Today, we made a blitzkrieg tour around the Urumqi area. We started with a trip to the Xinjiang Museum, known for its very well-preserved mummified corpses. These aren’t Egyptian mummies with their elaborate wrappings, but corpses dried out by the baking heat and salty clay of the desert. Interestingly enough, not all the mummies were Asian – some were Caucasoid as well! Not too surprising since we are on the far western border of China. The museum also had a number of other displays, including some extensive ones on traditional dress and tools of the local (non-Han Chinese) minorities. This included a loom! a much more complex number than I was expecting, six treadles and six shafts, warped with a complex ikat-dyed warp. I asked if they had any books on the weaving, but there weren’t any at the museum (in English or otherwise). Oh well. At least I got a good look at the loom, though I couldn’t take photos in the museum.
After the museum, we went to a Friendship Store, which is a state-run tourist shop which (at least in theory) offers quality goods at a price not ruinously cheating to tourists.
It consisted mostly of a rug shop and an extensive shop full of jade jewelry. Guess which one I made a beeline for?
Yep, the rug shop. They had the most EXQUISITE rugs there, silk from a quality of 400 rows (of knots) per foot up to 1000+ rows per foot (!!). I was flipping through the carpets and fell absolutely in love with a pretty 2’x3′ one, 800 rows/foot. I inquired about the price, and unfortunately misplaced a decimal point in the conversion, so I thought it was about $300. Turns out it was nearly three THOUSAND dollars! Although, given that it had 900 rows/foot, that’s over 4400 knots per square inch! I guess that’s not surprising that it was so expensive.
At any rate, I was severely disappointed, especially after thinking such a treasure might be within my grasp. I was ready to turn away and go look at the jade jewelry, but the saleswoman persisted and insisted on showing me some of the cheaper rugs. She showed me one that had “only” 600 lines/foot (which is about 2500 knots/square inch!), and I had to admit that it was very pretty. It was bargain-priced at a mere $1000, which was still way out of my price range, and I kept trying to explain to her that no, I really didn’t want the rug, it was too expensive for my budget – no, no, really, no, I don’t want it!
Well, the more I said I didn’t want it, the more the price kept mysteriously dropping. At the final point, when I said I could really only spend $500 and it was still out of my price range (the cost at that point was around $600), she went off to look for her manager and Mike leaned over and said, “I have the feeling you’re succeeding at the wrong thing.” She came back and said she could drop the price to $530. I thought about it for a little longer, consulted Mike on which one of the two he liked better, and finally the two of us decided to buy it. It turned out that I got a better deal than I thought, even: the woman who ran the store was furious that she had given me such a deep discount! Apparently she had gone below their approved floor price. At any rate, it is a beautiful rug, 2×3′, and Mike and I both like it a lot. Here’s a photo (click on the thumbnail for the larger photo – which still doesn’t do the rug justice; it’s GORGEOUS!).
After that we went to Tian Chi, which is well-named “Heavenly Lake”. It’s a beautiful blue lake tucked away in the mountains:
And then, on the way back, we stopped by a Khazakh yurt!
The Khazakhs are a semi-nomadic minority that lives in felt huts called yurts. This one was by the side of the road, and our guide talked the resident into letting us take photos of the yurt and its interior, which was very neat and clean:
I took a good look at the wall of the yurt, which was made of heavy sheets of felt, sewn together:
Neat!! Someday I want to make a piece of felt that large.
We returned to the hotel and I gratefully caught up on sleep for the first time in nearly a week.