Street shopping, Id Kah mosque night view, and a Tale of an Old Shoes Seller – Part 2

It’s our last evening in Kashgar, for tomorrow we’ll leave for Kuqa at 8pm Beijing time/6pm local time. It’s going to be our last visit to the night market, last visit to the evening street market, last scenery of Id Kah mosque at night, last meeting with some people we’ve encountered regularly. Time flies so fast, and while we’re regret for not staying here longer, it’s just time to move on and proceed to our next destination, hopefully equally enjoyable. Until then, we’d like to utilize the next 24 hours in here to the fullest as we dont know  if time promises us to return to here again, someday.

The street market is an everyday shopping place just like night market, and it starts late afternoon (around 4 pm local time). There’s rows of shop lots selling clothes and stuff, but nevermind that, coz there’s MORE rows of sellers selling them cheaper, on the street. At the pedestrian road, to be precise. Some has mobile stalls, but most of them just have a large spread cloth for them to sit with lots of merchandise items dumped in front of them. Mostly clothings, but there are other items like cosmetics, sunglasses, accessories like handbags and shoes as well. It’s kind of amusing to see Kashgar people are such shopping freak as well. Browsing the dresses and blouses, I do think they have a rather good sense in fashion.

What Kashgar women normally (read: must) wear – Skirts, and black stockings! If not long dresses and jubah/abaya. And they’re generally fashionable, and I guess more women wear high heels than those who don’t! They DON’T wear pants and jeans, so wearing pants in here makes me feel a little awkward in a way, and I almost wanted to buy a pair of these skirts and stockings as well just to wear in Kashgar but thinking that we dont want to fill our luggage with unnecessary items (and they’re expensive too!), the least I could do is to wrap my bum with a shirt, so it could somehow looks like as if I’m wearing skirt too (from behind).

The boys we bought our socks from :D We met them like, everyday! So today we have to say goodbye! *sob* And, I feel regret for not buying one of these Uyghur movie DVDs.  They’re so crazy about shopping! And everyday is “sale” day, how wonderful is that?

And I *have to* join the crowd too, thank you. When I made promise to Az that we would only do shopping on the last day, so here we are! I’ve got a few pairs of long skirts here. Also some leggings, coz they’re cheap and I need them alot when traveling in cold places like Xinjiang! It’s okay now, coz some of old clothes we have worn here will be disposed in Kashgar so I have a little space in my luggage!

Done with shopping, we’d like to take some proper photos of us with Id Kah mosque, which havent done it earlier. Now the tripod comes handy.

After going back to hostel to drop the stuff we purchased, we made our way to eat the BEST LAMB KEBAB IN KASHGAR, for the last time. In front of the kebab restaurant is the only naan stall that has onion naan (Az’s favorite). Here, and it’s 10 yuan per stick (big stick) while regular smaller sticks you can find everywhere are usually 1.5-2 yuan. Nevertheless, lamb kebab here is worth every single yuan! It has the biggest, softest, juiciest chunk of lambs in all Kashgar! And Az had to take a farewell photo with these wonderful kebab makers.

We passed by the old shoes seller again. It’s already late but the old man was still here selling the old shoes (actually, we haven’t seen anyone really buys his shoes, or even stops to see them). Now Az wanted to buy a pair of shoes to try the shoe shiners, and after choosing one, the old man gave a sign with hands telling 15 yuan. We gave him an ‘brow-rise’ look, thinking that he’s trying to overcharge us, coz I bought my shoes 3 days ago for only 10 yuan! We gave him a pass and wanted to proceed going to the night market, but I dont know what made us turn back and bought the shoes anyway.

Az negotiates for 10 yuan, and the old man seems desperate and hopelessly agreed with a weak smile. When we left a few steps away with the shoes, I felt so sorry with the old man and now we went back to him and paid another 5 yuan regardless he already had agreed with 10.

Now Az trying the shoe shiner! Unfortunately, the skillful lady that did magic to my shoes last time was busy with her queuing customers (yes, she’s got many loyal customers who would wait just to get her excellent service!). Az wanted to wait, but thinking we dont have time for it and there’s another shoe shiner guy sitting next to her currently free, the lady asked us to do with her colleague. Hmm but we hope the guy is good too. Well, he managed to get the dusty shoes shining black again, but we still feel it could have been done better by the hands of the lady.

