Trip Start Feb 03, 2008
33Trip End Aug 16, 2009
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Where I stayed
And XinJiang province, the westernmost reaches of China and the ancient path of the Silk Road, feels much different from the other places we've traveled in the Middle Kingdom.
On the minibus coming from the airport, I noticed how dry it was compared to the lush bamboo of Sichuan or the green forested hills of Guizhou. Trees and flowers still lined the streets, but the air was drier, and the scenery from the airplane was all reds and yellows and browns.
The next thing I noticed were the signs
And then, the people. XinJiang's most famous ethnic group are the Uighur, a Turkic people who sometimes have more Mediterranean than Asian facial structures, fairer skin, blue, green or gray eyes and hair lighter than mine. There are also Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, and Tajiks-all Central Asians. In a country where appearance seems to equal nationality (How many times have people informed Dan that he was, in fact, Chinese, despite his and his parents' places of birth?) these ethnic groups are a curiosity. Where we live in Guizhou province, people on the street stare and comment on our foreign-ness. But here, in XinJiang, it's my clothes and language that mark us as alien, not my face.
We went to the provincial museum in Urumqi to learn more about the history of the Silk Road and the migration of the ethnic groups
After the museum, we wandered around the market area for awhile, looking at the differences and the samenesses here in the far west of the huge country that is China. Most of the ethnic-looking women wore headscarves and long skirts, I noticed, and a few of the Asian-looking women too. I figured they must be Hui minority, another Muslim ethnic group. Many men wore small octagonal hats in dark green or tan. People stood on the street selling underwear, scarves, corn.
We ate dinner late, since the province is officially on Beijing time (2,000 miles away) but the sun of course was not. We chose a random small restaurant walking back to our hostel. To our surprise, the waiter spoke fluent English. He called himself Robert and said he thought Dan was Tibetan, like him, because of the hat Dan bought in QingHai. Robert said he'd studied English at university and had moved to Urumqi hoping to find some work in it, but most translation and travel agencies needed people who spoke Russian, not English
We went to sleep excited by our first taste of XinJiang and looking forward to our flight to Kashgar in the morning.
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What it cost:
*Shuttle from the airport: 10 RMB per person; free if you have a China Southern flight
*Gua Fan-a kind of risotto with carrots and lamb meat: 11 RMB per dish
*Urumqi Hostel-100 RMB if you book on line; 60 RMB if you show up there. We ended up paying 70 because of the booking fee and 10 percent I'd already paid booking on line.
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Tips for other Travelers:
*Bus 7 goes from Hong Shan intersection to the Museum for 1RMB each
*Urumqi Hostel seems to offer varying prices. Bargain.
*The shuttle to the airport from the China Southern hotel at Hong Shan leaves on the hour. A taxi to the airport costs about 40 to 50 RMB.