05 December 2007

Even today, the Silk Road is just too tough for some people...

I am fickle, people. Even after months of deliberating, I have no compunction about shoveling all my carefully crafted plans--plans that have even become fetishized dreams--out the window! Today, I decided I am an idiot to think 5 days on horrible buses on horrible roads is a good idea just to say I followed the route of the Southern Silk Road to Golmud, the hard way. In winter no less! No! I'm not doing it! I would if I had time to stop in each town for a few days and explore, which is proper. But I want to get to Tibet. And though I kind of like the eerie, skeletally forested desert oases out here in the A.E.O.N., I don't like them *that* much that I want to just sail through them for days, possibly get delayed by snowstorms and avalanches, and even more possibly be unable to cross the Qinghai plateau (near a lovely asbestos factory and, I am not kidding, a gulag) without hiring a $1000 private 4x4 vehicle or some such other absurd series of "adventures".

Please forgive me.

Instead, I am going to take a 24 hour bus ride *across* the horrid Taklamakan Desert (remember? enter and never leave--yay!) back to Urumqi, drink pomegranate wine with my new Chinese friend Yan/Tracy, and then take a 2 day train to Lhasa with a ticket also purchased by friend Tracy, thus, theoretically, getting me around that nasty Tibet permit ($200/10 days?!) all foreigners are supposed to acquire before daring to venture to the forbidden land and which I shamelessly, even proudly, do here officially and before all of you in the name of freedom and the license to dream and explore and go and do whither and whatsoever you like here now forever and everywhere


I went to a doctor in Kashgar, and she told me I don't have tendonitis, so obviously I was erring on the side of hypochondria once again. I don't believe her, though, because my father raised me to be a skeptic, and I believe no one. She smeared some weird-smelling red liquid on my foot, wrapped it up in a bandage, and told me it'll either be better in a few days or will never be better. Thanks to my Uzbek friend Guleya for translating without laughing at me too much! I now know how to say "diarrhea" in Uighur (which gets a place of honor in my vocabulary next to Mayan for "eye booger" and Japanese for "rabies").

My bowels finally stable, I left Kashgar yesterday and traveled to Karghilik, an SLT a few hours away, piqued by my Japanese colleague's story of Tibet hardships. Those hardships sounded more appealing than the ones I had planned (including, as mine did not, for example, holy Mt. Kailash), so to Karghilik I went. The Uighur lady at the front desk of the bus station hotel was quite nasty to me when I appeared, demanding 160 RMB for a room. After I expressed my indignation, she furiously wrote "100" on a piece of paper, clearly disgusted with my penury and impertinence. Though I agree with her in principle--that the poor are a disgusting people--I counteroffer-wrote "70" and smiled a cheery American smile. She blathered and protested at this, but when I reached for my bags, she gave up the fight, threw a room key at me (literally), and went back to dying her mother's (?) hair. Victory! Odd that she didn't try harder, given that there are no other hotels in town (none, at least, that I could find). Before I went up to my room, she asked me if I was Japanese (!). Has it rubbed off that much? The next morning, I made a peace offering to her and the Chinese lady stationed beside her of three stale bagels, which they gladly accepted. Later, when the unhappy Uighur lady was gone, I returned and tried to extract information about a trip to Tibet from the Chinese lady. I hadn't wanted to do this, because the hotel might be too closely connected with the police (this being China and everything being owned by the government), and the road to Ali in Tibet is closed to foreigners. Still, many make the trip, often by hitching rides in trucks, and I thought I might be able to cover the 1100 km at 5000+ m in winter (not counting the next, what, 3000 km to Lhasa?) easily enough--if the Japanese kid could do it on a bike! Sadly, my total lack of Chinese and Uighur language skills yielded no results out on the "street", where I went to, ha ha, inquire on the down low. I resorted to having the Chinese receptionist call my Uighur friend Guleya in Kashgar, who communicated to me that my best bet would be to wait for the next bus--5 days, ticket price $110. Twenty minutes later, I was on my way to Hotan. And here I am, at the heart of yet another ancient, ancient kingdom, surrounded by the pulverized remains of yet others and others. They needn't be conquered by raiding hordes, these desert redoubts--wind and time write their own slow history.

PS - you may not hear from me for a few days as I make my way to Tibet

PPS - I'm not sure what "Kashed out in Kashgar" is supposed to mean

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