adventures in the people's republic of china and beyond

Sunday, November 11, 2007


The Uyghur Mullet

We spent our last day in Urumqi hanging around downtown, just walking around. If you walk down from the Erdaoqiao market, there's an impressive mosque and a lot of Uyghur music stores, groceries, and restaurants. We had lunch around here in another fancy Uyghur place, although I think the waiters were dressed up as a different minority, Kazakhs maybe?

These buns are covered in honey and filled with something like mincemeat. The white drink is ayrun, which is basically watery, salty, sour yogurt.

Nothing like some grape cough syrup to quench your thirst on a hot day.

We stopped into an Ihlas to buy some drinks, and I noticed an Uyghur grape drink I'd seen commercials for last night. Watch the commercial on Youtube. I took a swig, expecting something like Welch's, only to get a mouthful of grape-flavored cough syrup!! I'm not sure if the drink is actually cough syrup, or if they just use the same artificial flavorings. It's weird how we've accepted certain artificial flavors to be "grape" or "banana" although they taste nothing like the real thing.

A neighborhood barbershop.

Out here in Urumqi, folks play western Chess instead of xiangqi, but they crowd around to watch just the same. By the way, the game those men are playing is Xinjiang Square Chess(新疆方棋). It's a variant of the square chess(方棋) games played in Ningxia, Gansu, and Shaanxi provinces, and is similar to Nine Men's Morris. You can read more about it here.

If you walk into the residential areas, you'll find a lot of Uyghur barbershops, neighborhood mosques, and people sitting outside playing cards and board games. I have no idea why the haircutting business is so popular in downtown Urumqi, but their signs are quite entertaining, as you can see:

The infamous Uyghur Mullet, top right. Sported by about 95% of 15 to 25-year old Uyghur males.

The local Special Police(特警) station, conveniently located next to a neighborhood mosque. The Special Police are the equivalent of US SWAT teams. We actually saw these guys in action cordoning off an area when we passed through town later on.

Another neighborhood mosque.

A Chinese mosque. Maybe it's for the local Hui?

After enjoying some homemade icecream in a local cafe, we set out in search of the Foreign Languages Bookstore, in the hopes that they would sell an Uyghur textbook other than the useless pink-covered one. By now I'd gotten familiar with the bus system, so we rode all the way to the skyscraper-covered uptown area.

Uptown Urumqi.

It took a bit of walking before we found the place, which turned out to have another Uyghur textbook, "Uyghur for the masses"(大众维语). This one turned out to be fairly decent, having a more structured approach than the pink phrasebook.

The bus for Kucha was leaving soon, and I was unfamiliar with the area, so we tried hailing a taxi. It was one of those days when all the taxis that pass you by happen to be taken. Finally, after about 15 minutes of trying to hail taxis, an Uyghur fellow driving a Santana blasting techno music stopped in front of us. He wasn't driving a taxi, but waved for us to get in anyway. "I was here yesterday trying to hail a taxi too", he told us.

At the bus station, we thanked the guy and handed him 10 kuai for the ride (you generally pay for hitchhiking in China). Waiting for the bus, an Uyghur man in his 40s eyed Rebecca and grinned at me.
"Your girlfriend?"
"Very beautiful! She is French?"
"No"(for some reason, many Uyghurs think Rebecca is French)
"Ah! Your girlfriend very young! 18 years old?" he grinned, thumping me on the shoulder. It certainly wouldn't be the last time I got complimented on my girlfriend in Xinjiang!

Next: Kucha and the Subash ruins


I've been reading your blog after stumbling over it recently, and have greatly enjoyed your stories and style (even though it makes me regret missing things when I was in the area and unwilling to spend on private cars to sights outside cities). I think that "cough syrup" is actually black currant juice, which was actually my favourite drink in Xinjiang (other brands are better, though). If you think it's bad, you should have tried the jujube juice.


Thanks Bryce! Wow, it's been over 7 years since I was last in Xinjiang...too long... I have been cooking Xinjiang food at home to remind me of the taste, but of course, some food is impossible to the nan breads... or hand-pulled lagman...


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