Xinjiang, Xinjiang. Where to start with this absurd place. Xinjiang shares much with the oppressive political situation in Tibet, but doesn’t get nearly the coverage. And the Chinese Government has a vested interest in keeping it that way. Geographically, it is a vast province spanning most of Western China. That fact alone should raise red flags on its own about potential political troubles in the region. The province is sandwiched between China and the predominantly Muslim Turkic peoples of Central Asia, and this creates an obvious conflict. The Uygur minority is kept under constant surveillance, with “abnormal” (real term!) beards and head scarves banned. It’s known to be a nightmare to cycle through, but I think I’ve found a very good way to do it and I want to share that information. So this is a writing-heavy post. But first, back to the last few days of riding in Kazakhstan. The long days riding in Kazakhstan are so crucial to understanding why eventually entering China felt a little like getting hit with a bag of bricks.
Well, the boring connecty parts of this trip have turned out to be… pretty boring and connecty. This is a short post covering a little more than half of the distance from Bishkek to my entry to China at Tacheng. This stretch is about 1100km long, and has proved to be unexpectedly hilly and pretty hot. And thus, in comparison to the previous 1100km+ of riding, it was kind of monotonous. The scenery isn’t great (except for later after Taldykorgon), just endless steppe with tall mountains looming in the distance. The one fortunate thing about this stretch were the amount of services and (until Taldykorgan) the condition of the road. Kazakhstan is much wealthier than Kyrgyzstan, and this means that the average road condition is better, and the average town has more to offer. It’s probably the most developed area I’ve been in since Azerbaijan. Oil will do that to a country.
As I rolled my way past Jasliq, a tiny town out here in the vast expanse of Qaraqolpakstan, a local man walked up to me and, in perfect English, said “Hello there! What’s a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?” We shared a hearty laugh. This is probably one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies, Blazing Saddles. Newly-appointed Sheriff Bart has just ridden into the Western town of Rock Ridge, carrying Gucci-branded saddlebags, looking like a million bucks. But he’s obviously not welcome there, because he’s black, and the rest of the town is white. Gene Wilder’s character, recognizing that the Sheriff is out of his element, hits him with this line, which perfectly sums up the absurdity of the situation.
Baku is finally in my rear view mirror, and with it a week and a half of consternation, restlessness, and a gradual acceptance of my short- and long-term life fate. In the fall, I will be starting graduate study in Biostatistics at UCLA. Any new readers from there that might come across this poorly-written sequence of diatribes and petty grievances I call a ‘blog’, welcome. Thanks also to two particular individuals in Baku, Dan and Victoria, who helped me with accommodation and hospitality for what turned out to be more than a few days in Baku. I am in their debt for their willingness to put up with me for what turned out to be a longer-than-intended stay.