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Published: September 17th 2006
Monday September 4th
Tienh wanted to wake up at the crack of dawn the catch the first bus but her plan, thank god, collapsed when she woke up at 8:30. We packed quickly and made it to the bus station. We managed to catch the 9:10 bus. I bought some bread thingy and juice before heading on the bus. We met a chinese guy who had been on our bus from Dunhuang. Tienh talked with him for a while and at some point he started speaking french to me. He had lived in Paris for 5 years so he could speak it pretty well (as well as english). We spoke a bit but I wasn't too talkative that day. The ride to Urumqi was only about 2:30 and a half, a split second compared to the other bus rides I've had to do.
When we got to the bus station, I decided to buy my ticket for my next destination, Hotan, already. As I said before, I was getting a bit tired of China by that point so I figured a day in Urumqi should be plenty. With the help of Tienh and the chinese guy I managed to get
Statue in Hotan
I'm not sure who the men are, but I find the symbolism interesting. An uyghur man and a chinese man shake hand in sign of friendship. The chinese man is taller and look down on the uyghur in sign of dominance.
a ticket for the next day at 12:30. After I got my ticket we got into a bus but not before I had managed to grab some delicious beef dumplings. The bus brought us almost in front of the hotel we were planning to stay. On the way to the hotel I realized that no one had shorts. Uyghurs are muslims and are a bit more conservative. When I mentioned that out loud, the chinese guy told me not to worry about it, this city is a chinese city so you can wear what you want. Ah well, I guess it makes sense for the citizen of an imperialist nation to behave like imperialists.
Before we got in the hotel, Tienh stopped at a travel agent to book a tour to Kanas Lake in northern Xinjiang. Once we were done we got into the hotel. Tienh and I took the dorm bed even if they were 50RMB (20RMB in the guidebook) because I had several thing to do that day and didn't want to be bothered walking around in a 4 millions people city to look for a cheaper place. We got into our dorm where there were 2
In the morning. Enough to kill any Silk Route romance.
german guys who were also going to Pakistan. We exchanged a bit of information about where we were planning to go and when but i couldn't stay long because I had quite a few things to do that day.
I went out in the street (changing into pants before leaving the dorm, of course) and walked to the Foreign Language Bookstore in the hope of finding a Pakistan LP. It took a while to get there and even though it was a quite big store, they didn't have it. Afterward I went in the street to eat some more dumplings for lunch and made my way to the museum. The LP said it was the fourth bus stop after some intersection and that's where I got off but it was obviously the wrong one as I ended up in some residential quarter. After asking around for about 15 minutes, someone finally pointed out where it was (I could've gotten an answer much earlier, but after 3 months of travel in Asia you learn that asking leading question might get you an answer, but it doesn't mean it's a good one). It took me about 20 minutes to walk there.
Didn't feel like getting off the bus to take the photo and then get shipped to the military base in the middle of the desert...
The LP praised the museum as being a must-see for anyone with any interest in the history of the Silk Road. This made me forget that I was in China, which meant that a quality museum is about as likely as a tourist attraction without an entry fee. The problem is not the artefacts, they are undoubtely of very high quality, the problem is the propaganda. I couldn't resist writting down some of the jewels of doubletalk (and chinglish).
This was the last part of the introduction of the museum:
"...for the purpose to show contribution the people of all nationalities in Xinjiang have made for safeguarding the reunification of the motherland, for enriching the motherland's cultural treasure-house, and to make the masses of audiences receive the education in patriotism"
This is a message in doubletalk that means: someone in the Ministry of Truth changed history so that china always look good and all the nationalities love chinese rule. And if you happen to disagree with that, you're not a patriot so we'll shoot you and charge the bullet to your family.
This was written a bit further in the Tang dynasty section:
"During the Tang dynasty, many nationalities lived in concentrated communities within the territory of Xinjiang, there were Han, Turk, Huihu, Tibetan, Xiajias etc. The people of all nationalities lived in harmony, learned from each other and founded chinese's nation long history and magnificient culture with the people all over the motherland together"
Everyone love chinese? That is doubleplusgood!
