Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Aug 4 - Urumqi (First Day of Our Solo Trip)

At 5 am (3 am Xinjiang Time or XT) the rest of the group got wakeup calls. So did we, so we went down to see them off at 6:15 am for their 8:10 flight to Beijing.

We were looking for a 24 hour internet, so at 6:45 am Beijing Time (BT), we wandered around downtown unsuccessfully looking for same. We found two internet bars, but they were both locked. Carol was not happy to be in what seemed to be a big boring overbuilt city, unlike most of what we had enjoyed about China up to this point. She was ready to leave Urumqi that evening.

The agenda for the day simple: (1) get our Kazakhstan visa - be at the consulate by 9 am; (2) wash our clothes; (3) buy an airplane ticket to Hotan (Hetian); (4) get some internet time; and (5) convert some dollars.

At breakfast we saw another foreigner sitting alone. We invited him over - his name is Joe, and he was coordinating a group of Baptists who were going to be trying to spend 8 days converting Uighurs. Joe is a really neat guy from north central Alabama, who had experience in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Russia, among other places. He was a "missionary kid" who spent his early years in Hong Kong. We agreed to explore the town together that evening.

At 8:45 we took a taxi to the Kazakhstan consulate, (apx 5 km to the north), arriving at almost exactly 9 am. There was a large crowd there, but we were waved in immediately, along with a few other non-Kazakhs. After filling out our applications, going out to get our passports copied exactly the way they wanted, being interviewed, and paying 522 RMB (apx $78 USD), we were told to come back Wednesday at noon to pick up our passports. We pleaded, so they changed it to Tuesday at noon, as they had done for the Dutch foursome who were also there. There was a knife edge balance of bureaucratic control and the need for efficiency broken by a grandmotherly Kazakh woman who pushed her way to the front of the line, and screamed her entire party of 5 including a baby through the necessary processings. On the way from the copy place to the consulate, Carol tripped over a protruding wire in the sidewalk and took a hard fall, causing a bad cut on the back of her left leg.

Went up the street to an Internet Cafe. Could not get on to post and also had trouble with accessing other sites. Wondered why, and moved on.

Next block we saw a bank and went in to convert $400 USD. This was made slightly trickier since we no longer had our passports, but only a laminated color copy of the pertinent pages, a receipt from the Kazakh consulate, and our hotel plastic key. The bank hostess fed us plenty of Tang from a cooler, and hovered over us, while the tellers were figuring out how to process this transaction. Finally, 20 minutes later, we had our RMB. The rate had slightly improved to 6.778, so it was slightly more than 2700 RMB.

Took a bus back toward the hotel. The 45 bus came along. Not knowing exactly where it went, we got on. For a while it went downtown on the main road. Then it took a right turn and headed away from downtown. We passed a market on the right and an old woman got on the bus.


The woman was carrying a large live rooster, bound on the feet by a cloth cord. She was holding it by the wings. It was remarkably relaxed. So we have now seen live poultry on urban public transportation. In the spirit of Olympic competition, WE ARE NOW GOING FOR THE GOAT.

After a mile or so, we decided that enough was enough. We got off, walked across the street, showed the map to two older guys, who told us to take the 907 bus from there downtown. As we were almost to the hotel, we saw the China Southern office, so we got off the bus, and went in to buy our airplane tickets to Hotan. None of our credit cards worked, (we wondered why). So we pulled out 2020 RMB ($300 of the $400 we had just gotten) and got our airplane tickets. Goals 3 and 5 accomplished. Goal 1 well underway. Goal 4 mysterious.

We walked the last 5 - 6 blocks to the hotel. At the hotel we bandaged up the leg, discovered a small rip in the skirt, but a lot of small blood stains. We took the skirt over to a nearby laundry to be dry cleaned and repaired. Amazingly, all of this was to cost only 7 RMB ($1.05). It was to be ready tomorrow at 3 pm.

We could not find a water laundry (laundromat, not a dry cleaners), so we did a 2 day wash in the room sink.

Then out to the internet (it is now about 5 pm), where we still could not make anything work. More on this after we leave China.

Back to the hotel, where we called Rana, our local guide on the XinJiang portion of the eclipse trip, who assured us that Kashgar and Hotan were fine to visit.

Joined up with Joe about 6:30 pm. We walked south toward the EdDaoQiao Market, on the Uighur side of Urumqi. We started off in upscale downtown, and then walked through an electronics -cameras market, where MP4s and other cutting edge things were plentiful. Then we crossed a street and now there were Uighur guys selling large melons. Quickly, there were side streets with vendors of food. At this moment, it started to rain. Wise Carol opened her umbrella she had brought, while Joe and Mike ducked under awnings. We bought some onion samsa and watched a 10 year-old kid try to sell umbrellas for only 10 RMB.

It cleared up a lilttle, and we turned down a side street where there were welders fabricating tandoori and nan ovens, large canopies and water closets. Serious metal cutting and acetylene torch welding right in the middle of a busy market alley. Mike and Carol bought a couple of kabobs, and Mike turned back to buy a large 4 kg melon, which we then carried the rest of the night.

While Joe and Carol were waiting, he pulled out his camcorder to film some cute kids to dance for him. Their mothers, fathers, and grandparents gathered delighted to view the short flick. He was planning to bring this home to show his family and friends to show what life was like in this bustling part of China.

We passed an apothecary, with dried lizards, frogs, live snakes, and so much more, all for the healing of the greater Chinese population. There was a handy grinder for customers to concoct powders from the purchases of their choice.

We stopped at a "Booc Store" to check for a Uighur-English dictionary in Western alphabet. No such luck.

While strolling through the market, we sampled a strange, knobby, bright orange fruit, which peeled open to reveal scarlet pips, with a light rose taste. We were touched by the people who went out of their way to help us find our bearings.

Finally, after wandering through and about and back and forth, we found Avral, the ice cream shop listed in the Frommer's Guides, and sat down for three individual bowls of the house specialty, an amazingly good butterscotch ice cream, along with a pot of tea.

By this time, it was well past 10 pm, beginning to rain again, and time for Mike and Carol to take a bus back to the hotel and to sleep. Joe stayed out for a few more minutes.

Carol's final opinion: Viva Urumqi!

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