We were still excited seeing the final product, and this time we wanted to go back to the old man to show off the newly polished shoes just to make him surprised! But he was not there, although his old shoes were still arranged properly on the floor, being taken care by someone else. We were upset coz of the urge to meet the old man again now. It was only less than half an hour ago that we bought shoes from him. Well, nevermind, and we said to each other “Maybe he went to buy food straight away after he sold the shoes to us”.., and we walked towards the night market.

It was when we stepped out of the subway crossing the road in front of night market, Az suddenly caught a sight of that old man, sitting at a corner of a soup stall, gobbling his meal delightfully from bowl. The sudden sight made us paused, looking at him from afar blankly. I mean, we were just talking and teasing about him a few seconds ago, and what we said was unexpectedly TRUE! He went to eat right after he got money from us.

It was then when I couldn’t hold my tears but burst there right away, at the corner of the busy night market. The feeling that I couldnt really describe how and why, but it just strike me hard, and sudden thoughts filling me,

“he’s been sitting all day waiting for someone to buy his shoes, but who would regularly buy those dirty, dusty shoes..?”

“..what if we didnt buy the shoes just now (which we almost did not), would he still be left without money and not able to buy food for today?”

“.. since we bought his shoes 3 days ago and today, were there anyone else buying the shoes in past 2 days for him to buy food? Or has he been starving since?”

We stood at the corner for a few minutes while I’m done crying at Az’s shoulder, and we could only see the old man from afar, busy with his soup, and we didnt want him to notice that we were watching him either, so we quickly left to other direction. And for a record, we never even tried the soup place that the old man was eating, it didnt look appealing.. and maybe cheap. But what if it’s all that he could afford? We have eaten lamb kebabs like mad every single day, and we forgot that there are people who need to sell old shoes just to buy a cheap bowl of food for the day.

After Maghrib prayers, we again setup the tripod at the large mosque yard to capture some night views. Id Kah mosque is surely the icon of Kashgar, and the Silk Road. Tourist come here to trace the history, but what made us fall in love with this place is definitely the people. The friendliness of the locals and unique culture that will definitely remain in our heart forever.

Until we meet again one day, Insha Allah.

Friday Prayer at Id Kah Mosque

We have been waiting for Friday so much, ever since I started planning itinerary for Kashgar I would arrange it so that Az could spend time attending Friday prayer at Id Kah mosque and I could watch the crowd. Even when our itinerary changed a bit when we went to Karakul one day later we still chose to skip going to Tashkurgan just because want to be back in Kashgar by Friday!

Wanna know why? Because we’re hoping to see the crowd as we’ve seen on internet (check Google images here) and although the images were taken during Eid prayer, I cant help but hope to watch the (almost) similar crowd for Friday prayer too.

Az gets the camera, and I’d wait outside with camcorder to film the crowds during prayer (and see notes at the side bar to know why you dont see any video attached here). I keep watching increasing number of men walking towards and into mosque, and some young boys standing in front of the entrance selling blue-colored “disposable” plastic prayer rug for 1 yuan for those who dont bring their prayer rug.

Sitting around me are several women whom I guess are waiting for their husbands too. Although, when prayer was about to start, a police officer came to disperse us and ask to wait somewhere not too near to the mosque. And I could hear the sound of prayer preach/Khutbah clearly and the thought of Az listening khutbah in Uyghur language makes me smile. According to Az, he was feeling sleepy like usual during any Friday khutbah, yet was amazed to witness that every single man around him was paying full attention to the preach. In Malaysia, half of the audience would easily fall asleep.

To my disappointment, when the prayer starting, the crowd was only a little exceeding the entrance stairs, so this proves that the large crowd filling the entire mosque yard only happens during Eid prayer.

After Friday prayer is over, Az got to watch several woman holding plates of food (dried fruits?) standing at the entrance and men coming out of the mosque would stop and blow at the food, and some look like spitting. Which is weird, and only after we’re back to Urumqi later, Nazar told us that it’s a traditional practice for people who can’t afford to get sick family member to doctor and this alternative is to let religious men recite prayers on the food in a way so that it somehow becomes medicine. Or so we’re told.