This last part is a particular jewel:
"In 1884, Qing dynasty built Xinjiangas a province formally, and set up prefectures and counties. Liu Jintang was the first governor of the province. Dihua (nowadays Urumqi) was the provincial capital. A series of measures had been adopted to strenghten the rule, and to develop production, which had consolidated the multi-nationality country further."
What really happened in those years is that the chinese re-conquered Xinjiang (a few years earlier) after the local people made a revolution and killed all chineses in East Turkestan. A warlord called Yakub Beg ruled the country for 15 years and had embassy in St-Petersburg, London and Calcutta (The Great Game (a sort of Cold War between England and Russia in Central Asia) was going on back then so there is plenty of information on East Turkestan in that time period from both english and russian sources). Nowhere in the museum is there any mention of this, or the bloody chinese repression that followed (it's understandable though, they had to strenghten their rule among a people that didn't want them there). Of course there cannot be a revolution against chinese because everyone love chinese rule right? That's no problem says the chinese authority, just change history, we've been doing it for 60 years and they believe it.
That's what chinese learn at school. Scary
The museum had some fairly decent artefact, including several interesting indo-european mummies (baby, women and men), more than likely from the iranians people that ruled the steppes before the turkish came in force (among them the uighur, but also uzbeks, kirghiz, kazak and turkoman) but it couldn't remove the bad taste in my mouth I got from all that propaganda. If there is one thing that really insult me is when someone act as if I was an idiot and I felt that's what the chinese government was doing.
I got back to downtown Urumqi and went to an internet cafe to check my emails. I got one from Aisling, the girl I travelled with in northern Sichuan/Gansu saying she was in Kashgar. I emailed her back with my plans for the next few days so that maybe we'll be able to meet. I stayed for a while then went for a stroll around the city. I was aiming to walk to Kraman, a restaurant that is among China's top ten according to the LP where you can get a delicious four course Uyghur meal for 10RMB. I eventually got there only to find out that the restaurant was closed. I was a bit pissed but tried to go to another Uyghur style restaurant and tried to order but no one understood so I just left and went back on the main street where I had some chinese-style street food fried noodles with chicken.
I bought food and water for the journey tomorrow and went back to the dorm. I talked with the germans about germany and borrowed their LP so that I could plan the first few days in Pakistan where I was hoping I'd find a guidebook. I read it for several hours and then went to bed. I said goodbye to Tienh as she'd be leaving very early tomorrow for Kanas Lake.
Tuesday September 5th
My bus was at 12:30 local time but I didn't do much in the morning. Bought some more stuff for the road, checked my emails (but didn't get a reply from Aisling) and got a confirmation on Thorn Tree forum that I could get a Pakistani guidebook in Karimabad, a few hours after the frontier in Pakistan. I got in the bus a bit early and was happy to find that this bus ride wouldn't be as bad as the other one, there was slightly more leg space and no metal bar but it was still not gonna be like a Sheraton on wheel. There was no one in the bus who spoke any english so it would be a lovely 20 hours of silence. The ride from Urumqi to Hotan goes through the Taklamakan desert, a place according to the LP that meant certain death until a few years ago when the chinese authority built a Highway to facilitate oil extraction from the desert. It sounds more exotic in the guidebook than in reality. In fact what happens is that you drive through the boring usual semi-desert during the day and through the real Taklamakan desert at night so you see nothing of it.
The bus departed about an hour late and there was nothing notable that happened. I just tried to sleep and read my LP India to kill time. At around 6PM, we stopped at some restaurant to eat, along with several other bus. I sat there and I pointed at the suman noodle everyone was having to a really big uyghur who was serving the food. I tried to get an idea of the price but they "didn't understand" me so I gave up after a few fruitless attemps. The noodles were alright, nothing great.
