Urumqi: Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum, Mini Great Wall, and Night Market

Side Note: finally publishing a long – very long – pending post. Has it been a year? Or more? Well, a lazy post as it seems, apart from having this on hiatus for ages, I havent really got much exciting to tell about China especially episodes after we left Kashgar. Urumqi and afterwards were pretty ordinary, I tell ya. 

We changed our mind with the plan to visit Nanshan pasture, as I dont know why, after the overrated Tianchi, we can assume that tourist places in Urumqi are expected to be, well, very touristy. Plus we have had a look photos by Mischa and Hasnat at Nanshan and it looks more like a forest park with some ladder rivers than a greeny grassfield like I had seen on internet. Probably the grassfield will appear after summer, and certainly not now. Therefore, today we decided to visit the museum and sightseeing Urumqi, and collect our Xian – Chengdu train ticket which has been booked by Derek online. We can collect it in Xian, but thinking that we only have one full day in Xian and its train station is probably larger and busier than Urumqi, plus we have a few hours to kill here, so we’d go to Urumqi train station.

Mischa cooked us very nice fried cabbage for breakfast. Last night we went to walk to buy some food in a shop inside the campus and got ourselves some bowls of Xinjiang instant noodles and 3-in-1 Nescafe (China version!), that we love alot! And yes, by almost 2 weeks being in China, we seem to have mastered the skill of using chopstick ;)

Later Mischa walked us to the bus station again in front of the university campus gate. He taught us which bus to take also important words Bowuguan (Museum) and Houce zan (train station) to tell the bus driver as alert.

This place is Russian area, where you can see rows of shoplots with Russian script signboards. Soon the bus arrived and we waved Mischa goodbye and started our day exploring Urumqi!

First we went to Urumqi museum. Entrance is free, which is good. Forgot to take picture of the building though. The museum is all about Xinjiang and Silk Road, I can say a really comprehensive one.

Scripts and sculptures. Pictures of Idkah mosque – which made us want to point out loud “I was here!” :) Oh and we didnt visit the Apakh Khoja tomb though. Too busy eating kebab lamb in Kashgar. Also there’s a model of Jiaohe ruins in Turpan, Kilgiz Buddha caves in Turpan, and China map.

I love this! Sculptures of people wearing Xinjiang ethnic costumes. A real bunch of colorful mix!

Ethnic caps (We recognize the common Uyghur green cap. And Mischa gave Az one Kazakh cap. How about the lot rest?), Kazakh ethnic, Hui ethnic, Kyrgyz ethnic, Russian ethnic. We aren’t really fans of musuems but this Urumqi museum is well worth a visit. It’s like a quick way to learn about Xinjiang and its people and culture in one place.

After museum we went to the train station. It was not good – long queues although for foreign counter (it seems they’re mixed) and we spent rather long there and Az missed Friday prayer – which is pity. We had lunch at KFC (which is lame, but many days eating lamb makes you sometimes want to try the “rare” chicken ;p) and later walked around main bazaar area to find mosque.

This mosque is the nearest to Bazaar. It’s currently under renovation so people proceed to basement area for prayers.   As usual female area is not provided so I just made do with using a space near the hallway. While we’re in the bus going back to Xinjiang uni, Az spot his name at some signboard! :)

We called up Hasnat to meet us at Xinjiang uni and he brought us to the BRT station where this park is located. This lake is man made!

And here we saw the Great wall! In Urumqi! :D

You can actually go up walking on the “Great wall” but the entrance to it was already closed by the time we arrived.

On the way back to Mischa’s house, we passed by the Grand Bazaar again but this time we spot some crowds nearby. Night market is happening!

Got excited seeing these weird sheep heads again – after Kashgar – although we decided NOT to try this time :P Typical dumplings and sausage, but we still go for lamb kebabs, this could be the last Kebab after we leave Xinjiang! *sob!*

Claypot noodles on variety. I had mine, tasting somewhat different than usual soup noodle I had tasted. Theres some features in it probably seaweed or something but when you much it it feels like munching rubbers!

