In the instant we stepped off the plane in Urumqi, in that half-second during which one of my feet was still aboard the China Southern Airlines aircraft that shuttled us from Guangzhou and the other was already planted firmly in the jetway, I felt something that I had never felt in China before: cold. It was only a moment's breeze passing through the crack between aeroplane and terminal gate, but it was crisp enough to make me remember what autumn felt like.
We had about four hours to kill in the capital before our flight to Kashgar, so naturally, we decided to go mummy-hunting. The Urumqi museum is home to several 3,000-year-old mummies, quite controversial because their Caucasoid bone structure appears to suggest that the Uighurs have been in Xinjiang longer than the Chinese (There was a New York Times article about this recently). Anyway, we changed into warm clothes and bought bus tickets. David asked the bus driver if this bus stopped at the provincial museum. "No museums are open today," said the bus driver. David told him to take us there anyway. "The provincial museum is closed!" said the driver again. David was undeterred. "Let's just go have a look anyway." I turned to David. "Are you sure? Wouldn't the driver know?" I said. "No, he wouldn't," replied David.
And I'll be darned if the driver's pants weren't ablaze when we reached our destination (translation: the museum was open). Here we are waiting in line outside with a bunch of friendly faces:
Once inside, we were immediately invited to RETRACE YESTERDAY'S GLORY OF THE WESTERN REGIONS!
Sadly, the mummies weren't on display that day. We did, however, enjoy the murals on the wall depicting the harmonious relationship between the Uighurs and the Communist party troops:
Here are some other festive stony sights of Central Asia:
I'm pretty sure that last one is a scene from buzkashi, the goat-grabbing game of family fun.
Before we went back to the airport, we managed to find a meal so satisfying I have to write about it. First, a bagel on the street. Yes, a bagel. In CHINA for crying out loud. Who knew that Muslims love them too?
Then, a spirally skewer of spicy "wheat muscle":
"Wheat muscle? You mean, it's meat?" "No, not meat." "Then why is it called muscle?" "Eat it." "But..." "Eat it, it's good." That's a classic streetfood conversation right there. I was hungry enough to try anything at that point, and sure enough it was pretty good.
Finally, we found a restaurant to serve us a proper dinner. Behold, kung pao chicken with sugary peanuts:
Why didn't I think of that? It would be so easy to make, even in America. You could use honey-roasted peanuts! The Sichuanese man who ran the restaurant was very nice, although his accent was thick and I couldn't understand 3/4 of what he said. What's that, something about the U.S.? Nod. Something about the economy? Yeah, it's bad right now, isn't it? Something about the food? It's delicious!
Back to the airport, on to Kashgar. More on Kashgar in the morning; it was too dark and we were too tired when we deplaned there to make any real assessment. I do, however, want to talk about this for a second:
We saw it in a terminal shop at the Urumqi while waiting for our flight to Kashgar. It's a dried deer penis.
"Hey Old Zhang, I got you a present from Xinjiang!"
"Oh snap, it's not a deer penis is it?" hasty unwrapping "It is! You old dog, you! You know how I love salty Xinjiang cock-jerky!"
"Well, you know, I just thought you might like a memento from...."
"Hey, wait a minute! The color's all wrong. This isn't even name-brand penis! You got me shitty AIRPORT deerdong, didn't you? Way to forget about your friends until the last minute. Fuck you, man."