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Journey to the Land of the Kazakhs
Journey to the Land of the Kazakhs
In mid-August, when the fierce sun-parched many parts of China, my family headed towards the northwest Frontier of China, Yili, which is a rural mountainous area. There, I explored the exotic areas and met many local Kazakhs.
The journey through the mountain range to get to our destination was tough. The road that went through the mountain was winding and narrow, like a twisted snake coiling around the mountains. Whenever the driver turned a corner, he had to honk to avoid colliding with cars from the other side. There was a sea of pine trees growing on the mountain: some grow in outrageous places between the cracks of rocks. The temperature dropped from 80 degrees at the foot of the mountains to 40 degrees as we drove in further. It was like experiencing the change of the seasons from summer to deep autumn within one morning. We traveled several hours on the mountain road before we finally stopped.
Before me, a vast extent of the prairie was opened up, like a large green carpet decorated with varied small flowers: red, yellow, purple, and blue. My eyes were immediately glued onto the beautiful green grass and multicolor blooming flowers. They were like the nails stuck on a piece of wood. There was a river dividing the prairie into two parts. Walking closer, I saw that the water from the top to the bottom was entirely clear. The rocks and pebbles on the bottom of the stream seemed to float in space just like pieces of glass floated on top of the river. Several local families, who were part of the local minority people called Kazakh, were selling lamb kabobs near their yurts. They all wore traditional clothes: women wore bright color long skirts with shinning pieces as decorations and men wore a dark color vest with a traditional hat. My attention was drawn to a little boy who was concentrating very hard to evenly sprinkle spices onto a piece of flatbread. Just like his parents, he wore traditional clothing: an orange vest with black zigzag patterns on it. As he worked, the zigzag patterns jiggled. His hand was reaching for different spices so fast that it looked as if the zigzags had turned to a bright orange tiger running up and down. He grabbed a pair of tweezers and placed the bread on a plastic plate. He carefully blew at the bread until it cooled down. He took large bites out of the bread and slowly chewed it with a satisfied smile. He looked like a professional cook enjoying a plate of delicious meal which carefully prepared by himself. Just by looking at him eat, my stomach suddenly felt very empty.
At this time, a group of Kazakh boys walked over to us with their horses, and they asked whether we were interested in riding their horses. The horses were dark brown, with long strips of mane touching their knees. Their shaggy brown hairs looked as if someone had just oiled their furs.
After talking to my parents, each of our family members chose a horse to ride on. A boy walked toward me with his beautiful horse, “Hey, nice to meet you, my name is Kasha.” He was the same height and age as me, and his cheek was all puffed up and red, which was caused by the high altitude climate. His hands were all blistered from riding his horse so often. He was the friendliest and optimistic person I’ve ever met. It seemed that he always wears a big smile on his face. He looked at me and said, “put your left foot on stirrup and lift your body.” He grabbed my waist and pushed me up. I stepped on the stirrup and propelled myself up with too much force so that I almost fell off the horse. My heart was still racing as I steadied myself, and I looked behind me to see that Kasha was already there. He smiled wide and happily showing his white teeth while saying “Let’s Go.”
Our horses slowly trotted along the river and gradually picked up their pace. As we walked and talked, our voices melted into the rhythm of the river. We chatted about everything from little things like the plants that grew in the village to big things like his family members. As we talked, he told me that his cousin already graduated from college and taught wrestling to kids in the village. He proudly told me that his cousin was an amazing wrestler and won second place in the Nation Youth Wrestling tournament in China. Kasha grew up with their own language called qazaq tili and learned Chinese at school as a second language. Interestingly, as an American Born Chinese, Chinese was also my second language. Even though Kasha and I were not fluent in Chinese, we were able to communicate and understand each other very well.
“Look at that mountain,” he pointed at the big and steep mountain across the river on our ride, “We went there to pick mushrooms during spring.” He told me that after it had rained, they would wake up at dawn and ride their horses upstream to the river. They climbed up the mountain and searched for a kind of mushroom that was very valuable to people in the city because of its rare and special aroma as an ingredient. Picking the right spot was very hard because the spot had to be wet and densely packed with pine trees. They tried very hard to trek up the deep slope and look for dark shaded areas under the pine trees.
Ahead of us, there was a huge mountain with snow-covered its summit which seemed to touch the clouds. It shinnied brightly to reflect the sunlight. White snow powdered it like a freshly crushed snow cone. I asked Kasha, “Are we going there today?” He told me that it would take four hours to get there even though the mountain seemed so close. So, we just enjoyed it from afar. Kasha told me that all the water they consumed daily came from the melted ice on the mountains, and according to him, it was delicious and sweet.
The sun melted behind us when we rode back. We returned to the shallow creek which unbelievably flowed from the deep river. The sky filled with glowing orange and yellow light as the sun rested down the mountains. The tall and mighty mountains, roaring rivers, and the rich diversity of people could all be found in the Tian Sian Mountains.
As our horses slowed their pace, Kasha jumped down and stopped the horse. In front of us was a huge yurt, and we walked into it. We were greeted with a warm welcome by local Kazakhs. Soon the smell of a burning fire, local music, and local food mixed in my mind to form an unforgettable day!