Thursday, August 14, 2003
Missive from Chinese Turkistan
Mr. Watkins continues my global education, while I go green. Next year I leave the country.
> Its five past eight here, or five past six depending
>whether you use Beijing or Xinjiang time. Despite this Province
>being the size of Western Europe China refuses to budge on a uniform
>time zone, creating a myriad of transport problems for me, not to
>mention contributing to my general confusion.
> I'm in Kashgar, perhaps the furthest west city in China,
>a place where the silk road splits into its northern and southern
>routes east around the Taklamakan Desert. I've only been a few hours
>but its clear how different this place is from China. The city
>itself is typical in terms of its layout: Wide flat highways,
>avenues lined by white tile housing and clothes horse gated
>compunds, medium size block shaped towers of blue glass and steel,
>yet it seems to be in a completely different continent.
> While the streets resound to the constant refrain of
>horns the shop signs are written both in characters and the Arabic
>script of the Uyghur language. The Han Chinese population is sharply
>differentiated from the multicultural makeup of the majority of the
>populace, which also includes Kazaks and Kyrgz. I've walked down
>streets where brown skinned Asiatic Turkic men slowly pace down
>market streets, long wisps of white hair streaming from their chins.
>In narrow alleys pale skinned, round cap wearing figures sip their
>tea while kebabs cook on a raised trough on the street, watching the
>WWF on the television, a scene so reminiscent of Turkey I lost a
>sense of where I was. Blond haired boys play in the street, or work
>along side their fathers, hatchet in hand, building wooden toys.
>While Greek looking artisans, clad in dark clothes and flat cap
>hammer hot metal into teapots, tossing the waste shards in a molten
>pile a few steps outside the shaded wooden workshop. Its clear to
>see the remains of the trade route from Rome to Xian, the faces of
>numerous nomadic groups, the collected nations of the Chaghatai
>khanate in the faces of the people that stream around the city.
> Not that I've seen too much of the women's faces here.
>Islamic dress is almost mandatory down the crowded side streets and
>teeming bazaars. Women wear patterned skirts and long sleved tops,
>encrusted with sequins. While some bare their heads, most young wear
>a seethrough, light headscarf with rabbit ears of cloth tied at the
>back. Older counterparts are dressed with dark hoods that touch
>their shoulders and stretch down to their lower back. Some dumpy
>figures wear a hijab that makes a burka look like a plate glass
>window, a croched brown mesh cowl that does not even give freedom to
> That said no one seems to the two women I am travelling
>with much hassle, perhaps because they were chaperoned by an
>englishman and myself. Also because the bare arms and legs of female
>Chinese girls is very apparent. People actually are very friendly
>here, with the traditions of hospitality and generosity that is
>similar to the middle east. As we tried to order in an Uyghur
>restuarant we had some problems for a while until one of the waiters
>said: "I'm sorry, I don't speak Chinese, but we can talk in
>English". I thought that was great, just like people in Wales
>Uyghurs will feign ignorence due to what they view as the colonial
>actions of the Chinese, whose settler population increases every
>year. However to us they seem to be very eager to makes friends,
>while trying to get me to buy a carpet.