Thursday, August 7, 2008

Aug 5 - Urumqi

Got up and went to breakfast with Joe at 9 or so. We got to talking about our families, and Joe pulled out a picture of his nine boys and four girls - all home schooled, none adopted.

Mike went out just before 10, waited for the bank to open, and changed another $300 US. No tang or other drinks, but the request for the exchange was written in blue and therefore had to be redone in black. 20 minutes later he had the Chinese RMB (the rate had increased to 6.7825.) It would have been a little simpler if we had the passports back. As he walked the block back to the hotel, one of the stores was playing "We wish you a Merry Christmas," in August. We told Joe that this music was a good omen for his trip.

Mike went up and tried a phone call to the hotel in Hotan (Hetian Binguan) where we hoped to stay that night. He heard "You" meaning that there were rooms, but could understand nothing else.

We checked out of the hotel and left our backpacks with the Left Luggage department, and the three of us started walking to the north for the Regional Museum (Qu Bowuguan). We arrived at 11:50 am after an apx 1 hour walk in intermittent drizzle, and cool temperatures.

This is a really world-class collection of ancient relics and contemporary folklore, very well curated in Chinese, English, and Uighur. The museum really makes the most of the concept of XinJiang as a historic crossroads of the world. The highlight is 12 remarkably well-preserved mummies, many with Indo-European features, removed from the Astana Graves, Hami, and other XinJiang sites. Although some date from 2000 BCE, their clothing, hair, and skin is remarkably well preserved. So the Celts took a wrong turn. One female mummy is known as "The Beauty," and has striking hair and features. Another is dressed in a long scarlet robe, all intact. Carol was most taken by the mummy of a six month old swaddled in bright blue cloth, with a blue and red hat. Arrayed with this mummy was a small horn and a sheep's teat, both placed in the grave to give the child a plaything and food. Too bad that we couldn't take photos.

There were also rooms of Uighur rug patterns and ethnographic displays of the 12 cultural groups of XinJiang.

We left the museum just before 2 pm. The market from which the rooster had emerged was about 1 km away. Everything is organized by sales type, spices here, raw meat there, cabbage elsewhere, you get the idea. In the back were the live animals. All kinds of poultry and rabbits awaiting their transit moments. But no row of food stalls, and we were by this point, ready for lunch.

As we emerged from the market, we saw a stall with breads and watched as a man had a bun-like roll split and filled with items from 5 small bowls. We ordered one apiece and a large 11-12 inch crepe like pancake, brushed with spices and folded up. The buns were a standout item with vegetables and meat - a messy, tasty meal (3 RMB apiece).

As we headed out to a street, Carol spied an old man with a push cart full of lotus leaf packages. When unrolled, they revealed a sweat steamed rice desert filled with red dates, still containing pits. This triangular blob was pierced with two sticks, rolled in coarse sugar, and handed over to the eager eater. (1 RMB)

By now it was 2:30 pm. Joe headed off to take a bus to the airport to meet the rest of his crew, flying in from Novosibirsk. We took the bus to the consulate, to pick up our passports, which were to be ready after 12.

We got to the consulate at about 3:15 pm. There were just a few people there, and the place was locked up tight. The gentleman minding the gate said come back at noon the next day. This was unsatisfactory, because we had tickets that evening for Hotan.

One of the woman outside had internal numbers for the consulate, and finally, after much pleading, in bad Mandarin, Uighur, and Russian, we were connected with some people inside, who said they would come off lunch at 4:00 pm, and would give us our passports then.

So we settled down to wait, and finally at 3:30 pm, the woman at the first desk inside the day before came out with our passports, and their register book. We signed for the passports, quite relieved, and headed back downtownwards on a 536 bus, which clearly traversed the neighborhoods, but how we had no idea. 30 minutes later we were about 2 km north of our hotel, so we just walked it, picking up the mended, clean skirt almost as we got to the hotel.

We put in an hour on the internet, sending the blog to our kids as an e-mail. From the States, they were able to get on to post, where we had not been able.

Walking back to the hotel, Carol wanted a popsicle. She picked out a popsicle, with a smiling corn on the wrapper. When opened, it was the equivalent of a frozen ice cream (corn) dog with a bready shell like a cone, surrounding the corn flavored ice cream. At this time "We wish you a Merry Christmas" started to play again in the background, and we broke down laughing. This was clearly one of the top ten failed commercial ideas for popsicles.

We got back to the hotel with a birthday tiny tort (cake??) for Joe, whose birthday it was, and gave it to him, along with our Turpan and Hami travel info, that we were ready to discard.

Our plane was to leave at 21:35, and we were supposed to be at the airport by 19:35. We took a cab, fought the Urumqi evening rush hour, and got to the airport at 20:00. Getting through security was uneventful, and we were to board at 21:05.

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