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The King of Kashgar

My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - Journey in an Unknown Culture

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 28 March 2011 | Views [646] | Comments [1] | Scholarship Entry

He stepped up to me with his mink hat and his yellow teeth and said: "Hi, my name is Elvis".

He bent his knees, began to gyrate, and launched with a boisterous voice into a rendition of 'You ain't nothin' but a hound dog'.

Last I had checked, I was not in a seedy Las Vegas casino. I was in fact frozen to the bones in the middle of winter at the central square of Kashgar, famous silk road city of western China, and home to the Muslim ethnic minority known as the Uighur.

Once his legs began to settle down, he introduced himself more formally: "I am a tour guide, and for 50 yuan, I can take you to the most famous historical tea-house in Kashgar".

Despite the eccentric introduction, I took up his offer, not because it was a good deal - I could have gotten a cup of tea anywhere else for only 5 yuan - but because he spoke English! This was a rare pleasure after two months of traipsing through China and Tibet.

He led me away from the main square, through the labyrinthine alleyways of the mudbrick Old City, with the ad hoc roadside stalls jostling for space with donkeys, taxis, and fruitsellers. The glacial road was difficult to walk on, and my hands and feet were numb in the icy wind of minus 25.

As we walked, Elvis began his routine spiel on the vibrant silk road city of Kashgar. It is a city of survivors, bordered to the west by jagged mountain ranges, to the east by the shifting sands of the Taklamakan Desert.

As we settled down to a lunch of spicy kebabs, hot tea, freshly baked bread and noodles, the warmth began to spread back to my extremities. I took a look around me, taking in the carpeted walls and the other men in the teahouse, who were all looking at me. They were as curious about me as I was about them.

As our conversation rolled through topics as wide as Elvis's bizarre story, the history of Kashgar and Uighur dress, we arrived somewhat towards the end of our meal at a somewhat more contraversial topic, ethnic tension.

Kashgar had, in the past, particularly in 2008 during the Beijing Olympics, been the scene of riots against the control of the Chinese government. Elvis was surprisingly confident in discussing the pressing issue of twenty-first century Kashgar. It is common knowledge that Chinese/Uighur relations are at best tense, at worst murderous. The giant concrete Chairman Mao statue may tower over the city of Kashgar, and the charming Old City may be surrounded by shopping malls and neon lights, yet the two groups have found a way to coexist peacefully and prosperously towards a future of harmony, Old City and New City, side by side.

Tags: #2011Writing, Travel Writing Scholarship 2011

Comments

1

Enjoyed your story. Elvis is the last person you'd expect to meet on the Silk Road, and he sounds like quite a character!

  aro-tron Mar 28, 2011 9:52 PM

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