Archive for the ‘The Silk Road’ Category

A few hundred years old minaret in the old city of Khiva.

Here are some shots from my last year’s Central Asia trip, on the magically medieval-looking ancient towns in Uzbekistan. If you stare hard enough, you might just spot flying carpet among the minarets 🙂

Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva – these names invoke images of the 1001 Arabian Night in my mind. Islamic architecture is one of the wonders in these ancient towns, but after visiting a few of these historical cities, I regretted to have sticking to the well-trodden famous cities tour route, they all somehow look and feel rather alike – welcome to the reconstructed glory cities, in a film-set mode….

Uzbek traditional hats hanging for sale on the old city wall of Khiva.


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The currency of Uzbekistan named Sum.

Who wants to be an “instant” millionaire? Well, pay a visit to Uzbekistan and you are very likely to become one, without having to answer tough questions on world history or pop culture.

This is not some dodgy advertisement that comes through your cell phone; I am a living example of Uzbekistan-made millionaire, having stacks of cash that can’t fit into my wallet, instead, I have to store the Uzbek notes named “Sum” in a plastic bag and hide them in the bottom of my backpack.

Thanks to the black money market in Uzbekistan, I gain instant wealth by changing 500USD into local currency at an exchange rate of 1USD to 2170 Sum, as a result, I own 1,085,000 Sum – half of it in 1000 Sum notes (over 500 pieces), and the other half in 500 Sum notes (over 1000 pieces). (more…)

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State-Sponsored Travels?

A portrait of Przewalski in the museum; in photographs, he always appeared in military wear..

“Is your country giving you money to travel?” this is one of the most frequently asked questions directed to me in Kyrgyzstan, apart from the usual “where are you from?”, “how old are you?”, and “are you married?”.

Initially I could not understand why the Kyrgyz believe that a government would actually provide financial assistance to travelers, not until I visited a museum dedicated to the 19th century Russian explorer Nikolai Mikhailovich Przewalski.

Przewalski was a Russian army officer, who made four expeditions to Central Asia under the patronage of the Tsar government between 1870 and 1885. During those trips, he mapped the region of Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet, and brought home samples of rare plants and animals.

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The National Ballet Theater in Bishkek is hosting various political rally this summer.

The National Ballet Theater in Bishkek – the capital of Kyrgyzstan – is not hosting any prestigious ballet troupe from Russia this summer; instead, it becomes the venue for local political parties to rally for support.

Since the bloodily put down protest in April that overturned the government, sending former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev fleeing to Belarus, the country has been hanging in balance under an interim government while waiting for a general election in October.

I have arrived in Bishkek two months ahead of the election, when various political parties – mind you, Kyrgyzstan has 148 parties, though only a handful are active – are vying for supporters by throwing free luncheons and cultural shows. The National Ballet Theater is the choice venue for these activities. (more…)

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The yurt - National House of Kyrgyzstan - in the jailoo (grassland).

The Kyrgyz people like to refer to anything of local origin as “National”, for example, they call the nomadic dwelling yurt as the National House. They also have National Food, National Drink, National Game, National Costume, National Literature, and of course, National Language.

Having gained independence less than 20 years ago in 1991, Kyrgyzstan is a new nation eager to assert its own identity, and shedding the Soviet-Russian legacy.

Though the country with five million inhabitants has 80 ethnic groups, the culture deemed “national” is that of the Kyrgyz ethnic, who made up 70% of the population. Other major ethnics include the Uzbek (14%) and the Russian (10%), and the rest are Uygur, Kazakh, Tajik, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Dungan, etc.

I notice that although the local people are enthusiastic in promoting their “national” culture, another set of “official” culture from the old Soviet days remains ingrained in their daily life. (more…)

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A Karaoke joint in Tazhong that provides extra services.

“Conquering the Sea of Death” – a slogan on the archway that welcomed me into Tazhong announced.  

After traveling for hundreds of kilometers through a barren desert highway and arriving in Tazhong at two o’clock in the morning, I was surprised by its liveliness.

Though the tiny settlement in the heart of the Taklamakan Desert only has one street, with one row of shop houses lasting for less than a kilometer, it looks like a sleepless town.

Neon lights adorned all the shops, barbecue stalls lined the street, girls in bare-back tops and short skirts scattered all over the places, and loud music from the karaoke rooms floating through the still air.

I soon find out that over 80% of the businesses in Tazhong are related to the flesh trade, be it the barber shops without a single scissor or hairdryer in them, the massage parlors that offer foot massage and more, the karaoke joints, the “recreation” centers, or the only hotel in town.

It was no surprise that when I failed to secure a room in the only hotel in Tazhong, I ended up in a brothel, the only place I could have a soft bed and a roof over my head, and the luxury of getting a bath in the middle of the desert. (more…)

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Taking a walk in the neighborhood of the old city of Kucha, one is likely to be invited by friendly locals for a drink in their home.


The first mistake I made upon arriving in Kucha, a small town in central Xinjiang, was to approach a policeman for direction. 

The second mistake that followed was asking the same policeman if there were cheap guesthouses around the old city of Kucha. 

The third mistake was to reveal to the policeman that I am a foreign tourist. I should have known better, from then on, I was marked. 

Barely half an hour after welcoming me into his family run guesthouse at the edge of the old city, Yusof had to come to me and said apologetically: “I am sorry, I have just been informed and reminded by the police that my guesthouse cannot host foreigners.” (more…)

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