Day 31: Walking Around Kashgar, and Taking Pictures of Self-Absorbed Uyghur Children

Breakfast is modest buffet of dumplings, peanuts, vegetables, egg stew with tomatoes.  It is well-nigh impossible to tell which dumplings are the delicious ones with pork inside and which dumplings are the pasty, glutinous ones with pasty gluten inside.  Thankfully, there is no shortage of hot orange tang with which to wash down the wet cement not-pork travesties.  Anyway, the boring dumplings make the delicious meaty ones taste SO much more delicious and meaty.


Every once in a while I have a moment here that really makes me stop and take notice of how poorly my brain is working.  It is either post-BAR cerebral lethargy or a conditioned response to Sam doing all of our thinking for us, but in the end I am just kind of dumb right now.  Example: in the dining room there is a glass door that is half-covered by a sheet of that corrugated steel that people pull down in front of their storefronts at night.  Someone walks up to it and pulls on the door, wanting to go outside.  It obviously doesn’t open because the steel is pulled down from the ceiling and blocking the top half of the door.

I think: Duh.  You’re never going to get through that door.  Dummy.

But then this mental titan, this genius, does the unthinkable.  He pushes.  The door swings open to the outside, he ducks under the steel and breaks free from the room in which I would have been hopelessly trapped.

I pity the fool who ends up hiring me, because it is going to take months to get this brain back in working order.

End digression.

After breakfast we take a self-guided ambulatory tour of Kashgar.  It is obvious that we have entered the muslim region of China (and the muslim region of the world, really, for we are now quite close to several of the Stans; namely, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.  But we are also much closer to Afghanistan than I ever anticipated being comfortable with.)  The faces and hair of many women are covered by scarfs, and most men wear cool little square-topped muslim caps.  Telltale pointed arches and domes distinguish buildings covered in brightly painted ceramic tile.

kashgar architecture

Kashgar Architecture

walking home from the store

We feel our way to a large square and find the Id Kah Mosque, the largest mosque in China.  Thousands of people come here to pray.  My eyes flit from the majestic domed columns topped with traditional crescent moon to the troop of Chinese soldiers encamped at the foot of the building behind barricades and rigid lines of riot shields.  It is an obvious show of force with the intent of preventing violent uprisings among the Uyghur people.  However, after passing street after street of these same Uyghur people peacefully going about their morning, selling their fruit and bread, just trying to live their lives, this heavy-handed, overstated military presence seems more likely to incite violence rather than prevent it.  Especially since the soldiers are stationed at the door of the most treasured mosque, at the heart of these people’s religion.

Click for a better view.  Note the soldiers behind riot shields not thirty feet away from a nice old dude selling breakfast.

mosque architecture

Mosque Crescent

On the other hand, considering that on more than one occasion in the past hundred or so years a Uyghur leader has been beheaded and his head has been displayed on a pike in front of the mosque (just think!  We’re still talking about in the twentieth century, here) I can appreciate the constant, if small, potential for violence.  It doesn’t seem to warrant this military presence, but what can you do.

There is a sign in the mosque that baldly proclaims the Chinese government’s respect for the Muslim people: after describing the history of the mosque (built in 1442 and incorporating structures dating back to 996) the sign reads

All of it shows fully that Chinese government always pays special attentions to the another and historical cultures of the ethnic groups, and that all ethnic groups warmly welcome Part’s religious policy.  It also shows that different ethnic groups have set up a close relationsip of equality, unity and help to each other, and freedom of beliefs is protected.  All ethnic groups live friendly together here.  They cooperate to build a beautiful homeland,support heartily the unity of different ethnic groups and the unity of our country, and oppose the ethnic separatism and illegal religious activities.

Equality and unity.  I’ll believe that when a muslim does not have to, I’m not kidding, dodge the soldiers with rifles who are running drills directly in front of the mosque’s front door in order to go pray in the evening.  I suppose in the end freedom of religion is protected because the muslim is still allowed to go pray.  How generous.

It is pretty early in the morning so there are only one or two men praying in the mosque, scattered between the columns of an open-air prayer area.  The sun rises and warms our socked feet as we tread on the brightly colored carpet.

My shoes look comical and obscenely large next to the others, but I realize again that it is much more than just my shoes that are so obviously out of place here.

mosque carpet

Dappled Carpet

lonely prayers

Lonely Prayers

mosque shoes

Lonely Shoes

mosque prayers

Prayer Companions

I’ve never been to a mosque before and I am surprised by the lack of formality.  I am surprised that we aren’t disturbing anyone while we wander in and out of rooms, and I am surprised that Sam, head appropriately covered, is welcome to meander through the prayer areas while men are praying in them.  I suppose I was envisioning visiting the scene after the evening call to prayer (when we probably would not even be allowed inside) rather than on a quiet, sleepy morning.  Nevertheless, I feel a tad humiliated at myself that my expectations are so clearly inappropriate, especially when they are not based on any personal experience or accurate information.  Makes me feel like an enormous boob.

id kah mosque window

Fantastic decay.  There are some awesome walls, windows, and doors at Id Kah.

mosque door


After stopping to marvel at the mosque’s fantastic and unintentional green tableau (really just a doorway with a chair and some benches that I found inspiring) and the supercool huge lock for the rings on the huge copper/brass/titanium alloy/adamantium front doors, we continue our exploration through old town Kashgar.

mosque green scene

Green Tableau

mosque lock (aka loque)

