The great lake

Our quintessential bus imageWe are in Kyrgyzstan. At last. Since I last wrote, we have spent a night in a Kyrgyz yurt on the banks of the most beautiful lake I have ever seen. We also went on a scenic, mountainous bus trip to the Pakistani border. We saw awe-inspiring mountains (some over 7,000 metres) and drunk tea in the middle of a field near Tajikistan with Chinese, Tajik and Pakistani guys.

Words cannot do it justice, but here goes…

Lake Karakol is out of this world. We spent barely 24 hours there, but I will never forget the serene beauty of the place. We travelled there with Spencer, an American PhD student we met in Urumqi. He speaks fluent Chinese and bears an uncanny resemblance to Zach Braff (Garden State, Scrubs – check out the photos and decide for yourself!).

Together, we arrived at Karakol grossly under prepared – especially me. We knew the lake was at an altitude of around 3,000 metres but we, inexplicably, naively, thought the sun would keep the place warm during the day. We were grossly mistaken! Arriving in sandals, shorts and long-sleeved t-shirts, we were met with a Baltic wind which took Beautiful Lake Karakol #1your breath away. We looked around to see other travellers kitted out in the latest North Face style gear – windproof jackets, trousers, waterproof hiking boots, wooly hats etc… Something was amiss. By nightfall we were freezing! Still, we wore all the clothes we had (and some of Spencer’s too) and passed the night wrapped under ancient blankets inside the yurt. We were quite tired after having walked for several hours around the stunning lake, enjoying the serene tranquility of the surroundings. Walking along the banks of the lake, with mighty snow-peaked mountains towering over us, we completely lost track of time, and soon it became icy-cold as night fell.

We spoke about many of the world’s hottest topics – Islam, the war on terror, US politics, Chinese food, fast food chains (we learned there is one in Seattle called ‘Dicks’!), classic comedy movies, and loser expats in China – see Indie’s hilarious closing comments below.

All the green tea we’d drunk at dinner eventually caught up with me…I awoke in the middle of the night to go pee. Stumbling in the dark, I found my way out of the yurt and saw a blanket of stars above Beautiful Lake Karakol #2me. It really was sensational. The most awesome middle-of-the-night toilet trip I’ve ever had.

Truly epic journeys

The bus trip to the Pakistani border was long and winding, but very worthwhile. Unfortunately, the bus was rammed with Uighur Muslims – in our opinion, the world’s worst-smelling community of people. Do not get me wrong – I bear no ill will whatsoever to people of any religion or credence. However, I believe it is objectively true that the majority of Uighur Muslim people, particularly (though by no means exclusively) the men, reek. I don’t know why this is. But I do know that several foreigners here have reached the same opinion. Coming back from Tashkorgam (the destination of the long bus trip) we had to buy tickets in a cramped hut at the corner of the bus station. As is typical throughout China, the demand for tickets vastly outstripped the supply. Tickets went on sale only one hour before the bus left. As we have seen time and again, this led to a sprawling scrum of men (ofcourse, no Uighur Muslim lady would be sent to buy tickets, let alone go to the mosque with her Beautiful Lake Karakol #3fellow believers). They all pushed each other and jostled for position. In spite of this apparent mess, the system does work and I do not criticise it. I think that if the UK had a similar population per square mile to China, we’d also forget the whole queuing concept! The smell in the ticket office was atrocious.

We did a 19-hour journey yesterday in crossing the border into Kyrgyzstan. We left our hotel in Kashgar at 0700 Beijing time, and arrived in Osh, Kyrgyzstan , at midnight – two hours behind Beijing time. The actual distance we travelled was only about 600 km. However, when you are in Kyrgyzstan you have to adapt your expectation of what a road actually is. The ‘motorway’ we were on yesterday was for the most part little more than uneven rubble, dotted with gaping holes. Driving here requires serious skill. I know cos our driver let me take the wheel of our ancient, Soviet-designed machine for a minute on a quiet stretch of the road. I lasted barely 30 seconds – the gearstick was stiff as hell, and the clutch wasn’t much better. I didn’t get above second gear! In spite of it’s Beautiful Lake Karakol #4epic, arduous nature, the journey was spectacular – I’ll upload photos from Kyrgyzstan soon. We stopped in the middle of nowhere to visit a small yurt. There we drunk ‘kymyz’ – fermented mare’s milk – and green tea, and ate naan bread with locally-produced cream. It was quite an experience! The Kyrgyz people are generally very warm – when we left the yurt they refused to take our money for the food. They also thought Indie looked like a famous Bollywood actor!

That’s all for now. Before I go, I leave you with Indie’s view on an increasingly prevalent group of Western people…

Indie, on loser expats

Struggling for success in your own country? Finding it hard to make friends and to gain respect? Come to teach in China, where you’ll receive all of the above within 10 minutes of your arrival.

I know what you’re thinking. But you see, I went to China, did it and left. But I have met so many people who have come here and said “I came here for 1 year, but that was nine years ago” and “China’s economy is growing at a dramatic rate”.

Hmmmmm… Sunrise over Lake KarakolI mean what are these people running or hiding from? This life, as much as we can kid ourselves, is not real. I came to China and was immediately adorned with showers of respect; I was immediately earning five times more than my peers; and I was invited to lavish banquets and toasted eternal friendship with people I had only known for one day. But it wasn’t real… it didn’t require anything on my part to achieve these things.

However, some people lap it up and hail themselves as ‘language experts’ and ‘experts on China’s economy’. Half of them can’t even speak Chinese, even though they have been here so long. They get too comfortable.

In life, if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.

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