Hospitality-Land

It’s been a long and grueling couple of days, but I’m safely enjoying my air-conditioned room in Turpan.  Unfortunately, although I had hoped to head on to my next destination, Kashgar, tomorrow, I have not been able to get a ticket on the one train that goes there.  In China, you cannot book a train ticket in advance from another city.  You actually have to be in the city from which the train is departing.  As a result, I’m stranded here for at least another day, staying in a luxurious hotel by Chinese standards (the only one in town that wasn’t booked).

My trip here was eventful.  I left Dunhuang yesterday evening in a shared cab to the train station, two hours away, straight through the desert.  As we got going, the other three passengers, all old chinese men, immediately fell asleep.  I had the fortune of riding in the middle seat in the back, from where I made direct eye contact with the driver through his rear-view mirror.  Just outside of town, we almost hit a wild bactrian (two-hump) camel.  A bunch of them had been resting on the side of the road, and one suddenly darted (as much as a camel can be said to have “darted”) into the center of the road.  My cab driver, who didn’t seem phased, just stepped on the gas in hopes of squeaking by the massive beast.  We barely made it, and I could hear the camel grunting furiously through our open windows.  By the way, I didn’t even know that there still were wild camels.

As we moved out into the harsh desert, I began to notice, in the rear-view mirror, that my driver was struggling to stay awake.  He kept trying to force his eyes open, but as soon as he did, they began to droop again.  Since nobody else in the car was of any help, I made it my duty to kick his seat every time I saw his head bow.  Eventually, after about 45 minutes of kicking his seat, and after he stopped to relieve himself on the side of the road, he seemed to snap out of it, and we were moving straighter towards our destination.  The landscape quickly changed from yellow sand, to completely barren black sand, which is supposedly rich in iron ore.  It was the most desolate landscape that I have ever seen, even in photographs (unfortunately, I don’t have any of it, as I was crammed between two sleeping men in the back seat of a speeding Volkswagen).  Eventually, we made it to the crowded train station, where I had an hour to lounge around with two thousand other people before my train arrived.

This train was completely different than the sleeper train on which I travelled before.  Rather than separate rooms filled with bunks, they were all just open.  Needless to say, my feet didn’t fit in the bed, and I had to pull them in, or people would hit them as they walked down the aisle.  It was a rough night, but I got through it, and arrived at the train station in Turpan, which is an hour away from town, at 6:30 this morning.

My guidebook suggested taking a mini-bus to town, saving a lot of money.  Unfortunately, though, the mini-bus drivers don’t leave until their cars are completely full, and I guess nobody else needed to go in my direction, because we sat at the train station for an hour and a half, waiting for more people as each train pulled in.  Maybe people thought I smelled (I was on a train for ten hours), because nobody got in.  Finally, I gave up, and just took a cab to town, which set me back $20 (the mini-bus would have cost me $1.25).

All in all, though, today was a really good day, and I met some great people.  I spent time exploring the town on foot, and then the surrounding area by cab.  Although I’m still in China, I feel like I’m in a completely different country.  The pictures are below.  Remember that you can click to enlarge them.

A bean dish with hot peppers in Dunhuang

Sauteed Tofu

Hand pulled noodles with vegetables and meat, a local specialty.

Cut noodles Xinjiang-style. The cook holds a block of pasta dough over the wok, and quickly cuts off slices into the pot. It makes a rustic noodle that's delicious.

This was the view that I enjoyed for about an hour and a half this morning as I waited for my minibus from the train station to town to fill up. Eventually, I just gave in and hired a cab for the 1-hour trip, which set me back $20.

Anyone care for some medicine from the Bazaar?

My two Uighur friends. These two guys approached me as I was wandering around town. They were trying to practice their English, and they took me to one of the best food spots in town. They were truly great friendly guys who asked for nothing in return for showing me around the city.

The food stalls at the bazaar.

The delicious meal that my Uighur friends ordered for me. It was coarsely cut noodles with sheep, beans, hot peppers, cilantro, and loads of garlic.

The Emin Minaret and the attached Mosque. I've certainly come a long way from Xi'an.

The interior of the mosque - sort of "Get Smart"-ish

My cab driver decided to take me to his house to pick up his sister so that she could accompany us to the sites around town. These are his goats.

My proud cab driver in the courtyard to his family house. He is 21, and studied English in Urumqi before buying his own cab.

Tuyoq, an ancient city that is still fully functional, despite the fact that it is a minor tourist attraction.

A friendly 100-year-old man, who insisted that I take his picture as he showed me around his 500-year-old house. My cab driver and his sister flank him.

The 100-year-old man's stockpile of melons. This region is very famous for both its melons and its grapes. The man insisted that I take one.

Much to everyone's lament, the melon was not good. The old man, embarrassed, insisted that we take another one. It was also not even remotely ripe. I ate it in front of him, not wanting to offend him, though.

The Tuyoq Mosque

I wasn't allowed inside. this was the best view that I could get.

Tuyoq reminds me of some storybook version of a Middle-Eastern community. People put beds on the roofs during the summer to take advantage of the cooler nights. The lattice brick work is used to bring in natural ventilation, and the rooms that it encloses are also used for drying grapes. This region is very famous for its grapes and raisins.

Tuyoq at street level

These are the Bezeklik caves, which my cab driver convinced me to see. Although picturesque, they were a big disappointment on the inside, especially since i had recently seen the Mogao Caves. Almost all of the frescoes had been cut out of the walls by a German Archaeologist. He brought them to Berlin, and most of them were destroyed during World War II. It was pretty depressing.

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8 thoughts on “Hospitality-Land

  1. I still can’t picture you in the back seat of the cab, in the middle!!! Usually your height gets you the front seat!!

    Traveling on the bus/train/cab sounds grueling, I hope you find some time to relax!

    I was very hungry after looking at your photos, the food looks great! Is it spicy?

  2. alright! getting into central asia now. this simple, earnest hospitality can be disconcerting at first (‘what are they after?’…), but soon becomes super-enjoyable. the care shown for a ‘guest’ (vistor/foreigner/etc) is amazing – certainly changed the way i try to act as host. enjoy. love the blog, which is an essential part of my morning routine these days. best, k

  3. Your lucky you were able to keep your cab driver awake Tad. On my way back from going to Shanghai Expo i had the same experience, except I was not able to keep him a wake. Long story short he got in an accident and there was no one there to get me a new cab.

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