Memories of Kashgar and shopping

Today’s Zaman, 3 May 2011

The first time I visited Kashgar in 1982 you only saw the rare car that belonged to a Chinese government official. There were no motorbikes and no bicycles either — these came within the next few years.

It was almost impossible to find printed newspapers or books. Foreigners loaned these to each other. Scenes that still stick in my mind from my visits back then are things such as scribes sitting cross-legged on the floor and who copied manuscripts in neat Arabic script and people who carried water containers, carrying their heavy load in a sheep or goat skin. Even back then the contrast in lifestyle between Kashgar and Turkey was great. In Turkey, you saw a man who sat outside the government office on a small stool in a suit with an old typewriter ready to type your dilekçe (request form) and men carrying large bottles of water in plastic bottles on their backs.

I was fascinated by the mules in Kashgar. When I visited in the 1980s the way for the average person to travel who needed a lift was by donkey cart. Generally everyone walked. In Kashgar you saw the donkeys heavily loaded with full sacks on both sides and their owner sitting on top, holding a child or two. A bridle was not necessary. The owner had a stick in his hand and used it to direct the mule through the market. Gunnar Jarring, a Swedish diplomat and linguist specializing in Eastern Turkic languages, writes that one tradition holds that the devil was not allowed to board Noah’s Ark, but he jumped up and hid under the tail of a mule. As the mules, together with all the other animals, boarded Noah’s Ark the mule became aware of this and when it came the mule’s turn to board he refused. The story goes, since the mule was honest Noah tried to encourage the mule to board and the mule refused to budge. Noah took hold of the mule’s ear and began to pull. The mule did not budge, but his ears became longer and longer and that’s why they have such long ears.

Jarring in his book “Return to Kashgar: Central Asian Memoirs in the Present” described his visit to Kashgar in 1929 in these words: “Nowhere in the world today can you find such a well developed Islamic medieval society as Kashgar was in those days. For a long time, there were some in Afghanistan but even there they have had to give way to the assault of modern times.”

Maybe in another piece I will share with you more about what the Kashgar bazaar was like. Like nearly everywhere else in the world even there in a short period of time the people of Kashgar have had to “give way to the assault of modern times.” Sadly, in recent decades Afghanistan has gone in reverse. However, in Turkey when it comes to shopping it is like a step into the present and future.

Having made the transition from crowded bazaars and market places to high-tech shopping malls, you will hear people say about Turkey that it is a country where you can shop ‘til you drop. Still, even in bazaars around Turkey, though most are very modern, it is usual to barter for goods; you may end up paying about half the original asking price. If you are determined to do some bartering it is best to have a rough feel for the real price of the goods before you start. Do not start to barter unless you have a real intention of buying the goods if the stallholder will lower the price. Let me just explain that it is lack of etiquette if you strike a deal through bartering and then do not buy. Do not feel disappointed in yourself if you believe you got a good deal, but your Turkish friend says that they could have got it for you cheaper. Next time call their bluff! Invite them to come: They will enjoy helping you get a better bargain price!

Every nationality finds shopping a pleasurable social experience in Turkey. However, you should not expect to dash into a shop, buy what you need quickly and dash out; small stall holders may offer you tea and expect to chat. Credit cards are widely welcomed; however, there is often a discount given for cash. By the way, shopping centers are fixed cost: Do not try to barter in the supermarket or in a luxury shop!