Singing in central Park, Urumqi, China

China Ah… the sound of China!

When visiting Urumqi, I walked in the central park: People’s Park.

Well it really is People’s Park… mid afternoon, on a sunny Tuesday, lots of people were hanging out, playing Mah-jong, chatting, playing music, or just spitting around… despite the important mix of both Uigurts (the local central Asian ethnics) and Hans (the real Chinese), the park was predominantly crowded with ‘Chinese’.

By a pond, in the shade of a temple-like guinguette a band was playing and singing typical music (the one you can hear in a Chinese restaurant for instance) to the ears of indifferent passers-by and bystanders alike… A woman, a spectator, took part and was slowly waving her arms and body to the gently rhythm of the annoyingly saturated sound…

The scene was worse a bit of sound recording and a picture for the memory… I knew I was in China!

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China Steel and Tin Workers in the Streets of Urumqi

The soundtrack could have been composed by Bjork, but it’s authentic!

In the streets of Urumqi, Uighurts workers make furniture, tools, ovens with steel and tin. They perform their art right outside in the street. I found the show spectacular, and stopped to admire, and record. Play the attached sound above, and watch the slideshow!

 

Yak!

China Mal Bazaar, the animal market in Kashgar

Lots of animals, many people. Sounds, smells all mingling in the heat and the dust.
Sellers show their stock, byers inspect, both haggle. There’s always a group of people forming around the negotiation, they all take part, and wait for the best moment to place their offer.
In the sound recording below, you can hear such a group haggling for a mule. The mule has also its word to say…!

Going to Irkenshtam, enjoying a friendly conversation in Russian, and a nice beer

Kyrgyzstan From Bishkek to Kashgar, an Epic Journey to Get Into China

After finishing editing the Labrys interview and sending the file to my friends at Homolab, I was at last ready to leave Bishkek. On top of the first week when I entered Kyrgyzstan, I had just spent another two weeks in the capital. Enough! I’d had a good time and was happy with the work I’d done, but a fortnight at the Sakura guest house, I had enough! Besides, the nights were getting cold and the days shorter. It was as if the changing weather was urging me to move on. Continue reading

Kyrgyzstan From Kyrgyzstan to China through the Irkenshtam Border, from Osh to Kashgar

The ride from Osh

From the central bus station, near the central bazaar, I found a driver (shared taxi) to go straight to Irkenshtam. I got a deal for 1000 soms. But the car broke down just outside of Osh, so I eventually hitch hiked to Sary Tash (tipping 200 soms).
Anyhow, I seriously doubt about those cars that guesthouses and agencies arrange for you for 200 US dollars! So it’s worth trying your luck at the bus station to get a shared taxi!

From Sary Tash, I got a ride from local people for 500 soms to Sary Tash. Again, the amount they first ask for is outrageous, but you got to haggle hard!

IMPORTANT TIP: get some Yuans in Osh. At least 500, you will need them for the shuttle (150) and the last taxi ride (100) to Kashgar, if for the overnight at the border (20) and then food and drinks.

Crossing the border

First of all, you must keep in mind that the border is CLOSED at nights and weekends, on a few public holidays.
So ideally, you have to cross from Monday to Thursday (avoid Fridays, because any delay or unexpected trouble, and you’re stuck for the weekend!) from 9am to 5pm.
To reach the border before 2/3pm you must leave Osh no later than 10am (with a fast car, or 9am with a slower one!), and Sary Tash no later than 2pm. Later than 2pm, overnight in Sary Tash, and leave the next morning to avoid having to find accommodation in Nura or Irkenshtam!

Now there’s another important thing!

When I crossed the border, around 4pm, the officers wouldn’t let me get a ride on a lorry. They wanted me to get on the official shuttle bus from the Irkenshtam (old) border to new border post in Ulugqat, 140km away. This shuttle bus is only once a day at 11am (Kyrgyzstan time, which is also the unofficial time in Xinjiang). This means I had to overnight at the border. They showed me a ‘hotel’ in the barracks that seemed to be the only accommodation for both travellers and staff. No shower, no toilet, and the whole area is a shit hole. They only charge 20 Yuan though.

The ride to Kashgar

If you are luckier than me, you can probably get a ride from one of the many lorries, in a continuous flow from opening to closing.

They forced me to take the shuttle at 11am, for 150 Yuan.

Because the road was under construction, it took us almost 3 hours to get to the NEW border post in Ulugqat. It was probably a lot faster and comfortable on the bus than on a lorry though…

Then from the NEW border post, you have to share a taxi to Kashgar (100 Yuan, 90km, 2 hours approx)

So the thing about the border and the road

When I crossed, the road between the KG border and the CN border was a dirt track, but no construction seemed to be on the way. On the CN side, there is a border post at the highest point of the pass. It looks totally abandoned and insanely run down.

The Chinese are building a new road from this point to a new border post in Ulugqat. This new post is already in operation. So are they going to keep the old one when the new road opens? I don’t have the answer, but I think they will because there are inhabited village between the two, and those people can’t realistically be living in a free zone. Or can they?

Today the situation is as follows: there is a full border check at the old border, including bag search, questioning, passport control and intrusive digital picture browsing of your camera and computer. Then, they do it all over again at the new border, and only there do they STAMP your passport.

So if like me you do have to overnight at the border post — which I don’t really recommend, but in the end it’s quite an epic experience — it won’t waste a night off your Chinese visa, it’s just the free zone.

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Kyrgyzstan Interview with Labrys, the gay and lesbian group in Kyrgyzstan

Labrys is the main LGBT group in Central Asia. Created in Bishkek in 2004, they are a fully officially registered organisation, and operate in the region with of the help and financial support of international NGOs.

Syinat Sultanalieva kindly accepted to do this interview with me for Homolab. This audio is the full interview.

EDITED 01.10.2012:
Labrys expressed concerned about some content in the interview that could jeopardize the safety of some people. In response to their request, the interview was edited and a few minutes were scrapped.

If you would like to know more about the topic, here are a few interesting links:

LABRYS:
Labrys
Labrys Facebook Page

ILGA Asia

The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights is in Kyrgyzstan

We Do Exist: Gay Men and HIV Risk in Kazakhstan (Open Society Foundations)

Statement on International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (May 18, 2012 from the US embassy in Bishkek)

Rider leaning on the side of his horse to grab the carcass

Kyrgyzstan Audio Feature: Kyrgyzstan Independence Day

What a day!

By chance I was in the capital for Independence Day, on the 31st of August. Twenty one years of independence. I decided to do my first special audio feature. I’m not entirely happy with it, but it’s my first one, so be indulgent! But if you want to make comments or give advice, your are more than welcome!