After Friday prayer, the street going back to hostel apparently has turned into a busy afternoon street market. We look around to see if there’s anything interesting to get. It’s like a common atmosphere you can find in any flea market, people selling just everything. There are even people selling used office shirts, they’re clean, looking new and cheap so we managed to stop and waste a few minutes browsing the items, although ended up not buying. I was also tempted to buy some leftover fabrics (good quality and price starts from 3 yuan!) but thinking that I hardly have time for sewing and it would give unnecessary extra weight to our luggage, so forget it.

We passed by an old woman selling Uyghur cap, which is unusual since we have come across many shops selling them and they’re run by men, and she’s selling it for only 20 yuan! (We have asked many places before and they’re 30-50 yuan) so Az says it’s time to buy one for him, as well as additional 2 for souvenir.

Az wearing Uyghur cap, and from the moment he wears it, we always get friendly stares from the locals, as if they’re saying to each other “Look, there’s tourist trying to be Uyghur!”. It feels rather good, and even funnier when people have to look twice at us to ensure if we’re locals or tourists. It also happens several times when we stop by shops and places, people would ask from where and how much we bought the cap. I mean, it’s like a necessary question!

This is our neighbor restaurant, they’re just two doors away from our hostel and we get to see them every time we go out from and return to hostel, and they would smile at us and we would exchange wave. Today, we decided to give a courtesy stop at their restaurant and have a couple of lamb kebabs. And additional to lamb kebab, they gave us free lunch!! :D It’s a large plate of noodle and I must say it taste really good! Despite the communication barrier, we feel so welcome by them and they’re trying to express their pleasure to meet fellow Muslims from far away (which is funny that had to “test” us by asking us to read some verses framed on their wall, and we did).

After lunch, we went to take bus to go to train station to change our ticket. Why? Because we realized we have come to like this place even more. Now Az asks if it’s possible we extend our stay in Kashgar, rather than going to Kuqa, Turpan and Urumqi that early. As for now, our confirmed itinerary will be:

Today (Friday) to Sunday: Kashgar. Sunday evening take bus for Kuqa (have to go buy bus ticket tomorrow).
Monday: Arrive Kuqa Monday morning, one day sight seeing, then take night train to Turpan
Tuesday: Arrive Turpan, meet CSer Ahmad and visit Tuyoq village
Wednesday: Around Turpan, and take afternoon bus to Urumqi (2 hours). Meet CSer Mischa.

After a discussion, we decided to skip Kuqa and Turpan and will buy either direct flight or train ticket to Urumqi from Kashgar. It will take 24 hour train or expensive 500+ yuan flight, now we have to choose between saving money or time. But before that, we already have train ticket from Kuqa to Turpan which had already been booked by Derek earlier. So if we are really determined to skip Kuqa and Turpan, we have to cancel the train ticket, or change it to new route Kashgar – Urumqi for Tuesday/Wednesday. Then again, we’ll only save 1 or 2 days extra in Kashgar and we’re still contemplating if this will be worth skipping Kuqa and Turpan. Anyhow. Now we’re going to train station to see if we can change the ticket, or refund it. If it can be done, then we’ll extend our stay in Kashgar, just to eat more lamb kebabs! :)

So we had to ask a favor from our hostel’s manager to write Chinese translation on our book so we’ll just simply show the message at the ticket counter (yes, don’t expect that they would understand English!).

Arriving at the train station, we quickly ran into ticket counter (like any other train station in China, the ticketing center is usually located outside the terminal building). There’s only one counter operating so the queue was rather long. The officers are all Chinese, no doubt. We have to bear with some tensed moment when some men in front of us falling into argument with the ticket officer, and after a while we could notice that the officer is being prejudice towards Uyghur people and for any reason would yell at them loudly in Chinese. On the other hand, she would talk normally and politely to fellow Chinese, even those who look and smell drunk. Fear of being in the racism dispute, I asked Az to remove his Uyghur cap before dealing at the counter.

When I showed the translated messages with our ticket, the ticket officer was saying something in Chinese and refused our tickets and it was a hell of pain that none of the fellow officers understand us. It took some time for her to ask the guard to go out and search for someone who could talk to us, and like 15 minutes later, a neat lady in uniform approached us explaining what’s going on. I guess she’s a senior officer or something.