When I went to pay, I tried to ask the big uyghur guy how much it was. I never really had any problem with asking for how much it was before in China. Usually I just say "how much", then "how much" in toneless chinese, then do the "money" sign by rubbing my fingers together and then if it doesn't work I also do random numbers with my hand to show that I'm asking for a number. Normally it works but this guy didn't get it, or at least that's what I thought. As a last resort I took out my wallet to show I was asking about money. I was not careful enough and he took a 50RMB note from my wallet. I was a bit pissed that he just went in my wallet like that but I figured he was gonna bring me change as 50RMB is about 10x the normal price. He wasn't. He told me to go away and then tried to push me to the entrance with a used car salesman smile, saying some things in uyghur pretty loud so that everyone in the restaurant was now looking at the stupid foreigner.
I was not going to be intimidated by this guy so I just stood my ground and pushed him back while trying to grab my bill back. I eventually got it back but it took a few minutes. I was seriously pissed off and was about to leave without paying but then this guy came and told me it was 8. It's a bit overpriced but I just wanted to get away from the stares. He tried to make me give him the bill but I told him to give me the change first. He went to get it then came back and gave it to me, only after that did I reach in my wallet and gave him the 50.
I've had people try to rip me off before but what really got me angry was that this guy got into my wallet and then physically tried to push me away. I've gotten used to people trying to rip me off but when they get physical I get very angry. I don't know what I would've done if the guy hadn't been about a head and 100 lbs bigger than me but it might've turn into a battle.
I spent the rest of "lunch time" outside waiting for the bus to depart with the same people who had been staring at me in the restaurant staring at me outside. Before I left I decided to buy a juice for the ride at a street stall. The guy pointed at the tibetan bracelet I bought in norther Sichuan and gestured at me to give it to his kid. "Do I look like a fucking walking ATM?" I told him to which he just asked again. I just walked away while insulting him in french.
It took me about a few hours to calm down about the whole situation because after it happened all I wanted was to leave this freaking country. After thinking about it I realized I should give Hotan a chance and that this was just a bad episode.
The rest of the ride went well aside that I didn't see the real desert at all as we crossed it during the night. We arrived in Hotan at around 9AM. I got off the station and into a taxi to the hostel recommended in the LP. There was no map of Hotan so they just said to take a cab for 5RMB to the hotel. I had just woken up so I forgot to tell my driver to use his meter. A few minutes later he pulled up at the hostel and did "2" with his hand. There I lost it. I'm a patient man but China finally beat me. I had managed to keep my calm in almost 2 months in the country but not this time. I knew that his 2 meant 20 and not 2RMB but i just gave him 2RMB. He gave them back to me and said no no, 20. Then I just screamed at him to go fuck himself, threw the 2 RMB on the floor of the taxi, picked my bags and walked away.
He ran after me with the 2RMB in his hand, asking for 20 again and I told him to go to hell. I just showed him the 2 he had as he was trying to give back to me and told him that was his money. Like the guy last night he tried to get physical by pushing me but I pushed back and this time he wasn't bigger than me. His price quickly plummeted to 5 but I just didn't want to pay him after he had tried to screw me over so I continued to walk. A crowd was starting to gather and he wouldn't give up so I decided to give him the normal price but I only had a 10 bill. I showed him the bill and told him to give me change first as I didn't trust him and he did it, after which I gave him the 10 and I left.
It turns out he hadn't even dropped me in the right place so I had to walk 5min to the hotel. Once I got there they told me to go away, they were full. I went to the other and they told me they weren't open. Then I just said fuck this place, fuck this country I'm out of here.
I went in the park nearby to calm down as I really needed to calm down by then and I knew the bus station ticket office was closed. I stayed on a park bench for about 1 hour before I felt calm enough to walk without having a urge to spit on everyone I met. I'm generally a very patient and accomodating person. It takes a lot for me to get angry but when I do it's pretty serious and I have problem of thinking about the consequence. That incident this morning could've easily turn into a fight as when the guy tried to touch me I pushed him back really hard and a fight in a foreign nation is never something you win because evn if you do, the authorities will side with the local and chinese polices are used to beat up people. Even a bit calmed down there was only one thought in my head: get out of China. Now. I realize now why chinese in China are all rude. That's because they've been living in China. The longer I stay here the more rude I become.
