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animals, Kashgar, mysterious ingredients, travel

Diplomatic Immunity

05.08.09 | 2 Comments

Paris: Eiffel Tower. Cairo: Pyramids. China: Great Wall. London: Big Ben. Kashgar—wait, what?

A lot of people were a bit baffled by my jaunt out to Kashgar. Some westerners had never heard of it, and most of my students thought I was crazy. The western part of China is far poorer (yet, in my opinion, infinitely cooler) than the east coast. Its comparative instability and high percentage of minority people make the west, especially Kashgar’s province of Xinjiang, seem distant, mysterious, and, to some, a bit dangerous [which is perhaps overblown but not totally unfounded, given the bombings there last year].

But for the few who venture out to Kashgar, there is an Eiffel Tower waiting. Metaphorically, I mean, not Vegas-ically. [See what teaching English has done to my English?] The Sunday Animal Market, is at least a few hundred, perhaps thousand, years old, which isn’t surprising given that Kashgar was a hub of the Silk Road. I haven’t been to Paris (yet!), but I’m sure that someone could find some way to compare it to a livestock market in Central Asia.

Yusup, a kid who worked at one of the hotel travel shops, volunteered to take us to the Sunday Bazaar and the Animal Market for free in exchange for the opportunity to practice his English. His English wasn’t great, but it was good enough. And I’m not really one to talk, given that I don’t even know how to say Hello, Thank you, or Goodbye in Uighur. For most of the time, we thought Yusup’s name was Alim, since that was the name on the card he gave us. Even after he said his name was Yusup, Dad still called him Alim.

Oh, Dad.

First we hopped a bus to the Sunday Bazaar. It was still pretty early, 10:30/8:30, so there weren’t tons of people there yet. All the stalls were just opening.

The bazaar was in a sprawling warehouse-type structure, where they sold EVERYTHING. There were acres devoted solely to shoes. Had my mom come along, we never would have gotten her out of there. Though there must be some customs-imposed limit on shoes…

There were also clothes, fabrics, dried fruit and nuts, and Uighur knives. Everywhere we went, people tried to sell Dad a knife. The knives were beautiful, shiny and intricately detailed, but pretty useless in that they can’t be transported home on an airplane and serve no practical use to my father in everyday life, since his proclivity for carrying a concealed weapon is pretty much zero. Apparently most Uighur men carry knives, though according to Yusup, no Uighur men carried around those fancy knives.

The guy on the left is Yusup. The shop owner started his asking price at 600 kuai, which is utterly ridiculous, and even though my dad didn’t want it and didn’t try to bargain, the guy lowered his price to 200. It was probably worth half that.

After a bit at the bazaar, we took a cab out of the city to the animal market.

According to Yusup, farmers and livestock dudes come from all the surrounding cities to convene and sell their animals.

Yes, he used the word ‘dudes.’

Okay, no he didn’t.

The animals, predominantly sheep and lambs, with a few goats and cows thrown in, are packed in head-to-butt in a dusty lot. You could hardly tell where one sheep ended and another began. There could have been a sheep with a head at both ends of its body and we wouldn’t have been able to tell.

“I’ve always felt like the black sheep in the family…”

Kind of what the buses in China are like during rush hour.

The animals had colored paint splotched on their fur to differentiate their owners. Now that’s a sheep of a different color!

Camel!

Another camel!

And another camel!

Baby camel!

Doesn’t it look kind of like an ostrich?

The owners and prospective buyers, all men, cluster about, enthusiastically grab animals in intimate places and negotiate deals accordingly. Yusup said animals go for over 1000 kuai, and the people who buy them are mostly butchers.

So not a place to buy souvenirs. Though we did run into a guy from New Zealand who was looking for a yak head to put in his bar in Urumqi. Doesn’t that sound…homey.

The animal market was incredibly…pungent. With all the dust, animal fur, and animal feces floating around the air and coating the ground, I seriously wondered whether I would contract some strange, brain-eating animal-borne virus and, far from any Western medical help, die a writhing, foaming, frothing death.

These people must have immune systems like a dictatorial police state.

I was aching to dip my shoes (and lungs!) in so much Lysol that they would erode. My imagination kind of ran wild imagining all sorts of spiky amorphous bacteria and germs floating around the air and seeping into my body, sort of like a Magic School Bus special.

Alongside the animals, there were various food stalls stewing lamb stew and serving soups and such.

The only way I’d ever eat anything in the vicinity of that market is if I contracted a brain-eating animal-borne virus and I were frothing, raving mad because of it.

I’m such a germophobic American. But can you imagine the shit (literally!) stuck to these skewers? Heck, I don’t even keep my toothbrush in the bathroom because of sheer proximity. Yeugh!

It’s a good thing Muslims don’t eat pork—that’s all I needed, to worry about contracting Swine Flu in the middle of nowhere edge of the world.

This takes talent:

The heads scattered on the ground were a nice Godfather-like touch.

I bet Mario Puzo got his inspiration from the Kashgar Animal Market.

When we had inhaled enough fecal matter, the three of us headed back into the city and had lunch. Guess what we had?

More lamb pilao. The lamb here is not trimmed of fat, so each piece of lamb comes with a white, gelatinous blob of fat dangling from it. I can appreciate a bit of animal fat, but this was a bit much. I ate around it.

We also got 大盘鸡, da pan ji, which literally means big plate of chicken. And that’s exactly what it is.

I LOVE da pan ji. There are a few places in Huzhou that serve it. It’s a ginormous plate of small, bone-in pieces of chicken, potatoes, peppers, cinnamon, anise, garlic, onion, chili pepper, and…something I haven’t quite figured out yet.

This one was…okay. The place I go in Huzhou is actually way better.

We rested for most of the afternoon, as Dad was still jet-lagged. For dinner we ventured to a Pakistani restaurant, which according to some source was a great place to eat. Actually it was a grungy little place that served small portions of rather bland food. Apparently it set off Dad’s Cleanliness Radar, but since I’ve eaten in way grungier, he said nothing to try to ‘keep up’ with me.

He paid for that later that night. Dearly. I suffered no problems, so I was pretty proud of my assimilated stomach.

But, you know what they say about famous last words. Oh, ellis. Just you wait.

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