We came home to find out Mischa was having a guest. The friend is also Kazakh Chinese, and works in Kazakhstan. We had a quick chat that night, which is our final night in Urumqi before leaving the next day for Xian. Video below captures our food hunting at night market, among others ;)

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.

Kashgar Night Market

Back to Kashgar. Here, even without this night market, you can find endless stalls and restaurants at every corner, along every street. Did I say earlier that Kashgar has instantly become our official ultimate food destination? Especially for juicy lamb kebabs, of course! We only learned about the night market after one day touring around the town picking up every single lamb kebab in sight, and by evening, the night market was just starting and we were already full! Too bad! Az said let’s come again another day (which is, after visiting Karakul) to enjoy the night market to the fullest.

Now we are here again after back from Karakul, at the right time, right place, most importantly with enough space in tummy to try food particularly in the night market. What makes this place more interesting than regular restaurants is surely the crowds, and different types of food cramped in a place. Ignore the improper bench for sitting and it’s perhaps not the time to care so much about stalls condition. Food is first!

Most of the stalls provide long bench for you to sit up and have your meal right at the very place, facing the seller and the food itself. This is something that we dont know the name, but it’s like long big hot dog made of rice and mince lamb and veggies, being cut alongwith other stuff and soup mixed together to become something what Malaysians know as Yong Tau Fu for, 5 yuan. To us it’s tasteless, but we have to finish it anyway. Serve us right for the itch of trying new food, which turned out not as worth as lamb kebabs.

We tried soup noodle next. 5 yuan per bowl, and from the appearance of those bones I guess it’s supposed to be lamb noodle. Although hardly contains significant meat chunks in it, the soup is great. However, the stall owner noticeably looks unfriendly for whatever reason.

Kashgar food is mainly lamb, and lamb-based, including the inner organs and parts that something too weird to learn that they’re edible. Sheep head and feet for instance!

We call this curly hotdog, 1 yuan per stick. Grilled traditionally on fire and dashed with some hot spice powder and within a minute, it’s ready to be enjoyed right on the street.

This is manta, some kind of steamed bun (I know the name because already having it earlier with Nazar in Urumqi) and if earlier we had manta with lamb fillings, this stall owner gave us to try one with garlic chives in it. 1 yuan.

The ultimate food you have to taste once in a lifetime: THE SHEEP HEAD! Like, seriously. See the well-organized stack? While we used to think it’s the last part in a cattle that someone would eat, people in Kashgar on the other hand are very fond of eating sheep head, there are many stalls that serve only the heads! We’re contemplating whether to try it or not (ya, it looks gross, but the curiosity kills everything!).

So we had a plate, OMG! (Although, the stall owner – which I think he purposely – misunderstood that we want to eat for two =.=) so we’re given two sheep heads in one plate (18 yuan). Know how he serve it? He chooses one head from the stack, with a knife, he chops the head into half, and with hands, break everything into smaller pieces before putting into a plate (the bones and skull seem to have turned a little soft thanks to being cook in soup for a while) . And it comes with a bowl of soup – yes, the very soup from which sheep head had been cooked in. This is the meal! Now how do we eat this thing? We look around to see how others eat theirs: without choosing and checking what is in their plate, have them straight away into their mouth and munch delightfully. And they dont leave anything in the plate! Even the skin, the organ tissue.  And I wonder if they eat the eyeballs?? I mean, I can take eating chunks of meat that’s left at the skull, and that’s all. Okay I guess I’ve eaten something else too (which I dont want to try to think what they could be) and washing them down with soup does make it taste better (and less gross feeling). Anyways. For a moment I thought we’re taking part in a Survivor challenge. And we did it! :D

We end up coming to night market every day since just to explore Uyghur food and see the feast. For record, we had another bowl of soup noodle mentioned earlier, and the manta, and curly hotdog, but never again sheep head!