Eating in Xinjiang

One of the harder parts of travelling alone in China comes from finding good food. Asians, in general, pride communal meals, and the classic Chinese meal consists of several dishes shared around a table. Of course there are options for the solo eater, just that you’ve got less variety.

My favourite was the pilaf/zhua fan. I didn’t take pictures of it because it’s essentially a picture of fried rice. What’s unique about it is that it’s cooked w lots of raisins. What’s not so pleasant about it is that the rice glistens with oil, and you can feel your arteries clogging as you eat.

Another is the beef lamian (hand-pulled noodles). Again, no pictures because everyone knows what a bowl of noodles looks like. In China, they’ve got budget options. When you order a ‘niu rou la mian’, the default dish is plain noodles in beef soup. If you want your beef noodles to be served with slices of beef, you gotta specify ‘la mian jia niu rou’ (noodles, add beef).

You’ll see people eating (savoury) naan bread everywhere. Here’s the most popular chain, Abdullah’s Naan (see the red signboard on the right) –


People eat this as the main meal or as a midday snack. I personally found it too dry (used to the Indian version in Singapore!) and I don’t like sesame seeds in my food so I had this only once. To be eaten on its own, or spread with cream cheese.

Hand-made ice cream!


(note the pirated haagen-dazs design, which reads ‘wish you success in the examination’)
I was slightly disturbed that the ice cream was exposed to the air like in the photograph, but I decided to take a chance with my tummy. I was fine, but then of course my stomach has survived street food all over so that’s really up to the individual.

And finally, my favourite yang rou chuan/mutton kebabs!


I ate this whenever I could! I wish I had more!


Xinjiang Museum

The Xinjiang Uyger Autonomous Region Museum is one of the two sites in Urumqi recommended by guidebooks.

It is located behind the Sheraton. (more accurately, you gotta walk through a whole shopping mall featuring exquisite high end brands of Gucci and the like, then squeeze between construction sites before getting a glimpse of it)


Opening times in the
Summer: 10am-6pm
Winter: 10.30am-6pm
In both cases, last entry is at 4.30pm.

Here’s the entrance to the exhibition hall that features archaeological finds from Xinjiang. Somewhat disappointingly, a few of the most eye-catching items in there are labelled as replicas.


Most visitors are there to take a look at the mummies though, and those are located on level 2, in the hall titled for textiles and fabrics (because the clothes on the mummies have also been beautifully preserved, with vivid colours at that.

There were guided tours in Mandarin going on (that I was eavesdropping on! heh!) but there were no clear times indicated at the museum, so perhaps those were part of a package tour group? All in all, quite worth an afternoon, with or without rain.

Bookshopping in China

You can’t miss the (mega) Xinhua Bookstore whenever you’re in any half-major Chinese city. It’s a huge bookstore chain which, as with any self-respecting communist country, is government-owned. It usually occupies several stories of a mall. 7 stories of books is somewhat unthinkable in the light of brick-and-mortar bookstore closures across the Western world.

There are two outlets of Xinhua ShuDian in Urumqi that I know of, the smaller one just off the Grand Bazaar at Erdaoqiao, the larger outlet at Youhao ShangChang.


I usually enjoy browsing bookstores, but seeing tiny Chinese characters marching relentlessly across the pages gives me a headache. I don’t read Chinese fiction. This time though, I had a niece to shop for, and I don’t mind illustrated childrens’ books!


The above are all translated from English. I’m sorry to say that the Chinese don’t do children’s fiction very well – rehashing stories of ancient heroes, simplified versions of the four great classics (Water Margin, Journey to the West etc), or fables and moral stories describing how an idiom came into being. The staple of Chinese lessons, even in Singapore!

(Here’s what’s worse: I heard that with Mother Tongue becoming simplified in primary schools, they’ve taken even the above out…what then do they read to learn a language huh? And the standard of Mandarin in Singapore is sliding steadily.)


I bought some books for myself too – the SAT book for Literature has the foreword and instructions in Chinese, and practices in the original English. Hoping to learn how to set multiple choice questions for Lit!


What do you prefer while on vacation? To Explore or to Rest?

My struggle today: wondering whether the lovely views of Tianshan Tianchi (Xinjiang Heavenly Lake) is worth the 3+3hr return bus trip. The alternative is to essentially rot in bed in the nice hotel I booked myself into at the end of my trip.

Which do you prefer while on holiday? To explore the area you’re at, or take a good long break?

