Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bazaar Baldy

The following post was written by one of my travel companions.

“Try to look local", I said as we stumbled off the crowded bus. We had arrived at our destination. The weekly village bazaar. From our hotel we took a long-distance taxi, then walked through the little town to an unmarked stop, jumped on a flat-bed motor taxi to the outskirts of town where we switched to a bus and road several kilometers into the countryside. We knew we were getting close to our destination by the lines of horse carts filled with village farmers on their way to the weekly bazaar. This wasn’t a bazaar as you might think...crocheted doll toilet paper covers and hand painted ‘Welcome to the Lake” signs. This was Central-Asian-style village bazaar. Here we found pavilion after pavilion stocked with everything from hats to socks, horse tack to cooking utensils, grilled kabobs to boiled sheep lung and feet, sweet walnut toffee to fried bread. The small lanes were teeming, shoulder to shoulder with people, ladies in full hijab, farmers in knee high boots and white skull caps, people chatting over a kabob or fried bread. The smell of animals, grill smoke, popcorn, and body odor mingled together with the sounds of merchants hawking their wares, animal noises, the thud of meat being cut on wooden cutting boards and beeping horns of motorcycles. Needless to say, our best attempts to ‘blend in’ with the crowd were a miserable failure. My friends and I were the cause of numerous double takes and more than once I saw a small child start at my boots with his eyes and begin the long crane upward, ending in a wide-eyed, open-mouthed look of surprise at the gigantic foreigner standing before him.

We decided to split up in an attempt to lessen the stares. My classmate and I headed off to see what we could see. Coming around the corner, we found men selling vegetables and behind them, the weekly open-air barber shop. This barber shop consisted of two rows of men, probably farmers on every day except bazaar day, each standing in front of the chair or stool they’d brought with them. Their tools were the aforementioned chair, a piece of drape cloth, a carafe of water, a tin can with lather, a paint brush to apply the lather and a straight-edged razor. Only one style is offered, that being the classic bald look.

As we stood there watching these men skillfully shave their customers heads, beard, and neck I was surprised to hear my buddy say, “Let’s do it!” Wide-eyed I turned to him and agreed. This must be done! “You go first. I’ll take pictures”, I said. As you can imagine there was no small amount of interest taken at the two foreigners plopping down to get a shave. The process started with a vigorous head rub, followed by a lathering, and finished with a shave with the sharpest straight edge I’ve ever seen (or felt). My labors in local language were useless here as almost no one only spoke Uyghur. I was able to answer a few questions in Uyghur as to where we were from, etc., but mostly we commented with nods and smiles. Finally one man, curious as to why I was taking pictures so intently, asked me in broken version of our one common tongue , “Don’t you have barbers in your country?

Soon it was my turn and I took my spot. I have to admit, my barber had both skill and an extremely sharp knife. It was a relatively comfortable shave. In a matter of minutes, I was beautifully bald and with no cuts. Thanking our man, we handed over our money. Total cost? less than $1. Heading back toward the front of the bazaar, we decided the best way to head back into town was horse cart. So, for quarter per person we jumped on for our slow journey back into town.

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