Kashgar Markets

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October 2nd 2010
Published: February 9th 2012
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When we got back to Kashgar, we found the previously tourist free town swamped with tourists, our dumplings sold out, restaurant dotted with designer hiking gear... Why? The following day was a Sunday, and this was Kashgar, it was animal Market day, (one of the main reasons I wanted to do this trip) I looked around at the crowds in their hiking boots, windbreakers, zip-off travel pants & Northface gear (why is it people who travel feel the need to have a uniform?) and started to worry a little. "It'll be fine", I told myself "It's Kashgar, not Covent Garden, how many tourists can there be?"

When I was first told about Kashgar's animal Market, the way it was described, I pictured a massive place with every animal you can think of. Inside under wooden slats with light barely poking through, with pens & cages & camels & chickens running wild. I expected traditional dress with big leather boots, crazy hats, deep maroon sashes, and a mad rush & hustle & bustle of locals buying & selling. So basically I thought of an old time fantasy land, basically, I was hoping for an all singing all dancing scene from Aladdin (maybe the scene with the 'Prince Ali' parade this time, though). I don't think anything could have really lived up to my expectation, but I really wasn't prepared for the reality.The market's been moved from it's original setting to a massive muddy field. There's still a crazy number of sheep, goats, cows & donkeys, being pulled & thrown out by tough herders by the truck load, but they're equally matched by the truck loads of tourists. Now again, my expectations were so high, nothing would have lived up to what I hoped it would be, and when you stand in the middle of that field surrounded by rows of sheep, loud braying of mules, avoiding the donkey lead carts hurtling by at top speed & hoping that that horse galloping over there that seems to be totally out of control & ready to kick the first tourist that gets in its way doesn't change direction, then yeah, it's pretty freaking awesome. But then you look a little closer.

I looked around and saw myself from the local eyes, another dumbass with an SLR attached to their face, that didn't get how things worked & probably never would.. After the first five minutes wondering around taking pictures, I packed my camera away, zipped up my bag & just used my eyes. Just a sea of confused tourists with over sized cameras. The best ones came with obnoxious channel sunglasses, big face masks covering mouth & nose & plastic booties over their shoes, it looked like they'd stumbled into a nuclear contamination zone, not a field of animals. I didn't see the guys handing out wads of dollars to anybody that got caught in their camera flashes, way to ruin it for everybody else, and we're all totally stoked for you that you've got that much cash to flash around by the way. But I did see the guys doing almost the opposite, shoving their wide angle lenses in peoples faces as if they couldn't tell the difference between them and the sheep they were herding.

Then there were the kids, being held close by anxious looking parents... that was more just interesting when you saw them walking by all wide eyed & innocent with flashy trainers & abercrombie t-shirts, next to the local kids squatting on a cart next to a donkey, dragging on a goat twice their size... They just look... old somehow. I guess it's really just that look they have in their eyes, that's the difference between the locals kids & the foreign kids. They get it. And it's a funny mix, because in some ways you watch the local kids still playing around when they're 12 while the western one are busy posing pretending they're already grown up... The local kids, they're still not self aware, they haven't developed that embarrassed self consciousness that our kids have, they're kids just happy being kids, no hurry to grow up, because they see how it works, they know what their future is & they know there's not so long before they'll be men & have the responsibility that goes with it. No gap year for them. They see their fathers & grandfathers doing the same thing that their fathers & grandfathers did every Sunday, not much has changed & it probably isn't going to for a while.

"Compare the wild, free paintings of the child with the stiff pinched "pictures" these become as the painter notices the painting and tries to portray "reality" as others see it; Self-conscious now, he steps out of his own painting and, finding himself apart from things, notices the silence all around and becomes alarmed by the vast significance of creation. The armour of the "I" begins to form, the construction and desperate assertion of separate identity, the loneliness: "man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through the narrow chinks of his cavern." "- 'The Snow Leopard' - Peter Matthiessen

I felt lost & out of my depth, I felt like I didn't get what I was seeing, I wanted to go home with the families on the donkey carts & see what it was really about, I wanted to see where the animals got kept at the farms, and what they ate for dinner, and what the outhouses were like, and where all the girls were, for that matter. I also couldn't help feeling sad & wincing some when I see the goats getting dragged around by the beard, making that horrible noise they make, and the way the sheep all cower together bleating away trying to avoid the farmers that throw them around like rubbish bags, watching them all trying to hide behind one another, I don't mean to be dramatic, but it almost reminds me of a concentration camp or something. And the donkeys, I mean, donkeys always seem kind of sad, but when you see them kicking & braying getting slapped in the eyes with those big sore-looking whips, it made me think of that bit in Pinocchio when the boys get turned into donkeys in that place that looks like hell.

