Kite Runnin’
November 12, 2009

When I heard I was going to Kashgar I expected it to be a lot like Urumqi: big buildings, good chinese/uyghur fusion food, and the ever so cute uyghur girls. Instead, Kashgar turned out to have none of those things. Kashgar is in the west and is still a part of China so it’s not quite the middle east, but close enough. It looks a lot like a scene out of Aladdin, except some signs are in Chinese. It was where they filmed the movie Kite Runner. So you can imagine how run down this whole place is. Still, it’s amazing to see how little is needed to have a sustaining community. The bread baker, flute maker, and stuff-on-sticks cooker all are able to make enough to survive and raise kids. It all seems to work out.
The cost of living here, to westerners, is dirt cheap. A bottle of water is 15 cents and stuff-on-sticks is the same price almost. Stuff-on-sticks is all over the streets in Kashgar. It’s anything you want, lamb, beef, mushroom, zucchini, squid, whatever. They cook it in dirty oil and then douse it with spice dust and msg. You’re pretty much tasting only spice and msg. The msg is what gets you coming back for more. I’m a big fan of the stuff. I ate so much stuff-on-sticks, and luckily I didn’t get sick. I’ve been having good luck on this trip in terms of sickness.

A quick taxi ride around Kashgar showed me one thing: China is strong and organized in collecting money for tourist attractions. And it’s a recent thing too. Every attraction that I went to had a sign that listed a regulated price. The price was ridiculous and is made so only tourists can pay. The Chinese influence is surprising because Kashgar is so far from Beijing. It’s a lot closer to the middle east than Beijing. China, though, sends massive amounts of troops here to make sure no protests break out and it does a good job of keeping everyone in line. I get the general feeling that the occupation is steady and long term, with the people of Kashgar not being able to do anything about it. Maybe if I had stayed longer, I would have felt some of the latent tension. I’m sure it exists.
From Kashgar I decided to push it even farther and go more west, just to see how deep this rabbit whole goes. So like Alice I set off into the unknown. The farthest I got while I was in Kashgar was out to almost the border of Pakistan. In the extreme west of Kashgar is a place called Tashkurgan. For being in China it didn’t feel like I was in China. However, I still enjoyed my stay in a part of China that looks nothing like China. Even though it’s both cold in the capital city Beijing and Tashkurgan, people dress differently. There’s no name brand here or even imitation name brand clothing. Most the stuff worn here is made here. It gives the place a community feel when you know that what everyones wearing was made by everyone who lives there. I stayed there for a night but didn’t find anything interesting. It’s cold and there’s nothing fun to do. The music was interesting though so I bought a couple CDs of trippy Pakistani/Tashkurgan music.
One thing that was wack was being ripped off at the hot pot restaurant. A phenomenon I wish would go away along with Twilight is the ripping off of foreigners. After buttering us up with delicious food, good service, and smiles, we were stuck with a bill that charged us for food, bowls, plates, and napkins. Who charges for bowls, plates, and chopsticks? They charged me for those things. I kid you not. I cursed them out to show my disappointment but paid it anyway just to get the hell out. I’m sure they don’t really care. The world needs less hidden costs in general amirite guys?
One thing cool about Kashgar is all the people who make a living making things with their bare hands. In a world of mass production it’s a rare thing to watch a dude bang out 50 beautiful ashtrays with nothing more than a mallet and an anvil and some pieces of metal. Or the dude that carves flutes all day out of raw pieces of wood. Places like Kashgar is the only place where they could make a living.