Archive for the ‘Xinjiang (East Turkestan)’ Category

Xinjiang Trip Day 3 (22-3-2007)

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

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After getting up I booked a ticket for the next day to Kashgar and took a walk around the Parksons department store. As you enter the supermarket pretty female Uigur security guards take your bag off you and button it up inside a larger carry bag to stop you shoplifting. The security guards all seemed to be Uighur, in contrast to the shop attendants who were mostly Han (i.e. Chinese). Maybe this is because the biggest shoplifters are Uighur, or at least the Chinese store management has this perception? Perhaps it was just coincidence though. Normally I find supermarkets in strange cities quite interesting to wander around, but the one under Parkson’s in Wulumuqi was simply a typical Chinese supermarket but with far less stuff than in the coastal Chinese cities. The beer section didn’t seem to have a single imported beer!

Next I went to climb the hill in Wulumuqi’s Hongshan Park. The hill was crowned with a typical Qing Dynasty pagoda and temple. Neither was especially interesting, but in the temple complex there was a tower containing an exhibition with interesting old photographs of the area, as well as some models comparing Qing and modern Wulumuqi. I had been hoping to get a view over the surrounding desert and the Tianshan mountains in the distance from the top of the tower, but given the dust and pollution there was little to see.

I went for a walk around the center of town in the afternoon and ended up in one of the bizarre coffee shops that Chinese entrepreneurs with a creative bent occasionally dream up. This one was called ‘The Greek Posthouse’ and the entrance was shaped like a giant dragon’s mouth. You walked through the dragon’s mouth and down a staircase. The staircase crossed a small pond and there was a sprung step shaped to look like a bamboo raft that gave an unsettling wobble as you crossed it. Eventually you ended up in a basement where an attendant greeted you and led you past a Harley Davidson style motorbike (naturally) and a couple of pool tables, after which you reached the main seating area. Each table was set in its own little grotto, hidden behind curtains, and was decorated with wall frescos in a range of styles. The inspiration mostly seemed to come from the Buddhist cave art in Dunhuang, but there were also scenes with a Renaissance or religious flavor. The bathroom was decorated as a sort of Aladdin’s cave, with the floor and walls encrusted with colored glass. The urinals contained enamel nudes. The waitress noticed me suffering sensory overload and reassured me that the decor was “western style, like in your country”. She then handed me a menu.

I bypassed the zodiac drinks – 12 unique creations, specially designed to be astrologically compatible with the drinker – and went for a Brazilian coffee. The coffee was good and offered no surprises. That is, it came in a standard coffee cup rather than say a jewel encrusted goblet or a skull mug. I pulled out my computer and worked for a couple of hours.

After leaving the Greek Posthouse I had dinner at the promising looking Uigur restaurant I had seen behind the Erdaoqiao Bazaar. I think this place was called Aile (爱乐) in Chinese. I had a single massive kebab made from lamb on the bone, accompanied by salad and a few Uigur style boiled and baked lamb dumplings. Pretty much all Uigur food includes lamb in some form or another. The seasonings are also limited. Kebabs are either unseasoned or seasoned with a fairly uniform spice mix. Besides that there is a light pepper seasoning used in dumplings and soups, and a tomato, pepper, garlic and onion sauce used in noodle dishes and to moisten naan bread. I have missed a few things but that is pretty much it.

While sitting in this restaurant I noticed something that made eating in Xinjiang very different to eating in Uigur restaurants in Shanghai. None of the Uigur restaurants I had been in had served alcohol, and nor did they permit smoking. This resulted in a scene that was very different to that in a Shanghai Uigur restaurant. Shanghai Uigur restaurants are normally full of Chinese getting rowdy on Xinjiang black beer, while the waiters and waitresses put on an impromptu floor show and pull customers out of their chairs to dance. The Wulumuqi Uigur restaurants were sedate in comparison.

Xinjiang Trip Day 2 (21-3-2007)

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

The next morning (the 21st) my first stop was the Xinjiang Autonomous Region Museum where I wanted to see the mummified bodies of early Sogdian(?) settlers of the Xinjiang region. The Sogdians were a Caucasian group who lived in Xinjiang before either the Uigur or the Chinese. Unfortunately the museum turned out to be closed for renovations, or possibly simply closed for winter, nobody was quite sure. Not seeing the mummies was very disappointing and maybe I will have to go back sometime to see them.