But that's coming from me, the closest I get to farm animals half the time is when I read the back of the Waitrose packets, what the hell do I know about looking after livestock? These guys live day in day out with their animals, they're their livelihood, of course they care about them, in some way at least. Most of Asia is still not that fussed when it comes to anything resembling 'animal rights', and I'm not saying that that's ok, and I'm not saying that that shouldn't change. But we've become so far removed from what livestock actually is and the way it's produced and reared for our consumption, that we're really not in a position to understand any of it. Sometimes I have to check myself & realise I haven't got a clue about rural life, our attitude to our animals & pets is so much the minority, most people can't understand why anybody would even bother naming an animal. It's a different world, and one that I was, am, still very much a tourist in, the the purest sense of the word. Who am I to judge?

The rich, western scumbags with the plastic booties on, however, I will happily judge away at. Maybe I'm used to seeing the rich guys and I'm used to seeing the people that struggle, it's just weird watching them squeeze past each other for an hour. And in all honesty, more than anything else, I know I'm probably just angry with myself. In all honesty, it's probably because I know I'm just like every other dumb tourist at the Sunday animal Market in Kashgar. In all honesty, it's because know I'll never really get it. And it pisses me off.

After that, I almost didn't go to the big Sunday Market in town, I wanted to go back to the hotel, write away the afternoon & maybe draw an angsty page or two in my sketchbook. Thankfully, I decided otherwise.

The market has everything you want a big market in a foreign place to be: huge, a little scary, maze-like, full of characters, full of sights & smells- good & bad, but somehow accepting of foreigners, it was awesome.I felt desperate to be alone after the animal market, so I bade fair well to Nigel, Thomas and Julia, and strode out solo through the inside part of the market, through mens shirts, then ladies, then kids stuff, to arrive, after what seemed like forever, on the other side, where I was greeted by sunlight, and tons of bright soft scarves- jackpot! It'd been cold, & I'd wanted to get a scarf after leaving mine at home, and nothing could have lifted my spirits and got me back in the mood for a good Asian market more than the welcome I received.

The guy at the little stall was wonderful, keen & helpful, but never pushy, I liked him on his own, but then there were the women- I don't know where they came from, but suddenly four old women had me surrounded, bargaining with me, holding colours up to my skin and my shirt, pinching my cheeks, putting scarves around my shoulders, & all in the nicest possible way, it was all done with total affection & mothering warmth. In the end, feeling indecisive as I often am, I left telling them all I'd be back, so I could think which colour I wanted without wasting any one's time. When I finally found my way back, the women had gone, but the man looked pleased to see me (there were maybe fifty other stalls selling similar scarves in the market, it would certainly have been easier just to go to one of them, but I felt bound to my first friend of the market in his calm little oasis of a stall). After some bargaining- writing figures on each others palms followed by obligatory shocked face & shaking of head, we came to a price of 20 yuan (£2). I brought a black one with a red rose pattern. I wanted to take a photo of the shop keeper, but decided against it, instead leaving with a big smile, and little bow with my hand on my heart, which he reciprocated, and I trotted off in search of more hidden delights.

I got wonderfully lost back inside, trailing through fruit & nut stores featuring the tastiest almonds ever, potion shops with skulls & coiled snake skeletons, fur shops (we're talking tigers & leopards here, I could only stop sadly & reach up to run my hand down a lifeless tail...) rows and rows of bright rugs, leather shoes, everything. Eventually I tried to make my way back to my starting point by leaving through the big green stone arches and wondering around the outside, on my way I found another tiny traditional medicine stand, this time with a huge box full of hundreds of scorpions, alive and dead, with the live ones piling the dead into corners in attempt to make a way of escape. While the scorpions clambered around, the seller knelt and dipped a piece of wood into a bucket filled with starfish, snail shells & seaweed ... And rubbed it against the shaven leg of an old man seated on a stool in front of him. It was a curious sight, and I was surrounded by a group of equally intrigued locals staring at the scene. I never did find out what the hell he was doing

I continued around and back through the inside, past the people paying to make calls on the old red, circular dial telephones, back outside, to find quiet side streets where the traders all slept at their stalls, leading to the muddy paths where pigeons & second hand shoes were sold on grubby canvases. On route I passed a group of what seemed to be Chinese tourists from elsewhere in the country, all girls, & mainly pretty young. They stared at me and whispered excitedly as I went past (I had my hat on so it wasn't the shaved head thing) and I looked back after I'd past them to see them talking animatedly to one another whilst all looking right at me. Nervously, I tried a wave, after which one of the girls immediately enthusiastically asked if they could have a photo with me. Of course, I nodded yes, and before I knew it they all came and flung arms around me whilst holding up peace signs. I freed one hand from their kung-fu grip & followed suit while various photos were taken with camera phones. I must have looked pretty terrified.

