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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



June 12. HOTAN (Xinjiang Province)  Two full days of camel trekking is just about right.  On the second morning we were still happy to get back on the camels for our remaining hour of trekking to the road but another full day and it would have started to lose its Silk Road romanticism.  As the road came into view we could see our driver peering out into the dunes looking for us.  We arrived at just about 11am exactly, the time that we had scheduled to be picked up.  I thought that was pretty good planning for camel transport.

Our camel man unloaded all of his camels and took the saddles off of the rear two camels.  The front camel, his personal camel we decided, stayed tied to a tree as he swatted the other two and baby back into the desert.  Why not have them go eat the free shrubs in the desert while he was there.  We had our driver ask him how old the adult camels were since we had been speculating during our whole trek.  We thought the front one was the youngest and middle one the oldest but it turned out that they were tied up in order of age.  The front camel was eight, the middle camel was 12 (but acted older as she huffed and puffed carrying the tubs of water), and the rear camel, the mommy camel, was 15 years old.   Apparently they can start being used for loads when they are about 4 years old. 

As we headed back into town the driver offered to have us over to his house for lunch.  It was a generous offer that we would liked to have accepted but we had Rob waiting for us at the hotel and Jenny and James were planning to catch the sleeper bus that afternoon to Urumqi.  He took us to the bus station so they could get their tickets and we found Rob in the hotel room with clean towels ready.  A shower felt awfully good.  Sand had worked its way into my shirt and down my pants.  It was a very fine sand, almost like a powder.

While we were gone Rob had become quite the savvy Hotanite.  He had the buses figured out, new restaurants in the old Uyghur town identified, had made friends with one of the Internet cafe owners, and was recognized by nearly all of the carpet dealers in town.  He had gone to the same Uyghur restaurant often enough in two days that the ladies there were trying to fix him up.  I didn't think Muslim women were supposed to marry non-Muslim men. I guess they must have taken him for a Pakistani trader.  One guy he encountered while we were gone told him he wasn't white enough to be an American.  Well, he wasn't going to become heir to a shish kebab empire. That is that last time I leave him alone for a couple of days!   

We ate lunch at Rob's local restaurant and watched the women make gestures towards me and put their two fingers together.  He nodded.  They had good shish kebab dipped in a sesame sauce.  We also tried a new dish called Ding Ding Soumen.  It was a saucier noodle dish with short fat noodle pieces.  It was very tasty but sadly turned out to be the cause of our ding ding diarrhea the next day.

Rob's Internet cafe was near the restaurant. The owner greeted him with a big "hello" as soon as we walked in and went to buy all of us peach juice.  He hadn't let Rob pay for the Internet service since the first day they had met. Jenny and James used the Internet while Rob and I took a look at some goods brought over by the owner's friends.  They looked like old Uyghur items that either belonged in a museum or were fake, either way we didn't want them.  The owner had given Rob his contact info to keep in touch.  While his friends seemed to be selling some questionable items he seemed like a genuinely nice guy.  He had brought another friend over the translate for us when we were looking at the goods.  That guy was honest enough to say that he didn't know the sellers very well and couldn't tell us if their goods were real or not. Hotan must get a steady stream of tourist under normal circumstances but not the droves that hit some of the major tourist cities.  In general all of the Uyghur people that we had met in Xinjiang were all very kind and good people with no ulterior motives for befriending you other than practicing English and sharing their culture with you. The charge for Jenny and James to use the Internet was only Y4, less than what the owner had paid for their peach juices and he wouldn't take any money for the drinks.

When it got to be about 4:30 we walked with Jenny and James to the bus station.  Their sleeper left at 5:00.  We were sad to see them go again. It was unlikely that our paths would cross again on this trip and they were fun traveling companions.  After we said our good byes and watched them go through the wicket Rob remembered the birthday gift he had bought for Jenny.  Her birthday was only a few days away.  James and I had our birthdays coming up in July.  The ticket taker let us go out to the bus to give them the package.  It was surprisingly nice for a sleeper bus.  We had seen many skanky ones in Xinjiang but this was a new one with A/C.  Not too bad. The German guy we had met in Kashgar had turned up in Hotan while were out cameling.  He was totally unimpressed with the experience and was already leaving on the same bus to Urumqi.  That was our feeling towards Hotan in the beginning but now the place was slowing starting to grow on us. 

After seeing Jenny and James off Rob took me around to some of the shops he'd found for carpets, jade, etc.  The selection of traditional homemade Hotan style carpets was sadly scarce.  Some of the handmade factory carpets were nice enough but they still looked factory made and lacked that nice quality of a homemade carpet.  We looked through a few shops again and there were carpets that either he liked or I liked but none that either of us really loved.  He found a nice large carpet with a blue design of pomegranate branches in the middle.  It was well made but factory made and while the detailing was beautiful the rust colored border dampened my enthusiasm.  We turned to jade at the end of the day and one shop had some truly spectacular pieces carved out of the brilliant white Hotan jade.  The workmanship was impressive but the designs were all from Eastern China.  There was nothing about any of it that made us think of the local area, which is what we wanted.  Disappointed in the shopping results we returned to our hotel.

