Tag Archives: food


Just a whole bunch of photos from my vacation in Vietnam…

First, of course, there’s the Citadel. Right across the river from where I was staying, where the last emperors lived. Reminded me of the Forbidden City (and was modeled after it) but there are areas of ruins, destroyed during the war.

In Vietnam, I saw small shrines everywhere, sometimes just a few incense sticks sticking up from the sidewalk. Other times more ornate like this one:

A popular banh mi seller by the bridge on the south side of the Perfume river. Not my favorite, actually, the meat too fatty and chewy and sweet.

A local specialty called cơm hến with teeny tiny clams, peanuts, rice, herbs, and different vegetables. Can’t quite taste the clams but it had really great texture and was delicious.

I rented a bicycle one day in Hue and biked out of the city to this abandoned water park, Ho Thuy Tien. Quite eerie, especially alone. I started on the far end of the park where it was only myself and a few cows. Standing inside the dragon, I could watch other tourists approaching, including one Vietnamese family. There’s a “guard” at the front gate but there’s also a back route.

My visit coincided with Tet, the Vietnamese new year, and everywhere, there were flowers being sold. Little clementine trees and chrysanthemums.

Alongside the Perfume river, a water buffalo and her calf.

Hoi An:

At night, the riverside in Hoi An is lit up by lanterns and little paper crowns with candles inside left to float on the river. It’s touristy but still oddly magical.

I did like the countryside best, where you can ride on a bike past paddies with egrets and water buffalo, a temple jutting up here and there. Someone told me that the dead in Vietnam get better houses than the living—the shrines and temples are incredible. This one is a simple family shrine, I think.

At a local market, small banh xeo. It made a great snack along with the silky tofu+ginger syrup from another vendor.

A local specialty of Hoi An, cao lau, which is thick rice noodles with roast pork, bean sprouts, herbs. Season it with soy sauce and lime.

Da Nang:

Only in Da Nang will you find a fire- and water-breathing dragon bridge. Worth staying overnight just for that! 

Ho Chi Minh:

More flowers being sold for the new year. I did spend some time with some flower sellers, cousins of a host, who had brought the flowers up from the Mekong. They had plenty of flowers a few days before Tet but expected to sell them all.

My favorite dessert, found on the backpacker street (Bui Vien). Silky tofu with ginger syrup, tapioca pearls, and sweetened condensed milk. Doesn’t look like much but it’s delicious and cheap at 7000 VND.

I ate at a lot of sidewalk vendors including this one. Grilled chicken with broken rice. The stools are tiny! I like the banh mi carts with their windows piled high with baguettes but I have to say that I prefer grilled fillings, rather than the cold cuts.

I took a couple of public buses to the more authentic Cu Chi tunnel area, Ben Duoc. Not hard to do at all and at the Cu Chi bus station, vendors like this guy would come onto the bus and sell snacks, sandwiches, and drinks. I have no idea what he’s selling though. Below, just a hidden entrance to the tunnels…I had to take off my backpack so I could squeeze in!

Just an impromptu fire show in the middle of the street…don’t know who she was performing for but it was pretty interesting!

Some com tam, grilled pork chop over broken rice. The broken rice is more dry than I like but I found myself ordering this quite a bit because I could read what it was and it would be fresh and hot.

Caught a lion dance show on my way out of the city. I’d actually never seen one performed on platforms before.

Mekong Delta (Can Tho):

Although Can Tho is the largest city in the Mekong delta, because I spent part of my time in the countryside, it felt quite easy to escape it. Really easy to bike around on paths surrounded by banana trees and cross over the various creeks on thin bridges. Some were pristine but I saw one that was covered with garbage, yet a woman was still washing her clothes in it. The mosquitos are vicious. The bananas are tiny and plump with thin skins and incredibly sweet—one of my hosts picked some from a tree outside. Makeshift docks everywhere. Lovely to explore but so hot during the afternoon that all you can do is nap. And because of Tet, no floating markets. I’m sure it was quieter than usual with a lot of stores shuttered but there were definitely still vendors around and some restaurants open. And plenty of people enjoying the flower street and night markets. 

