Nowadays, this place is way over the limit of what should be proper in China: big crowds, modern reconstruction, and exorbitant admission fees, of course–but also hang glider rides, jousting, zip lines, archery arcades, and dance performances by Qing Dynasty period military re-enactors. The real Qing soldiers, who once stood guard out at here at this lonely border of civilization, deserve to be proud in their afterlife.
And fter a packed, miserable train ride into this place–during which I was apparently mistaken for a Uigher, treated dismissively by a Han passenger while trying to get our (paid-for) seat for my wife and crying child, almost came to blows, and then adopted by the group of Uighers on board–it was quite nice to arrive last night in this dusty desert oasis town. For one thing, we found a restaurant that sold alternatives to cow meat pulled noodles–west of Xining, suddenly a rarity. And then there’s the three monkeys on the street outside our hotel. After a dinner of big plates of vegetables (and they even went light on the oil!), we got to watch part of the monkeys’ evening performance. Although it seemed to mostly involve getting threatened by their half-drunk master with a whip, there were also some skillful tricks included, like catching a ball and running away from a passing dog. As the blazing sun went down over the desert, it was again clear to us that this place has a proud history as China’s westernmost beacon tower of civilization.
Tomorrow we move on again, ever westward, beginning our long movement across the Gobi’s vast sands. We may be swapping stinky camels for air-conditioned express trains (hopefully without any more issues), but I’m sure we’ll still get a bit of the old Silk Road experience. No doubt Marco Polo once worried, like us, that all there was to eat out here were more beef noodles.