Markets, Museums and Meals
We are now Kashgar, our final stop in China. We have to remind ourselves it is Easter Saturday, as there are no chocolate and marshmallow eggs or hot cross buns or special church services here. It is nearly a month ago since we landed in Hong Kong and the days are racing by too quickly.
We have enjoyed the many types of markets in China. Most towns have streets stalls where both fresh produce and dried fruit and nuts can be purchased. We usually buy fresh fruit – bananas, oranges, pears – as part of our lunch each day and mostly the people are intrigued to be selling to foreigners. Others gather round and watch the transaction.
Those of you who are related to us and who usually get a present at Christmas can expect to receive a Chinese key ring with attachments for your belt. Martin has started a collection of them, purchasing them in towns along the way mainly from small shopkeepers in dark little shops that sell key rings and all else including the kitchen sink. The first one he bought was the best and since then he has been fruitlessly searching for their like, but still adding to his collection.
The cities of Xinjiang (the province where Kashgar is) usually have night markets where the local people set up food stalls towards evening and sell a whole variety of both Chinese and Uyghur food. Stall holder seems to have their own tables where you sit and consume the purchased items after you have chosen them and they have been cooked. The stoves are half pipes with a chimney at one end – the stall holder arrives with hot charcoal in a bucket, ready to burn, and veges & meat, cut and skewered ready to cook. The food is good! In the main, anyway.
We came across a different type of market a few days ago, near the city of Jiuquan – a livestock market, a mainly male affair where sheep, goats and cattle were haggled over and purchased. We wandered among the small trailers (on the back of bikes and tractors) where farmers had their prized livestock, taking photos and enjoying the noise and activity. Tomorrow we go to the famous Kashgar Sunday market which promises to be a treat in store.
Museums are not all the run-of-the-mill type and can prove very interesting. Part of the Mao story is honoured with a memorial on the way to the city of Lanzhou. On the Long March, Mao and his comrades stayed a night in the humble home of a farmer which has been preserved with an account of the history of those days. A substantial new shrine to Mao has recently been added beside the rural mud buildings but lacks the historical authenticity of the farmer’s home.
As New Zealanders we found the museum to Rewi Alley well worth the visit. He came to China in 1927 and lived there 60 years, during Mao’s rise to power, the cultural revolution and the years beyond. With George Hogg, he established a technical school at Shandan near Zhangye, training young Chinese in trade and farming skills. Numerous historical artefacts which he collected are in the museum along with a record of his story. We also visited the school, much larger now that in his day and saw photos of his life.
The Hexi Corridor is a narrow neck of land through the province of Gansu and forms an important route along the Silk Road with Mongolia to the north and Tibet to the south. There we visited the Jiayu Pass Fort, in ancient times the last stronghold of civilisation, but no longer true with all the modern oasis cities across neighbouring Xinjiang. Built in 1372, its purpose was to control the corridor and territories beyond, the extensive walls, watch towers and courtyards making an interesting visit.
Hospitality is still a feature of the Silk Road. After a visit to the ruins of the ancient Uyghur city of Gaochang near Turpan, we stopped for a ‘photo shot’ (an all too frequent reason to stop) of a picturesque house set in the fresh new greenery of grape vines. The woman of the house invited us in to hot tea, traditional flat bread, salad and green raisins, and with the help of Wahap, our guide, we were able to exchange some communication about daily life with her and her husband. It is these little unexpected experiences that are among the best part of being a traveller in someone else’s country.