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Kashgar E-mail
Reviews - Travel
Written by Bro Fan
So it is all very well being here in Kashgar and recounting tales of camel burgers, Tajik wrestlers and how I nearly got involved in a knife fight after a slight miscommunication on price one morning. Thing is, though, since I live in Beijing, on the other side of the damn continent, I have to somehow get all the way back home. Not really sure I should bother though - I’m closer to Europe here than to Beijing, so I’m half-tempted to pack in this China-thing, get the bus to Pakistan this afternoon and check out what Iran’s like in early August.

But I’m out of cash, clean underwear and on a three-line whip to make it back to the ‘jing before next week. Mei banfa I’ll have to train it. Whilst Kashgar is all great for all these Central Asians, it’s not all that fangbian for those of us wishing to head back to relative civilisation back East. The super-duper quick double-decker sleeper train still takes 24 hours as it skirts the Taklamakan desert - and as stunning as the mountains, dunes and millions of bizarre wicker fences are, it’s a damn long way back to Urumqi, before I even think about getting back to the capital.

Of course, the Chinese transport system, that already comes dripping with my lavish praise, is faaar from convenient. No chance of booking ahead, unless you fork out for the big travel agencies to do so - so its off to the train station to do so yourself.

Except, when you’re in Kashgar, quite possibly the last thing you want to do as you kick around the dusty sleepy backstreets, and gaze at the Afghan hills is queue up with nauseating people to speak to the standard-issue bitch from hell in a ticket office, in a station that is quite unneccesarily so far out of town. We’re in a desert town, for God’s sake, it’s not as if we’re facing insurmountable obstacles to bring the old trains a bit nearer the action, eh?

So the first time I go, I coincide my 4.30pm arrival with early closing at the ticket office: in the process I have a misunderstanding wiht the motorbike taxi dude, who gives me a good ol’ look at his glimmering knife. Right - why don’t you take my four kuai my man, I’m the new master of 1 to 10 in Uighur, so don’t give me any of your dong bu ting nonsense.

Second time, after a particularly sleepless night in the dorm with one over-friendly Israeli and a nocturnal French backpacker, I make the snap (dare I say rash?) decision to get the morning train. 10am, right?

Wrong. It leaves at 9.20am, so getting there at 9.30 to buy a ticket ain’t the best plan. Guess that means I’ll be spending another day in this fair city? Well, why not, it’s not as if I’ve had enough mutton for now.

Actually, it all worked out surprisingly well, since on my retreat from the second fruitless trip to the station in as many days, I began talking to a Uighur girl who studies in Beijing just down the road from myself. Using perhaps the most Chinese I’ve spoken in weeks, small talk turns to increasingly larger and larger talk, and I’m invited in for breakfast.

How romantic indeed, a bowl of rice with a chunk of fatty lamb ribs dipped in yoghurt at 8.30am (Xinjiang time, natch) with Arabian techno pumping out the immense television in the corner. Except we weren’t in the market for a desert romance - we’ve all seen The English Patient, and we’ve all learnt that such things always end with someone starving to death in some cave or another.

What was fantastic, however, was to get the insider’s perspective of Kashgar, which dishes to eat, what to avoid, how much things ought to cost, the crafty short-cuts etc. Then to hear about what it is like to be a Uighur - how life back in Kashgar is very different to life in Beijing for the girl. The discrimination, the prejudice, adapting to life in the city, life at the Ethnic Minorities University - then such things as finding a job out West, why she joined the Communist party, and why it means her and her family are no longer allowed to pray five times a day. This was nothing the guidebook or any research would be able to tell me - it was just a slice of the bigger picture as I stumble through Xinjiang with my pack on my back.

Our valuable Editor Bro Fan has been with us since Sunday, 06 June 2010.

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