Described as one of the hottest place on earth, the group of Universiti Malaya
lecturers from the Chinese Studies department
and I had experienced for ourselves the heat at the reddish purple range called
The Chinese classic Journey To The West
had it that the Monkey God could not fly
past the mountain because of the heat.
Urumqi, the last leg of our 10-day journey,
had turned out to be another hot place
eventhough it is autumn.
We had flown to Chengdu, the capital of
Sichuan, from Kuala Lumpur before taking a connecting flight to Lanzhou in north-western
China, a key junction in the ancient Silk
In an attemp to retrace the routes used by
the traders of the past, we travelled by road and rail past Jianyugan, Dunhuang,
Turpan, Anxi and countless small
We drove past miles and miles of sand
dunes, wrinkled mountains, sparse plains, ruins, oasis and collapsing fortresses.
The Malaysians had expected Urumqi, the
last place in China that is reachable by train, to be a medieval town.
They were disappointed to find Urumqi a
sprawling city with tall buildings dotted with modern shopping complexes, restaurants,
karaoke joints and discotheques.
In fact, Urumqi resembles a city in the Middle East.
The city is famous for its Central Asian
bazaars, dotted with alleys, and Arabic music that fills the air.
If in the past, goods such as spice, silk, animals and food were traded in this
ancient cross road, the traders today
hawked leather jackets, scarves, dried
fruits and other modern items.
Life here hints strongly of foreign influences whereby spice is heavily used on the lamb kebabs and flat loaves of Indian
bread, nan, is a staple.
At the night market, similar to our pasar
malam, a Chinese speaking Caucasian looking woman with blonde hair,
sells leather shoes.
For the Malaysians, everything is almost
free. A pair of leather shoes cost RM40 with a matching long sleeved shirt, made in
faraway Shanghai, being sold at RM7.
A leather vest cost only RM15, leaving this
writer too embarrassed to bargain with the couple, in their 40s, peddling their
A basket of fresh grapes, plucked from
nearby farms, can be bought for as low as RM7.
Xinjiang shares borders with eight countries Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan,
Kirghiztan, Tadzhikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan
The exotic bazaar offers from dried
and splayed desert lizards to deer
antlers for impotency to dried snow mountain lotuses to cure rheumatoid arthritis.
“Good for you, makes you powerful,'' the
medicine seller, said in his heavily accent Mandarin.
The city, filled with brown-faced ethnic
groups in skull caps, prominently uses Arabic and Chinese on road signs
and shop sign boards.
Just a short distance away from the city,
one gets a splendour view of the snow-caped Tianshan mountain, a picturesque
reminder of Germany's Black Forest.
But modern tourist amenities is sadly
lacking in such scenic spots. Decent public toilets is almost non-existent in these
parts of China.
Still, whatever is lacking from the modern
Silk Road is made up with some of the most wonderous sights for the Malaysians.
Commercialism, rather than barter trade,
has taken over in the new Silk Road routes. Heavy lorries and buses, instead of
camels and horses, travel along the
Signs of modern trade has infiltrated this
city. At the junction of Renmin
Road (People's Road), a large billboard is erected, warning the city folks of the danger of
drug abuse a clear reminder of the effects of modern trade in the Silk Road