the Aksaray

Sunday, May 16, 2010
10:09 a.m. Beijing time
China, Xinjiang (Uygur Autonomous Region), Urumqi

I am sitting by the window of my room at the Aksaray Hotel. Outside, across the street and down the block, I can see the minarets and gold dome of the Tatar mosque. Beyond that are more block-like buildings, radio towers and haze. Beyond that, in the dawn light, I can see the ridges of the Tien Shan jutting in the distance. The sound of traffic is constant from below – buses, taxis, cars (QQ’s). Next to the Arman grocery store opposite the hotel, another building is under construction (it’s at least 25 stories tall). There seems to be a lot of trash/construction debris on the site – I wonder where it goes – is there a landfill? Beside the building there is what appears to be a shanty-like storage or living area.
Urumqi is the regional capital of the Uyger Autonomous region. To the north is Russia, to the south, beyond the Tien Shan, the sands of the Taklamakan Desert stretch to the Kunlun range; to the northwest lies Mongolia, and to the northeast are Kazakhstan and the countries of Central Asia.
Dr. Z and I went in search of a 24-hr mini-mart last night, and because of our efforts, I am having a warm cup of Maxwell House 3-in-1 instant coffee (“coffee house style” “good to the last drop”), which is typical for this area which is better known for tea drinking than coffee. There isn’t a Starbucks in Urumqi.

This morning:

-Xinjiang Regional Museum (famous for its mummies, artifacts…ceramics, tools, musical instruments – Shatar, Rawap, Aijek, Kalong, Dulcimer, Shabayi, ethnic dress), translation of signs seem to perpetuate ethnic stereotype…disposition, inclination toward singing and dancing
-Uygur restaurant – horse meat, fresh yogurt, kawas (semi-carbonated beverage), tofu, a variety of sweet cold beans, spicy noodles, fried omelet (?); flatware is wrapped in sealed plastic

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