Things I learned about China that I didn't know before I came to Central Asia:
1. It's under construction
|A common sight in Xinjiang|
|Demolition of old-town Kashgar, new-town Kashgar behind|
During my time in the province, the most common job of the Han people that I met was "construction engineer." They all told me that Xinjiang was the place to come once they graduated because if the push for development. Mao's encouragement for the eastern Han people to move in and help develop the Uighurs is still very much present here. Most of the travelers whom I met were very opposed to the "destruction" of Uighur culture, as were some Uighur people. However, I also got a sense that the economic and educational benefits that come with China-fication were very much appreciated.
2. The military and police personnel are very friendly, and professional
|File photo from an earlier post. A very enthusiastic police officer in Northern Xinjiang. He wanted to capture our multi-national group (Vietnam, Russian, USA)|
Within hours of being in Bishkek, I heard two seperate stories of travelers being hassled by police or fake police for bribes or passports. A threat to call the embassy seems to be enough to get them to back off, luckily.
3. They have mummies
|Those are two real people who lived 1000s of years ago. Crazy, right?|
4. EVERY town has a central square.Not only that, but every central square has a gigantic TV that plays Chinese TV until midnight every night. Nearby, a crowd of middle-aged women will be dancing choreographed, yet tame dances to pop music (think "electric slide" quality dancing, maybe a step up from "macarena")
|The TV at night|
|Statues of Mao were also popular additions to these squares|
5. English isn't a strong suit.OK, maybe I knew this ahead of time, but it's still fun to see some of the signs. Here a a couple of examples:
|What do you mean when you say "carrots" and "basket"...? Is that TP?|
|Yes. A good reminder while I pee in the nasty, nasty, uncleaned urinal hole.|
Things I've learned about Central Asia so far:
1. The food from Mongolia to here is basically the same, but becomes more flavorful!
|Hot pockets ain't got nothin' on this|
|Plov. it's fun to say, right? Plov plov plov.|
2. Even though you're in the high mountains, you should still be careful about drinking the water.
|my target practice facilities...|
3. Hospitality is a virtue
Everywhere I've been in Central Asia I've met tons of super friendly and welcoming people. Couchsurfers and others have put me up for a night or several, I've been given meals and free rides. One of the drivers that picked me up actually tried to pay ME 50 yuan (~$8) for food after he dropped me off.
|Couchsurfing in Kashgar|
|Upstanding Kyrgyz gentlemen celebrating a new baby boy. Roma and I had been allowed to spend the night at this truck-stop cafe about 20ft away while they were celebrating...|
4. Hitchhiking isn't as hard as people say
|Fro truck. He didn't give me a ride.|
|Sometimes they break down...|
|Sometimes they are SUPER heavy and SUPER slow (biking would have been faster on the up and downhills than this truck)|
|When your tire blows out, just swap it for one of the others! Who needs a spare when you have 18 wheels?|
|Roma the non-monogomous muscovite mountaineershops for Sega in Osh, Kyrgyzstan|
|Roma and I waited for about 2hrs in this town before we got a ride.|
|Relaxing in the frieghtliner. Good ol' Detroit manufacturing, complete with American-sized bed in the back|
|American truck, Russian Gazprom.|
|Co-pilot and driver near the Kyrgyz-China border|
|sometimes it's more hiking and less hitching|
5. Politics are a mess. Borders make a big difference, despite ethnic ties.
Central Asia has a fascinating history. So many different peoples have lived in these lands over the millenia that it has become very difficult for anyone to say who was "here first". As a result, when lines are drawn on a map they become a good excuse for nationalism. Stalin drew some lines back in the '30s that are causing loads of issues in this region today (take a look at a map of the 'stans to get an idea).
The Russian and Vietnamese researchers that I crossed from Mongolia into China with were studying the effects of nationality on spiritual beliefs and traditional customs in the Kazakh people in the Altay regions of Russian, China and Mongolia. These people all come from the same ancestors not too long ago, but modern borders have separated them. The researchers' preliminary observations were that the peoples in each country were now more similar to their countrymen in Moscow or Beijing or UB than they were to their ethnic brethren across the border. Nothing published yet, but an interesting idea nonetheless...
|Chinese border guard helping Max (Korean) and I get a ride to Kyrgyzstan|
|The bustling metropolis of Irkeshtam, Kyrgyz border town. Basically a trailer park/truck stop in teh mountains.|
|Independence day in Bishkek (31 August. 21 years of independence after the collapse of the Soviet union)|
6. Learning another language is hard. Russian is really hard. Chinese is even harder. Mongolian/Kazakh/Uighur/Kyrgyz/Tajik/Uzbek/Chinese/Russian all at the same time makes you want to go to Central America with a spanish phrasebook.
|Harry's Russian twin, "Garry" Potter. He must go to Durmstrang.|
7. It's very mountainous. And beautiful. And sparsely vegetated.
|this wasn't even the craziest road|
|you could see the bottom of this lake through tens of meters of water.|
So there are some of my thoughts over the past week or two of Central Asia. I'm in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan now and will probably stay here or in the region for the next two weeks at least as I apply and wait for my Uzbek, Tajik and Kazakh visas to go through. Luckily I have some contacts in the area who can show me around, and the mountains aren't far away, so I'm sure I'll have enough to keep me busy. I'll keep you posted on any adventures...