Philippe and I made to China a week ago. There is lots to share, too much to share! Getting to Kashgar... an epic in itself
We took a 'shared taxi' from Bishkek to Osh. About 12 hours in a taxi with two local Kyrgyz folks. Long trip in a car, but an interesting business situation - instead of posting on Craig's List that he can drive others to Osh, he goes to the Bazaar and waits with the taxis. Everyone somehow knows where the taxis to Osh are all hanging out and sooner or later, he picks up a couple of folks to drive with him.
While Bishkek has a pretty diverse population regarding Russians and westerners, as we travelled further south, we became more of a spectacle. We were hooked up with a friend of Indira's (our host for part of our stay in Bishkek) and soon enough we were in her apartment with her 5 year-old niece... neither of whom speak English. No matter... a little charades and we were all set up for the evening.
The next morning, Chanara and Sezim (hostess and niece) took us to the Osh Bazaar and explained how to get
My new best friend in Osh
Sezim is living proof that young girls are the same everywhere!
around.... Sezim is like all 5 year-old girls, and after some initial shyness she was sitting on my lap on the bus (proud to show off her new gringo friend to the other girls studying me on the bus), leading me around the market giving me all of the Kyrgyz names for things, and carrying on as if I understood everything. Chanara thought this was pretty funny - the two of us carrying on a conversation in two different languages.
I realized how children's communication is so based on non-verbals (intonation, facial expression, etc.) that the words really don't matter as long as you exaggerate your point a little bit. This day with Sezim helped me remember how much I enjoyed studying communications in college... again, something I would enjoy studying again, insha allah... (muslim expression that means 'Allah willing' - sometimes it works like 'maybe' and sometimes 'hopefully'... hard to say for sure but it's a great expression). But enough about Kyrgyzstan and my continuing education... this is supposed to be about China, right??!?
So we found out the bus we planned to take to Kashgar only leaves 2x a week... and that day was our
Sleeper Bus to Kashgar
We rode on this bus for over 24 hours with our new Canadian friend Nicole.
day to travel based on Philippe's expiring visa. We threw our things into our many packs (we still have all of the climbing gear we didn't donate to the Alpine Fund in Bishkek... based on advice from Toby in Bishkek that our things will be safer if shipped from China)... two backpacks, two camelbacks/day packs, and a haul bag!... and to the bus station.
We were early to buy tickets for the 8pm bus since we didn't want the tickets to sell out... waited three hours chatting with our new Canadian friend Nicole for the bus to leave at about 10:30pm (typical).
Ever been on a sleeper bus??? A quick word about this mode of travel that will never
be a big hit in America. Basically, it's a great way to travel if you are not claustophobic, shorter than 5' tall, if you weigh right around 100 lbs. Not too roomy, otherwise.
Highlights - pretty scenery (everyone gets a window... and we had a full moon), warm tweety bird blankets on our beds, opium-smoking sick guy in the bed below us (Philippe has photos, of course?!), and a simple, no-hassle trip across the border (unless you mind
Can you say Drive-In?
Kung-fu is popular with everyone, you should see the camels and horses try to re-enact their favorite fight scenes, seriously every night thousands of men woman and livestock show up to enjoy a good ol' drive-in flick
a four-hour wait for no apparent reason or if you're a Japanese backpacker). Observations on Life in Xinjiang China
First a little word about the people here... two main ethnic groups coexist here. Uiyghur and Han. They have different languages (Uiyghur and Mandarin), different ideological beliefs (Muslim and atheism, respectively), and different time zones (local and Beijing time).
We made two trips to the post office here to lighten our load as we shift from climbing to trekking mode... a model in efficiency and a great lesson in Xinjiang culture. For the first trip, we took our friend from the hotel Muhammat for some translation help (we rescued some Americans shipping things).
M. was an excellent tour guide, pointing out elements of the Uiyghur culture (like the tea-house, where men hang out in the afternoons if they don't work... and the rules of female Uiyghur coverage - no head covering - workers or students... head covering for single ladies... married ladies cover their faces, but the new fashion is to just wear glasses and a mask... the older ladies put a scarf all of the way over their heads - sorta like a burka, but not really...
Rachel and Mohammed in Old Kashgar
After an impressive visit to the Chinese Post Office (they sure know how to export!) Mohammed took us through old Kashgar
he promised me that it was a special scarf so that they could see out, saying 'of course they can see! otherwise they would run into things!)
The second trip, we braved it ourselves (where we were in turn rescued by a Korean hedge-funder chick who was shipping a bunch of animal bones and skulls to Hong Kong... yep, there's strangeness everywhere you look). A Han woman inspected all of the packages being mailed and had lots of rules for what could be included... Definitely had a problem with any liquids and completely rejected anything with Chinese characters on it. The Korean woman was cushioning her bones with box pieces and random paper with the assistance of a Uiyghur woman. The Han inspector would throw pieces out of the box... immediately followed by the Uiyghur woman puttin them back in. Complete obedience and complete disregard for rules... in the same space and time...(unless perhaps you consider the fact that the Uighur woman was in fact 2 hours late in everything she did) it was priceless! Things to do and see in Kashgar
We had a week to spend around Kashgar, so we hit all kinds of great
Rachel with friends at the local Shashlyk joint
We tend to eat off the street and we ate dinner here for about 1$ total, chai, laghman, kebabs and some nan...
sights! Every day included a bit of exploration, a chore or project or two, new food, and lots of conversation with locals!
* Going on Mosque tour, including a couple of super-old mosques (built in the 1500s) including one that is sort of the Uiyghur center of Kashgar
* Shopping in Kashgar's Bazaar, where I bought Pakistani clothes with our new local friend Marhaba
* Getting lessons on muslim life with Muhammat, who extolls the virtues of a good Muslim boy/man (he's 16, which is completely different than 16 in America) and openly shares about his worldview (telling me he likes western women, because we are interested and ask good questions)
* Blowing our minds at the Sunday Animal Market, where Philippe was unsuccessful in his goal to trade me for livestock and we watched sheep not only being bought/sold, but being slaughtered and served for lunch
* Visiting the Taklamakan Desert, which literally translates to 'he who enters never returns', where I meditated and watched Philippe walk so far that I couldn't see him anymore
* Checking out some market on the way to the desert that hadn't seen westerners since cameras were invented (crowds following
Plenty of food other than nan is cooked in a tandoor and they are everywhere, wood fired..
us, surrounding us and swallowing us up if we stopped to take a picture)
* Testing our gastrointestinal fortitude at the local markets
We are off tomorrow to begin travelling toward Pakistan. We are hoping to spend a few days around Mustag Ata and Kongur on the way! Thanks so much for your letters and comments. It's so great to hear about life outside of Asia - sometimes things seem really surreal here that it's helpful to stay connected with our friends and family!
Philippe and Rachel
p.s. If you're wondering (a few have asked), I (Rachel) pretty much write the blog and Philippe is in charge of pictures.
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