To Market

Cabinet Painter - Kaghalik Bazaar
November 28, 2010

"To market, to market, to market we go... " --Mother Goose

Nisagul and I made our way on foot from the city center out to the Sunday Market. As we drew closer to the bazaar area, we found many others arriving along with us. A fair number were coming by horse-drawn cart. It wasn't until I saw one of these carts in particular (one being driven by a woman in a red dress) that the old nursery rhyme popped into my head. I think the scene must have reminded me of an illustration from a picture book I read as a child.

The weekly bazaar in Kaghalik has a wonderful bustle: crowds haggling, livestock bleating, and every man wearing some manner of hat: some large and furry, some boxy and small, every one of them beautiful.

Dappled Horse Comes
to Sunday Market
Most items on offer were typical for what might be found in other regional markets. I found some of the handmade items more intriguing. There were some nice hand-carved chests that are no longer common in northern Xinjiang. Nisagul contemplated whether it was worth buying one--or a set--and hauling it back up to Urumqi. Prices were low, starting at 40 yuan for the smallest chest.

As this is China and so many goods are mass-produced, I was surprised to also see basic tools crafted by hand for sale. One stall sold a carrot grater whose metal loops had printing on the inside--it looked like they were made from strips cut from old soda pop cans. Another stall sold homemade mousetraps made from a simple block of wood with springs and wires on top. Seeing the crude mousetraps, I was now reminded of cartoons rather than of nursery rhymes.

Nisagul got to shopping. She was excited to find dried mint leaves for sale from a pushcart standing just down from the wooden chests. I recall how one summer back when we lived together in Urumqi I regularly brewed up mint tea that I had brought from abroad. Tea may come in amazing variety in this country, but apparently not mint. That summer was Nisagul's first time tasting it. She's says she's since passed a penchant for mint tea along to the rest of her family. Evidently, her father loves to brew a batch up when mint is available.

She then bought several headscarves for her mother, all colorful floral designs. Nisagul said the prices weren't different from what she would pay back up in Urumqi, but she just wouldn't ordinarily get around to such shopping. The purchase she made that I found the most amusing was of a spare hatchet handle. Again, it was something she needed (I guess back home she has some hatchet head in need of a shaft?) but with this purchase she felt she got an especially good deal on price and quality:

Livestock Trading - Kaghalik Bazaar
"It's only 3 yuan. Feel it! Doesn't it feel sturdy?"

I didn't buy much. Aside from not needing mousetraps, headscarves, or hatchet handles, I am planning on traveling for at least several more months. I try to keep my knapsack light while out on the road.

I did pick up some local sweets. One (not so good) was essentially pure sugar in a blocky, white, resinous form. Another, (surprisingly good) was a kind of sweet corn fritter with peas inside.

One point I've noticed coming back to Kaghalik: the prices for everything are higher than when we first came here. Some items are up by only small amounts, others have increased several-fold. The bus ticket here from Kashgar cost 35 yuan, a mere 5-yuan increase. When we enquired at the same hotel where we stayed five years ago, the New City, the best they could offer was 80 yuan for a double. That wasn't all that much more than the 30 yuan per bed we paid last time. However, this time we skipped the New City to stay one block away at the newly opened Pomegranate Business Hotel. Spending 120 yuan per night is worth it for a clean, comfortable room with Internet access.

Maryamgul Holds Daughter
(Kamira) as her Mother and
Gulnur Tend to the New Baby
The biggest cost increase I found in Kaghalik was liver kebabs. Each skewer went for 1 yuan the last time we were here. That had spiked up to 6 yuan per kebab, today. On top of the difference in figures, all prices are somewhat higher, still--given that the yuan has appreciated by about 20% relative to the dollar since we were last here.

Coming back to Kaghalik has brought back so many memories of that first time we came. The best part of being here has been not the sights, scents, and sweets of the Sunday Market, but calling on the people we saw last time: Maryamgul and Gulnur. They were both classmates of Nisagul's up at Xinjiang University who moved back to Kaghalik upon graduation. We stayed with each of their families the previous time we visited Kaghalik.

Both Maryamgul and Gulnur now teach in the same local high school. Predictably, they've both married and have become mothers. Maryamgul's younger baby was born just two weeks ago. Gulnur is expecting her second child in April.

We took the evening calling on Maryamgul at her parents' home. In Uyghur tradition, the mother is supposed to return to her family home to rest for 40 days after giving birth. Going to Maryamgul's family home brought back a real sense of stepping back. That was one of the places where we were staying when we were contemplating how we could possibly make it to Tibet.

Nisagul and I will move along from Kaghalik, tomorrow. We haven't decided between two options. We'll either stick with our original plan and press on east to Hotan. Or, we'll cut our time in Southern Xinjiang short, backtracking to Kashgar.