Xinjiang, robots and bombs!
May 4, 2014
Well another year has gone by and it is time to visit Xinjiang again. Xinjiang is far north west in China and borders onto several other countries. We regularly attend their science festival in Karamay and then go for a short tour around this beautiful part of China. The satellite map of this area is very old, the exhibition hall is just a construction site but Google Maps does link to some nice photos of the area.
This year we brought along 2 robots, Venus, the 125cm (4.1 ft) robotic love godess and a talking head with speech recognition that I call Crazy Head.
Video of Venus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXzr-ZczmEo
Video of Crazy Head: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWIjBSRl1V0
The science festival had lots of kids from all different schools competing in robot competitions. Most robots seemed to be made from a Chinese version of Lego.
Unfortunately I was too busy maintaining Venus and Crazy Head but if you look at my blog from last year it was very much the same.
After the science festival we went to Urumqi to stay for a few days while we did some shopping in the Grand Bazaar. Xinjiang is famous for it's Oil, dried fruit and lavenda. I bought lots of dried fruit here to take home for LiSi and ShiSen. Last year I bought pillows full of lavenda flowers. The fragrence is supposed to help you sleep.
While we were here we got interviewed by a local TV station. Since my Chinese is terrible Jack did most of the talking. He had great fun making me try to say the names of the places we had been. I can't pronounce them properly. For example, Urumqi sounds like ew-loo-mu-chi when they say it.
The stonework on the buildings here tell of the areas rich history and culture.
Click on the satellite image for a link in Google Maps.
The next day we went on a bus tour to the city of Turpan. The bus left about 8:30 in the morning and it was very cold which is normal for this desert area.
As we headed out for our tour the first site to catch our attention was a huge wind farm. There were hundreds of wind turbines as far as the eye could see! Xinjiang is largly desert and is an ideal location for a wind farm.
Click on the satellite photo below for a link to the windfarm on Google Maps. You can see their shadows far better than the actual turbines . It is huge!
The next stop was near a salt lake. Being in the desert with snow still on some of the mountains it gets very, very cold at night. When we got to the lake the wind was like a blast of Artic air and everyone sheltered behind the buildings.
When I went around the corner to take this photo the wind chill left my hands half frozen after just a few seconds. As you can imagine, no one wanted to go down to the lake.
It's hard to tell in this photo but those mountains are completly barren. This was a strange site for me as all Australian mountains are covered in trees and grass.
Our first stop was a rug factory / shop. This beautiful statue is the first thing you see when you enter the factory.
They showed us how rugs were made by hand but the rugs in the shop were all machine made.
Next we stopped at the ruins of Yar city (Jiaohe). I could not understand the tourguide so I had to read about the city online. This city was an important stop on the Silk Road and had about 7000 residents at one time. You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiaohe_Ruins
Unfortunately we could not visit all of the city, a lot of it is being restored and the plateau is quite big. Click on the satellite image for a link to it on Google Maps.
By now we had gone from freezing cold morning to very warm and sunny. The bus now had the air conditioner working to keep us cool. It was a nice change from last year where it was just cold and rain the entire trip with some stops being canceled because the rain, mist and fog prevented you from seeing anything.
When you consider the city was built over 2000 years ago with only basic hand tools you can really apreciate the hard work that was needed to build this city.
After Yar city we stopped at a the Emin Minaret, at 44 meters tall (144ft) it is the tallest minaret in China. The minaret stands next to a Uyghur Mosque. You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emin_Minaret
Click on the Satellite image below for a link to it on Google Maps.
After visiting the Emin Minaret we stopped for a late lunch at the restaurant in the photo below. A worker was painting a big fiberglass "nang" which is a type of bread traditionally made by the Uyghur people and is one of my favorites. It was funny how many people had to touch it and see if the paint was still wet.
Next we went to see the Flaming Mountains. The link can explain far better than I can. At the entrance the mythology is explained with a series of reliefs on the walls. Click on the photos for a larger image.
Unfortunatly the auto-focus on my camera was not working properly so most of my photos were blurry. Time to buy a new camera.
As the desert gets quite hot, most of this tourist site was underground where it is cooler. When you exit you are greeted with a huge thermometer that measures the temperature of surface of the flaming mountains and some guys dress as the mythological characters whom you can have your photo taken with.
The mountains were not exactly "flaming" for us but I think you need to be there at sunrise or sunset. You can see better photos on the internet.
Our next stop was a local vineyard that produces a variety of sultanas and raisins.
The fruit here is relatively inexpensive, especially when you consider 1Kg of sultanas = 6Kg of grapes. The prices varied between 100RMB and 400RMB per kilo depending on which grape the sultana came from. At the time, 100RMB = $16 USD = 11.66 Euro.
Before we bought ant fruit we were treated to some nang bread, rockmelon (canteloupe) and watermelon. The host told some jokes and his daughter did a traditional dance for us. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLhK8C24dHM
Below you can see me wearing a traditional Uyghur hat called a Doppa.
After we bought our dried fruit we stopped at a nearby garden with a statue honering the man that first lead his people to this area. I'm not sure if this was part of the tour or if we just stopped here because the bus broke a fanbelt but stop we did.
I had more fun watching the local kids playing soccer around, under and over the bus while the driver was changing the fan belt.
Finally we stopped at the Karez irrigation system. This is an ancient irrigation system that is actually very clever and considered one of three great ancient projects in China. The satellite photos are the best way to see the size of this project. You can see the wells all in a line between the crops. Click on the photo below for a link to Google Maps of the area.
Here is a brief explanation of the system.
Click on the photo below for a bigger image.
And here is a diagram that probably expains it better. Once again, click on the photo for a bigger image.
As the museum is built on the Karez, we then went underground to see part of the system.
They had thick glass on the floor so you could walk over the water. This made me a bit nervous as I weigh twice as much as most Chinese men.
Somehow I don't think most of the wells in the Karez system look so pretty underground.
By the time we left it was getting dark and we still had a long trip back to Urumqi. However there was one more unscheduled stop on our tour.
The Police had blockaded the roads going in and out of Urumqi. It turned out that a terrorist attack had taken place in Urumqi while we were on tour. We all had to get out and show our ID to the police while they inspected the bus.
The map below shows where the bomb blast was in relation to our hotel. According to Google Maps the walking distance is 7.5Km.
The next day we just lounged about the hotel, did some more shopping and caught a plane home.