I had to be back at the hotel at four to go food shopping for bush camping, so I tried to make my way back to the start. I was pretty hungry, and eyed up the tasty looking round dumplings made everywhere from thick pastry containing chopped lamb & onions cooked stuck on the inside walls of a big ceramic pot over a fiery wood stove below. I passed a particular stall where the cook/manager/advertiser caught my eye while I looked at the food, and began ushering me over with a smile, causing all the other people eating to look over their shoulders at me, who all also began ushering me over, patting the wooden benches beside them and pointing to the free space. How could I resist such an invitation?The seating was in a square shape on three sides around the heaped dumplings and cooking pot where the owner stood shouting for custom. Behind him was a huge barrel with a big fire inside, other stalls with seating areas, and a man cutting meat into fine chunks with a big butches knife on a massive tree trunk with a dip worn in the centre like a bowl, for ease of chopping.

I sat down next to an old lady who poured hot chai into a very grubby china bowl with the last persons dregs at the bottom. The owner put a dirty metal plate of three dumplings in front of me, smiled a big toothless smile while stroking his stringy long beard, and both motioned for me to eat. For a split second, I looked at the gummy smiles around me, dirt covered hands tearing off pastry and dipping it in tea, I ran through a list of orally transmitted diseases in my head, grinned back at everyone and chowed down. Lovely fatty mutton and thick dough pastry stuck to the roof of my mouth, all oaky tasting from the pot, and comforting tea to wash down, kept constantly topped up by my neighbour. I looked around to see if there was an etiquette to follow, but all I could see people doing was digging in and enjoying in whatever way they wished. A man patted my shoulder and chuckled at me in a friendly way, apparently entertained by the novelty of having a one of them tourist types eating there, while he squeezed out from another stall close by, and when I'd paid (30p) for my meal and stood to go, I shook the owners hand after we both wiped greasy fingers on our thighs, and I waved goodbye to everyone I'd sat with. Full and happy, I brought a final odd shaped butternut and made my way home to go food shopping with Julia.

One of the reasons I prefer to go on Overland trucks than trying to go at it alone, is having to cook on the road, and as a result, having to use and buy local food at local markets, which would never usually be on the radar if one was staying in hotels and hostels. I really enjoy the the interaction you get with local people who aren't part of the tourist trade, and so aren't on the look out to rip you off. We had a relatively early night with not so much TsingTao beer, to wake for an early start to set off through the Taklamaken desert for four days of bush camping.


10th February 2012

great blog
thanks for sharing your experience - enjoyed the read! your description of the market took me back to Chefchaouen, Morocco where the sights and sounds carve themselves permanently and deliciously into your memory forever. Alisa
10th February 2012

Photography Etiquette
A very interesting and insightful blog. I was particularly drawn to your quote about visitors "shoving their wide angle lenses in peoples faces". I witnessed the same thing during prayer time at a temple in Myanmar recently and it was appalling to see the behaviour of some fellow travellers. It is no wonder some countries perceive Caucasians as arrogant with no regard for local customs or sensitivities. Keep up the great blogs!
10th February 2012

I know, wherever I go I try to be extra aware and mindful of my behavior- especially in places that aren't so well travelled, just to try and balance out the negative actions of so many ignorant tourists and travellers now... Myanmar's high on my to-go list, I've heard great things. Thanks for the kind comments Shane, you seem to have even itchier feet than me, I think I'll be spending the next few hours reading through some of your blogs too...
12th February 2012

One of the best blogs I have read on Travelblog...insightful...profound...poignant...beautifully written...photos of someone with a good eye...I'lm just a newcomer too...but I'll promote you on Travelblog as best I can...keep up the quality of your work.
15th February 2012

Dave, that's so nice of you, thank you so much for such lovely words, they really mean a lot. I'll do my best to keep them coming regularly and (hopefully) keep them interesting too! Thanks again :)
12th February 2012

I see you are doing some catching up...
for a trip you probably finished some time ago. I look forward to your completing the blogs of your journey as you are traveling along the SIlk Road, something I have always dreamed of doing. What has stopped me is the unknown; but by overlanding you seemed to hit on a solution where you are traveling in a group and can count on the organizers to get you where you're supposed to be. Please provide some highlights about the overlanding experience; not just what you see and do beyond the truck. Thanks.
15th February 2012

Thanks for your comment! I really enjoy overlanding; before I gave it a try I thought it might be a bit touristy for me, and stop me from really getting to grips with the places and the people, but it can actually do the opposite, if you want it to... Like any way of travelling, you get out of it what you put in. I also love being able to camp and cook along the way and getting to go to such remote places that can be near on impossible to get to on your own. I'll make sure the next blog will have a few more details about day to day truck life, it's a good one for it- four days desert camping under the stars... Heaven :)
13th February 2012

Enjoyed your blog.
Hope you will write again soon. Love your thoughts.
15th February 2012

Thanks guys, there'll be another one coming soon! Thanks for reading.

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