Thursday, September 20, 2007

Jackie Chan could hook you up with drugs..I mean, he might know people


Day Three in Urumqi (rhymes!)
7:25am Fuyuan knock
7:30am Breakfast
8-11am Driving
11-2pm Hike Flaming Mountain
2:30pm Lunch
4-7 Grape Valley Tours
8:30-9:30 Dinner
10:30 -> Train

Our wake up call was suppoed to be at 7, but it never came and we woke up to the fuyuan pounding on our door and yelling “吃饭下楼!” So we got ready in 5 minutes, literally. Thank goodness we showered the night before.

After breakfast we took a three hour bus ride out of the city to Turpan. Turns out that inflatable neck pillow was an excellent purchase. I felt a little ill after breakfast, so I spent that whole time sleeping.

We finally drove up to this really awesome sand dune town. If I were talented, I could replicate the entire thing on the beach. It even had giant statues of Buddhas and Chinese dragons. I'm really mad I didn't get a picture, but I was sleeping on the way in and bandaging on the way out.

Anyways, we pull up to the flaming mountain which is actually a gigantic sand dune with a rickity staircase leading to the top. I fondly christened this staircase the "flaming staircase of death." I'll post a picture that you can see it in. From the bottom this did not look intimidating. However, about a couple hundred incredibly steep steps in I was corrected. I was still feeling pretty nauseous from breakfast and I hadn't had anything to drink in the morning because I was sleeping/paranoid about having to pee on the bus ride, so I had to make a system where I stopped every 50 steps to stop myself from puking (and to catch my breath). It didn't help matters that it was about 90 degrees out.

Once we finally reached the top, however, it was pretty awesome. Despite my pathetic performance, I still was in the top five to reach the top. The view was incredible, and (like some of the boys pointed out) it really did look a lot like Tatooine (minus the whole two sun thing). I did manage to hurt myself immediately though. I tried to scramble onto this final ridge, but ony stepped onto the very edge, so the sand crumbled beneath me and I scraped up my shins pretty badly. Here's a picture of me I'd like to call victorious death. Notice the lovely sunburn, despite extreme sunscreen reapplication.

At the top of the dune we climbed you looked out at a parallel dune that was covered in all sorts of messages and phone numbers in both Chinese and Arabic. They were huge messages - the letters were at least 10 feet high, if not drastically higher. So, of course we had to write A2 (our group's name) in the dune so the other group would see it once they reached the top later on. A handful of us (the first few to reach the top) wen't over to do it. Obviously we also realized we had to write some smack about B2 (the other group) which Drue suggested that we write on the dune we had originally climbed so they would see it only as the went to write B2 on the writing dune or desecrate our A2. This is confusing - so there is an illustration in my journal - but I don't know how to draw on the internet. I'll post a picture of the dune with all the writing. It's kind of hard to see, so I tried to mess with the contrast a lot. Hopefully you'll get the idea. For scale, there are two little people over there carving A2 into the dune.

After the flaming mountains we went to lunch, and then took a tour of the Grape Valley. First we stopped at Amanti's house. Amanti was like the Robin Hood of the Uyghers. Here's the story of Amanti: A man walks by a restaurant and smells the food, then tries to continue on, but the restaurant owner stops hims and demands that he pay regardless because he smelled the food. Frustration ensues. Amanti then comes up and shakes his monkey bag saying "I will pay for this man." The restaurant owner agrees to this, but then Amanti starts to walk away. When the owner complains, Amanti shakes his bag again and says "you heard my money, therefore I have paid."

Next we went to a model Uygher village - no comment, I've seen the real thing.

Next was ancient Jiaohe. Jiaohe was a city that was huge in the 5th-8th century, and was eventually abandoned by the 14th century. The name means "where two rivers meet" and that's exactly where it is. It's on a raised plateau between two rivers, so when you look down from the edges of the cities, you look into lush green valleys (which seem so odd because it's such a deserty location). The houses were dug into the earth, cave/hobbit style. Military defense was a huge priority, and the fortifications were everywhere. However, because the city was built on a high plateau, there wasn't a conventional city wall, just gates over the stairs that cut tunnel like down to the regular ground. Each gate opened up into a foyer type area, so if the enemy broke in they would be jammed up in this foyer which was surrounded by archers. There was also a pretty impressively preserved Mahayana temple on the grounds. The central pillar was still standing, but most of the statues had eroded away.

Our last stop in Turpan was to learn about the irrigation system in the grape valley. They get the water from snow runoff from Tianshan. The flaming mountains make a natural dam for all of this underground water. The people discovered this by making a shaft well at the foot of the flaming mountains. They then conducted the water to the grape valley by digging a series of shaft wells and connecting them with underground aquaducts. It was immensly impressive.

Finally, we got on the overnight trian to Dunhuang. I had a middle bunk. The overnight train is absolutely not as glamorous as it seems. I hate overnight trains now. Even thinking about them makes me feel clausterphobic and freaked out. Ugh.

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