I left the park and walked toward the bus station. I bought a ticket for noon and then waited in an internet cafe. I emailed Aisling, who still hadn't replied, telling her I'd be going to Kashgar because I needed to get out of the country. Hotan's bus station toilet won the prize for the worse toilet in China. They were being cleaned up with a hose as I got in and it seemed that the locals had never heard of the flush so they were all full of shit, and when I say full I mean full. Now since they were being cleaned with the hose there was a few centimeters of water on the floor with shit floating all over. I just wanted to go to the urinals but there was also shit in 2 of the urinals. And I won't even go into the smell. That toilet pretty much summed up my idea of the city.
It must be said that I did see a touching scene at the bus station while waiting. There was a mother with her 4-5 years old daughter and the grandparent. The mother was going somewhere on the bus and she was leaving her daughter with her parents and it was obviously the first time it had happened. She told her daughter to wave goodbye then left in tears, turning back several times to wave goodbye. The little girl waved goodbye (but didn't seem to realize exactly what was happening) until her mom was out of sight then went with the grandparents.
I got on the bus for the 8 hours journey to Kasghar. There was a chinese in front of me who tried to speak english with me but I told him I was italian and didn't speak english. The journey was boring and long, nothing happened except when we got stopped because a military convoy was going in the road from, literaly, the middle of the desert.
We arrived in Kashgar at 8PM. Time in Xinjiang is a bit tricky because officially the whole of China works on Beijing time, so officially when it is 8PM in Kashgar, it is 8PM in Beijing. In practice, in Xinjiang they use "Xinjiang time" which is 2 hours earlier (but on anything official, such as bus schedule it is on Beijing time) so 8PM is really 6PM. Since I'll be in Pakistan in a few days (which is 3 hours behind Beijing time, or 1 hour behind Xinjiang time) I decided to start living on Xinjiang time.
I got a cab from the bus station to the hotel. The guy was friendly and used his meter after I asked him. He tried to have a conversation but it didn't go too far due to language problems. I got to my hotel, Semian hotel, which is situated in the old Russian consulate. I got a cheap dorm for 20RMB. There was a swiss guy writting postcard in the dorm with whom I talked a bit but then told him I had to go eat so I went to John's Cafe (another one) in teh courtyard of the hotel. I had some sandwhich with fries and the swiss guy joined me soon after. He's planning to travel for 15th months and was supposed to go in Pakistan but couldn't get the visa. He got really pissed when I said I got it in Beijing as he figured there was no point of going there if he had gotten refused before (in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok I think). We talked for about 30 minutes until his friend, a british, who is also sleeping in the dorm, joined us. He told us that there was a japanese guy which had taken the last bed in the dorm. He expressed his disapointment at the fact that he got a japanese and a canadian guy instead of the 4 korean lesbian contortionists he was hoping for. I tried to reconfort him by saying I was pretty flexible but there was nothing to be done.
It felt good to be talking with backpackers again because for the whole day I had been in a very bad mood and this changed my mind. The british guy rant about vietnamese was extremely funny (Vietnam is one of the, if not the worst country in the world for tourist scamming so almost anyone who has been there develop a hatred, or at least a love-hate relationship for the country. The british guy was in the former category). After a few beers, an irish guy sat at the table next to us and started talking so we invited him over. He was a pretty talkative guy and quite wierdly we had quite a few things in common. We both were going to Pakistan, in 2 days because we had been travelling for a week straight and just wanted a day off to chill in Kashgar. We talked about our plans for Pakistan and agreed to travel together. After a few more beers I decided to go to sleep as I was pretty tired.
In the dorm I met the japanese guy. Through some wierd coincidence it turned out to be Sahara, a guy I had met in my dorm in Hong Kong who had been planning to go through the Central Asian republic. We talked for a while but I was really tired so I said good night and fell asleep, happy to be in the westernmost city of China, only a 2 day bus ride away from the Pakistan.
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