Burning trash. Unfortunately, this was fairly common around many of the places I went to in Vietnam and would actually make it rather difficult to breathe. On the Hai Van pass between Hue and Hoi An, I’d asked the tour guide whether the air was misty due to actual mist or pollution. His response had been that central Vietnam doesn’t really have factories so it was mist but I’m not so sure. There are tons of motorcycles and random fires burning (completely untended!) which would maybe contribute to some obvious air pollution.

So many jackfruit!

Nem nướng̣, grilled pork patties that you wrap in rice paper with lettuce, herbs, chives, green banana slices, cucumber, and any of the other fixings. Really good!

In Can Tho, the riverside walking path ended in a large lot where kids and adults were renting these mini cars and hoverboards to play with. There was also a large night market nearby.

Both of my homestays in Can Tho were fostering tiny abandoned kittens!

It was a lot of traveling but I’m glad to be back, even if I’m greeted here by an earthquake (I woke up and felt my bed shaking) and perpetual rain. Hoping the rain lets up soon since the gloom makes me very unproductive!


Last of Seoul

A few last images to remember Seoul by:

1) At the dried seafood market

2) Bulgogi ssam with a playwright friend

3) Temple with flower clothing for all the animal decorations

4) A truck full of metal shavings

5) The view from the city wall with N.

6) A pre-flight tuna kimbap

Currently in Taipei now where it started out hot and humid but has been raining practically nonstop for a week. But it’s so different here from Seoul and China; I’m still getting used to it all.

Art Show and art show

My story “Art Show” is up today in the spring issue of Nashville Review! Check it out here (and the rest of the issue here!) It’s very much inspired by the international art community and scene in Shanghai.

And to celebrate (and due to waking up early because of jetlag), I bought myself some pastries from Arcade Bakery. Maybe I should make this a habit every time I get something published?

Also, as an artist-in-residence in Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace program, I’ll be participating in Open Studios this month! Here are the details:

Friday, April 28, 6-9pm
Saturday, April 29, 1-8pm
28 Liberty Street- 24th floor, New York, NY

Come check it out! I can tell you that this batch of artists, writers, choreographers, and performers are pretty damn talented so if you’re interested in the arts at all, make your way down at the end of this month and feel free to invite everyone! RSVP here!

Europe Part I: London & Paris


In London, bees are allowed inside pastry display cases to taste the wares. Would you like a bee with your cinnamon roll? Here, take three. D names the birds for us in Regents Park—wood pigeons, coots, moorhens.We climb up to sit in front of bronze lions in Trafalgar Square but cannot climb onto their slick backs. The double decker buses make you feel as though you’re running over just about everyone. B+D bring us to Chinatown for bubble tea and jianbing as though we were in China and not London after a more traditional meal of fish and chips where I decide I like ijl’s haddock better than my cod and the tartar sauce is surprisingly sweet. And a nighttime view of Big Ben and Parliament. And clouds with a heartbeat within Covent Garden. P1130060 P1130052 P1130059

The next day, by the London Eye, the most aggressive street performer ever with a bullhorn and a request not to leave until after the finale. And a 5 pound charge, of course. We explore the British Museum and Tate Modern, always free. Cranes crown the skyline of London—I count fifteen then stop because there are still more. After walking over Tower Bridge and past the Tower of London, touts on Brick Lane beckoned us for dinner, ask if we’re hungry. The true answer is yes. The correct answer is probably no. But we say yes anyway and we’re led into, not the restaurant we said yes to, but to another, connected through passageways between dining room and down the stairs where we listen to bankers discussing their salaries which, surprisingly, are lower than we’d expected unless we heard wrong. We get thalis, one vegetarian and one not. The chicken tikka is the best, in my opinion, along with the lamb curry. Ijl likes the tikka masala which is different from ones I’ve had in the states but maybe too creamy for my taste. P1130067 P1130073 P1130077 P1130079

Then there’s brunch with B+D the next morning and a walk along Little Venice, small canals lined with houseboats. Most carry sticks and broken panels of wood, perhaps to heat the boats during the winter? Atop some are full gardens and bicycles lying upon their sides. Then Portobello Road Market with a crush of people buying pina coladas in pineapples and supposedly, antiques as well. And a quick ride to St. Pancras Station for our Eurostar train to Paris. P1130081


