Archive for XINJIANG



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One of the Smile-O-Meters you might encounter at the Immigration desk

Okay, I’ll put it out there… Nothing in my life raises such a nervous sweat than going through immigration at an airport. And that goes for driving across international boarders too. I am the obvious victim of watching too many cheesy TV shows and Hollywood movies! I can’t help it, when I approach an immigration kiosk or gate, my skin becomes clammy and I begin to rehearse what I will say if questioned, hauled over and stripped searched!

So, you may ask, what does this have to do with your entry into China? Good question. I have entered China from two locations, Beijing and Hong Kong/Shenzhen Customs. Both are the same in their very quaint and ridiculously cute way.

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LAOWAI (Pinyin: l?owài) is one of several Chinese words for foreigner. Laowai literally translates as “old” (lao) “foreigner” (wai).

Hey! I’m not that old!

The proprietor, me and my two blind massage attendants.

But as I stroll along this shop & stall-lined street within the fifth ring-road of Beijing, I am conscious of one fact… I am tall! Its not like I go around measuring myself beside every passer-by. But when you are surrounded at close quarters, it becomes obvious. I am 193 cm tall (that translates to about 6′ 3″ in Church of England!).

Once, when I was in Xinjiang, I was accused of being too tall for my hotel bed and that there would be an extra charge! Totally preposterous! My sharp-eared guide stepped in to “gently correct” the over zealous hotel entrepreneur! I must admit though, I’ve heard a lot, but that was a first!

Ahhh! And I have found it, my stroll in the sun bleached 5th ring-road area has brought me to my destination, a small massage studio. I have been told by a local it is one of the best around and completely staffed by blind massage attendants. The proprietor is a petit woman who greets me and pulls me inside out of the sun. It is clear I am probably the first Laowai to darken their door. The attendants, a young man who will do my body, and a young woman, who will work on my tired feet, both touch me and size me up with their hands and shut eyes. After a few giggles it was down to business. And what a business it was.

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A stop along the road to admire the desert scenery!

I didn’t realize it at the time, but leaving Turpan was hard to do. It is a desert city, large by desert standards and lush – as lush as can be in a dust bowl! The ingenious underground irrigation nourished and fed the vineyards of grapes. Fresh dates, and other succulent fruits were also thriving here.

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A typical view from the road as I travel through the Taklamakan Desert


I am standing alone on an endless two-lane ribbon of asphalt cutting across the deep bowl-shaped Talklamakan Desert in western China. This desert has one of the world’s most inhospitable climates. In summer, the temperatures here have risen to 130 degrees F. So inhospitable is the oval-shaped desert that sits below sea level, that ancient travelers would take the much longer northern or southern routes around it to transport their goods to market.

A few weeks ago I had been on my way to Vietnam to shoot for my client, Tour East, a leading Asian tour company in Canada. But then, as so often happens, plans change. Now I am here, in the middle of one of the world’s largest deserts, documenting my trip through this amazing part of the Silk Road.

The night bazaar in Urumqi

After a direct flight from Toronto to Beijing, then a fast connection onto Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, my journey westward begins. A room was booked for me at the new Sheraton in Urumqi where I grabbed a four hour sleep and a shower before being awakened and told my guide and driver were outside waiting for me.

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