A Travellerspoint blog

October 2012

Destructive progress

China

overcast 21 °C

This was our second trip to China, a somewhat inevitable necessity on an overland trip like ours as most other routes across the world are blocked for various reasons. We decided this time to travel to some more remote corners of the country, the more ethnically diverse and therefore less Han China (92% of Chinese are ethnically Han). This would take more time and effort. And sadly we were not rewarded. We were too late. Everywhere we went the bulldozers had beaten us. Old towns, cities even, were being demolished in the name of progress, replaced with identi-kit concrete structures as-seen-all-over-China. History and cultural diversity is currently being whipped out, cultural (Han) hegemony is being established in its place. It makes for boring and depressing travel.

The old street knocked down, the new being built. Langmusi

The old street knocked down, the new being built. Langmusi

One example. We visited Kashgar in the far west, covered in a film of dust from the demolished homes. It is an ancient city, was a pivotal point on the Silk Route and until recent times had a majority population of the Uighur people. They have long been fighting for their independence from China, China fighting back to keep the territory. One of China's tactics is to try and Han-ify the region aka, colonise it. In a country with a one-child policy, Han Chinese who move to Kashgar are rewarded for doing so with permission to have multiple children. They also get their first 3 years there tax free and their relocation costs paid for them. The result, Han are now the majority in the region - there are 8,000 new arrivals every day. This has created some serious civil unrest and now there are riot police 24/7 on the main street corners in town because uprisings against the Han and local government are common.

Just a little bit of old Kashgar still standing... not for long

Just a little bit of old Kashgar still standing... not for long

Moving on from destruction it's hard not to be taken-aback by the propaganda. The Uighur Mosques and Tibetan Monasteries we visited were littered with information boards re-writing history to show the 'friendship' and 'harmony' of the locals with the Han. We also got to witness some serious modern day government-led enciting of hatred. While we were in China the Japanese government bought the Diaoyu Islands from the current Japanese owners. China has disputed Japanese ownership of these remote, uninhabited islands since WWII and this new transaction really riled them up. It proved to be a great opportunity for the government to stir up some nationalism.

Every news channel and news paper headlined the story. As we sat in a restaurant with the news on we watched locals roar their distaste and approval to scenes of Chinese school children practising for air raids - as if the Japanese were about to invade, this then cut to footage of the Japanese actually invading back in 1930. Such scenes, and aggravating language being used by the government big wigs led to some nasty reactions. Japanese manufacturing plants and stores in China were closed because of sabotage, riots took over the streets with Japanese flags being burnt, in a bus station of a national park we saw a bus stickered with a Chinese flag with the hand written slogan 'F*!k Japan & the Philippines'. It was an intense reaction to a small issue (still ongoing more than a month later), building on a hate of a common enemy that has been cultivated by the leadership for 80 years.

Racial hatred

Racial hatred

Just a few examples of what's not to like about China. It wasn't all bad of course and I will write a whole separate blog on the good. Still, I wouldn't say it was a fun place to travel nor a highlight of the trip. I will take from it an interesting insight into a different place (a future superpower??). I'm glad I'm not Chinese. And perhaps the world has a little to fear from a government who can so easily stir up the hate of a billion people and turn it into violence.

The new surrounds and dwarfs the old. Langmusi

The new surrounds and dwarfs the old. Langmusi

Posted by chrisgulik 09:53 Archived in China Comments (0)

Kyrgyzstan: an overview

sunny 25 °C

I love Kyrgyzstan. We spent over a month there and had an amazing time. Along with Georgia, it is currently sitting in my top two countries on this trip.

The landscape is stunning - immense mountains, immense wide open spaces, gorgeous valleys, clear open skies and see-through rivers. As we were there still in summer, this beautiful landscape was dotted with white yurts, horses and sheep. Many Kyrgyz are shepherds, some even professionally so - looking after many others' animals, and spend the summer months on higher ground living in yurts. It seemed to me a lot like going away camping for the whole of summer, just taking all your herds and flocks with you.

The Arashan Valley

The Arashan Valley

The nomadic lifestyle, Song Kul

The nomadic lifestyle, Song Kul

All the people we met were warm and welcoming. They are happy, proud of their country and genuienly curious of ours and us. It makes for some great conversations and encounters. You learn so much more about a place when people are this way. Our little bit of Russian really went a long way, and we were also lucky to meet an uncanny number of English teachers - all on holiday for the summer.

Classic Kyrgyz village scene

Classic Kyrgyz village scene

IMG_1989.jpg

It has a much more open economy than the other 'Stans yet it is still a fairly poor country living a somewhat traditional way of life. You have your shepherds still living the nomadic lifestyle. We stayed in one village where instead of hearing cars outside our window at night, we heard people riding past on horseback. Hiking through forest one time we came across some 'forestry workers', i.e., a couple of older guys with an axe and two kids on horse back dragging a felled log each behind them. I never thought I would see that. Plumbing is still rare and walking around a village at dusk you will see people with various vessels heading to one of the water taps in town.

Kul Ukok

Kul Ukok

Song Kul

Song Kul

It was the perfect combination, we had endless opportunity for independent-good times-exploration. We did lots of hiking. A long, cold but rewarding 6 day hike when we woke up twice to a thin layer of ice coating the inside of the tent's fly. A briefer 3 day hike where we got to hang out on a beach at 3,500m above sea level with a view over a lake towards many glaciers. We had tea with a friendly shepherd and his family - as we were hiking past his yurt he invited us in. We rode horses for 3 days up hills to an alpine lake, staying in shepherds yurts, eating their fresh cream and sleeping under mountains of blankets to keep warm at night (in Kyrgyzstan you are always at a high altitude). We spent several days in the capital Bishkek, a really pleasant leafy city where good coffee is readily available, even flat whites! We even got a history fix with a hike to a remote petroglyph site and a visit to a caravanserai. Every drive was scenic, the inevitable mountain passes spectacular.

Cowboy

Cowboy

Camping at Kul Ukok

Camping at Kul Ukok

Beachside at 3,500m

Beachside at 3,500m

What we found with Kyrgyzstan, as with most of Central Asia, is that it isn't about the blockbuster hits. There is no Machu Picchu, no Serengeti or Mt Everest. It's all about the details, the little things. It works a treat, keeping the hordes of tourists out and delivering in authentic goodness, daily.

As Silk Road as it gets in 2012

As Silk Road as it gets in 2012

Posted by chrisgulik 07:38 Archived in Kyrgyzstan Comments (1)

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