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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



June 1. KASHGAR (Xinjiang) "The Sunday Bazaar" The Sunday Market in Kashgar is legendary with its hundreds of years of history as a key spot on the Silk Road.  The town itself is becoming increasingly Chinese-ified, for better and for worse.  The ugly Mao square is sadly out of place and just a reminder that Xinjiang is part of the PRC, even if they would prefer not to be, but some of the infrastructure provided by the Chinese must also make life a bit easier for the local people.  There isn't the degree of tension in the region that I experienced in the more recently acquired area of Tibet.  The Uyghur are very hospitable people and seemingly practical about their situation.  In southern Xinjiang the majority of people are by far the Uyghur people so if you keep outside the sterile and uninviting Chinese parts of town you can still imagine that you are not in China at all.  The officials and bureaucrats are mostly Chinese but many Uyghur don't even speak Chinese and persist in maintaining their own style of dress and other cultural attributes.  The Sunday Market is a stimulating example of Uyghur life.  

We started our morning by trying to go to the Caravan Cafe for a proper American-style breakfast, since it actually owned by some Americans from Idaho that now call Kashgar home.  But, the SARS situation had their hours limited to the afternoon and evening.  We caught a taxi to get to the Yeni Bazaar (Kashgar's name for its market) and it was quite evident when we had arrived.  The bazaar was across a large river from central Kashgar and the streets nearby were a chaos of pedestrians, carts, cars, and buses.  We were sure that we would never run into anyone we knew in the midst of all that but as soon as we stepped out of the cab we saw Lee.  He had been at the market for about an hour and was seeking lunch.  We joined him in the search but ultimately couldn't face shish kebab and naan (bread) that early in the day.  We were still too geared towards breakfast food so while Lee had his kebabs we wandered the covered stalls of Kashgar Bazaar.  

The official market area was rows of stalls ranging from the makeshift to the more permanent concrete boxes.  It was covered with various tarps and clothes for shade from the heat.  It sold far more than the old romantic Silk Road items of silk and spices and was fairly well organized into areas that specialized in one thing or another.  There was the dried fruits area, the medicine and teas area, the fabric area (including silk, of course), the clothing area, the scarf area, the shoe area, the doppi (Uyghur hat) area, the rug area, the hardware area, the house wares area, and the more tourist targeted knife and musical instrument areas.  It was all laid out in a grid like fashion and when we arrived (around 11am Beijing time) it still wasn't very crowded.  We were able to easily navigate the aisles and peruse the goods.  It looked like almost anything and everything was being sold.  And, thanks to the SARS situation, the market was almost entirely tourist free!

The areas that were the most fun to walk through were the fabrics and clothing, medicines and spices, doppis, and the knife and instrument areas.  The fabric area in particular had a very romantic old bazaar feel.  The area was covered in red cloth which gave off a red haze of light. Bolts of cloth were stacked high showing various shades of golds, reds, oranges, blues, and yellows.  Pieces of psychedelic Atlas silk, native to the region, were draped across the ceiling with their zigzagging myriad of colors.  The women's clothing and scarves in the adjacent aisles were equally as colorful.   For all of the dusty roads in Xinjiang the women never failed to dawn some elaborate dresses.  It was not an uncommon sight to see a women wearing a floor length, long-sleeved pink sequined dress with a colorful scarf laced with gold threads tied neatly over here head driving a donkey cart along a country road.    

The medicine and spice area was one of the more established sets of stalls but the bins of different colored teas, spices, and medicinal herbs were exotic.  There were animal heads and other parts dangling around and jars of all kinds of far flung species and their organs including seahorses, starfish, lizards, Bengal tiger paws (oh no), frogs, deer musk, etc.  We bought some Uyghur tea, a concoction of spices that included cardamom pods, rose petals and saffron, from one vendor but had to delicately explain to that some of the other items he was trying to interest us in are not legal in the United States.

The doppi is a Uyghur style hat that is worn by nearly all men everyday but certainly by all men when they visit a mosque.  They are also worn by women and children but in different styles depending on the age and gender.  Fewer adult women wear them, however, favoring a scarf to cover their heads instead.  The most ornate doppi that we saw was worn by the very young girls.  Their hair is kept very short when they are small and the solid gold sequined doppi with a gold tassel looks adorable.  Blue and pink doppis with elaborate sequin designs or colorful needle point were also seen.   There were different men's doppis as well but they were all of a similar style - green, blue, or brown threads hand woven or machine woven into various patterns.   

The musical instrument and knife areas were bunched together and had the most tourist like feel of the whole market.  The knife vendors in particular were a "salesy" bunch, touting us with great deals and cheap prices as we strolled past. The musical instruments were varied but all local string instruments that were handmade from with inlaid pieces of white and black.  Some were just model sizes made for the tourist market but the full sized instruments were impressive pieces of work.  

Outside the covered bazaar area the true chaos that seems more reminiscent of an old Central Asian bazaar stretched every which way.  A wide road had been recently constructed alongside the market that might have diminished the old feel if it hadn't been for the wet straw that was covering the concrete to keep it from drying too fast.  (It made for messy feet when you are wearing Tevas, however.)  Along this road were small restaurants and cart after cart of food vendors selling various drinks, breads, fruit, kebabs, and dumplings.  The drinks were made from yogurt or strained fruit with ice scraped off of large slabs and dished out in large bowls or tall glasses.  The sharing of glasses and questionable quality of the water used for the ice kept us from trying them out but they all looked very refreshing.  

