We were about two weeks into our trip around the world, riding on the Orient Express, along China’s northern frontiers. It was before we got to Dunhuang, home of the Singing Sand mountain, where we rode camels, and I trekked up the world’s biggest sand dune, so I could sled back down. I still have my bottle of sand from that dune, which they claim holds the blood of seven deceased tribes, hence the seven sand tonalities.
But Turpan! Wow. I absolutely loved Turpan for its heat, ingenuity, raisins, and fox pelts. The average temperature there was 104 F and I'm the kind of gal who loves the heat. The vineyards there grow about 2 miles away from the Flaming Mountains bordering Turpan on the north, and the “mountains” are nothing but mud-caked, weed-choked precipices of eroded earth that are exceedingly high, maybe 2 or 3 thousand feet. The Turpanese, send their young boys through underground tunnels from the vineyards to the Flaming Mountains to keep the tunnels open, repaired, and buttressed against collapse, for it is in those tunnels that the water from the melted snows flows to the vineyards, protected from evaporation. The pride our Turpanese friends took in their ancestors’ ingenuity was evident, but most of us were so sight-seeing-weary that nothing shocked or amazed anymore.
I was hungry for a snack. When you’re riding the Orient Express with the Stanford Alum, you either eat at mealtime, or you don’t eat. I’d missed breakfast, and was thirsty. When I saw the tablesand tables of thumb size grapes in red, gold, and black, I was ready to eat them all. But I deferred, for I was traveling with the inimitable O. Lamar Majure and he had no interest in the raisins. The doctor was not hungry; rather he was chatting up some Stanford Alum/Master of the Universe type, regaling him with the story of Malta, illegal flights, and currency exchange. So as I often did on that trip; I drifted away from the Caucasian herd to play with the Asians. I found a teen and a child near the fox pelts. They had been laughing and playing, and my presence spoiled their fun. I asked about the pelts, and the merchant told me they were skunks. I did not try to correct him, but immediately purchased two for I knew my boys would prize them highly, as did I. They were soft.
Returning to the gaggle of eighty-year olds, I grabbed 2 bags of raisins, red and gold. Nearly everyone had purchased some, so I didn’t share. The softness ofthe fox pelts, the sweetness of the raisins, the chill of the aircon in the bus, and the coolness of the Chinese bottled water, brought me a peace that no one else noticed. Turpan….hot, cold, soft and sweet.