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 (çˆ±ä¹) 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.