After a good hour or more of walking around we bumped into Jenny and James, the first tourists we had seen since Lee.  They had a volunteer Uyghur guide named Ali John showing them around the bazaar.  We all stood together to watch a silly street performance by two boys doing various tricks with a snake, little balls, and a rabbit (each separately, not together).  Our hunger pains were getting the best of us so we split off again to go back to the Caravan Cafe for lunch.  We walked past carts and more carts of food vendors and all of the way to the near end of the market where some people were auctioning off sheep (the big livestock market was in an entirely separate area, thankfully), others were carving shovel handles out of wood, while still others were selling items fashioned from pieces of sheet metal (buckets, sinks, etc.).  We crossed the river that separated the market from central Kashgar and took a cab to the Caravan Cafe. 

The Cafe was a nice little slice of home with fresh ground coffee, pizza, and sandwiches served in a spacious second floor room with fashionable tables and chairs.  Another group of western tourists arrived with us just as the cafe opened at 1:00. It was next to the Chini Bagh hotel on a fairly wide and busy street but from the higher vantage point you could see behind the newer buildings to the old Uyghur neighborhood that still eked out an existence around the large Id Kah mosque. 

When we arrived back at the market it seemed like the volume had been turned up.  The morning had gotten busier and busier but it just seemed to keep going.  People from outside Kashgar came into the market on Sunday and usually there were traders from Pakistan but the SARS situation had the border closed.  Still, it was hard to imagine the place getting any more hectic.  The words "boish, boish" (coming through) were frequently heard as donkey carts forced their way through the crowds.  No Kashgar experience would be complete without a ride on a donkey cart so that was our next mode of transport.

We took a donkey cart up the gradual slope from near the river to the far end of the bazaar.  Some taller buildings stood on the far end but the alleyways between them were still crammed with vendors.  There were more vendors selling fabrics, shoes, and clothes. A row of barbers were shaving the heads of men so their doppi hats would fit nice and snug.   From there we ventured back into the covered bazaar and at some pointed bumped into Ali John.  James and Jenny had gone back to the hotel so he joined up with us to practice his English and show us around the market.  We visited a carpet shop to get an idea what they were being sold for but really had little idea what we were looking at in terms of quality.  We passed through some of markets selling more practical day-to-day items - hardware, tires, etc.  These areas didn't have an Old Silk Road feel but were interesting in that they reflected the new Silk Road lives of the 21st century.  Ali John said that the Uyghur had some sayings that described all of the things sold at the Kashgar market and these had similar equivalents in English:

"Everything but the chicken's milk"  u "Everything but the kitchen sink"
"Everything under the blanket" u "Everything under the Sun"

Finally we told Ali John that we'd seen enough for one day and we dragged ourselves past the sea of stalls and donkey carts to find a taxi back to the hotel.  We had some time to relax before meeting up with Valerie, Jenny and James in the evening.  David had flown back to Shanghai that day but Ali was still going over the top in providing Valerie a good time and took us all to the Children's Day celebration in the Mao square.  We walked from the hotel and after a long day of walking the bazaar it took some effort.  A stage was set up in the square for entertainment that had either occurred or was going to occur.  We didn't wait to see but enjoyed the mass of families with children out in the square bouncing giant balloons and inflated balls from group to group.  People were dressed in their nicest clothes and the children especially seemed to be reveling in the extra freedom the enjoyed on Children's' Day.

We looked for a place to eat nearby but the restaurants were chaos.  The group seemed to be gravitating towards some lamien (noodles) so we eventually went our separate ways as Rob and I returned to the Caravan Cafe to indulge in some more comfort food from America.   

June 2. KASHGAR (Xinjiang Province)  It was time for a rest day.  We all slept in and met over at John's Information Cafe, across from the Seman Binguan, for breakfast.  We stayed there until lunch time when Jenny and James decided to make something of their day.  Rob and I, on the other hand, just stayed at John's and had lunch. It was a totally lazy day and felt great.  We met up with Jenny and James again in the evening for some lamien and shish kebab at a nearby Uyghur restaurant. It was a good spot and the noodles were more saucy and flavorful than many others we had tried.


CLASSIC CHINA Beijing April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29-30 May 1-2 May 3-4 May 5 Pinyao, Shanxi May 6 May 7 Xian, Shaanxi May 8 May 9-10

TIBETAN PLATEAU Xining, Qinghai May 11 May 12 Tongren, Qinghai May 13 May 14 Xiahe, Gansu May 15 May 16-17

THE SILK ROAD Lanzhou, Gansu May 18 Dunhuang, Gansu May 19-20 May 21-22 May 23 May 24-25 Turpan, Xinjiang May 26 May 27 Kashgar, Xinjiang May 28-29 May 30 May 31 June 1-2 June 3-6 Hotan, Xinjiang June 7 June 8-9 June 10-11 June 12-13 June 14-16 June 17-19

A LAST LOOK Shanghai June 20-29 Beijing June 30