China is a huge country, so whatever I discovered on this small part I visited cannot be extrapolated, I guess. Still, plenty to say about this place!
My head was full of stereotypes before visiting China for the first time. Most of them happened to be true in a way, but I also discovered lots of unexpected aspects of this country.
The sky is grey. Yes, their skies never get this deep blue colour. It’s not always grey, but it is very often. Near deserts the usual blue-yellowish appears. That doesn’t mean pollution, though, it’s just the weather in this area.
Megaconstructions. Yes, Chinese do megaconstructions. Both in their own country and in ones nearby. Old ancient small road turned into bright motorways, no matter how many mountains they have to tear down or bridges must be built up, can be seen everywhere. Skyscrappers in ancient cities. Everything you can imagine is there. Still, the country is so huge that it doesn’t feel overused… most of the times.
Everything has been man-touched. Chinese do not seem to worry much about their own environment, and it’s easy to see that almost everything, from rivers to mountains to flatlands to swamps to the smallest stone has been touched or moved. Go try and, if they change their mind, just leave it.
Factories. Yes they do have this huge factories in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by lots of houses (they al look the same) for workers. They look really scary sometimes, as if taken from a horror B-movie. Most of the time it’s about mining.
Technology and tradition. Yes we found a huge mixture of them. In small towns you’ll find no technology at all, they still live like some decades ago, honest; it’s very nice there (and people are surprisingly nice as well!). In towns/cities, you can find a mixture of older markets with brand new buildings. There are some “artificial” towns where almost everything is new (like Ulugqal, where whatever is not new feels Russian), or cities like Kashgar that keep a nice balance between the two. Do NOT expect internet and huge screens everywhere in this part of China.
In Western China the traffic is very light. Honest. A massive city like Kashgar is really easy to ride by bike, also getting in and out of the city (also using their motorways). We heard that this is NOT common in Eastern China. Traffic there seems to be pretty heavy and full of trucks. It’s true though that everywhere, east and west and north and south, there’re lots of trucks carrying the extracts of the mines, especially coal. And parts of this coal falls to the road most of the time, not making it very safe. Truck drivers do not drive that nicely…
To our surprise, 90% of the vehicles in Kashgar were electric!! So no smoke at all (and no noise neither)!! From what we’ve been told, it’s almost the same all over China. That’s great news for your lungs. But not everything that shines…
China has no petrol, and therefore it has decided to rely on coal to produce electricity and skip the use of oil. That’s why vehicles are electric. But coal-burning electricity-generating centrals are not clean at all. So looks like lots off places in China are highly poluted and breathing is a huge problem. The products of coal-burning are not captured and there’s shit in the air. We heard about cyclist riding with a mask in order to breath normally during their first 2000kms after leaving Shangai. This is not the case of Kashgar, though.
Coal is creating the new Chinese Imperium. The huge need of coal (and other minerals) has taken China to construct good roads (to carry thos coal).from neighborhouding countries. Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazajhstan, they all have roads being built up by the Chinese. Sometimes these roads take nowhere: they finish on a factory/mine. But they keep building them up. Every country benefits in a way.
China doesn’t need to invade these countries if it can keep on extracting what it needs. Why take care of the Pamir highlands or the Kazaj deserts if it can take the coal? Better if other countries take care of those inhospid areas and their inhabitants.
Still, sometimes it does invade them: do you know why China will never free Tibet? Because that’s where the largest Lithium mines in the world are located. And with mobile phones like the one I’m using to write ornthe batteries of those forementioned electric cars using Lithium, they sure need them.
Still, we found this army guy in Kyrgyzstan who thought that China was building all those roads to invade their country sometime soon…
China is not a very expensive country like we expected. A double room is around 70-80 yuan (120 if it’s a proper one with A/C), meals are around 20-30 yuans. We paid a shared taxi for 4 persons 40 euros for 140 kms; a fair price i’d say, even more taking into consideration it carried 2 bikes!
Religion and the Silk Route.
Being.a communist country, there should be no religion in China. But by now we all know the communism applies to real life… Kashgar is an Islamic city, and that’s very nice!! The buildings and the people make you feel that. And maybe because of that, or partly because of that, it gives this feeling of being somewhere historic. I’ve been in a few places where the Silk Route was supossed to pass through; out of all of them, this was the one where I felt the most that something special has happened (even though seeing the route physically in Pakistan was really special as well).