Thursday, August 31, 2006
We have left the smoggy dirty Chinese cities for the province of Xinjiang, China's silk road. But before we get to that, a bit on Xi'an, our previous stop, and home to the famous terracotta warriors. Xi'an has a unique Moslem community that dates back thousands of years, thus the flavor of the city was a bit different than Beijing and Pingyao. We strolled through the Moslem quarter and the rest of the city's sites, but were really in awe at the size and scope of the city's shopping malls (see photo below). New Jersey pales in comparison to the size and scope of these new fancy shopping malls. Almost every block has them and all are packed with chinese consumers. The next day, we headed out to the terracotta warriors - a Chinese peasant discovered these clay creations in the 70s while digging a hole. They are now well preserved and well visited by throngs of chinese and international tourists.
We decided to head West to get away from the crowds to China's Xinjiang province to see a different part of china. We flew to Urumqi, the gateway to the silk road and were greeted by the desert sunshine after several days of smoggy weather. Urumqi is a modern city, with no real tourist sites, but a pleasant city to walk around - much cleaner smelling than our previous destinations. This area is also home to China's Uighur minority, a population that is more Central Asian than Chinese. Thus, kebabs, all types of breads, figs and headscarves fill the streets. We headed to the night market for a taste of Uighur food. Two city blocks of kebab and dried fruit vendors were lined up. It was hard to figure out what part of what animal was on which stick - we had to resort to pointing on ourselves and on the chef in order to communicate. Flank meant kidney, upper abdomen meant either liver or stomach, and ribs meant, well ribs. Also on the menu was stewed goat head and entrails, as well as snails and other assorted critters. Somehow, in the worlds city farthest from the ocean, they managed to have shrimp, squid, and crab. We settled on some mushroom, eggplant, potato, and jon had some lamb and beef.
The following morning we set off for Tian Chi - Heaven's Lake. It was raining in the morning, and when we got to the bus depot late we were worried we may have missed the last bus. In a bizarre twist, we ended up on a chinese tour. It costs the same as the bus, so the additional chinese karoake, loud bickering, and confusion was free. The leader asked us to sing a song, we politely refused, and she said 'i think you not friendly'. (chinglish interpretation: you are shy). We got to the lake, the sky started to clear, and we ditched our group. We met a Kazakh guide who offered us yurt (i.e. Central Asian tent) accomodations for the night and we gladly obliged.
The lake is home to several hundred semi nomadic Kazakh, who come there for the summer and return to warmer areas in Kazakhstan the rest of the year. However, their life is not entirely primitive: our yurt had a TV / DVD! We stayed with a very nice kazakh family. On our arrival they offered us fresh milk tea, which tasted like sweaty (possibly goat) milk with a hint of tea. The matriarch of the family cooked us a dinner of handmade noodles and a central asian stew consisting of tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, leek, and lamb. For a Kazakh cooking lesson, watch the video below. We had a great time with the 8 year old daughter in our yurt that night: we taught her how to play blackjack and she taught us how to dance to kazakh and chinese pop. Though she did think me (jon) to be a very funny dancer.
We slept well in the yurt, under a pile of colorful kazakh blankets. We caught an early bus back to Urumqi and now are planning our further travels along the Silk Road. Highlights will surely included Karakul Lake, the famous bazaar in Kashgar, and Hotan. More later....
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