Monday, April 10, 2006

09 April 2006 – back in Kashigar, at the Xinibagh Hotel

Where were we…? In Urumqi…

My Uyghur friend and cycling partner, Mamat had invited us for lunch in the best Uyghur restaurant in U., the name in English meaning, ‘favorable wind!’ I’ll get it in Uyghur language, but always this problem dealing with so many languages… If I don’t write the word or name down immediately, gone with the wind!

We had bought his wife and son gifts, as it’s the only way you can reciprocate with Mamat… He won’t let you pay for anything! I fight with him all the time about this, but because he can speak the language, the waiters and clerks listen to him and don’t take my money!

Can you imagine in the West where a friend would never let you pay anything, at restaurants, at hotels, at stores… Maybe sometimes reciprocal or ‘Dutch treat,’ but never all the time. This is the wonderful difference between the West and East… Here, generosity and integrity rampant; still a way of life! They will go the way of the West eventually (because of capitalism), you can see the ‘greed’ developing. But, for now, like America was long ago! I’m glad I’m here in China now, in another ten years not so nice!

Afterwards, sans Mamat, we walked to a nearby museum, the ‘Xinjiang Silk Road Museum.’ R.B. had mentioned a ‘Chinese Art Museum’ she wanted to visit, but Mamat had checked on it via telephone and not open at the moment.

This museum was more of the history/culture of Xinjiang Province, things related to Marco Polo’s ‘Silk Road.’

Most of this we walked through quickly, as there was much to do that day, the penultimate day before departing, but there were several memorable things in this museum. Like being the only ‘tourists’ in the museum (two floor, thousands of square meters (it was small and cramped but vacuous)!

One item we discovered, a bell which Xu Tan and I rang! I love bells, gongs, chimes, etc.—the sound! This one was heavy and with a low sound! The sound of a bell, ‘clears’ the air of negativity and brightens the mind.

There was a large, life-like sculpture of a primitive and ancient camp site. A ‘fire’ blazed with people gathered for food and celebration (see the photographs at / gallery). The men had long rod-like, erect, penises. This I thought interesting, as maybe the life-like sculpture depicting some fertility rite.

We discovered that Xinjiang has many extant, life-size, stone figures, many up around Altai City (in far north Xinjiang near the Russian border).

There were enlarged photographs of a Uyghur boy being circumcised. Note: There were three overtly sexual things in this museum, all of which R.B. and Tom, didn’t notice (or if they didn’t want to comment).

The last, a metal sculpture, I was very much interested in as it depicted the male-female union of compassion and wisdom. When I tried to explain this to R.B. and Tom, no response. I guess they might not know how to comment on such… What do you say to a sculpture of man and consort in sexual union (with people you don’t really know)? Especially if you know nothing of the mythology of such. So, I ventured no further down that ‘road.’ But, I think the sculpture is from India. I haven’t seen anything like this in China before discovering it in this museum.

On the way out they asked us to sign their ‘guest book,’ and here I commented on the erotic sculpture by mentioning the ‘union of compassion and wisdom!’

We took a taxi up to the Giant Bicycle Shop. One of my tasks was to purchase some helmet ‘inserts .’ These no available in Kashigar. At the bicycle shop we ran into Mr. Zhou, the leader of the ‘Urumqi Elder Bicycle Group!’ This the second time in one day, as had run into him on the street. What are the odds in a city of four million inhabitants? This is the man we’d met at his flat to discuss forming a similar group in Kashigar, and wanting a version of the Urumqi organization’s flag. He’d given me his own which I have proudly on Ms. Fiets!

Here at the Giant Shop, I also ran into the Chinese man (Mr. Zhou’s associate) I’d cycled with to camp out in the desert last August. I didn’t recognize him right off the bat, but he did me! (For some reason people always recognize me—a white face in a sea of Asian ones!) And he went on and on about that trip, which took us up into the Gurbantunggut Desert (begins 100KM north of Urumqi). This was a wonderful experience for me, the first time camping out in China, plus in a place so remote, there was no sound but the birds and the wind. There were wild egrets, that I tried to photograph, but could never get close enough (see attempts in / gallery.

They, the two Chinese men that I had gone with, spent the night in one of the abandoned yurts. I slept outside (under the stars--no tent), on a pallet of some kind of wooden fence pieces. The most amazing thing was we just happened to camp out on a full-moon night! I’ll never forget it, the moonlight, the sky, the experience! I watched the moon traverse the sky, getting little sleep in the process.

Anyway, all the Chinese man could talk about was the fact, I wouldn’t eat anything but ‘zhau fan’ (rice pilaf) during the trip (2 days). It’s funny what people remember! But, we laughed about it! I’m always happy to make people laugh, for whatever reason!

Then on to the final task of being in Urumqi, finding my Uyghur family, the one I’ve tried to deliver a photograph of their children to, for almost one year! Stupid the first time, I was there, but without the photograph. Then I had left the photograph with Dilmurat in his flat when going to Shanghai! This time I had it, but wasn’t sure where their house was, really a shack, on a main Urumqi street not far from the RR station. But, I found it and delivered the photograph to a man working there (I hope some relation)… He seemed to remember, but the children and the rest of the family not there! I just hope the mother gets to see, as a stunning photograph of two happy children (I took a photograph one day as passing by.).

Note, if there’s one gift you can make to people in Asia it’s a photograph of them. They love it, probably not having one!

The next afternoon, we departed Urumqi on the train, taking #946, the ‘fast’ train which departs at 3:50 in the afternoon. Because of R.B. we had booked a ‘soft sleeping berth,’ which I’d never been able to afford before! But, wow! What a difference, and from now on, that’s the only way for me!

First of all, there’s only four, rather than six berths and a door you can close (shutting out all the noise and noisy people). Secondly, there are other amenities, like an electric outlet for computers. Ultimately it’ simply more comfortable, with less people (50) per car to contend with (100 in a hard-seat car). So, from now on, regardless of the cost!

I also discovered this is the way to meet ‘government people,’ as they ride ‘first class.’

We met a most interesting Chinese man and woman travelling to Korla and Aqsu (two large cities on the way to Kashigar). They both work for the ‘Testing Department’ of the Xinjiang Provencial (Chinese).

The man is a practicing Buddhist, who tried to teach R.B. sitting meditation. I wish I’d had a camcorder as it was a delightful moment (she was too tired). Additionally, he’s the only Chinese man (so far) that has mentioned the forbidden two words, ‘Dalai Lama!’ His ‘master,’ lives in Sichuan Province, and he knew the ‘good way!’ I got this Chinese man’s name and contact information, as he wanted me to visit Yunnan, Sichuan, and Qinghai Provinces, places where ‘Tibet’ (had extended to at one time), and places he said were ‘very, very good!’ Ironically, he was fond of both Henri Bresson, the photographer, and Frederich Nietzsche the German philosopher. Who would have guessed? He could even sing a song from the Beijing Opera. I think he a most unusual Chinese man!

The train ride (some 23 hours) was memorable as this was both Tom and R.B.’s first on a Chinese train, and going to Kashigar. Out the window to the south, the great Taklimakan Desert (we’re going to go into to from the south), to the north, the Tian Shan (mountain range).

It was the best train trip I’ve had so far, but happy to see Elia’s smiling face as we climbed down out of car #6. And with a driver to help with our luggage.

Ensconced back in the Xinibagh Hotel, I told my Chinese friends, I feel like I’m ‘home!’ Amazing!

Om Shanti!

∞Æ ¡˙


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