She said our tickets cannot be exchanged or refund here because they had been booked via internet (by Derek) and the only possible way is to change it at the boarding place, in this case, at Kuqa! Why on earth would we want to go to Kuqa just to change tickets when our aim now is to NOT going to Kuqa?? =.=

Feeling upset, we left the train station, went to nearby shop to buy pomegranate juice and took bus back to town. We try to cheer ourselves by thinking that it’s meant to be and we need to follow itinerary as planned, and we get to try sleeper bus to go to Kuqa, and meet CSer Ahmad in Turpan, and we’ll still be within budget. Yeah, we’re sticking to our plan finally.

A Tale of an Old Shoes Seller – Part 1

I just have to document a story about a particular old man we met in Kashgar. He’s very old and it’s clearly seen by deep wrinkles, wearing worn clothes, and with big hat, he’s regularly found sitting at the mosque yard by late afternoon selling old shoes. We have come across alot of people in Kashgar and some of them happen to leave a memorable mark in our heart and mind. This old man is included.

After a rest and intense shower and charging camera, we left the hostel to walk around town and find lunch. For the record, we realized that we hadn’t had shower since moving to the hostel, which was a day before we went to Karakul, so do the maths! Blame the weather too being too cold in the morning and at night and with us busy exploring Kashgar during day time, getting shower doesnt come as important anymore :P So when we’re back to hostel during afternoon now it seems the appropriate time to get clean and healthy again.

As usual when we walk across the mosque yard we’ll be passing by the row of shoe shiners busy polishing customers’ shoes. We stopped for a few minutes to watch as if it’s something really amusing to our interest. Maybe it is! Az says we have to try it out once.

And this time it seems our wish has instantly come true, coz when we left the shoe shiners a few steps ahead, we saw an old man selling used leather shoes (the old man in the middle, that is!). I caught a sight of a beige-colored pair and thought they should be women shoes (probably the only among all men shoes) and spontaneously pointed “I want that shoes!”. After seeing the size is okay and being told the price is only 10 yuan, I didnt think any further. We then cheerfully made our way back to the shoe shiners just to test them with this newly bought shoes!

There’s this gypsy-looking woman caught our attention for looking so skillful and quick dealing with her customer. I show her the shoes and it’s understood to her that I need a polish. So I sit down comfortably and let her do the magic to my worn leather shoes.

The cleaning-polish only took 5 minutes, for 5 yuan. The shoes are now clean again, but the woman doesnt seem satisfied with her work because dark weary marks seen clearer on a bright-colored leather like beige shoes which polishing alone wont get rid of the stains. She gave a sign suggesting to paint the shoes black, which we didn’t understand at first and refused, but she managed to convince us well that shoes will look better and the paint won’t run. She would do it for another 15 yuan, and thinking that our initial reason of buying the 10-yuan old shoes in the first place was only to try out the shoe shiner, I guess it wont give harm if they get worse anyway.

So the real magic begins! The woman starts putting a generous amount of black paint, not one but from many different bottles and polish them off with another layers of chemical liquids (many types!) which I guess to set the black paint at place. Then she continued putting some more polish (different colors) paste and brush the shoes to shine. It was almost 30 minutes of suspense anticipating the final product of this make over. We cant help but amazed that the whole procedure was done very carefully, comprehensive without any mistake. So ta-da! My old worn beige shoes are now transformed into a pair of shining new black shoes! :D

We spent the rest of the day walking by the small roads and explore other corner of the old part, before heading to the night market. And seeing how locals make a living, right at the street. Uyghur people are blessed with craftsmanship and it’s well preserved in their culture. At the street, we get to see people actually making Tembur body.

We have earlier come across traditional instrument shop where we got to watch a live play, this is yet another, although it seems more a souvenir shop. The significant ones should be the “Tembur”, the Uyghur sitar.

Id Kah Mosque

Entrance fee: 20 Yuan. Although, we managed to get exempted from it by mentioning that we want to go inside for prayers (in which, you should be Muslim). Visiting is not allowed during prayer time.

