So we were off to Uzbekistan. Yay!! But why, you ask (or where as others have asked) Uzbekistan? Actually, to be honest, we're not sure. Since we live in Beijing, we figured we should try the countries that were nearby and that were not typically 'on-the-way' to anywhere. So Uzbekistan it was.
First up though was actually getting to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. We don't normally write about airport escapades, but this time, we had such an 'enjoyable' time that we thought we would share it with everybody.
We arrived promptly at 10pm at Urumqi airport (city in the northwest of china) to catch our late flight to Tashkent. It had been a long day, and so we were pretty 'thrilled' to arrive at a tiny little cow-shed of an airport to be greeted by a throng of crazies waiting to check-in. The main door was closed, and so in typical China/Uzbek fashion, the herds were squashing up against the doors, all 100 of them, trying to be the first one in. 10:15pm and the door opened - "and they're off". Crazy russian is the first one through, pushing old Kazakh Joe's trolley to the side with a skillful flick of the foot. He was followed swiftly by Smelly-Armpit guy who used his height and smell advantage to clear a direct path. Sixth through the gate was us - having skillfully used our well-developed chinese elbowing skills to push all the old ladies aside. Itchy-Throat behind Melenie then decided to repeatedly ram Melenie's heels with his trolley, and continued to do so even after numerous squeals from my poor wife. Meanwhile, Mean Grandma beside me decided she wasn't going to let me through, so she decided to side swipe me with her trolley. Okay, the nice thing to do would have been to let her through ... but ... she had been repeatedly pushing and ramming me the whole time we were waiting, so I played hardball - rather sneakily, I placed my shin out to divert her trolley, fighting back against her repeated ramming attempts. It hurt a lot, but in the end, I managed to divert her trolley long enough to squeeze through that gate!! Okay... I felt bad, so a few seconds later, I tried to help her unload her bags onto the little x-ray scanner thing.
The next thing was to check in our luggage. Which was not going to be an easy feat, because it seemed that all the returning uzbeks had shopped at local chinese electronics shops just before coming to the airport. There was everything from big screen TVs to large flashing fire-engine toys stacked in huge piles on little trolleys. The average person was easily toting two trolleys, together with bags of DVD players strapped to their backs. To this day, we have no idea how all that stuff fit on the little plane, or how much these guys paid in excess baggage. Suffice to say though, that there is a probably a radioshack/electronics boutique now open in tashkent selling the latest chinese electronics at bargain prices.
The final hurdle was going through emigration. They didn't seem too keen on letting Melenie go - and appeared even a little suspicious that somebody who was chinese could have an australian passport. They were very nice about it though, and after the mandatory 20 questions ranging from what shoe size do you wear, to "why don't you speak chinese when you look chinese", they let her through.
Finally then, we were on the plane to Tashkent. It was 1am and we thought we could have a nice sleep. Alas nay. Problem number one. Constant staring from creepy guy in the row in front - staring at me (the guy), not my wife. Worrying. Problem number two - and most serious - was the monstrous warble-snorf. Take one enormous guy with a resonating lung, then add the ability to simultaneously vibrate the tongue, throat, nostrils and epiglottis in discordant harmony, and the result is the warble-snorf - also known as crazy snoring guy. The first snore from this guy actually made both Melenie and I physically jump - we thought the engine had died. This guy was loud!! And he must have been doing some serious damage to his throat. Amazingly though, his wife had this peaceful look on her face while she comfortably slept through the whole thing. Meanwhile the rest of the plane was wishing that the captain would increase the noise of the engines just to drown out this guy.
So... skipping along, we touch down at Tashkent at 4am (1am Tashkent time). We ran at top speed and managed to secure third place in the immigration line. Yay!! 10 minutes later - oh no, we're in the 'local uzbeks' line. Sadly drag our feet to the back of the very long 'foreigners' queue.
One hour later, we are through emigration, and are now faced with customs form filling. For uzbekistan, you need to declare the value of all foreign currency as well as all valuable personal belongings. And to make it extra interesting, you have to fill in the russian version of the form (complete with cryllic writing, although they do have a sample english form stuck up on the wall). Okay, so we managed that one, but then a chinese girl asked for Melenie's help as her english wasn't good. I felt so proud because Melenie was able to speak chinese and help the girl fill out her form. Although we did have to cheat sometimes - for example, we didn't know how to say "are you importing drugs" so we had to mime injecting drugs to her - same for firearms (we got weird stares from the guards while imitating a shotgun).
Our antics attraced the attention of 6 other chinese guys, and before we knew it, we were unofficial chinese-aid immigration officers, filling in forms and questioning non-english speaking chinese. Okay, it was fun, but at 4am, the last thing we wanted to do was spend an hour extra filling in immigration forms. Still we felt sorry for the poor guys, because they had absolutely no clue. We got worried though when most of them told us they were staying in Uzbekistan for 4 months but had a total of 50USD on them. Strange.... could these be 'imported'
workers. Things seemed even more suspicious when the actual immigration officers didn't even look at the chinese workers' immigration forms but just waved them through - hmm... seems they had some kind of prior
arrangement - could this be a regularly shipment?
The final battle was the return of the fat granny - the same one (or a similar looking relative) that I had battled in Urumqi airport. Yup she was back, and this time, she just waltzed right ahead of us in the customs queue, along with her two trolley loads of chinese electronics. She was very sneaky though because she first pretended she knew the people in front of us - which is why we didn't protest. It was only a bit later that we realized that she probably was just saying "excuse me" to them as well, because once she was in the queue, she didn't utter a single word to them.
After two hours of immigration we finally emerged out of Tashkent, to be greeted by our very relieved driver. Poor guy had been waiting for a long time, and we were so glad he was still there. Thankfully the hotel was only a five minute drive, and even better, it was a great hotel. So after a very eventful flight, we crashed into bed, cursing the name of Tashkent airport, and hoping that the rest of the holiday would be better (which it definitely was).
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