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West Again: East Again, with Two Dutiful Uighurs and a Whole Ton of Bread

2013-06-21 2013-06-21 001 001Travel Log, 23 June

And so it ends, my last adventure in China, this two-week road trip across Qinghai and Xinjiang. I’m now on a red-eye flight from Urumqi to Hangzhou, a direct connection that apparently exists because of the number of Uighurs involved in the bustling trade between Zhejiang Provinces’s family-owned factories and merchants from the Middle East. That’s the business of the two men sitting on either side of me, anyway. They’re both headed for Yiwu, the small commodities mega-market town where I once grabbed lunch in a restaurant that was run by an Uzbek, staffed by Afghans, and patronized by Chechens. For the man from Karamay sitting to my left, this is his first trip out of Xinjiang. He’s headed out to Yiwu to meet his brother, who has worked their for years and who, having just bought a car, has asked his brother to drive it back home for him. I am envious of the road trip he is about to have, one that will span pretty much the whole width of the People’s Republic of China, although I know that for him it will be a joyless endurance test of tolls, bad food, and little sleep. He has asked me to stick with him for a bit when we get to Hangzhou, to help get him on his way and for a fair price.   Continue reading

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West Again: Walking Around, Willy-Nilly, in the Heavenly Mountains

2013-06-22 2013-06-22 001 006Travel Log, 21 June

I have a final exam to take back in Hangzhou in three days, and a flight booked from Urumqi that departs 36 hours from now. This trip, my last one before leaving China, is about to end. But before that happens, I’ve attempted to squeeze in one more stop between Kuqa and Urumqi: the beautiful Tianshan grazing lands of Bayinbulake, and a break from the desert heat for one day before going back to the humid sweatbox of Hangzhou.

Things were going well until I got to Baluntai, where I was told I could switch buses for a faster connection up higher into the mountains. As a result of the encounter related below, I am now incarcerated in a hotel room above a gas station, with nothing to do but write a lousy blog post.  Continue reading

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West Again: Welcome to the Kyrgyz County of Akqi, Stranger!

2013-06-20 2013-06-20 001 045Travel Log, 20 June.

6PM: I’m in Akqi, near the Kyrgyzstan border, and I couldn’t feel more welcome. I slipped in to this area, also part of the off-limits Kizilsu Kyrgyz Prefecture, by hiring a cab driver in Kashgar who was also up for an adventure, and just as keen to bypass all the police checkpoints we might encounter. We stopped in a couple little towns along the way, chatting with curious shop owners and picking up a couple nice-looking shyrdaks for taking back home. Then, when we arrived in Akqi, I took a walk and then made my way to the PSB, where I fully expected to be booked and shipped out on the next bus to Aksu. Instead I was greeted like a VIP, a status accorded to the first foreigner in anyone’s memory to come through these parts. Apparently the PSB here just never got the memo: foreigners don’t come here because they’re technically not allowed to come here, at least according to the PSB office in Kashgar. I spent a good hour in the PSB office, getting chatted up about what it’s like to be a foreigner, receiving recommendations for a good hike the next morning, and hearing about what development schemes the government has going or planned in these parts (answer: horse breeding, hydropower, and domestic tourism).

It just goes to show: when travelling in China, you never know what you’re in for.   Continue reading

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West Again: Same Bed, Different Dreams in a School for Shepherds’ Children at the Foot of the Altun Mountains

2013-06-17 2013-06-17 003 029Travel Log, 15 June.

2AM: Even in the dark of night, walking out of the bus station in search of a hotel that’ll accept me, I’m impressed by how green it is here. The night air itself feels lush to my sand-crusted nostrils. Overhead, palms and poplars rustle in the light breeze. I’m in the oasis town of Charklik (Chinese: 若羌, pronounced “Ruoqiang”). Finally, after the last two days’ ordeal, I’m back in Xinjiang.    Continue reading

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Test

Don’t get too excited, it’s gonna be a while before one of us actually sits down and writes something.  And it won’t be too exciting when we do.

In the meantime, here is a picture.

owen face

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