For dinner we found another umbrella tabled, sidewalk shish kebab restaurant near our hotel.  I was getting awfully tired of mutton.  The change in diet was like going from veggie to the Atkins's Diet.  I so badly wanted to try some of the cold salads they served but cold vegetable street food just wasn't advisable.   

June 13. HOTAN (Xinjiang Province) With another couple of days to kill in Hotan we decided to get out of town and see some of the Uyghur village areas.  After all that would have been our objective in Yarkand and since there was plenty of areas outside Hotan we would just investigate those instead.  

From our hotel we caught a bus down the main street in town to where it ended.  The main street was unmistakably a Chinese street.  They have taken to creating these massive six lane boulevards in even the smallest out of the way spots like Hotan.  It made for a totally uninteresting part of town.  The area by the bus station and bazaar in the Uyghur part of Hotan was much more lively and even the new buildings were given some local architectural style like ornate windows and wooden balconies.  The Chinese part of town was one bland cube after another and with the street size you would think they planned on Hotan becoming the size of LA in a few years.  

At the far end of town, where the bus line ended, we caught a horse cart across the Jade River, named such because it is a source of jade.  We got off the horse cart after the bridge to figure out where we were but ended up getting back on to ride further down the long tree lined road until we reached another pocket of shops and restaurants.  

When we spotted a carpet factory we got off the horse cart. It was a smaller and less touristy carpet factory than the one we had visited before.  They were more distracted by our presence as well so probably didn't get as many foreign tourists.  Some little girls, their mothers busy weaving, came to have their photo taken.  The owner invited us into the display room and we sorted through a few carpets but it was just more factory Sino-Pakistan reproductions.  We tried to describe the typical Hotan motif but he was only able to point out a tiny vase within a larger Sino-Pakistan design.

At the main "intersection" of Lop there was a cluster of restaurants selling mutton buns, shish kebab and other standard fare.  It was a lively little area and we were the only tourists except for a group of Chinese that were stopping in for lunch.  One of the buildings on the intersection was built back in 1987 but even this concrete structure had some nice Uyghur detailing on it that made it fit in well with the mud walled homes.  We stopped in one of the restaurants for the popular mutton buns and some tea.  They were very large.  The waitress helped us pick the bits of plaster out of the bottom (they were cooked like the naan, stuck to the wall of a an oven) and tried to show us how to eat the bun properly.  The local people started by eating away the tougher bottom bit, sipping the fatty broth out, and then nibbling the bottom half from the sides to get the meat.  We did a poor job of copying but weren't too keen on sucking down all of that fat.

There wasn't much to down town Lop was we stopped at the post office to finish off some postcards and looked around at the little shops and homes.  We started to write the post cards outside the post office but soon attracted a large group of teenage boys that just watched us write.  It became distracting so we moved inside the post office, which doubled as the local bakery as well.  When we tried to mail our postcards at the post office the woman behind the counter looked at us in total confusion.  We saved our postcards to be mailed in Hotan.  Walking down the street we looked into the gold jewelry shop, peeked into the seamstress shops to watch women putter away on their foot peddled sewing machines, passed a small truck being repainted, checked out the vegetable market, and saw some traditional houses with their mud walls and ornate raw wood doors.  It didn't take us very long to exhaust the sights of Lop and I think we were more of an attraction to the locals than anything we saw in the village but it was a nice way to get away from Hotan and see Uyghur life with little evidence of Chinese influence.  A horse cart took us all the way back across the river and to the bus stop for about Y2.   

After Lop we stopped at a different Internet cafe.  As nice as Rob's friend was at the other cafe we didn't feel right about his not letting us pay so we chose a different spot.   It was full of kids in early afternoon which made me wonder why they weren't in school.  The people in Xinjiang Internet cafes have an very annoying habit of watching what other people are doing on their computers.  I am sure they don't mean to be rude and intrude equally upon each other as on the foreigners but it becomes very aggravating to have someone peering over your shoulder and trying to read your email.  They can probably understand very little and my email isn't anything top secret but years of being programmed to keep my eyes on my own stuff makes it hard to shrug off. They look totally perplexed when you try to wave them away.  I guess a nation where people are allowed very little privacy by their own government makes it a hard concept for them to understand.  One Chinese kid got so nosey with Rob that he was leaning clear over next to Rob's head.  One quick bop on the back of the head got the message across.  

After getting all of our emails updated we checked LP's Thorntree postings about the Southern Silk Road.  One American guy posted only the day before that he was required to have a blood test when entering Yarkand! That was new.  Now that the SARS problems was nearing an end this town of quick thinkers decide to get on the SARS harassment bandwagon.  What a total drag.  We had done well to avoid that business so far and started to wonder if you luck would run out.  We were planning to leave for Yarkand the next to see a Sunday Market there on the 14th but now we had to rethink our plans. 

After dinner we sat in frustration over the Yarkand blood test news that we had gotten off of the Internet.  Within five minutes we were no longer bound for Yarkand and would wait out another Sunday Market in Hotan before taking the dreaded sleeper bus to Urumqi and then a beeline to Shanghai.  We'd had enough ignorance and paranoia!

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