On our way to Turpan we stop at a place called the Flaming Mountains. Turpan is famous for being China’s oven (no, not armpit) as the temperature soars to over 50 degrees here in summer, and the heat, apparently, is at its most palpable on the face of the ‘Flaming Mountains’; spectacular with their deep red and orange hues.

Thinking that’s all there is to it, we take a few photos and get back in the car. Then I see the Monkey statue. ‘What’s with the monkey?’

Yingchu starts telling me of the ancient tale of a journey by a Monk who was on a pilgrimage to India to retrieve holy scriptures and suddenly I start having childhood flashbacks…

‘HANG ON! ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT TRIPITAKA?? MONKEY MAGIC? BORN IN AN EGG ON A MOUNTAIN TOP?? SANDY? PIGSY??’

After I carry on singing the theme tune for longer than was probably necessary, we finally decide that this is where the tale of Monkey Magic originated from – the very mountains under which Monkey was imprisoned for all those years... How AWESOME. My brother and sister watched every episode of this incredibly poorly dubbed show as kids and its theme tune is eternally etched into my memory. Cool.

FYI: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monkey_%28TV_series%29

After we’ve checked into Turpan’s only ‘alien’ hotel, we walk the grapevine lined streets and go for a few beers, some sunflower seeds and delicious bbq’d mutton sticks. When we’re sitting at a night market eating dinner, a group of chinese tourists who’ve never met us invite us to come with them to visit a nearby lake for a few days, but with only a couple of days left on our visas, we have to decline. It leaves me no less charmed by how generous and hospitable the Chinese have been as individuals. Everyone we’ve met has wanted to do something for us, take us for a drink, invite us to see the best thing in their town, sit and drink tea until we nearly wet ourselves. We’ve been made to feel like celebrities here, even with our 2 word vocab, and thankfully, this had made the stress of the god awful driving seem worthwhile.