11.08.2012 - 02.09.2012
Turpan, August 16th 2012
Last night I managed to swallow another 2 of the 'Arabic' dumplings I bought at lunch, before I gave up and threw away the other 2 pieces. This morning I woke up with anxiety. What will be for breakfast in this hotel? Something 'Arabic' again??
The hotel's buffet was very crowded. Among them, were a pack of Japanese ladies sitting in separate tables. Ah, no wonder yesterday a tourist guide at the lobby approached me in Japanese. Sure thing, I do look Japanese! That's what the Japanese have said, you know. Maybe this Japanese female pack are touring with that guide.
It's a buffet breakfast. Great, but... steam cabbage, steam squash, steam... anything of the vegetable kingdom. No meat at all? Okay, to make sure everything is halal, better not serve meat at all. Fine. What's that over there? Oh, yellowish gravy. Ah, that must be something like Knorr Soup. It would be great with a boiled egg inside, I thought. So I picked up one boiled egg from the stack of boiled eggs on the tray.
These cakes look enticing, I said to myself. I put three pieces on my plate. What's this? Whatsoever, it's not cabbage. I'll try one. I put my plate on the table. I went back to the buffet table to get a drink. Left right, right left. Where are the glasses? None. So should I buy another bottle of mineral water just because there's no glass in this restaurant? A tea dispenser stood on the table and a tray of bowls laid next to it. They must have run out of space to put the bowls, I thought.
Oh yeah, privacy in this communist country is most of the time not sacred. I already learned about that through my second visit to China. During busy time, don't be surprise when someone you don't know sits at your table. He or she would do it naturally with no word of apology, but just sit there as if you are invisible. Therefore I wasn't surprise when I returned to "my table", I saw a guy was sitting there. He didn't look at me and I pretended not to see him either. Anything on this communist country should be the people's property, right? "My table" is the people's table. Moreover, why bother about privacy when you are used to doing your business with the least enclosure? You do your business there, I do mine here. I don't look at you, hopefully you don't either.
With Knorr Soup's taste programmed in mind, slowly I dipped my boiled egg into a bowl of yellowish liquid, slice the egg with a spoon, and...! Definitely tasteless!
I expected the white stuff to have chunks of meat inside which would go along with this soup-like liquid. Nevertheless, it was just steam bread. Plain.
How about the cake? It was tender, but very close to plain. It looked like raisin cake. However, I'm sure this would never be the idea of cake for Indonesians.
Let's try bakpau, I comforted myself. They appeared like the ones in my home country, filled with bean paste, chicken, or pork. For sure, these ones won't contain pork. I put 3 pieces on my plate. Other guests only took 1 or 2 the most. I don't care. I have to make the most of the grand rate I've paid.
My verdict of the steam bread that looked like my home country's bakpau: P-L-A-I-N also. Or am I sick?? When you have fever, sometimes your taste buds turns numb, you know. Worry struck me. Please don't get sick!
Anyway, anyhow, none of these smelt 'Arabic' to me. I successfully brought them down to my tummy. It was then when I realized other guests were drinking from a bowl, exactly like the bowls laid next to the tea dispenser, exactly like the one served to me yesterday!
"When you come to Turpan, don't forget to try Turpan's ice cream," I read somewhere in the internet. Ice cream! Bīngqílín! That's my favorite.
But instead of pronouncing "bīngqílín" to my driver, I said "bīnqílín". "What?" He replied. I repeated, he still didn't understand. I pulled my Mandarin Berlitz pocket book out. "Ah, bīngqílín!"
"What?" was still his reply.
I handed my book to him. "This one." I pointed on the word "ice cream" which had both the Chinese character and pinyin.
"Bīngqílín!" my driver cried. Apparently my intonation had been awkward that he still couldn't get it even though I didn't say "bīn" anymore but "bīng".
He stopped in front of a mini market. No ice cream vendor. Oh, maybe he needs something, I thought. Patiently I sat back.
"Come along!" he signaled his hand towards me.
Oh, maybe he wants to show me something, I thought again.
He greeted the shopkeeper and then pointed on a fridge. That's factory-made ice cream.
"You don't want this?" my driver asked.
"Tǔlǔfān yǒumíng de bīngqílín. Yǒumíng de." I tried my best to make him understand that it's not the ordinary ice cream I was looking for.
"Ah, I know, I know!" my driver cried.
But on the way back from Turpan Basin, back in downtown, he said to me, "Can't find ice cream."
I felt curious. That blog I read said it was popular ice cream in Turpan. Popular also means easy to find, doesn't it? I moved my eyes left and right.
Suddenly, "Stop, stop! Ice cream! There!"
"Yes, yes. There, there!"
"Oh yes, ice cream."
I jumped off the car like a kindergartener.
"Děng yīxià!" Groggily I aimed my cellphone camera at the ice cream. After the incident yesterday in Tuyuq Village, taking pictures with people around made me nervous. However, poor ice cream vendor guy. He looked just as nervous!
My verdict: D-I-V-I-N-E
Later on in other cities of Xinjiang, I found similar ice cream vendors, but with different tastes. Turpan's the best. Don't miss it!
I bought one for my driver, but he refused it. So I had another one. It cost only 1 yuan.
In this area there were a lot of food vendors. I bought one of this. 3 yuan. I knew it was hard. But I thought it was like the French bread which is only heard on the outside. This wasn't. It's heard through and through!
"What thing did you buy!" my driver commented.
"Let's have lunch!" said my driver.
We went into a restaurant across the Karez Museum.
My verdict: Y-U-M-M-Y
Actually this noodle was served in separate bowls. Do you see that empty bowl on the left? That was where the meat was put. Before I could say "děng yīxià" to my driver, he already poured the whole bowl on my noodle. "Here, you eat it like this," he said.
Do you see that bowl between noodle and Nescafe? That's tea. Now I'm not looking for a glass to drink.
About that Nescafe, I found it at a beverage vendor next door. It was a delight, because it was extremely rare. Coffee, I miss you everyday.
"Is this beef?" I asked my driver.
"Of course it is beef! They are Moslems!" He pointed at the men working by the half-opened-air kitchen. When a woman came to our table to serve us, he said to her while pointing at me, "She asked if this was beef. I told her you are Moslems."
"I know. But Moslems eat mutton also, don't they?"
"Oh yes, they eat mutton. No, this is not mutton. It's beef."
The meat thing tasted like my home country's semur.
Sheepishly I attempted to take pictures by zooming my G12.
"It's alright. Walk there and take pictures!" encouraged my driver.
"Can I take pictures of him?"
A Hui Chinese?
When I attempted to point my camera at her, she always turned her head away. But when I asked my driver to ask her whether she would like to take a picture with me, she seemed very pleased. Blurry? Don't blame that on Canon. That's my driver's trembling hands.
The grape meat dregs were floating up and down inside the glass. This really must be pure juice. But the taste was sweet like syrup. That's what I've read also about Xinjiang's grape.
Final verdict: S-U-R-V-I-V-E-D