I uttered the title of this post while staring into the small furnace they had in the common room of the hostel in Kashgar. It was a bit like an indoor campfire; we’d all sit around it, telling stories, trying to keep warm.
And then, I realized, in my head, “a coal” (as in “burning like a coal”) and “coal” (as in black mines and such) were two completely different words. It was as if they were the words “vaccuum” and “unicorn”. But, you see, what was burning inside this furnace actually was coal. It was burning like a coal because it was coal. Whoa, that kind of blew my mind hole!
I actually needed to look up the following two words after a brief discussion with the present, non-native English speakers only led (no pun intended) to more confusion: coal and charcoal. “Coal” has two meanings, the mineral meaning and the glowing-while-burning (like coal the mineral does) meaning. Charcoal, as I thought, but the non-native English speakers nearly convinced me otherwise, is not made from coal. It’s just wood or some other organic substance burned without air. Once charcoal does have air, however, then it burns “like a coal” (hence “charred coal”).
Wow, is this all super obvious (and boring)? Perhaps I’m simply losing my English, ‘cause this took me like a week to sort out.
Here was the next couple week’s worth of coal to keep us and future guests warm.
One of my favorite words is “cognate”. It’s a word used to describe words that are very similar across two or more languages. “Ma” (meaning “mother”) is, according to my highly rigorous research, perhaps the most common cognate across all languages. If I had to guess what might be the second most common, I would probably say “chai”. In Mandarin, the word for tea is “chá”, and across much of the Middle East it’s “chai”. I think it’s just us unlucky Romance language folk who got stuck with “tea” or “thè” or some variant thereof.
Perhaps it’s not so surprising. Mothers don’t all come from the same place (in the sense that mothers existed and had dispersed across the globe long before modern languages came into the picture); therefore, it’s surprising (to me at least) so many cultures use an “m” sound followed by a soft “a” as their word for “mother”. Tea, on the other hand, all pretty much comes from one place: China, originally, and the British-discovered Assam variant from India much later.
I’ve grown so used to China’s relatively unprocessed and unadorned greens that I forgot how the rest of the world drinks their tea, usually black and quite often with milk.
It’s hard to single out one tea experience as the best I’ve ever had. It would be like asking me to name the best dish I’ve ever eaten in China. There are too many regions, too many different styles, too many different means of preparing. Naming a single one would be forcing me to compare apples to oranges to cars to colors. How do you choose?
Well, the answer is: you don’t. You just get out there and enjoy it all.
It feels like I’ve been to more like half of China’s provinces rather than the measly third I got when I actually counted. But in terms of sheer area covered, especially in terms of the more remote parts of China, the percentage I’ve been to must be pushing 50%. I’ve been to China’s largest provinces, and the next few months will be dedicated to the smaller, more densely populated, coastal states.
I updated my epic Google Map. Guinness World Records hasn’t yet confirmed it’s the most epic ever, but I expect to hear back from them soon!
The map speaks for itself. I encourage you to stare at it, click around, marvel at its beauty, whatever you need to do. I made my next month’s worth of pins yellow, and I’d like to keep doing that as I travel. So if you‘d like to come visit me, you can get a sense for where I’ll be. Enjoy!
View China in a larger map
I think I made the right decision in letting the diarrhea-themed posts silently disappear; it’s time now, however, for another installment.
It can take a few days for a bug to manifest its symptoms, and over any given “few days” I will normally have eaten at at least half a dozen establishments. So, yeah, I never know where the diarrhea comes from; sometimes, frankly, I think it comes from stress. The fact of the matter, though, is that I get it about once a month. I should start calling it my monthly gift!
Anyway, I had some loose bowels in Yītūn Bùlākè, but it was such a crap town (and I had the ride offer for the following morning) that I decided to risk several hours in the car even though that could have been disastrous, to put it euphemistically.
Ultimately, I never found that magic truck going all the way to Xīníng. I’m still surprised! But my last sign was indeed my Xīníng sign.
Location:Kunlun Middle Road,Xining,China
I really thought I would find a truck all the way to Xīníng today. If I’ve learned anything from hitchhiking, however, it’s that you can never guess (correctly) what’s going to happen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned around to check for brake lights from a car I was certain would stop and when I turned back around I discover a different car has stopped. It’s the strangest thing, but I’m always off by one car!
I started out just after sunrise today. Thankfully it was right in the neighborhood of freezing. I had expected it to be closer to 20 degrees (Fahrenheit). 30-ish was a pleasant surprise. Then, with about 40 pounds on my back, I walked for seventy minutes to where the G315 joins back up with a bit of a beltway around Ruòqiāng. I thought that would be the luckiest spot.
At least two dozen trucks passed me on the way to my chosen spot. I think one or two even had Xīníng license plates. But, still, no dice! Once I arrived at my lucky spot, though, I didn’t wait more than five minutes. Three dudes in a Land Cruiser: awesome! I could stretch my legs today.
We stopped for lunch after just an hour in the car. There was one Uyghur in the car, so we looked for a Muslim place. I thought for sure we were going to end up with noodles. Instead, though, we got one of my favorite dishes. The literal translation of the Chinese name for this dish is priceless: “big plate chicken”. That’s exactly what it is too! The broth is super flavorful and a bit thick, kind of like a stew. I love it! So delicious!
