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Archive for November, 2007

I bought a Ushanka.

You don’t have to speak Russian to know that ushanka is the Russian word for “the best hat in the history of humanity.” You don’t even need a Russian-English dictionary. All you really need is this picture:

What am I looking at? The socialist utopia, of course.

And to think I paid a buck-fifty for this awesomeness…

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When I first arrived in Korla, I found it to be a very unique city in Xinjiang by virtue of the fact that it was so remarkably not unique. In stark contrast to many of the better known cities of Xinjiang, such as Kashgar, Khotan, Turpan, and Qumul, Korla strikes one as a rather bland, typical Chinese city, with cookie-cutter buildings and a noticeable paucity of historical sites (with the notable exception, perhaps, of the Uyghur graveyard which Michael pointed out to me the other day and is currently very high on the to-visit list). This makes Korla a rather typical city for China proper, but distinct among the Silk Road delights of Xinjiang. In fact, the only comparable city I’ve heard of is Shihezi, another prefab city owned by the Bingtuan and elicited from the ground in some “modern-China” orgy of construction over the past few decades. A fellow expat dubbed Shihezi the “Korla of the north,” and I’m just as certain expats and Shihezites alike are saying Korla is the Shihezi of the south. And yes, I just coined a new term for a resident of Shihezi. Sounds delightfully biblical, too.

But after having lived here for two months now (wow), the concept of a truly unique sort of “Korlaness” is finally taking shape in my mind. Most of these features are either subtle in a “you-studied-anthropology-as-an-undergrad” sort of way (read: probably not that subtle) or can be attributed to the fact that I live here. But there’s one unique “Qorla Quirk” that is quite tangible and easily shared, and that’s Korla’s elite fleet of squad cars.

Many years ago while traveling through Europe I saw a freaking Lamborghini Gallardo parked in front of the Coliseum, manned by two poliziotti and decked out in full squad car regalia, sirens and blue paint job and all. Since then, I’ve always seen a city or country’s police cars as a special reflection of that location’s personality. Rome would naturally pull off something as flamboyant as a Lamborghini; Memphis is economic, patriotic, and utilitarian with its fleet of Chevy Impalas. And Korla sports golf carts, apparently.

This little golf cart isn’t an aberration, either. Based on my totally non-scientific haphazard counts, the golf cart to actual squad car ratio has to be at least 5 to 1. The other day, while waiting at the bus stop, I saw a convoy of four of these things heading with maximum haste to what must’ve been a huge crime scene. Unfortunately, even with the flashing lights, it was hard to take them seriously chugging along at what must’ve been 15 miles per hour.

How exactly do these adorable little police pods illustrate what makes Korla Korla? Maybe Korla is a hip city paving the way to the environmentally-friendly future of an electric police force. Maybe Korla is a moneyed city of upper-middle class Han Chinese, whose golf-course-esque conspicuous consumption shows up even among the cops. Maybe Korla is a confident city, which relies on a force so elite and well-trained that actual squad cars are totally obsolete – how can 6 cylinders compare to the muscular pistons of a stalwart young Chinese patriot’s calf? Or maybe this is a nation-wide trend in China and I am erroneously attributing it to Korla. Who knows? It’s cool either way.

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