Friday, June 10, 2011

Journey to the West (Western China, That Is)

Hi Dearies, Fat Geisha is back after traversing the paths of the Ancient Silk Road. I have been to China many times, but always to the top-tier developed cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen for both business and pleasure. While impressed by the rapid development, the country has never been able to draw me the way Japan does, even though I am ethnically Chinese and should feel a stronger affinity to the country. But this particularly trip was certainly an eye opener for me. 

For one, I realised that China is not JUST about Beijing or Shanghai (Technically I KNOW it is bigger but I hope you get what I mean). It is bloody HUGE. Flight time from Beijing to Urumqi, Xinjiang, was 4.5 hours, which was about the distance between Singapore and Taiwan. The cultures and the people are vastly different, not just because they are from different ethnic groups, like the Uighurs and Kazakhs, but even the Han Chinese have very different behaviour, thoughts and outlooks on life, many times for the better I feel.

Away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities, which are designed to strike awe in the hearts of foreigners "Hear Ye, Hear Ye, China is a World Power!", I see sprawling landscapes, genuine human warmth, the ever widening income gulf between the haves and the have-nots, immense cultural treasures and exotic food. Instead of babbling endlessly, I think a picture speaks a thousand words. I will let my pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy your pictorial journey.

Fat Geisha always starts with food.
Lamb skewers galore - Samurai T was chomping down like no tomorrow. Unfortunately, me no quite like mutton.

At the Xinjiang International Bazaar, Urumqi. One look and you can tell we are NOT in Beijing.

Big ass red dates, one of the local produce. Shopoholic that I am, I bought, of course.

We went to the Southern Pastures of Urumqi to check out the grasslands. Unfortunately part of the slopes were converted to ski resorts - urgh, commercialization! But still we saw some nice landscapes and this Kazak cattle boy.

A lovely Uighur family. We ordered a lot of lamb skewers from this man, who manages a small roadside stall!

You see a lot of interesting architecture in Western China, which is heavily influenced by Central Asian and Islamic cultures. This is the lobby of our hotel in Turpan. Great lobby, but gross rooms.

One of the UNESCO sites we visited in Turpan, Jiaohe City - a 3,000 year old city situated at the crossroads of the Silk Road. Amazingly well preserved, and equivalent in awesomeness to some of the sites I visited in Egypt.

The Emin Minaret - more than 400 years old and now one of the largest mosque in Xinjiang.

At the Flaming Mountain of the "Journey to the West" fame. Notorious for being one of the hottest places on earth. It certainly lived up to its reputation.

We visited an Uighur family who produced and sell grapes for a living. All sun-dried, hand-picked, no funny chemicals and preservatives. And they tasted wonderful!

Another UNESCO site at Dunhuang, Gansu Province - the Mogao Grottoes or Caves famed for its Buddhist art over the span of 1,000 years. Very impressive.

On this trip we cut across 2 deserts - the Gobi Desert and the Takalaman Desert. Here we are at the Echoing-Sand Mountain and Crescent Spring in Dunhuang. The sand is sooooo fine!

The Crescent Spring which is a natural spring which springs out in the middle of all that sand. Miraculous really.

We visited the Western end of the Great Wall of China at Jiayuguan, built in the Ming Dynasty. It was a spectacular looking fort.

Our Silk Road journey in map - unfortunately we did not go all the way down to Xi-An, the ancient Chinese capital.

A section of the Great Wall known as the Overhanging or Cantilever Great Wall, rebuilt in the 1980s and so-named for looking like it was hanging over a cliff.

Those vast vast landscapes of nothingness. Makes me wonder how all those ancient traders of Silk Road survived. Certainly very harsh conditions, even with all our modern day conveniences!

Our last stop at Lanzhou, where we visited the Yellow River, the cradle of Chinese civilisation. Muddy yellow indeed.

So I end with another food picture - Lanzhou's famous beef ramen, which was SUPER delicious! Yummy.

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