There were police checkpoints all the way out of Kashgar. Our taxi was stopped and re-directed off the main (paved) road on to an unpaved side road. The driver was not happy. We were just back on the main road when we came to a Y fork. A Chinese driver was waved through but our car was stopped. I couldn’t help wonder if it was because the driver was Uighur. When we were through the checkpoint I asked the driver what was happening. “The bus to Pakistan” was his gruff and unconvincing reply. As we continued on I noticed police in pairs, one on each side of every side road we passed. It seemed a little over-the-top for a weekly bus coming or going to the Pakistani border.
We came into a suburb where there were even more police and it seemed that every business was shuttered. Our driver pulled into a gas station – even though the pumps were barricaded. The owner, who also looked Uighur, waved him away but our driver stopped the car and got out. They chatted, we were waved at multiple times and then a policeman came by. The chat resumed or maybe restarted. Arms were waved left and right. The body language spoke volumes: the policeman really didn’t want to make a big deal but he wanted the driver to move on; the driver dug in his heels – presumably about the right to choose where he could buy his gas; the gas-station owner just looked uncomfortable. Finally our driver gave in, got back in the car and drove off in a huff. Curiously, a little further along the road there was an open Sinopec station. We pulled in, filled up and were finally on the road to Tashkorgan proper.
We crossed the muddy Ghez river. Our driver seemed to have gotten over his frustrations with the police and started pointing things out as we drove along: the Kum Tagh (Sand Mountains), the Tian Shan. Proudly he pointed at the road ahead of the car and said “Karakoram Highway”. I didn’t tell him that I’d already memorized as many statistics as I could find about this cruel and famous stretch of road between China and Pakistan.
We stopped at Upal to buy bread, fruit and water. We’d just parked when Abdul Wahab‘s nephew came over to shake hands. We’d only met him for a few minutes the evening before but he treated us like we were family. Since I knew he could speak English, I asked him about the police on the road from Kashgar. “There was a government official visiting to inspect a new housing development”, he explained.
My first thought was “Wow, that was a lot of protection for one local official” and then I remembered that I’d read about these housing projects in the newspaper just a couple of days before. These new houses were as much as political as a construction project.
The Upal market was just setting up. Wares were laid out on simple wooden tables or on tarpaulins on the ground. Stalls were arranged in “streets” on unpaved, well-trodden ground, dusty but servicable. It was only 10am but the sun was already beating down most especially on Murph’s newly-shaven head. We stopped to get him a hat. As he tried on hats, BigB leaned against me and CAM sat on a wall just watching. The next stallholder over, a young man with sun-lined skin and eager dark eyes tapped me on the arm. He pointed to BigB and then to me in universal “Is that your son?” sign language. I nodded. I pointed to CAM stopped up and came over. The man held up two fingers and I nodded again. He stretched his arm up indicating CAM’s height, taller by half a head than both of us. He gave me two big thumbs up, I smiled back. That’s all a girl needs for a good start to her day: enthusiastic approval of her son-producting abilities from a random stranger in a country market.
Information on traveling to China with Children.