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March 24-28

Turpan was, along with Xi'an, my favorite place in China. This was why I came to China; to see the sights that most people don't see, to check out the areas that most people don't even know exist. We spent four wonderful days in Turpan. If you haven't been reading the newsletter and just been glancing at the pictures, start paying attention now!

It all started out just like every other city. We walked off the bus and the first thing we heard and saw was the first thing we saw in every city--natives begging foreigners us to let them drive us to some hotel in their taxi. These people had been in every city--Nanjing, Zhenzhou, Xi'an. But this time there was something different about the experience. The guy didn't give the impression he was there to rip us off. And he spoke impeccable English. And the local hotel he suggested was only 20 Yuan ($3) a night, which was definitely in our price range. We agreed, and that was how we became acquainted with our Uyghur guide Ablajan.

Ablajan had finished middle school and then gone to a language training school in Urumqi. After studying there for four years he returned to Turpan and worked as a busboy in a hotel before becoming a guide, a job he has held for five years. He was a very urbane guy with impeccable English, and we had an excellent time seeing the many sites around to Turpan with him.

On our first day we set out to see a traditional village. In the first two sets of pictures you can see the local mosque:

And here are some locals.

Here are caves carved into the side of the mountain. Until very recently, people lived in these caves during the summer months as it provided much-needed shelter from the overwhelming heat.

The ruins of the ancient city of Gao'chan, located to the west. The city was absolutely stunning, just what you can imagine a central Asian civilization would be like. The soft rock was malleable enough that the houses and roads were built into the ground, the spare soil used to build up the city walls. This city was built more than 3,000 years ago and people lived here until as recently as 300 years ago, when mud-brick houses became more practical and cool in the summer.

The city stretches for miles and miles, and we spent several hours exploring the caves and seeing what appeared to be kitchens, cellars, bedrooms, and temples back in the ancient culture of the Uyghurs.

Here I am talking with Ablajan.

Additionally, the landscape was stunning.

On our last day in Turpan we went to the night market for dinner and sat next to a table of rowdy Uyghur men. One of them, thoroughly drunk, came over and spoke to us in Mandarin, asking us where we were from. This much I understand, and I said we were from America. He tried to introduce himself but was too drunk, and his friends pulled him back to the table. After that one of the older Uyghurs came over and apologized, patting his right hand on his chest in a motion of apology. (People in Japan act far sillier when they get drunk, so it was really no big deal... "I've seen far worse.") But he then started asking us questions through our guide and we talked a little about America, President Bush, and Deng Jioping. It turned out that he was a police officer, and at the end of the night, despite being thoroughly drunk, he insisted that he drive us home (Ablajan saw how inebriated he was and made sure one of his friends drove us). A fun final night in a wonderful city.

We headed back to Urumqi, spent one more full day in that city, and then took a plane back to Shanghai. The ticket was only $110! And keep in mind that the distance was the same as New York to San Francisco. We then spent two more nights in Shanghai before catching the boat back to Osaka.

c. 2005 Christopher Gunson