An Evening With the Politburo
Our day at the Kashgar Sunday Market was amazing, but exhausting. And we were no small part famished by the time we had arrived back at the Hotel. We locked the cycles, and sat down at Sadik’s tavern, across from the Russian consulate. It seems this is the only place in Kashgar where the beer is served cold. And here it is served very cold. I have no doubt that Sadik himself has done the calculation to find the absolute coldest he may chill his brews, for they quickly grew frost as they sat on our table. Scott dealt the whist.
Much revived, we struck out to find a taxi driver who could take us to the garden restaurant which we had discovered earlier that morning on our ride back from the animal market. This proved to be no problem, and we were sure to get the cell phone number of the driver in case this restaurant was too far out to catch a cab when we had finished.
We stepped out of the cab and walked the long entrance way. The entire path had been covered in arching vines. The low-lying sun played delightfully through the foliage. We found the restaurant to be mostly deserted, save one large table around which 12 or so well dressed Han men were nibbling the end of dinner and toasting viciously. As we sat down and struggled to order, the men at the nearby table began ordering instruments. As Scott toiled to indicate to the waitress, who was very sweet but spoke only Uighur, that we just wanted her to choose for us, the nearby table burst into raucous song.
The waitress left and we walked across the expansive garden to the central kiosk/gazebo where we were to select our beverage (in addition to tea of course). We selected a goji-berry wine, but I feel I must pause the story here to relate to you my view of Kashgar tea: namely that it is the very best. At even the most dicey of restaurants (and may I assure you we went to some of the diciest), tea is included for free with the meal. Even if you just order a beer. And the tea is incredible. The tea leafs simply float in the pot, along with a cocktail of rose-hips, star anise, and lord know what else. This elixir, which is provided absolutely everywhere free of charge is so smooth and so rejuvenating as to convert a hardened coffee drinker such as myself into a tea chap in no time flat. It is drunk only from bowls. First a small splash is poured into the bowl and discarded to warm the vessel (this is done everywhere, even the diviest). Then endless cup after cup may be consumed. The refuse (tea leaves and spices) that accumulate in the bottom of the cup, may be discarded in buckets provided by the restaurant or simply onto the ground. This tea made me look twice at coffee. I am being honest with you; it is that good.
Back in Kashgar, at the garden restaurant, they had laid an extra layer of carpet (this one silk, rather than cotton) down for each of us, and we were enjoying tea, goji-berry wine, and finally, a soft and flaky loaf of nan. We chatted and digested the trip. Toasted to the many people who had helped us get to where we were at that point: Gao Jie, Manan Jalan, Scott’s parents, Kaustubh Shah, Joe Lacina, Banjamin Li, and Nikhil Kulkarni (to all of you, nothing but love). And, over the next 2 hours, a slow trickle of absolutely fantastic Uighur dishes arrived at our table.
As we were relaxing and picking our teeth, we noticed a convoy of taxis arriving at the restaurant. A number of ridiculously dressed characters began to exit these vehicles, toting traditional Uighur instruments. We inquired of the staff and discovered this was a troop of dancers and musicians and that they were about to perform in at some location deeper in the garden restaurant. After biding our time for some while, we were invited to see the show.
Night had now fallen in the garden restaurant and Kashgar’s many mosquitoes were out in full regalia. Unabated, we proceeded into the depths of the garden restaurant. We passed many more tables, showing evidence of dining, and indicating that the restaurant had served more guests (and was substantially more expansive) than we had previously thought.
We finally reached a large and elaborately carpeted gazebo-complex. This place was well lit and an absurd amount of waiters rushed to and fro with drinks, meats on spits, and pots of tea. A large group of well dressed Chinese men were feasting and drinking in the center at a long table. They sat only on one side, last supper style, and the table was stacked high with exotic Uighur dishes. We were given seats on the side of a large central stage, covered with these handmade Kyrgyztani felt carpets, called Shyrdakhs.
Then one of the most enchanting things of my life occurred. A dancing, singing, and traditional Uiguar instrument show began.
We watched, completely enthralled, as waiters brought us tea, and the men at the last supper table continued to toast. We clapped when they clapped. We yipped in pleasure when they yipped.
At the end of the show (which consisted of some 8 or 9 small acts of dance and music) we were invited onto the stage to dance with the ensemble and the men from the last supper. We and the last supper men danced ridiculously, as the trained dancers moved from person to person, performing very Slavic kicking dances, and pantomiming complements to our absurdly differing gyrations. Uighur music pounded from a shoddy PA, which cut in and out.
Finally, when the music stopped, it seemed it was time for us to go. So we did.
Scott asked of a server at this banquet as to the nature of the men at the last supper. It turns out they were business and government men from Urumqi. That is, big shots from the capital here to drink it up and observe the progress. We strolled back through the garden, and called our cab driver. While we waited for him to come, we watched the dancing troupe load all of there equipment and selves into 4 new cabs and leave. Just as our cab was arriving, a torrent of expensive black automobiles poured from the restaurant. We rode back the the hotel in silence, marveling at a deck which seemed, against all odds, to consist only of aces.