have some traditional rice dishes like polo. Polo is a pilaf made with liberal amounts of butter and some vegetables (carrots and melons I think). They cook one big batch in a huge wok outside, and once it’s gone, it’s gone – so polo is usually eaten for lunch. If you pay a few extra kuai, they throw a big hunk of fatty lamb meat on top of your plate. Delicious and bad for your health, like most Uyghur food.

The picture turned out blurry, but I like it all the same.

I walked around the city some more in the afternoon, but it was terribly hot, and the streets seemed to get deserted during the hottest hours of the day – I guess people took naps or stayed inside. I didn’t see much, though I did walk down a long walkway lined with grapes (pictured), and pass a few empty public squares. The city really doesn’t have all that much to see, I suppose.

I’m usually not aware of my ethnicity in China, but here in Xinjiang it felt a little apparent again, as I was the most obviously Han Chinese, Beijing-accented person around. I suppose it’s how white people in the US feel when they walk around minority neighborhoods. I felt a little bad speaking in Mandarin to Uyghurs, many of whom have trouble speaking Chinese, but hey, at least I bought the 300 Uyghur phrases book! (more on the book later)

Grape walkway

Speaking of Han-Uyghur relations, having spent three weeks in Xinjiang, as a "Han" Chinese, I honestly did not see any of the hostility claimed by the Lonely Planet guidebook or various Western activist websites. Everyone was nice to me, at least.

Later that day, Rebecca had recovered and we were off to see the Jiaohe ruins and the Emin minaret. But that'll have to wait until next post...

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