Having had no luck at the museum I headed down to the Uigur Bazaar at Erdaoqiao. The Bazaar was split into about three different sections, two of them somewhat touristy, and one catering mostly for Uigurs. The truly Uigur parts of the market mostly dealt in clothes, cosmetics and rugs. The touristy sections sold factory produced Uigur handicrafts, the usual Chinese tourist market fare of jade and fake antiques, and a range of local specialty foods, including nuts, dried fruits, herbal teas, etc.

During my tour of the market I tried a Uigur restaurant for lunch. Thus after years of eating in Uigur run restaurants in Shanghai and Beijing, I had my first genuinely Uigur meal. Somebody told me that Uigurs prefer to be spoken to in English than Chinese when dealing with foreigners. I tried this and got nowhere. The waitress’s Chinese was fine and ordering in Chinese was not a problem, though the restaurant didn’t seem to have a Chinese menu. I got a plate of square noodles covered in a tomato, pepper, onion and lamb sauce. The food was good and much the same as Uigur food I’d eaten before.

After finishing at the market I dropped by Fubar to check my e-mail using their free wireless Internet. From Fubar I headed back to the Uigur area, this time a street called (I think) Shanzi Gang (山子港) for dinner. The dinner was average. The restaurants along that particular street are recommended as the most authentic Uigur restaurants in Wulumuqi, but most of them serve a limited menu and are kind of dirty. I think I had noodles and lamb kebabs. Taking a walk afterwards I came across a much nicer looking restaurant on a street behind the Erdaoqiao Market. The meat looked excellent and was sitting in a covered cabinet out the front of the restaurant (instead of tossed all over a table on the street). Unfortunately by that stage I was full so I just headed back to Fubar for a quick drink and then went back to my hotel.

Xinjiang Trip Day 1 (20-03-2007)

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

I recently left Shanghai to move back to New Zealand for a while. After posting a few boxes of things home and passing my cocktail bar on to a friend, I bought a one way ticket to Xinjiang (East Turkestan) and set out to do a little traveling round western China. The plan was to spend a month or so exploring western China, where I’ve never been, before heading home to New Zealand.

I arrived in Wulumuqi, capital of Xinjiang, late on the 20th after a predictably delayed China Eastern flight. The flight was actually a Shanghai-Beijing flight via Wulumuqi, a strange route given that Wulumuqi is a good five hours flying time west of both Beijing and Shanghai. There was a moment of amusement a few hours into the flight as an anxious local salary man asked the flight attendant what time we would be arriving in Beijing. He did not look happy on receiving the answer “tomorrow”.

Despite arriving in the evening it was still light as I headed into town. The whole of China sets its clocks to Beijing time, meaning the hours of light and darkness become a little strange in Xinjiang. The local Uigur people sometimes use an unofficial “xinjiang time”, two hours slower than Beijing time. The need for this “Xinjiang time” becomes especially obvious in Kashgar, which must be roughly a thousand kilometers to the west of Wulumuqi.

As the taxi drove me into town I found Wulumuqi slightly more Uigur than I expected. For example Uigur script replaced Pinyin (romanized Chinese) as the second language on a lot of road signs. The city still had a typical Chinese flavor though, with the usual Chinese style high rises, as well as some Qing Dynasty pavilions dotting the central park. Uigurs completely dominated the part of town around the Erdaoqiao Bazaar, but the rest of the city was Chinese with a heavy sprinkling of Uigurs and a few other minorities (Khazaks, Uzbeks, Russians, etc.).

From the airport I dropped my stuff of at a hotel (the Peacock Hotel or something similar) and then headed straight to Fubar, Xinjiang’s first foreign owned bar, set up by the very helpful Jonathan from New Zealand. Fubar had an impressive selection of beers for a city as remote as Wulumuqi, with Chimay, Duvel, Kostritzer, Beamish, Boddingtons, Coopers (including the excellent stout), Hoegarden and more. I had a few Kostritzer and a massive plate of fish and chips. The chips were a touch oily but overall I was impressed – after all, Wulumuqi is thousands of kilometers from the nearest ocean. Johnathan gave me suggestions on places to check out in Xinjiang and I decided to visit Kashgar and Yining, then start traveling back towards China proper by following the silk road through Turpan, Dunhuang, Jiayuguan and Lanzhou. After that I wasn’t sure what the plan would be but I thought I would probably go to Sichuan.