Wednesday, October 24, 2012

China | Beijing | Ms. R’s Dumplings

On my first free evening in town Ms. R invited me to her apartment to sample her legendary dumplings.
Ms. R demonstrating her formidable cleaver skills
Ms. R preparing her fabled dumplings
Ms. R presiding over her dinner table. Dumplings on the left.
We were joined for dinner by Ms. W, a friend of Ms. R’s from Urumqi, in Xinjiang, the westernmost province of China and home of the Uighur people. Like many educated Uighurs Ms. W speaks almost perfect, unaccented English, even though she had never been to an English speaking country. Ms. R herself speaks Uighur, Uzbek, Chinese, English, and Spanish.
Ms R’s friend Ms. W
Ms. R and Ms W displaying sisterly affection
Over dinner we had a scintillating conversation, to say the least. After exhausting the subject of perfumes—Deep Six is now the scent of choice for Ms. R and her friends, I am told—we moved on to a discussion of Chagatai Turk, the language which was once spoken in the Chagatai Khanate. Chagatai was of course the second son of Chingis Khan and upon Chingis’s death he was awarded as his inheritance much of what is now Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, and Kyrgzstan, including the fabled cities of Bukhara and Samarkhand. The Chagatai Turk language developed about 1400 AD but is now considered extinct. One of the more notable literary productions in Chagatai Turk was Babur’s autobiography, the Baburnama.

Babur, who as you know founded the Moghul Empire in India, was the great-great-great grandson of Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World. Although not of royal blood himself, Tamurlane married Mulk-khanum, the daughter of Qaram, who was descended from Chagatai and thus from Chingis himself. Babur was apparently the fruit of this coupling, and thus a Chingisid-Chagataid himself, although given the fact that Tamurlane had dozens of wives the exact bloodlines must remain obscure. In addition to founding the Moghul Empire, Babur was a legendary party animal, as he fully recounts in his memoirs. When he wasn’t sacking cities he was getting high on wine and hashish and amusing himself with his considerable harem, with the occasional handsome young man thrown in for added titillation. Babur’s son Humayun became emperor of India in 1530. He died on January 19, 1556, after a fall on the steps of his library. Humayun’s Tomb can now be seen in New Delhi.