This stage will lead us from Samarkand, the rock town in Uzbekistan, over the Chinese Kashgar to Golmud to Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongols. Up and down we go from 720 meters above sea level up to 1300 meters through the heartland of Asia.
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Wednesday, October 24 - Kashgar. Suddenly a big city again after so much nature. We are in a very comfortable hotel, “recommended” for journalists, and all of our technical gear was carried to our rooms for us. The size of our bags completely amazes the liftboys. After weeks of pastry and lamb soup we are really looking forward to the culinary variety in China. From the spicy fish soup to the classical sweet and sour pork. I already love the Peoples’ Republic.
Foreigners usually are not allowed to drive around with their own car. But our new team member for this stage, Dr. Jürgen Hafemann, attained a special permission. Our vans, “Maggi” and “Vasco”, get Chinese licence plates, and the drivers Chinese driver’s licences. Even a health check is mandatory, and a traffic police officer drives around with our companions. The mountain festival is tomorrow. With 10,000 kilometres having been accomplished, and having covered half the distance until Bangkok where we spend our Christmas holiday, that seems like a good reason to celebrate. We enjoy a true Chinese massage with sauna, body peeling and two hours of stretching, pressing and kneading. We are practically floating back to the hotel.
Thursday, October 25 - Party to celebrate the halfway stage and a day off in Kashgar. Sleeping long, hanging out and strolling through the town. The Muslim festival of sacrifice is tomorrow, and the bazaars are packed with people. A bit like the last days before Christmas. Sheep are sold everywhere. In almost every family, one will be slain tomorrow.
Friday, October 26 - The buildings of the old town of Kashgar are about 600 years old and the people almost live like in olden times. On almost every rooftop you still find animal stalls. We are visiting an Uighur potter. Today he is celebrating the sacrifice festival, the most important Muslim festival, with his family. Everything is prepared for the ritual of slaying the mutton. What seems gruesome and alien to us is everyday life here. It is slain on the terrace, and the children watch curiously.
Kashgar is a city of contradictions. We meet up with MC Mao Mao in the evening. He is DJ, cheerleader for heating up the crowd, and bouncer for one of the most in-clubs of the city. The young people enjoy listening insanely loud dance-floor and techno music. Everybody is dancing and drinking beer - a great atmosphere, and Mao Mao is right in the middle of it. He keeps heating up the crowd. It is a shame that we can't stay longer; we are really enjoying ourselves...
Tuesday, October 30 - We meet up with our jade distributor in Hotan. His story is almost a “from rags to riches” fairytale. He started as a simple jade hunter 20 years ago, then became a jade carver, and opened his own jade trading business in the end. His business is supposed to be the best in town. First, we visit his workshop in the backyard. The stone polishers work in small cellars in the prefab panel housing settlement. Apart from the usual Buddha motives, they carve trashy landscapes and animal motives into the jade. It is hard to imagine that a fortune worth millions is stored here.
While we are drinking tea with the master craftman, a Chinese couple buys stones en passant for 380,000 Euros. China is a very wealthy country, and jade is supposed to be a secure investment. The most precious jade costs up to 6,000 Euros per Gramm, thus many times more than gold. The Chinese character for jade is a combination of house and security. So with jade in the house, all is well.