We stay in an adorable studio on Place d’Aligre in the 12th Arrondissement, a street that curves around a plaza so it is easily recognizable on a map. Our first night, we get crepes at Les Embruns, made of buckwheat, and the crème brulee I get is full of vanilla flavor but the sugar top isn’t crispy the way I like. In the morning, a market starts up with antiques vendors in the plaza and fruit & vegetable sellers on the streets. I get a pint of tiny Charlotte strawberries to go with our chocolate croissants, sweet and just right for 1.5 euros. We start out late but wander through the gardens by the Louvre up to the Grand Palais where they’re holding a fine art & design fair. Pay our 10 euros and enter the glass canopied venue with stalls and stalls of furniture, glass, jewelry, and other forms of art from around the world. P1130088 IMG_20150913_084958

It’s a stormy day but thankfully, our host lent us an umbrella of rainbows to take with us to see the cathedral at Notre Dame. Along the way, there are gold covered statues atop buildings and bridges, ornate in a way you don’t see in the U.S., like the temples in Thailand covered with gold leaf. The cathedral is beautiful, of course, but crowded. It’ll be a pattern here in Europe, these beautiful, crowded cathedrals and basilicas. We take the bridge over to the smaller island on the Seine, Île Saint-Louis, for ice cream at Berthillon where the flavors are so vibrant, it seems more like gelato than ice cream. What flavors? Pear & mango & ground peach.

For dinner, Le Trumilou for duck confit & chicken in a tarragon sauce. A bottle of red wine. I order the charcuterie for my appetizer which turns out to be a bit of a mistake—all patés, one of which has a very jelly-like texture. The duck confit comes with potatoes that are perfect, so crispy and smelling of herbs. IMG_20150913_181012 IMG_20150913_181006 We leave the umbrella by accident and ijl has to go back to get it. And we learn that Brooklyn has followed us to Paris. IMG_20150913_193212

And then there is the Louvre. We take the lesser known entrance by the subway & mall yet there’s still a long line that snakes through the mall. I ask a Chinese tourist in Mandarin whether it’s the line to buy tickets. Funny how it feels more natural to ask a Chinese tourist than a local but my high school French is pretty lacking. We spend hours at the Louvre, watch other tourists take photos of the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, see the tablet with the code of Hammurabi engraved upon it, go through the sculpture gardens for cherubs force-feeding goats in exquisite detail. Wander through its foundations as a fortress and go through its ostentatious rooms of Napoleon III and Louis XIV. In the Islamic art section, there are models of art for the blind that you can touch. Museums make me want to touch everything because you’re not allowed to touch anything. P1130096 P1130095

We take out bikes through the Velib bike share system and ride them all the way to the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower only has one area open with a long line and when we get to the front, we’re told that it was only for the lift. The cashier on the other side for the stairs had only just opened while we were waiting but our cashier takes pity on us and lets them know that we’re coming through. The stairs aren’t too difficult actually; we take them up to the 2nd floor before we take the lift up. On the way, we see the lift with its pseudo elevator beneath it holding a fake conductor on the side. Very odd. We are on the topmost level of the Eiffel Tower as twilight blends into night. The wind howls on one side so we go around to the other, pointing out the landmarks we’d seen. P1130130

In the morning, we bike around the Sorbonne and get macarons at Pierre Hermé. I lose my sunglasses while leaping over a curb (we ride dangerously) but otherwise, the bicycling is wonderful compared to NYC. There are bike lanes everywhere and drivers notice bicyclists. Better than taking the subway which, although the trains seemed quick and efficient, the stations smelled of urine. Then it’s off to Geneva!

Good Ghosts

Things have been pretty crazy here in New York. There have been birthdays and trip planning and future planning and everyday planning like “How do I see my doctor if they decide to go on vacation for several weeks right as I get an ear infection?” July & August: the months when you need to get things done but can’t because everyone’s on vacation. IMG_20150813_192553

So, to catch up, here’s a list of everything.

1) David Wax Museum was a lot of fun to listen to and watch when they played last month at a free show in the enclosed parking lot of City Winery. Suz played the donkey jawbone a time or two (one of its teeth popped out!) and there were plenty of new songs I hadn’t heard before! Crazy to think that it’s been four years since I met them when they came to check out my apartment sublet in Amherst.