I know the ideal answer is, of course, to do both but unfortunately, that is rather difficult to achieve. The tendency is to make the most of wherever one is at. Opportunity cost, my friend. After all, with the world so huge, there is little incentive to return to a place one has been. (I make an exception for London. Somehow…that place is intoxicating)

This has been my struggle for a couple of holidays now, and I expect many people feel the same way. How many times have I heard colleagues coming back from an exciting time abroad exclaiming that they need another holiday to rest? And you rush from place to place, not so much for the ‘checklist’ that travellers like to badmouth, but because you wish to acquire knowledge, to grow in experience, to feel that you can leave the place with no regrets, all that within a limited time frame.

Tough choice to make, because the alternative of lazing in bed, while sounding like a superior choice for any weekend, feels like a waste of time (and money) when you’re overseas.

I haven’t seen everything I want to see, but I decided that if I haven’t got the energy to handwash my laundry, I haven’t the energy to travel to Tianchi or Turpan. Plus, the next week back at work sounds fiendishly tiring. (See how hard I try to make myself feel better?)

If anyone happens to read this – how do you manage your limited time for rest against the desire to see and explore? What do you tell yourself to make you feel better about taking it slow on holiday?


Train Tickets in China

I attempted to buy train tickets yesterday in Urumqi. Was feeling pretty good about myself for taking public transport to the train station and all…costs 1 rmb!


The bus numbers and the route is provided at the bus stop, with the station you are at highlighted in red. Useful only if you can read Chinese characters.

At the Urumqi [south] station, you’ll be faced with several bag checks, sometimes frisking…and after all that is done, you hit the ticketing station to behold this sight –


The screen above is displaying the no. of available tickets to popular destinations during the upcoming Dragon Boat Festival holiday.

When I got the end of the queue, I tried to order a ticket to Kashgar only to be turned away because I didn’t have my passport with me 😦

Recent regulation of recent years: tickets are tagged to a registered ID, and they are transferable only at the ticket counter (i.e. a fair bit of hassle). This was done apparently to prevent people from hoarding tickets and selling them with a price hike on the actually-rather-obvious and therefore not-very-black market. I asked some locals whether they minded the hassle, (could be seen as a violation of privacy too…), but it seems they appreciate it for the order it brings.


Florence: The Bargello (and Islamic Art)

Office (ministry, if you’d like) turned police station turned prison and so on…here you have the Bargello, now a museum featuring sculpture and art from the ducal collection.


I’ll say, I was initially disappointed that it’s open-air…t’was a cold day! But knowing how Italian museums lack air-conditioning in the summer…at least this offers ventilation (but little shade).


I didn’t take photographs in/of the loggia where the most famous artwork reside…I expect a simple Google image search would be able to churn out better pictures.

The exception being Alpheus and Aregula, for looking at it filled me with an intense longing for my ex.


There was a side-room on Islamic art that most people simply ignored, or walked through quickly (including the guided tours!)

I understand that this being Florence, they’ve got more than enough Florentine masters than they have time for, and besides, this is a minor collection. (Plus, nobody can deny that the religion has been getting a bad rep for the past decade or two).


A pity to miss these, though. First, Islamic mosaic art offers some visual refreshment from the oil paintings and sculptures of Florence. European art places much attention on the human/god figure, and on its portrayal of the spiritual experience. If craning your head to study the divine beings on the ceiling of the Duomo hurt your neck, here’s an alternative.

In Islam, they take the 2nd commandment seriously: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

As such, the glory of God and creation is portrayed through the mosaic form, through orderly but complex patterns in tapestry, through the simple beauty of calligraphy. You can catch a glimpse of all this at the little room in the Bargello.

Secondly, given how IS is being a menace and destroying so many things that Islam stands for, knowing real Islam is perhaps one of the only ways we steel ourselves against the falsity that is the IS.


Shopping in Florence: Bartolucci

Here’s a little clock and wood shop that’s lovely to browse.


Featuring Pinocchio at the door. Its author and creator, Carlo Collodi, is buried in Florence at a cemetery off Piazza Michelangelo.

Check out the clocks on the wall, and the plain but beautiful decorations on the tree.


I bought a fridge magnet for my niece (flat things are pretty much the only things that might survive a backpack…) but she has lost it. MEH.

Souvenirs for sale include Pinocchio marionettes of varying sizes and wooden toys such as made-to-order rocking horses, but if you’re a tourist with little space in the luggage, you’ll probably pick up little knick-knacks like wooden clips, bottle stoppers and the like.

Find this at Via Condotta in Firenze.