(Uyghur greeting which means Hello!),
From Singapore to Urumqi, we took Air China with a stop-over at Beijing. The whole journey itself took around 10 hours (6 hours: Singapore to Beijing, 4 hours: Beijing to Urumqi).
I couldn’t sleep throughout the journey as the turbulence was quite bad. Only the husband slept soundly, but then again he sleeps anywhere and whenever there is opportunity. He is a sleeping beauty.
We left Singapore in the wee hours and we reached Urumqi on the same day at noon (10am Xinjiang time). It took us quite awhile to realize that Xinjiang and the rest of China are two hours apart in practice though in theory Mao Tse-tung decreed that everybody should follow a single time zone. I read somewhere China is big enough to span five time zones but the largest country in the world insist on a single one while Russia has 11.
The Uyghurs (Muslims who look more European than Chinese and use a Turkic language sprinkled with Arabic), the dominant minority in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province, follow their own unofficial time, which is two hours earlier, following the dictates of the sun. It makes perfect sense since Beijing time means getting up in the pitch dark and going to sleep at sunset. Xinjiang follows the same time zone as most Central Asian countries, GMT+6.
While the airports, government offices and hotels in Xinjiang province use Beijing time, only the non-Chinese, Uyghurs, use their own local time. Apparently the time for sunrise and sunset differs from the Beijing time zone and this could affect the praying times for the Muslim.
Upon arrival in Urumqi, we were greeted by our tour guide from ORT and made our way to Turpan which was a three hour drive through with several stopovers for sightseeing and lunch before we reached our final destination. On the way to Turpan, one will see a lot of Wind Turbines.
This was at Dabancheng Wind Farm. Designed to be a model environmentally firendly city, the new low carbon city depends on both solar and wind energy for lighting and hot water supply.
Lunch was polo. Lamb and mutton feature heavily, slow-cooked or smoke-grilled in Xinjiang food. Arguably Xinjiang’s most famous Uyghur dish, mutton polo is a rice pilaf coloured with shreds of sweet orange and yellow carrot and enriched with strands of caramelised onion, cooked over low heat until the rice absorbs all the stock and develops a buttery, muttony flavour. It’s always served with a chunk of slow-cooked mutton on top, and a bowl of Kashgar tea, yellow with saffron and lightly spiced.
In Turpan, we visited the sites of ancient city of Gaochang (above: built in the 1st century BC and an important site along the Silk Road since it played a key role as a transportation hub in western China)and Jiaohe Ruins (below: more intact than the nearby ruins of Gaochang, although the cities were built and fell into disuse at about the same times).
Initially, I was apprehensive visiting both sites. Although I was a History student, I was never good at it. I don’t have a flare for Humanities at all. So learning about the successive civilizations of people who lived there was not my cup of tea. Nonetheless, I ended up appreciating the stark beauty of the ruined cities and the surrounding desert canyons and hills. Unfortunately both sites were never featured in any hollywood epic, e.g Indiana Jones or similar movie genres.
Anyway, Turpan is famous for the Flaming Mountains, caused by erosion of the red sandstone bedrock giving the mountains a flaming appearance at certain times of the day. Our homestay for the night was in Tuyuq village located in a narrow canyon of the Flaming Mountains.
Interestingly, the locals prefer to sleep outdoors during the summer period, no brainer. So we saw mattresses on the rooftops.
We too slept outdoors under the shades of grapevines. It was an experience we would not forget, ever. Imagine lying down and looking at grape bunches, wondering if one could eat and rest at the same time. Wishful thinking.
The homestay was a great opportunity for us to have a sneak peak into the lives of the locals. The husband and dad also prayed jemaah with the locals. The only thing we had issues was the ‘toilet’ since we were so used to the modern western toilets back in Singapore. I remembered my last personal experience with a non western toilet was back in the early 80s’ when I lived with my paternal grandparents in Kampung Bedok.
In Tuyuq village, one has the option of doing their ‘business’ in the open or in a covered makeshift ‘toilet’ which was actually a cubicle with a hole. From 20 metres away, one could already smell the stench. With the mutton loving villagers, the stench had a waft of mutton smell. Initially, my little sister, Tqa, said she could do it when she saw some kids playing hide and seek inside the cubicles. Tqa entered the cubicle and vomitted. Lo and behold the hole was full of shit, maybe from whenever. Tqa was never the same again. The husband did his ‘big business’ there because he said he had no choice. Oh well, it was an authentic experience indeed. There was a Western toilet but it was locked on the day we came. Too bad.
We ended the day early by Xinjiang standards at 8pm but it was already 10pm Beijing time which was similar to our Singapore time. Plus, we were tired from the plane travel too.
End of Day 1, finally.