2) The Chinese consulate. Nervewracking but not as bad as I expected (judging from the terrible yelp reviews) but hey, those yelp reviews were super helpful in filling out the paperwork. You wait in line outside the building, turn off your cell phone, go through the metal detectors, get your number, and wait for the board to read out your number and tell you which window to go to. Quite civilized, actually. I was a bit nervous when the consulate clerk asked me to explain and write out the topic of my writing since I’d put my employment as Writer. It’s a good thing that folktales aren’t politically sensitive! I’d show you a photo but you know, that kind of thing isn’t allowed. Consulates are serious business.

3) Trip planning because…I’m going to Europe for several weeks next month! And then heading to Shanghai on my residency! I’ve been preparing by eating chocolate croissants and using Duolingo to brush up on all this French that I don’t remember learning back in high school. How did I get As if so much of the grammar seems completely new to me? Unfortunately, trip prep also means trying to get all sorts of medical things done when all the doctors want to go on vacation. But that also leads to…

4) NY bucket list activities! Sri Lankan buffet in Staten Island? Check. Kayaking through the canals of Oakdale, complete with white herons fishing beside us? Check. Bronx Zoo where a lion roared at us five times and we saw an adorable red panda? Check. Lunch at the almighty Googley? Check. (Thanks, T! Thanks, Googley! I quite liked those potato pancakes and the beef- was it pot roast?) Eat a Chickenshack sandwich from Shake Shack? Check and it was alright but nothing too special. Hiking with friends+dog upstate? Check (P.S. don’t let your friends carry two gallons and two liters of water because that is INSANE.) I’ve still got a bunch of things on this yet-to-be written down bucket list like go see Catherine Lan’s exhibit at the Queens Museum, go to the Queens Night Market, win the Hamilton lottery, and eat at every place I’ve ever dreamed of eating at. I’m looking at you, Tortilleria Nixtamal+Ice & Vice+the one and only Arepa Lady! IMG_20150815_124343 IMG_20150807_154536

Also, this doesn’t take place in NYC, but I am so so so excited to see Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests in Massachusetts next weekend! So cool. And it’s a good excuse to bring me back to that area and binge on Toscanini’s ice cream which is only the best ice cream in the world. B^3 for the win.

5) And then there was last week where it seemed as though everyone I’d ever known were suddenly either coming to NYC or facebooking me out of the blue. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but I was contacted by two friends I hadn’t talked to in at least 5 years, one of them probably closer to 10 years. And then I went to see the Furious Girl Tour which consisted of three poets I went to grad school with and it was quite furious indeed. Then my landlord+lady (ha) from 2012 was in town and we got lunch at Ayada Thai—it was really tremendously nice to see them and catch up. Many ghosts but they were good ghosts; in general, I’m mostly pretty happy to meet up with people I haven’t seen in a while. So if you’re a good ghost, you can contact me and I’ll probably get a muffin with you. Or force you to watch some free dance shows.

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Oh and 6) My story, “Westward, Ever Westward” is coming out in Okey-Panky next Monday! It’s short and sweet; I guarantee you’ll like it or your money back.

Literary Geographies

This Saturday was the reading I organized—Literary Geographies: A Celebration of Queens Writers! Thank you to all those who came, from my sister and brother-in-law who drove all the way from Long Island to a high school friend I hadn’t seen in years to JPB who introduced the writers and came down from Boston to friends who made the trek out to Queens from other boroughs. And thanks to the QCA and to the folks at the Socrates Sculpture Park, as well! Although it was incredibly sunny and hot, it was truly wonderful to meet the other writers who read with me—Joanne, Jennifer, and Concetta—as well as other members of the Queens arts community—Joan, Anjali, Johanne. Here are some photos from the event!


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Afterwards, to Break Bar for jenga+pool then Sripraphai for some tasty thai food—crispy chinese watercress salad, drunken noodles, fried taro+peanuts, penang curry, jungle curry, pad thai, crispy taro in warm coconut milk and water chestnuts+jackfruit (indistinguishable!) in bright colors and floating in a thin sugary broth that reminded ijl of cereal milk.

