Turpan Story


The wirey man in the small room did not sit at a desk, but stood at a small metal stand — perhaps a music stand? – holding paperwork and my and Alison’s passports. He seemed young – smooth faced, long and lean, almost feline – but it’s often difficult for me to estimate age in Han men. He wore an all black uniform along with a black cloth baseball cap that had a short brim and Chinese characters stitched into the front.

“What is your name?”

“Eric Rector?” I replied as a question, obviously nervous.

“What is the purpose of your visit?” He had not yet looked at me, and continued working through the paperwork on his stand whether I replied or not. Perhaps he was filling in the blanks of a Rural Village Visa application, I wasn’t sure.

“I am touring Turpan for pleasure.” I said using the terms available in the list of options on the imagined visa form.

He laughed, which did not make sense because I’m sure he wasn’t reading any irony into this situation. My host family had tried to register our visit to their home with the village police, and the local police wanted nothing to do with us. They insisted that my hosts call the city police and follow their lead. In the village station my host called and was told: bring them to the city headquarters – we want to talk to the visitors. We also want them to check into a hotel in the city; there are not adequate facilities for them in your village.

“What is the purpose of your visit to _____ Village?” he clarified.
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Expat Experience

After an unfortunate (for all involved) mistake on the part of our Super Funky Hotel for our last night in Beijing, we “landed” at the Four Seasons a few blocks away from the US Embassy in the northeast corner of the inner-ish city (Third Ring Road out of six so far). We are surrounded by other western and western style (Kempinski?) hotels, High Fashion boutiques (Rolex, Tudor, Chopard…) in glossy shopping malls, and large boulevards.

Last night we met up with Michael and his wife (Dee) and co-worker Hao at a real micro-brewery for draft beers, lamb burgers, onion rings, and bbq chicken wings (the day before I was munching on spicy pickled chicken feet in a Chengdu market). The crowd was WAY expat with a sprinkling of hip locals, and the talk was about today’s China and how we each related to it.

When we got back to our 23rd Floor room at the ‘Seasons, I said to Alison, “it’s too bad that we aren’t going to be able to experience the ‘real’ Beijing on our last day.” And then, looking out the window at all the office towers, apartment towers, flashing advertising, and bumper-to-bumper traffic, I realized I was wrong. This experience — a westerner in the Four Seasons in this commercial and diplomatic district — this WAS a ‘real’ Beijing experience, just as much as exploring the hutongs in the Dongcheng district, visiting the landmarks, biking the streets, eating (and making) dumplings, and climbing the Drum Tower to watch the twisting pigeon flocks orbit their home roofs. We were still in Beijing where nothing and everything was changing.

Et Tu, Chengdu?

[Yes, our driver DOES speak a little French…]

Where to begin; at the end of course — at The Dictionary of Flavor restaurant in an upscale pedestrian mall area of Chengdu (where you can buy silk embroideries for THOUSANDS of dollars each) I crossed off almost everything left on the (written!) list of flavors that I wanted to sample:

  • Spicy Noodle Salad (native spice!)
  • Fish Flavored Grass Salad
  • Fire Exploding Pork Kidneys with Wood Ear Mushrooms
  • Wonton Soup
  • Jiao Zi Dumplings in Sauce
  • Steamed Beef In Corn Pudding
  • Cornstarch Noodles with Pork Intestines
  • Noodles with Beef Sauce
  • Big Lychee Flavor Pork with Shiitake Mushrooms (aka Sweet ‘n’ Sour Pork, but so much more)
  • Deep Fried Yam Stick
  • Steamed Glutenous Rice Dumplings

At one point I might have said that Xinjiang was ‘killing us with kindness’ where as Chengdu appears to be killing me with endless awesome dishes.
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Oh, Chengdu…

…you had me at ‘Hello.’

As if Rabbit’s Head and Stinky Tofu on a stick, and Pork Lung stew wasn’t enough, today was a deep delicious dive into the history and foundations of this marvelous cuisine.

But first, a Panda break…

…and now back to our regularly scheduled post…breakfast at our hotel is a wonderful fantasy of mine: what if breakfast was just like dinner? What if you could have stir fried peppers, savory noodles, and steamed meat buns for breakfast? Or a freshly prepared bowl of noodle soup? I am in heaven. AND there’s COFFEE (finally — not even NesCafé! The real deal!).
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Beijing Dumplings

As 10am approached, I packed up my projects and we headed around and around the corners of the warren until we found Black Sesame Kitchen again, this time with the bright sun streaming through their windows. Coco and Michelle and Chefs greeted us again. Unlike when we were the first to arrive for dinner the previous evening, we were among the last to arrive to a full class of 11 international adults learning how to make basic Chinese dumplings “from scratch.”

Here’s how to make a handmade dumpling.
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