Abakh Khoja Tomb, Kashgar

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It’s big, green, and run-down. The most interesting parts were the little details, like this old padlock.

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Kashi animal market

One of Kashgar’s big attractions is the weekend animal market.

I’m not sure what a well-trimmed behind says about a sheep, but they were certainly well groomed.

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The old city of Kashgar, Xinjian

Kashgar, Kāshí, قەشقەر‎, or 喀什, is a city in Xinjiang province Uyghur Autonomous Region at the far Western edge of China. Almost everything about the city seems like it would be more fitting in the nearby -stan countries.

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This is where the Silk Road enters China. The old city is a huge mound of brick and mud buildings connected in a labrynth of narrow corridors. The only parts not bearing a reddish brown resemblance to the desert that surrounds the city are the thousands of brightly painted doors.

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It’s about this time when my stomach starts to get the better of me. These buns were stuffed with a fatty super-garlicy lamb mix that was absolutey delicious.

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Back to the city… The reason we decided to visit now is because the city is being torn down by the Chinese authorities. Most of the buildings have already been abandoned and the wrecking crews are in full force.

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The government has said that the old city is overcroweded and an earthquake disaster waiting to happen. They’re definitely right, but it seems a shame to replace such history with generic apartment blocks.

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Outside of the old city is clearly “China Town.” It’s like being in any other Chinese city. This photo sums up the contrast quite well.

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The city plans to replace the city with reproductions of islamic architecture. The full details are in a New York Times article from 2009.

Following riots in July 2009, the city has been without internet access, international phone connections, or the ability to send international text messages. To follow the news, people gather in the square in front of the central mosque to watch the news on the big television.

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After three full days of exploring a small city, we found time to squeeze in an afternoon of Settlers. More likely, we ran out of things to see in Kashgar.

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National Foundation Day at Meiji Jingu

We thought we were on our way to wander around beautiful Yoyogi park. We were surprised when we could hear intense drumming echoing through the halls of the subway station.

It was hard not to follow the crowd toward to the festivities which we learned later were for “Kigen-sai,” the National Foundation Festival.

A very informative sign informed us that:

February 11 is a day of special significance namely, it is the date that Emperor Jinmu, the legendary first emperor of Japan, acceded to the throne at Kashihara’no’miya in Yamato (the current Nara Prefecture). Before World War II, this day was named National Foundation Day, and was considered one of the four major celebrative days in Japan, along with New Year’s Day, the birthday of the reigning Emperor, and Emperor Meiji’s birthday. Today, it is called the Day Commemorating the National Foundation. A Shinto ritual ceremony is held at shrines all over Japan in reverence of the commencement of the imperial reign by Emperor Jinmu. On this 2,677th year of the imperial reign, let us proceed with courage to create a better society and nation, while appreciating the effort of our forefathers who have established prosperity in Japan.

Neighbourhoods gathered together to carry and dance shrines to the temple in a long joyous procession.

There was a solemn moment as the shrines passed through the giant wooden torii that marks the entry into the shrine area.

Below the noise of the crowd, the singing, and the drumming, you could feel a deep thundering bass through the entire area. The source was a giant drum. The video below captures the ceremony as men took turns striking it, but doesn’t capture the thundering that you could feel in your chest.

Skiing in Japan

Chinese New Year is a time when half of China decides to travel to their home towns. This makes travel within China an absolute nightmare, yet staying in Beijing during a four-day weekend isn’t an option. The solution is to figure out the location where four hundred million or so Han are least likely to go. In 2010 we figured that recent uprisings made Kashgar in Xinjiang a safe bet.

Given the tensions China is stirring up with Japan, and the continuous stream of anti-Japanese propaganda, we figured that Japan was a great destination to ring in the year of the Snake (2013).

We were referred through friends to an unbelievably awesome host who showed us a great time, taught us about great sake, and helped us find the most amazing powder I’ve ever seen.

Growing up skiing in Eastern North America, powder is a completely foreign concept to me. It was snowing heavily and visibility was bad on our first day. I’m very thankful for this because every time there was a moment of clarity and I could see where I was going, I was freaked out by the giant mounds of snow forming into moguls. I would see the giant mogul and try to adjust to approach at the perfect angle to absorb the impact and maintain control.

It took me a long time to overcome this instinct and learn that you can breeze right over and through light fluffy powder. It was much easier when I couldn’t see what was coming and was just floating on the snow. Eventually I figured it out.

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There were a couple of occasions when I slowed too much or carved too hard and sunk too far into the snow. Getting out of waist deep snow isn’t easy. Being huge by Japanese standards, the rental bindings were set too loose and I also blew out of my skis in spectacular fashion. The landings were soft, but the search for the missing ski was always a challenge.

Off the hills we ate great food and were amused by the snow clearing water sprinklers that are everywhere in the village. These little sprinkler heads are in all parking lots and in the centre of every roadway in the town. The system is highly effective because the temperature never drops too far below freezing, although it makes the city a less than appealing place to be a pedestrian.

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Despite the awesomeness of the four different mountains we skied, I don’t have a lot of photos because there was just too much snow for me to take out my camera.

Big Brother is watching

Big Brother is everywhere in China, especially in provinces known to riot. In Kashi, he made himself known in the form of heavily armoured troops marching forcefully through the streets.

He made himself less known, but just as present observing and recording from the roof of our hotel.

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I have no idea what this poster actually says, but I get the impression that it’s a pretty stern warning to anyone considering starting an uprising.

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During the riots, the government shut down all forms of electronic communication. Local phone access is back, but there was still no internet access, no international phone access, and no international sms messaging in Xinjiang. I went through withdrawal for the first few days without Blackberry service.

The road to Kalakule Lake, Xinjiang

It was a spectacular road to nowhere in Xinjiang. Our destination was Kalakule lake, about four hours by car from Kashgar.

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Along the long and winding road, we stopped several times to check out the frozen desert. This is the most rugged and bleak terrain I’ve ever seen. At the same time, it was spectacular.

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Signs that amuse me: The Official Home of Rice

I wouldn’t have known that the rice would have an official home, nor would I have guessed that it would be in the middle of a desert in Kashi where nary a rice paddy is to be found.

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