Today, after a morning of doughnuts and badminton, tea and a quick 2ish mile run, I cracked open Ottolenghi’s Plenty and proceeded to make his “Very full tart.” It’s a beautiful tart (although the vegetable/cheese proportions may be off since it would have been overflowing if I’d added every single thing he said to!) and I can’t wait to eat it.P1120894

Adventures in San Francisco

Having just gotten back from a trip to San Francisco (my first time in California!), it’s hard to come to terms with the suddenness of the weather change in New York. What happened to the 70 degree weather we had right before I left in late October? No wonder people told me I’d love SF– sunshine! Flowers everywhere! So much hiking! Humongous burritos for $7! There, in the Gardens at Lake Merritt in Oakland, the sweet olive/osmanthus blooms took me right back to Hangzhou although the orange-tinged squirrels are wholly American. I thought I was prepared for the hills of San Francisco, even hiking at Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley before heading into SF proper (a beautiful nighttime view over the east bay if you end up getting stranded after hiking all day!) but I really wasn’t. Those hills are not kidding around. I don’t know how the cars do it.
There was a lot there that I expected and a lot I didn’t. Beautiful street art, yes. Lack of bicyclists, no. Unexpected how it was just so much emptier than NYC and to see how the housing regulations affect their housing crisis with so many two to three-story houses, not like the many much taller apartment buildings in New York. The ads all over about voting on local measures and the evidence of unhappiness with the tech industry. The lack of hostility. I’d forgotten how it felt to be in a place where people are less confrontational, less belligerent. I stayed in an apartment in Berkeley connected by little paths through separate gardens to the gates and other houses, surrounded by flowering bougainvillea and statuary. We ventured down to the Sutro Baths at sunset, the pelicans flying low overhead, the ocean roaring onto the rocks and the caves, then ate Burmese food where they mixed the tea leaf salad table-side. At night, we listened to the sea lions since it was too dark to see them out on the pier. We walked and we walked until our thighs and calves were sore and we collapsed into bed at 10pm. There was a beautiful hike along the cliffs to the Golden Gate Bridge. There were the botanical gardens at Golden Gate Park where moss rained down on us from the tree, pricking through our clothes, and the California Academy of Science. Uber rides for when we were stranded—one of the drivers told us a tale of woe about losing his job as a hardware engineer and buying the car specifically to drive for Uber. We stayed at a house in Noe Valley where our host took in handicapped cats, one without eyes, the other with a hip problem. Before we left, an hour or so for Randy’s place, a neighborhood bar with strong $3 well drinks and $.75 pool. It was hard coming back.P1120329 P1120239 P1120384

In writing news, I had a great time at the Center for Fiction reading I did last month with the other fellows. It was wonderful hearing their actual work for the first time! And also, a shoutout to DB, LP, JL, & F for coming–it was a lovely surprise to see you all there. There’s actually a video up of the reading on the Center for Fiction’s website (part I and part II, in alphabetical order! I happen to be in part II.)

There’s also a little interview I did for the Interstitial Arts Foundation here. Yay for cross-genre, boundary-smashing, interstitial work!

On trust

In Yangshuo, a tiny town nestled into the surrounding karst mountains, near meandering rivers not far from Guilin, I stayed at a hostel outside of town, down a dirt track road that was unlit at night. I was picked up by the hostel owner, Ahlong, in a contraption that was half-wagon, half-bicycle, past the river market and out to the rice fields, sunflowers growing by the side of the building. I took a bicycle and rode miles out through the countryside, to see a mountain with the shape of a moon cut out of it, to see lotus gardens that you pay 3rmb to walk through, to eat 豆腐花, and pass a river full of bamboo rafts and mountains jutting out everywhere. On the way back, the night was lit only by the headlights of the few cars that passed by and some shining signs of restaurants. I stopped, tired and sweaty, at a small restaurant that sold only Guilin Mi Xian, a type of local rice noodle dish, with pickled vegetables and nuts that you spoon on yourself. The way back to town reminded me of the mountains of Sedona, going from one bright spot to the next, with darkness in between or of driving in Nevada, the dark spaces only broken by the bright lights of casinos. There is a darkness there that doesn’t happen in the areas of New York where I am from.