Mosque Lock  (aka Loque)

Walking through the streets, we see men carving intricate wooden stair railings, cooking deliciously spiced flatbreads, hammering copper into tea pots.  After being spotted taking pictures of some little kids, we spend a lot of time trying to satisfy their endless desire to see themselves on the camera’s review screen.

kashgar friends

Grab a Bud

when kashgar eyes are smiling

Little Bro


Somehow we enter Koziqiyabixi (proper pronunciation remains unclear) neighborhood, an area with two thousands years of history where people (think: Chinese tourists) can wander through the labyrinth of tall, close alleys and enter some homes that double as places of business selling the same crafts that have been made there for hundreds of years.  I peek into a home to see a little girl standing on a suspended basket and take a picture.  I loved the photo until someone said that it looks like she hanged herself, and now that is all I can see.  (Thanks a lot, Cody.)

kashgar old city home

Hanging?  or Swinging?

polka dots and stripes

Dots and Stripes

In one home we meet a girl from Washington state who just moved to Kashgar a few months ago after marrying a man she met while teaching English, and we ruminate on how hard that change must have been for her.

In another home, we are led upstairs by the ostensible owner to gawk at the young girl that he keeps up there.  She is probably seven years old, has pretty blue eyes, and is sitting like a little princess chained to a big bed, like a little princess forced to sit in a fancy dress so people can come upstairs and look at the scary blue-eyed Uyghur girl.  It smacks of child exploitation and Sam and I are immediately creeped out.  I am wondering if the girl even lives here, or just gets rented out to different homes so people can come and look at her and give money to the owner for having such an exotic attraction locked away in his upper room.  Creeptastic.  But we stay for a few minutes and take pictures of the kids wearing my sunglasses because it seems to make them laugh.

Blue eyes.  Fancy little dress.  Creepin me out.


Back outside in the alleys we find another roving gang of self-absorbed (kidding!!) children enthralled with seeing themselves in pictures, but I am more interested in photographing the cute little guy sitting quietly by himself who appears to have just finished eating some dirt.  He could not care less that we are taking pictures, and I find his aplomb, his insouciance, magnetic.
unwashed in the alleys of kashgar's old city



Aplomb.  As in, I plum just don’t care about you or your camera.

A lot of kids here have unibrows penciled in.  Apparently that is a desirable physical attribute, and it is one aspect of my not fitting in that I am actually pretty comfortable with.

unibrow lovin


kashgar smiles

Unibrow Family

Checking out that last shot.

There is also a little girl who seems to be sucking on a piece of cloth, but when we are leaving we hear her gag and we turn to see her pulling about two feet of fabric out of what must have been her throat and stomach.  None of the kids seem to understood our shocked reaction.

face washing or . . .

The caption for this could read either “Washing Up After a Hard Day’s Work” or “Doh!  I Can NOT Believe I Spilled That!!!”


Getting stared down by an intimidating gang of Uyghur toddler street thugs.  (You know they’re serious when their hats have little ears on them.)

I have another Phenomeblonde moment with a Chinese tourist who was taking pictures with some kids.  This brings my total up to I don’t even know how many.  Apparently I rank just below the enthusiastic Uyghur children on this Chinese man’s list of most desirable photo companions, but it is an honor to even be nominated.

Arm raised in victorious accomplishment!


9 Responses to “Day 31: Walking Around Kashgar, and Taking Pictures of Self-Absorbed Uyghur Children”

  1. 1 Clay
    December 1, 2010 at 11:55 am

    Now that I think about it, I too have never been inside of a mosque. I guess I assumed that anyone may enter (like a church) if they need a safe haven (like in the movies), but that touristing is frowned upon.
    Maybe it’s because I don’t feel terribly comfortable in churches that I don’t think I would feel comfortable in mosques. I did like touring the cathedrals in Italy because I thought of them as artwork, but then as soon as I saw someone actually praying, I felt like I was intruding and unwelcome. Weird.
    Fantastic shots, nonetheless.

    • December 1, 2010 at 10:10 pm

      hey clay! lol “safe haven like in the movies” – like someone bursts through a cathedral’s big wooden double doors dripping from the rain and yells “SANCTUAAAAARY!!” the only place i’ve felt like i was intruding was in buddhist monasteries – so much more intimate than big churches. but the mosque was waaaay different than i expected, so i’m really glad i saw it.

  2. 3 about damn time.
    December 1, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    I really like that there’s a newspaper on that green armchair.

  3. December 3, 2010 at 7:57 am

    Oh, how I’ve missed your stories! Will I have to wait as long for the NEXT installment?? 🙂

    Yes, I have to agree….the little girl looks like she’s being hanged. First thing I thought of before I even read the text.

    Wonderful images as usual to illustrate your delightful tale! Your captions are priceless…LOVE the angry mob of tddlers!

    NEVER imagined ‘unibrows’ to be coveted! Go figure!

    • December 4, 2010 at 9:17 pm

      ugh i’m devastated about that picture. it has great lighting. maybe i’ll edit out the noose and remove the tragedy from the shot.

      i’m already working on day 32, so hopefully you won’t be waiting for another 6 weeks. kinda pathetic that it took me the same amount of time to write one day’s entry as the entire china trip took.

  4. December 4, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    I found you blog searching for people with the same last name. I have no idea how we’re related, but I’ve been following simply because I love your pictures and anecdotes! Keep it up!

  5. 9 please sir, can i have some more?
    December 14, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Time for another edition!!!

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