Attention: For maximum viewing pleasure, listen to this song while reading the post below.
Then we were wheeling. And, dear reader, Kashgar is a great city for wheeling. It felt good to move after being cooped in the sweaty train. We, however, had been deprived of electricity during that journey, and so we must regret to inform you, there is no GPS data for this first day of wheeling in Kashgar. But trust us, we wheeled hard. Our first stop was a local Uighur breakfast joint, where we got a bowl of pilaf, the standard Uiger breakfast dish, and a piece of nan.
The nang was hard and old. Thus continued our quest for the perfect nang. The lore described it as a delicacy, but we had as of yet only had the old hardened version. Nourished none the less we hit the road.
We stopped at a ridiculous public exercise park, with bizarre painted metal equipment, all in various states of disrepair, some with dangerous metal shards protruding. After a brief test of the machinery (I give it a C-), we wheeled by the location of tomorrow’s giant sunday market, past mosques and blocky soviet buildings, up the only hill in town. The road was lined with endless melon sellers. Each had a giant pile of the fruit, shaded with a mixture of beer umbrellas and rigged together tarps.
Over the hill, we wheeled on to visit a local Uighur housing development. It consisted of large concrete buildings, with playgrounds in between. Not bad at all, Kashgar. We stopped to pick up some water at a local shop, where they spoke no english and no chinese. The proprietor, who may be well described as a large white guy, asked to take my bike for a test spin. He spoke in approving tones, riding around the road outside his shop, and lifting a foot off the ground, then dropping it. He approved of the bounce hight to noise ratio.
While our shop-keep administered tests to the cycle, other members of the community began to appear from the woodwork. Soon a crowd had formed. We gave then our business cards and a couple of asiawheeling stickers, though they could read none of it. Then the shop-keep began entering negotiations with your humble correspondents, wanting to purchase the bike. We were able to communicate that it was a rental. He asked how much we were paying, and sputtered in laughter. And with our bottles of water, tube of ridiculous toothpaste made in Dubai, and a tip of the Panama hat, we struck forth once again.
We continued to wheel through the expanse of Kashgar. It is not so large a city, and we traversed a good chunk of the downtown section. Everywhere we saw new chinese bank buildings and China mobile shops. And everywhere they were building.
The sun blazed, dust swirled, and women walked around in full muslim garb.
We entered an older part of town where the steel concrete buildings gave wat to mud structures. Stands sold wooden trinkets, nan, and a likely deadly yogurt and ice drink. The sellers of this drink had only 3 or 4 grubby cups, which sat on a wooden board spanning a central a central vat, in which a large and solid chunk of ice bobbed. From time to time they would dump the current cup and refill it and replace it on a wooden plank, hoping to entice people with the freshly sweating cups. Poeple would walk by, pay the man 10 cents, and drink a glass right there and then. A second later, the same glass was refilled and returned to the wooden plank, where it sweated with its brethren.
And the sun blazed. The people of Kashgar lazed in the shade of umbrellas, trees, or whatever they could find to break the sun. They played cards, mahjong, and chinese chess. The more we rode, the more be became certain that Kashgar was a very special and fascinating place. Also, coincidentally, it is a land of Panama hats and two wheeled vehicles. I cannot say that we fit right in. To be honest, everywhere that we rode, we were met with stares, pointing, and not uncommonly laughter, but something felt right about the place, and we seemed to make friends easily there. Bikes and mopeds easily outnumbered cars and trucks, and one did not have to look more than twice before finding an old Uiger fellow, raging along in a savage Panama hat and giant reflective sunglasses. So you, dear reader, will find it no big surprise, that we found ourselves at a stand which sold some of the most raging Panama hats conceivable by the human mind. While I have been quite happy with mine (credit must be given here to Marshall’s), Scott’s (hmm… Target) had proven all too prone to misshaping itself and proved a poor ventilator of the cranium. In short, Scott was in the market for a new one. And buy one he did. Submitted for your approval, Scott’s AsiaWheeling Panama Hat 2.0.
Exhausted from the wheel, we stopped back at the hotel and collapsed. Three or four bottles of water later, we headed to Altun Orda. The interior of the restaurant was even more baroque than the exterior. Everywhere we looked there were layers of hand made complexity: on the walls, the ceiling and the dishes off which we ate. We once again ordered way too much food. We simply asked the waiter for two of the finest vegetable dishes and two of the finest meat dishes. What came was a savage plate of sheep spine meat, 2 kabobs, a chopped lamb dish, a plate of marinated chickpeas, and some of the most succulent eggplant I have ever experienced. “And you want yoghurt right?”, the waiter said in Mandarin. Oh yeah we want yoghurt. Once again I was blown away by the intricate flavors of Uighur food. The yoghurt was a perfect accompaniment, served room temperature with a thick layer of yellow cream on top. We sat on the the third floor of the large restaurant. On the floor below us, a trio of Uighur instrumentalists raged on traditional instruments. After we were well beyond sated, we ventured down for a closer listen. The stuff was great. Much like what accompanies this post.
Once again bursting at the seams, we walked back to the hotel. Back at the Seman, we found a giant red tour bus full of germans. “Rondel Tours,” it said on the side. We wandered over to investigate further. The tour company, we found, offers savage tours through some 50 of the most fascinating parts of the word in a giant red bus. We sat down an were introduced to a couple of retirees: an airplane parts broker from Lufthansa and a film graphics producer. As the sun set, the two regaled us with tales of airplanes and german history until we all knew we had better retire. We had to wake bright and early the next day for more wheeling at the sunday market.