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After rock climbing one day (Yangshuo is, after all, one of Asia’s climbing destinations,) my guide, Jason, took me to a restaurant specializing in clay pot dishes and a local hangout spot for climbers. There, the chef/owner, when he found out I was researching Chinese folktales, told me that if I came for dinner, he’d tell me the story of the local specialty of 啤酒鱼 or beer fish. But that night, instead, there were German climbers who told me about mysterious climbing caves with names like treasure cave and bamboo cave. The next day I rode out to the Yulong River and tried to find the caves but with the heat pounding down and my lack of water and shoddy directions, I was out of luck. An artist with my last name gave me a ride on his scooter through the adjacent town and into Yangshuo, avoiding the crowds at the river market who would get off the boats and buy the knick knacks and clothes at the stalls, back to the clay pot restaurant where I was finally told the story of the beer fish dish. A simple story (an accident of beer dropping into the wok while the fish was cooking) but nice to hear from a local.

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From Guilin, I took a 25 hr train ride to Chengdu, hard seat because the sleepers had been sold out long before. It was the only train connecting the two cities and the aisles were filled with bags, with children, with adults sitting on makeshift stools. Across the aisle, a family of five, the children two boys and a girl but the girl was the center of attention, all sass as she haggled with the train crew who sold toy trains and toothbrushes. How about I buy one and you give me two free?, she asked. Later on, the women with seats would take her on their laps, take photos with her, ask her, “Do you want to come live with us?” She had that sort of charm. The man sitting next to me, on the other hand, when I asked what he had been doing in Guilin, told me, in low tones, that he was a 骗子. A scammer.

Funny that he would feel the need to confide and explain, in the face of my confusion. I didn’t quite know what kind of scam he was running but he felt the need to explain, despite the fact that those across from us could probably overhear him and that I only knew half the words he was using. What I got: some sort of internet scam that had fallen through in Guilin. Enticing young men to give girls money on QQ. He asked me if I used the internet often and I said, not really. He nodded, said, good. There’s a lot of bad stuff out there. He’s just looking out for me. But I spent the entirety of the ride cautious, as my ankles swelled a little from sitting too long, as we shuffled from the bathroom and back, as he asked me about the book I was reading (written in English) and yet, seemed to somehow miss the fact that I was a foreigner. There was little sleep and the journey took longer than it should have. I’d tried to get a last minute sleeper by queuing up and placing my name on the list but there was never one open. But in the end, nothing happened. We said goodbye and we left, so many of my questions still unanswered about what exactly he did but still, there was trust there, in the telling and in the accepting.

To the desert, part II: In Kashgar

In Kashgar, they were tearing up the sidewalks but we stayed at a hostel with an open courtyard and traditional Uyghur carvings. A dirty white puppy and kitten who ran on the rugs that covered the patio-like area where we’d sit, legs folded under the short tables. The man who slept under my bunk snored and slept in his black briefs; you could feel every motion. The pillows were buckwheat which I couldn’t stand but P. said he got the best sleep he’s had here in China. On the first day, weak with hunger and travel diarrhea (one has to be honest while traveling), we somehow thought we could walk to the livestock market. Instead, what we found were dirty 1¥ public bathrooms, a ferris wheel with streaked windows that gave us an amazing view of the city, a small open food market with chinese 快餐 (buffet style) as well as rice pilaf and lamb, a stream that separated an older part of town (with sheep!) from a bazaar that sold clothes and cake in a cup and watermelons and brooms and donkey rides. A few kids clung onto the back of an electric back; one shouted “Hello!” as they drove past and waved at us a live duckling clutched in his fist, its webbed feet sticking out underneath. 

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There was Mattock Street and demolition/construction everywhere so that kids wandered around dirt piles where adobe houses used to be. On Mattock Street, there were shops of meat hooks and iron files, sharp pointed ice picks and small pocket knives. On the street where our hostel was, located within the “old town”, were dentists with paintings above their doorways showing the teeth through a side profile of faces and a man who carved wooden instruments, beautiful stringed instruments whose name I cannot remember with carved birds on top. And he played for us, a long tune and then another before we had to leave. Copper shops as well with metal-working happening on the sidewalks. There were sheep carcasses and every day, you’d see the meat pie shops across the square from each other making their fresh meat pies of lamb and fat and a little onion, only 2rmb a piece. 

