12 Feb Chinese Lanterns
Today is my third New Year of 2011, Chinese New Year. I walked through the familiar busy streets of the city centre, once full of neon excitement, to a street of small Uyghur cafes where I have found I can eat for 60p. I eat Laghmen, essentially Chinese spaghetti bolognese, with chopsticks, something I am now becoming a slurping professional at. It makes a change from the usual mutton fare. Mutton on rice, mutton with potatoes, mutton kebabs, mutton with bread, mutton omelette; with such variation, can the taste of mutton ever become tiring? Such are the lengths that I will go to for escape that yesterday I ate a pigeon, comically, it was served with ‘Chick’ Peas. Today’s gourmet delight does, of course, contain mutton but subtly spiced and in a taste covering sauce, heaven to the tiring palette.
I cover the laminated table with sauce, wipe my beard, pay and leave. Today the price went up, it was 80p. Tourist price. The streets felt warm today, my lungs didn’t freeze as I left the cafe in the smoky air. I walk through the underpass and over a footbridge to find some New Year’s Eve excitement. In a Muslim society, the streets flow in sober calm rather than the drunken calamity of the English equivalent. Fireworks light the sky a few blocks away and as I follow stragglers to the Peoples Square, control seems to slip from the conservative natured masses. Young children stand in the middle of the pavement, shooting fireworks into the air from their bare hands as electric scooters swerve to avoid projectiles. A roadblock of a woman and her child laying down a mass of fire crackers in my path stops me. As a chaos of explosions fill the air and the path, I stick close to the buildings for shelter before pulling off a near Matrix move as a banger narrowly misses exploding in my ear. Pandemonium increases and I smile. The world is happening in my face. I’m alive. The Square is full of neon, noise, light, the smoke and smell of gunpowder, the atmosphere is alive. Midnight passes with explosions in the sky.
I walk to a place I love, Donghu Lake which has been frozen since I arrived in Kashgar and will remain frozen long after I leave. The expanding edges push sharp, glass like triangles towards the sky and huge white cracks run across its dark grey mass, powerful yet peaceful. It remains quiet, even tonight, and the horizon grows from a sliver between tall buildings to a vast expanse overlooking the city skyline. Distant fireworks reflect on the ice and an air of tranquillity overcomes the whole scene. I turn and watch a girl trying to launch a Chinese lantern for a group of friends. She struggles but after hanging low in the air, it gradually ascends. I watch it slowly climb and feel sympathy for the solitary lantern in such a vast sky. I begin to walk away from the lake but stop for one last look back. Where the fireworks now diminish, the darkness is filled with many slowly ascending flames shrouded in red and gold shades. Lonely lanterns raising together.