Id Kah mosque is said to be the largest mosque in Xinjiang and China. At least all over internet says so (additional info: it can accomodate 10,000 up to 20,000 worshippers). Although, in reality, we are rather surprised that it’s not as big as we thought. The mosque consists only a small portion of covered physical building (which is the prayer hall) and huge portion of open-air landscape, all surrounded by walls with the iconic huge entrance gate (pic above). Which later we have come to learn that the huge gate is a significant feature in every old mosque in Xinjiang, which is probably the closeness to those in Central Asia.

It’s easy to recognize the mosque as the center of Kashgar town. It has a huge yard which most of time is a public common area – you can see people walking around, children playing and cycling, and the elder men sitting and talking to each other. This space can be filled completely during Eid prayers (just Google Image for Id Kah mosque Eid prayer to see how it looks like!). It’s a pity that we couldnt come here during Eid, so I was wishing that I could watch the same crowd for weekly Friday prayer also, let’s see.

The common sight of elder men sitting in the mosque yard talking to each other really gets our attention. They’re typically wearing coats and trousers (despite the midday heat), identical Uyghur caps, and seem to be spending here all day in between prayer times. A very laid back lifestyle, I can say.

The Azan (prayer call) is not as loud, but each time, these men would gradually disperse and walk towards mosque. When they’re done with prayers, they would come back to sit in groups again and continue the chat.

There are row of shops selling religious books and items as well as skull caps next to the entrance gate. In a corner, there seems to be a permanent ice cream stall (2 yuan per cup!) with chairs provided. I would get one every time I wait for Az praying.

Shops around the mosque area, and at the edge of the yard, we’re excited to see a row of shoe shine people busy serving the customers. Note: Kashgar men are all wearing leather shoes and it seems an obligatory for them to ensure they’re clean and shining. Az is eager to try out but we’re in sports shoes (who would wear formal leather shoes when traveling??) so nevermind.

Let’s go back to the mosque. The whole complex has several entrance gates apart from the main one. Az points out that the main door’s padlock has this significantly big padlock with Arabic sript carvings. When we enter the main gate for the first time, we’re surprised to see nothing but open-air garden with many trees – inside the mosque. There’s no prayer area yet – you have to walk further down the small path in between the garden, and there’s a not-so-proper covered area which I understand the prayer area for those who can’t make it to the main prayer hall (whether it’s full or they’re late). Walk further for the part where the actual building starts. It’s the main prayer hall.

When we’re about to step in, an old man with unfriendly face points out that we need to go back to the entrance and buy ticket. Az forgot to wear his kopiah which is understandable if the old man couldnt see we’re coming to visit and perform prayer. After saying that we’re Muslims, he lets us in and guides us along. We’re brought in an area inside (not the main prayer hall) where it seems the place tourists are taken and given briefings about the mosque. We, on the other hand, request to perform Zuhur and Asar prayer in the very place.

The main prayer hall, photo taken by Az during other prayer time (women are not allowed to pass this area). By proportion, the physical building area is rather small than the whole Id Kah mosque area with the garden inside and yard outside, yet it’s labelled as the biggest mosque in China. The mosque is said to be almost 600 years old, although the structures might have been renovated since.

It’s probably the culture, but the mosque does not provide prayer area for women. Az would join the congregational prayers, and at first I had to wait outside. When I notice a few women enters the gate during azan, I couldnt help but follow them as well. It turns out that these women (only four of us) had to pray on an old rug in the back of the garden.

Finally in Kashgar!!

The bus driver dropped us in front of the Id Kah mosque as we requested earlier. Because the mosque is literally the center of Kashgar city, and in Lonely Planet guide map or any Kashgar map would use the iconic Id Kah mosque as the landmark. It’s almost 7pm when we reach the city but it seems as if around 5pm (NOTE: Xinjiang officially use +8 GMT as Beijing also, but locals would use Xinjiang time which is 2 hours prior) since we actually arrived in Xinjiang only today in Urumqi (it seems a long journey already, huh?) we just start getting used to it when we arrive in Kashgar. We dont need to change our watch time (KL time) as it’s practically the same as Beijing, only when you’re Xinjiang, you need to be careful when asking/being told about time and be specific if it’s refered to Beijing time or Xinjiang time.

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