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We found babies and samsas (those lamb meat pies) wrapped in rugs, as well as the seats of motorbikes. Also, metal detectors everywhere but no one to actually watch those who set them off (they did not go off, broken maybe? No one cared.) The women here wore headscarves of various colors, tied in various ways. It is hard to tell if there is a correct way or even if they are all Uyghur; there are women who cover their entire faces in a brown veil and women who cover everything but for their makeup-darkened eyes. One night, P. got a free dessert of a sweet soaked apricot placed in sugary liquid because he’s from America. One day, we went to Afaq Khoja Mausoleum with its pointed-top coffins within and without. Within the mausoleum, they were covered with cloths. A lot of black and gold. On the outside, the mausoleum was being renovated, green tiles in neat rows at the base and scaffolding everywhere.


One of those days, a trip to Karakul Lake with our Uyghur driver, Islamjah and a Chinese tourist our hostel had found for us who asked us to call him 头灯 (headlamp) because of his bald head. I borrowed a puffy orange jacket from the hostel; they were amazed that I hadn’t come with any heavier clothing than a button-down shirt and jeans but I’d thought I was going to the desert! Little did I know how cold it got at night and how often it rains (oxymoron?) and of course, tempestuous weather near the mountains. On the way there, we talked about Uyghur marriage customs (300-500k in money to the bride, multiple wives allowed if you can support them) and the likelihood of Chinese-Uyghur marriages (mostly rich Han girls to Uyghur men because Uyghur men 很帅![very handsome]) Also, the wild marijuana of Xinjiang. Along the path, an accident where a truck carrying rocks had crashed into the side (driving too fast for the weight, brakes not strong enough.) We waited for it to clear for a few hours; we’d leave the car for a few short cold-blasted moments—it was snowing and so much colder than the city. Around us, mist-shrouded, snow-covered mountains. This was after the checkpoint where guards had checked our passports and let us through. The lake, when we arrived, was smaller than expected, sheep and yaks grazing alongside and across the road, tombs overshadowed by mountains. Kyrgyz men on motorcycles with scarves around their mouths came and tried to sell us “garnet” necklaces and bracelets from Afghanistan. I felt a headache coming on from the cold and altitude and tied my scarf around my head which got the attention of our driver who offered me 800k and free rides everywhere for marriage and American citizenship, ha. The bride-price does seem a bit high, do they actually pay that much? A bright blue sky with clouds. We didn’t have much time at the lake due to the accident but on the way back, there were red-streaked mountains and laghman and Uyghur songs in the car. Also, less conversation as we picked up a Uyghur hitchhiker who didn’t speak any Mandarin at all. 250rmb each for the day.

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Back in Kashgar, a pair of children smelled my hands then made faces and laughed. We did not hold a common language. By the mosque, a fried chicken fast food joint that was circular in shape and where we pretended to film a George Clooney film. From the windows, you could see the lone camel and ram in the square, bored and ready for photo-taking. We got lost in dusty alleyways and one dusk, children came and found us to take photos of them: all together, one by one, with a friend or two or three. One photo with three boys and a younger baby whose toy they threw to the ground so that he’d take the photo with them but you could see his longing, the way he turned his head and looked in its direction. Two girls chased after us as we walked away and when they realized it was too dark for photo-taking, turned to me and asked for first food then money. Another thing about the children here, particularly the girls: how they wear these bright dresses to school, like space princesses and their utter confidence. Gold headdresses and tiaras and uyghur caps.

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One day, two women woodworkers waved at us from a window in a newly constructed home then unbarred the door and let us in to explore. 3 levels and then the roof, one of the highest of the buildings around the area. And inside, a foyer that reached to the skylights of the roof, carved pillars surrounding every room. At night, too, stumbling into another building in the process of construction. They plugged in a rice cooker and the wire caught fire for a few minutes before they shut off all the electricity, bare-chested, laughing. The fumes were strong even with huge fans so while P. took photos, I went outside and watched the sunset, the man on his motorbike in the alleyway, his face lit by the light from his smartphone.

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What we did not see: Shipton’s arch, one of the tallest arches in the world. But there was a 25 hour sleeper train waiting to take us to Turpan.