Friday, July 24: Korla, Xingjiang, China
7:08 Today we’ll drive 300 km to the city of Aksu on the northern edge of the Tarim Basin. Some signs indicate Akesu, Ak-su, Akshu, Aqsu, and according to Wikipedia it’s also known as Bharuka and Po-lu-chia. During the Han dynasty (125 BCE to 23 CE) it was known as Gumo. Confused? Along the way I read in a guidebook that Aksu fell to Genghis Khan and his Mongol forces in 1208 and since the 1500s it has been part of the Uyghur Empire.
10:59 We make good time and arrive in Aksu before the sun is directly overhead. Still, it’s about 42C in the shade.
13:00 Others head to a temple just outside the city while I take a cab to the local bazaar. It’s scorching hot and most of the shops are closed for the afternoon. After walking around for an hour I sit down at an outdoor cafe and order the house specialty: a mixture of shaved ice, yak yogurt, and lemon juice (see above photo). It’s not bad but I politely decline a refill when offered. The owner of the booth is very friendly. He even sends his son to the car to fetch his driver’s license. After a few minutes I figure out that he wants to see my license. He seems to know “Toronto” (at least he pronounces it “Tranna”) so I get out my phone and show him some photos from my home city. He calls over several buddies and together we look at my friend Raymond Vong’s photos of the CN Tower which has been lit up for the Pan Am Games. All five guys are transfixed. One guy gets out his phone and plays a Shania Twain song. I don’t know if he’s aware that Shania was born in Ontario or if he just thinks that I might like to hear some western music while I finish my yak yogurt.
16:20 I pose for my first photos of the day. The people in Aksu are a little more reserved than those in central and northern China. The guy on the right has a booth selling some great shoes, shirts and ball caps.
I passed on the “Abibas” shirts but of course I just had to get an “ORIONAL AUTHENTIC BRANO” Apple hat. They go for about $2 apiece.
18:25 He didn’t ask for a photo with me but his little dog did follow me for about 10 blocks as I walked back to the hotel. Later two cops pull up beside me and gave me a good look over. I want to tell them that they look pretty silly sharing the same scooter, especially with one cop holding the other’s love handles, but the language thing got in the way. This is probably a good thing.
19:30 Jason takes us to a nearby hotel where they have an all-you-can-eat buffet for 86 yuan or about $16. The buffet features a mix of Chinese dishes (roast duck, steamed shrimp, dumplings, squid kabobs) and a lot of western food (grill-your-own steaks, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, Hawaiian pizza, cherry cheesecake). It’s wasn’t exactly haute cuisine but let’s just say that we got our 16 bucks worth. One guy came around at the end of the night and took several photos of us. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are posted at the cashier and future Dragoman groups will be barred.