Monday, December 10, 2007
The Abakh Khoja tomb.
Next, we headed out to the famous Sunday market all our guidebooks had been talking about, although it wasn't Sunday. In fact, we managed to just miss the weekly market of every city we visited in Xinjiang. Before going to the market, I wanted to walk around some old neighborhoods first, so we decided to walk in the direction of the market, cutting through old neighborhoods. As you can imagine, it didn't really work.
After walking around for a while, we walked up a twisty alley only to find a red banner over an entrance and a lady in a burka standing in front holding tickets! You need to buy a ticket to see some areas of the old town, which I found quite silly, so we backtracked our steps and walked out, getting a bit lost in the process. If you see hexagonal tiles on the floor, it means it's a "through alley", but if you see square tiles, it means it's a dead end. We didn't know this at the time, so we ended up at people's front doors a couple times.
We finally got out of the old town in an unfamiliar area of the city. Lonely Planet had a map, but it wasn't a very good one. I saw some people standing around a yogurt stand, so I walked up and bought some yogurt. The yogurt they were selling here wasn't the delicious sweet yogurt they had in Turpan, but it was sour diluted yogurt-water. I tried out my Uyghur, asking "which way to the market?" The guy drinking yogurt didn't understand me. I repeated myself, stressing bazaar. He said a lot of things in Uyghur that I didn't understand and made various pointing motions, which I interpreted to be directions. This is why I don't like phrasebooks - they teach you how to ask something, but not how to understand the answer! Finally, I remembered one phrase I had learned in "301 Uyghur Sentences" - "zhirakmu?"(is it far?)
The guy nodded and waved his hand - "zhirak, zhirak, zhirak!", then suggested I take a taxi. Thanking the man, we hailed a taxi, which got us to the market in less than two minutes. Apparently our definitions of "far" differ.
Even though it wasn't the big "market day", there was still a lot going on at the market. There were tourists around, but still plenty of locals shopping for stuff. The market had everything - carpets, furs, hats, stationery, dried nuts, electronics... I didn't buy anything, although I did try to buy a tape player capable of rewinding to listen to my Uyghur phrasebook tape. Unfortunately, every tape player they were selling seemed to be broken (it's common practice to test electronic stuff before buying it).
Next, we got on a bus to the famous Abakh Khoja tomb, also known as the tomb of the fragrant concubine, 香妃. I remember reading about her in a Jinyong novel, actually - the story goes that during the Qing dynasty, the Qianlong emperor's forces found an Uyghur girl emanating a natural scent, who was sent to Beijing to become one of the emperor's concubines, and buried back in her hometown of Kashgar. I don't know much about Abakh Khoja, but he was an important Uyghur leader. Speaking of fragrances, you know the saying "you are what you eat?" After spending so much time in Xinjiang, I (normally odorless) was starting to smell a lot like lamb and yogurt.
The Abakh Khoja tomb was a pretty impressive place, as you see here. We rode the bus all the way back, getting off around the gigantic Mao statue and spending some time browsing around the local Xinhua bookstore.
We walked around a bit more and found a fancy Uyghur restaurant, complete with live music! I love these places.
In front of the restaurant, we saw one of many wedding caravans driving by - a long line of cars, led by a truck with guys in the back thumping on big drums. It seems like there are weddings going on every day in Kashgar, but maybe that's common for all cities, and it's just more apparent here! Walking back, I took a couple of night shots, which turned out nicer than I expected. Given that I have a tiny pocket camera, as opposed to those huge DSLRs that many Chinese tourists have.
Better enjoyed with sound.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
After several days of travel, we had finally made it all the way from Xi'an to Kashgar, a historic Silk Road hub and major Uyghur city lying far out in the west, near the border with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. We had arrived early in the morning on the bus from Aksu, so we checked into a cheap room at the Qini Bagh hotel and rested a bit before going out to explore the city.
Our hotel had an interesting open-air layout and used to be the British consulate, during the Great Game.
Walking out into the streets of Kashgar was like entering an entirely different country. Old balconied brick houses rose up on either side of the twisting, narrow streets. Bakers brought out delicious-smelling, freshly baked naan bread and bagels. Older women walked the streets wearing brown cloths draped over their faces, pulling the cloth tight across their face to see ahead. For the first time, I really had the feeling of being in Central Asia. We bought some samsas(kind of like samosas, but really greasy) from a vendor and ate breakfast while strolling around.
Peeling off the streets were tempting alleyways leading into old neighborhoods. We strolled into a couple, getting lost for a while in the maze of twisty alleyways. Children played in front of their houses and danced around shouting "Hello!" when we walked past. One brave boy piped up and asked me in Chinese what my name was.
"我叫王千文，你呢?"(My name's Wang Qianwen, what about you?)
The boy started to answer, then burst into laughter and ran away with his friends.
I loved walking around those old neighborhoods - as a kid I always loved mazes, and I found these neighborhoods absolutely fascinating. The architecture, especially - balconies and parts of buildings jutted out over the alley, supported by wooden beams, and sometimes even bridged over the alley! I could have walked around those neighborhoods forever, really, but we had to see the rest of the city.
We had some trouble orienting ourself - the streets of Kashgar's old town are quite twisty, and not at all like the standard grid pattern of Chinese cities. After some walking about, taking in the street life, we arrived in a large open square. On one side was the Id Kah mosque, which we had been looking for, on the other side, a huge Ihlas supermarket (the Uyghur grocery chain I'd mentioned earlier).
Although it isn't as impressive in apperance as the Kucha mosque, the Id Kah mosque is quite large inside, with a huge courtyard filled with trees and a small fish lake. Although there were mostly tourists inside, there were still a few locals using the mosque for prayers. Interestingly enough, the mosque did not appear gender-segregated - men prayed in the same area as women. We also noticed other foreign tourists around the city - not a whole lot, but definitely more than in other Xinjiang cities, where they are virtually nonexistent (except in Urumqi, maybe).
After seeing the mosque, we went across the square and stepped into a traditional-looking restaurant that had some guys grilling kebabs and making samsas outside. We sat at the same table with some Uyghur guys, who demonstrated to us how to clean your teacup properly - when Uyghurs sit down to drink tea, they normally pour a bit of tea in the cup, swish it around, and empty it into a rubbish pot. I ordered polo for both of us(what I usually get when the menu is entirely in Uyghur), trying out my Uyghur skills, much to the approval of the guys sitting across from us. Reactions of native speakers to foreigners speaking their languages really differs from culture to culture; on an excitement scale of 1-10 with the ambivalent Germans at 1 and the overjoyed Chinese at 10, Uyghurs must be at 11 - speaking a few words of the language definitely goes a long way in Xinjiang!
We walked out from the restaurant, passing a market area and walking down a street through another neighborhood. Suddenly, a man ran up behind me, calling to get my attention. It was the waiter from the restaurant - I had left my bag in there, and he'd run after me with it all this way!
The local ICBC is a popular hangout, for some reason.
We saw plenty more in Kashgar that day, but I'll save it for another post. Until next time!