Thursday, July 31, 2008

Jul 31 - Hami

Breakfast today was served Uighur style, outside in front of the hotel. An interesting combination of peanuts, a bowl of yogurt, several other kinds of packaged yogurt, breads with honey, jams, and peanut butter (evidently a big local product), fried or boiled eggs, and fruit. No rice, no vegetables, no steamed buns.

Mike woke up with a slight touch of Genghis Khan's revenge, took a Cipro and a glass of immodium product, and stayed at the hotel.

The group headed off at 10 am Beijing Time (BT) (8 am Xinjiang Time (XT)) for the Hami Melon Research Center and Farm. We learned the illustrious history of the Hami melon through a series of murals, and its spread through the Silk Road to royalty. At some point, melons were grown on traveling carts to satisfy the disbursed customer base. Evidently there are 180 different kinds of Hami melons, and a typical Xinjiang house will have a niche in front to display a melon for good luck. The extensive gardens contained red dates (called Chilan, as opposed to the Arabian date), pears, grapes, flowers, and other plants in addition to melons. There were some more cryptic signs: "Easedecar fully," which we later saw as "Eased carefully," and "Carefully Electrocution."

Then off to the Xiao Nanhu Pagoda, a Tang dynasty shrine also known as the Happiness Tower. Here, a spring has flowed for centuries. Traditional Buddhists have come to the site atop a hill to circle counterclockwise, dring from the spring, then splash water on a tree, and make a wish. There are 51 sites to make special prayers for such items as
Riches and Honor,
Health and Strong,
Good Luck,
Happiness Signs,
Family Fortune,
Go Out Safely,
Cultivate the Paddy,
Embrace the Fortune,
Lifting the Beam by Wrapping the Red Cloth,
Roll One's Hoop,
Prosperous Husband,
Babies in Group.

Mike relaxed and learned that Silk Road in Mandarin is Si chou zhi lu. He also bought a melon from a local uighur who was pushing a cart with a dozen or so Hami melons. The original price seemed to 26 RMB, but after Mike said too much, he offered 2 melons, and bought it.

Lunch was at noon XT (2 pm BT). Special, for the first time, a whole fish! After lunch, the group went to a standard department store mall in downtown Hami for some shopping. Inside there was a free-standing Tupperware store. We got some batteries and bottled water, and a chance to finish up the coin collection. Coins are generally available only at big stores, because it is only there that goods are priced in the fractions of yuan, and so coins become necessary. (There is no sales tax). Anyway, getting the 1 fen and 5 fen coins (a fen is 1/100th of a yuan) and the 1 jiao and 5 jiao coins (a jiao is a 1/10th of a yuan) is really difficult, because these just don't circulate. Occasionally, one sees a 1 jiao and a 5 jiao bill, but transactions are usually in even yuan increments.

Back to hotel. Took a bus back downtown (apx 1.5 km) to refind the bazaar that Carol had been in earlier. The only thing we knew was that it was across the street from the Post Office. We got off at the downtown stop, and were pointed "that way." So we walked along a park-like street. July 28 had been the date of the Hami Melon Festival. Shortly we got to the stand where they had celebrated the official festivities, and viewed posters of "Chiquita Melon" and verdant fields. All of this somehow mixed in with Olympic symbolism. We found a bookstore, bought a 2004 map of Hami showing bus routes 1 - 12, but could not find a Uighur-English wordbook, with western alphabet for the Uighur. Across the street we found the market, and walked through quickly, because we now had only 15 minutes to get back to the hotel by 5:30. There waiting for us as we ran to it was the 14 bus, which we knew went by the hotel. We hopped on, and it turned the wrong way. The bus fare collector said in Chinese: Stay here. So we wandered on a loop through most of the known world of inner Hami. Finally, 20 minutes later (5:40) we were at the hotel, where our tour bus was fashionably late.

At 5:50 we got on the bus to go to a Uighur folk arts museum, where they had plastic representations of the major Uighur foods, along with costumes, musical instruments, etc., and artwork drawn by farmers. Then on to dinner at a countryside site, the Abdurahman Uighur Ethnic something or other. There every tour group in Hami seemed to converge. We sat at one very long table, and one small table (for the three vegetarians) in a courtyard under a grape arbor. We got there by 6:30 or so, but they really didn't start serving until 7:30 or so, so there was plenty of time to wander around and enjoy the plantings and the critters soon to be on our plates. David Peng told us some interesting stories while we were waiting.

At dinner, a band started playing and there was folk dancing. Carol got up and danced with the ethnic Uighurs. Great job. Lots of arm waving, partner circling. The group has lots of pictures, and we supposedly will be sharing photos after the trip. The food was at least sufficiently local that there was a plate of kabobs on long skewers, and yapmak (a dish of lamb shunks and carrots in layers of thin pasta like bread - sort of a lumpy Uighur lasagna). Back to the hotel for 1 hour of internet and sleep.


Shoshana said...

Was your peanut butter strangely nutty?

lancealot said...

Carol and Mike, I have been away from all computers for the past week so finally had an opportunity to read your blogs and my basic comment is

Now that I am back to civilization, I'll continue to follow your exploits and obviously look forward to your comments about the eclipse.

lee said...

Carol and Mike
Your posts are fascinating. I sort of feel like I'm in China with you - but, with the comforts of home! Keep posting, be safe and enjoy. Lee