27 November 2007

Truly, Central Asia


Good news: my travel insurance company has miraculously approved my claim, and I am now a few thousand dollars Back in Black

Bad news: I have self-diagnosed myself with Achilles heel tendonitis (thank you WebMD)

Night trained it from Jiayuguan to Turpan, fabled oasis, land of grapes. Arrived 6 am, oops forgot Xinjiang "time" is 2 hours behind Beijing time, "time" in quotes because all of China is on Beijing time, even when the far west is still shrouded in darkness and the far east is already having lunch. Communist thing? Asian thing? The Japanese don't do daylight savings time for perhaps the same reason? So I had to take a shared taxi 60 km to Turpan itself, second lowest continental depression in the world and also a somewhat depressing place. The Uighurs seem friendly, though. I hired a taxi for the day to take me to the sights--including the ancient ruined Silk Road city of Jiaohe and the traditional village of Tuyoq (resting place of the first Uighur Muslim and so holy that seven trips there equals one trip to Mecca--1/7th on my way to Islamic paradise, suckers, and it's the best one by far)--and the driver bought me lunch. Lunch was a traditional Uighur dish called laghman: mutton, veggies, and tomato sauce over noodles. Very good. Muslim food eaten with chopsticks. Weird. Delicious green tea with rose petals and spices served with. At Tuyoq, I managed to communicate a bit with the locals using a combination of Uighur (from my phrase guide), Chinese, and Arabic. When I told them I am American, one guy in the mosque made some unpleasant-sounding remarks and then sound "Bush". Using my phrase guide, I managed to utter "not good" in Uighur, and we all had a nice laugh. Then they asked me for money. Also saw the Flaming Mountains, made famous in the Journey to the West.

Some random facts:

I think Tamurlane was a Uighur.

The Uighurs write their language using Arabic script. They used to use the Roman alphabet, but the Chinese switched them back to Arabic because, so I've read, it gave them too much of a competitive advantage over Chinese people learning English.

The Uighurs don't like the Chinese and don't speak Chinese. I don't know if the non-Uighur speaking Chinese like the Uighurs, but they certainly like the MASSIVE OIL DEPOSITS they live on top of. Seriously, are Muslims like oil divining rods or something, like that Chief character's Native American family from Catch-22?

I left Turpan same day on a bus to Urumqi, where I am now couchsurfing with a nice guy from New Zealand by the name of Carl. Do any of my New Zealand travel buddies remember Invercargill? He's from there!

I will be meeting some Urumqi locals through couchsurfing today, but, due to my Achilles heel, whose mythological name makes me feel no better about it, I will have to be taking it easy. Soon, I am on to Kashgar, a city with its own mythological connotations. I am covering lots of ground very fast. The southern route back will not be fast. But, I am determined despite setbacks to make it to Lhasa.


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