This photo is actually from my first time having 大盘鸡, in Kashgar. I didn’t take a picture of today’s big plate, and I haven’t written the other story yet, so I thought I’d use that picture here. The little dwarf plate next to the main dish is a regular-sized plate. Hopefully that gives some perspective on how massive (and awesome) this dish is.
Talking about race in the States is so taboo. You can’t even say something like “most Asians have black hair”. I mean, come on! Some statements are simply facts about race. Not every sentence that invokes race is racist.
So, how to tell the difference? Here’s a convenient litmus test for you: if you have a sentence about a given race, ask yourself if you’d feel comfortable sharing that sentence with any person of that race. If you have any reservations at all, then you’re definitely racist. If not, well, you’re probably still racist, but at least less so!
I’ve gotten bad (i.e. wrong) directions from Chinese people so many times. I began to think that being Chinese is incompatible with having a good sense of direction. Eventually, I shared this racist thought with a few of my close Chinese friends, and they totally concurred! Yes, of course, there are exceptions, but, really, on the whole, wow, watch out when you ask for directions in China!
What does all this have to do with me hitchhiking to Xīníng? Well, today I followed the advice of my Google Map and headed south out of Qiěmò until I found a spot that felt lucky. Approximately every 15 minutes (for a total of 45 minutes), someone would stop and tell me I was in the wrong spot. My Google Map showed, without a doubt, that the first hour of driving ought to be southerly. This is the worst when this happens. It’s happened before, and it’s a big decision to choose whether to trust Google Maps or the locals. The locals, you see, always want to take you to the bus station. I knew the bus station was to the north, so I was super skeptical every time someone told me I needed to go north. The third guy to stop, however, had a car, and he said he would drive me to where I needed to go (I hitchhiked to my hitchhiking spot!). I confirmed we weren’t going to the bus station (a potentially enormous waste of time), thanked him profusely, and then we were on our way.
Funny enough, we actually did stop at the bus station. I sat in the car while the dude went, I thought, to buy me a ticket. What a pleasant surprise when he came back with a giant bag of food. Sometimes you just gotta ride the wave. Stop stressing so much and let it happen.
Guess how long I waited when I got to the right spot? Yeah, like five minutes.
It was a Toyota Land Cruiser today, already at capacity with five adults and tons of luggage inside. Four people in the back seat (especially four grown men (hey, I’m a grown man!)) is never comfortable, but it’s a policy of mine never to complain about a free ride.
There were a few different people in the car, but I really only got to know the boss dude and his son. Their family owns a farm (where they grow red dates and licorice root) and a mine (I think it was a gold mine, but my Chinese “mining” vocabulary is pretty weak). We stopped at their farm for lunch, and it was such a pleasure to share a feast with them. Family-style feasts is definitely what I’ll miss most whenever I happen to say goodbye to this country.
Anyway, my driver yesterday managed to keep the speedometer under 100 miles per hour most of the time. Today, not so much! We covered 360 kilometers in under three hours, which includes an hour for lunch. Whee!
Sorry, once again, for the out-of-order storytelling. I was in Kashgar for ten days just before Hotan. I rarely stay in one place for that long, but it was a mixture of being sick(-ish), needing to take it slow for a bit, and meeting truly wonderful friends.
I met five bicyclists (among other awesome people) there, and let’s just say, for the sake of brevity, they’re all on long journeys (10,000+ kilometers). I think I might hop on a bike myself next year, once the weather warms back up. There are three reasons why: first, I love bicycling (isn’t that reason enough?); second, I want to hit up some spots that aren’t otherwise easily accessible; third, and this one is a big one for me, I want to stop talking about reducing my carbon footprint and actually reduce my carbon footprint (it’s kind of ironic that talking about reducing your carbon footprint literally increases it!).
Oh, right, I went off on that tangent because I wanted to say that I almost bought a bike in Kashgar. I had my pick of routes and partners, all experienced and awesome people. In the end, however, it was a touch too much risk for me. You see, Kashgar is the westernmost metropolis in China. It would have taken me a month just to bike my way back out of Xīnjiāng (the province where Kashgar is located). By then, it would have been the end of the year (i.e. even colder!), and there wouldn’t have been many places along the way to change my mind about bicycling. Next year, for sure!
Kashgar, though, was amazing. It’s the center of Uyghur culture in China, and you can feel it. Your Mandarin isn’t going to do you much good here!
What remains of the real old city is absolutely stunning. I’ve never seen anything like it in the world. Clay bricks and mud fashioned into humble abodes haphazardly piled several stories high. Pure, beautiful, organic chaos!
You approach via an old-looking (more on this in a bit) bridge:
I almost gave up this morning. My hands were frozen, and there weren’t many cars heading east (even though there were tons of cars coming from the east).
It wasn’t the longest I’ve ever waited (I only waited 80 minutes (the longest was five hours)), but it was definitely the coldest: about 25 degrees Fahrenheit and a little breezy. I saw a handful of cars pass with the magic “新A” license plates (the Chinese character tells you the province the car is registered in, and the first letter tells you the city), but none of them were interested in being amused by a foreigner for a few hours, I suppose. And then, just when I was seriously considering calling it a day, a small Buick slowly approached. Its license plate? 新A!