Thursday, August 7, 2008

Aug 5 - 6: Urumqi to Hotan

At 21:00 we all boarded a bus to carry us out to our plane on the tarmac. The plane was probably 40 percent sold. We were the only non-Chinese on the plane, it appeared. We took off before 21:35, and were scheduled to get to Hotan ahead of the 23:10 pm scheduled arrival.

As we achieved scheduled altitude, there was an announcement we should keep our seatbelts on because of rough weather. The takeoff itself had been bumpy. We didn't fly through clouds at all, but the plane kept on lurching.

Slightly before 23:00, the stewardess got on and told us that the pilot did not want to attempt a landing, so we were returning to Urumqi. There were unhappy cries in Uighur and Chinese.

We unloaded back at Urumqi about 00:20 on Aug 6. There was a sign in Chinese that apparently informed us that we would be taking off again at 00:50, to try again on another piece of equipment. We walked over two gates, and boarded a smaller plane, at about 01:00. We took off at 01:20. This time most of the folks took different seats, and Carol ended up in her own original seat of 18A, after being unseated, and in turn unseating someone else. Mike ended up in the aisle seat on the next to the last row of the plane. Carol managed to sleep most of the flight, but Mike became an instant curiosity, and was talking the whole flight.

Everybody was taking pictures of Mike, the round eyed one, who was actually trying to say some things in Mandarin. Across the aisle was a woman who taught English in Shanghai, who was visiting some of her students in Hotan. She insisted on trying out her not-very-good English on Mike, with such useful questions as "Do you like China?" and "Why are you visiting Hetian and Kashgar?" These questions would be difficult in any case - after all, we are writing an extensive narrative on this question every day. So Mike looked up the Chinese word for camel, and explained that we were going to Kashgar and Hotan to buy a camel, and fly it back to the United States on the seat next to us. Ask a general question that can't be answered when you don't share a language well, and you get a stupid answer.

The plane arrived at 3:00 am, we had our backpacks by 3:25 am, and we walked out of the airport as they were locking it behind us. Of course, we had no hotel reservations in hand. There were a number of taxis there and they all peeled off with passengers, except one. The policeman there indicated pretty strongly that we needed to take a taxi into town, as soon as possible. He told us and the driver that the fare WAS 20 RMB to the Hetian Binguan. The taxi driver loaded up our stuff, but refused our 20 RMB note. He apparently had visions of charging us 100 RMB, or such like.

We unloaded our stuff and stood there. Eventually, the taxi driver accepted the money, we loaded up and were off to town.

We got to the hotel at maybe 3:50 am, in a quiet residential neighborhood. The gates were locked, and there was a guard there. The guard said something like "No vacancy." The taxi driver talked with the guard for a few minutes. Eventually, the taxi driver drove off, the guard pointed across the street, indicating to us in some language we did not really understand that we could not stay on his side of the street. So we carried our backpacks across the street, past an outdoors bed containing a sleeping man, and awaited the dawn.

We didn't have to wait very long, because 2 policemen, one in uniform, and one in civilian clothes. were walking down the street. We showed them our passports, and our airline tickets, and Mike explained in his best Mandarin: "We want a hotel. We want to sleep."

We all walked back across the street, with the policeman in uniform making a bunch of cell phone calls. He apparently was convinced that the hotel was full. Soon several more police cars pulled up, and the conversation sort of switched to Uighur. This was not a good night for understanding languages not our own, but we showed them the eclipse stamp in the passport. Carol's ears perked up when she heard the word "Yatak" (bed in Turkish and, evidently, Uighur).

Soon we were in one of the police cars heading off. Were we going to spend the night in the pokey?

We headed into town, and he pulled up to another hotel, the Yu Du Hotel. We went inside and learned that a room was available for 168 RMB ($25 US) per night. We agreed to two nights, or 336 RMB. They asked for a deposit of 600 RMB, which we finally understood when one of the clerks used the word "deposit" in English.

We handed over 6 bills, and our policeman friend left us. By now it was 4:30 am. Breakfast was from 8 am - 10:30 am BT. We took the elevator up to the 5th floor, opened the door to room 518 and found a lovely 2 bed standard room with a view of the main square of town. The beds were great and we collapsed.

Question: would things have worked out like this in any other country?


Bob said...

enjoyed reading and reminiscing. I lived in Hotan for 5 years. You need to check out the handmade silk factory, sunday bazaar. If you want the best quality, clean, more expensive Uighur restaurant (really nice inside), go to zho nan hai (area). the big restaurant across the street from the Lokman restaurant. Other restaurants...too hard to describe the tasty hole in the wall places we always went to. One of the most amazing bazaars I've been to is on Wed. or Thursday east of town, maybe 10-15 kilometers. They call the bazaars by the day of the week. It's like stepping back in time a couple hundred years. I think it's in bowzak (long "a" sound) village.

Bob said...

forgot to mention, that restaurant is at most a 10 minute walk from your hotel.

Shoshana said...

Are you going to bring Ellie a camel?