Fear of Foreigners

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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Where I stayed
Yudu Dajiudian Hotel

Flag of China  , Xinjiang Uygur Zizhiqu,
Thursday, November 10, 2011

November 10, 2011
Yarkand to Khotan 5.5 hours by Bus (12:00 to 5:30PM)
Yudu Dajiudian (Jade Capital) Hotel

Empty taxies blew by us as we tried to flag them down in front of our hotel. I guessed they didn't want to bother with foreigners for a 5 RMB fare (79 cents) which is the standard charge inside Yarkand. After 10 minutes, a taxi stopped and we were on our way to the bus station less than two kilometers down the road. My backpack’s waist strap got tangled up in the luggage x-ray machine belt. I hit the big red emergency stop button quickly so nothing would tear. Nobody batted an eye. I unjammed the strap and walked off with the pack. Others didn’t wait either. Everyone just walked around the stalled machine to the waiting buses with their unscreened luggage.

After a five and a half hour uneventful ride, we arrived in Hotan and looked at rooms in the Traffic hotel that adjoins the station. The guys at the check-in desk showed us the price on the calculator and, when we declined, picked up the phone and connected me to a travel agent who told me the same price of the double room that the guys had already told us. The drab room was nice enough (barely) but we wanted something a little more central in town, we told her. We planned to stay two nights. She said there were only three hotels in town that could accept foreigners and she could book a room for us. I thought it was BS because our guidebook had a long list of hotels. I declined her offer. We took a taxi to the Yudu hotel but they wanted much more money than our guidebook said they would charge and the giggly desk girls wouldn’t negotiate. Then we hiked a few long blocks to another guidebook hotel. It was almost empty and still they wouldn’t accept us. Then we walked into several high end hotels nearby. They couldn't allow foreigners either! 

We decided to go have dinner at Marco’s Dream Café before going back to the Traffic hotel. We told Mimi, one of the Malaysian owners of Marco’s Dream Café, about our experience. She called a few hotels for us and discovered that an edict had come out in October restricting where foreigners could stay even further.  But she could get us a good rate at the Yudu Hotel. Marco’s rate of 166RMB was 72RMB ($11.42) less than the 238RMB that we were quoted by Yudu when we went on our own. That savings offset what we had paid for our dinner!  Thanks, Mimi!

Yudu is a nicer hotel on the west edge of the large public square in the center of Hotan. Except for the lack of controls on the heating and ventilation and the 'all in one’ shower/bathroom, it could have been a Holiday Inn in need of a little dusting. Our sheets were crispy clean though! Out our window, at the back of the hotel, we could see an older ramshackle section of town below. It stood in stark contrast to the more recently remade Chinese section of town in the front of the hotel.

We wanted to use the wireless access at Marco’s. Even though the guidebook says we could have access, Mimi said we couldn’t. They don’t have a permit to let customers use the wireless, she explained. No worries, we would check at our hotel, we said. It turned out that our hotel room was wired for internet but we couldn’t get it. "It is broken" we were told. The next morning the manager, who spoke English well, told us there was an extra charge for the internet and asked the girls to activate the internet in our room.  They refused. The manager looked confused and after a long discussion in Chinese, he turned to us and said the internet was broken. Their conversation seemed too long to be just an explanation that the internet was broken. We suspected something more sinister and diabolical. Perhaps it was just broken for foreigners and the PSB had told the hotel not to allow foreigners on the internet! Is it possible?  In China, yes! The Hotan police have a problem with foreigners. We saw no European looking people in town during our stay. What worries them?

We had no big plans for our free day in Hotan. There are silk factories and rug making factories and old tombs; nothing we couldn’t miss. Michelle had one of the hotel staff write a note for the taxi driver asking to take us to the east bus station. We wanted to get tickets to Cherchen for the next day. Our taxi happened to be Uygher and could not read the note written in Mandarin. We quickly pulled out our phrase book and asked for the bus station in Uyghur. We couldn't tell him which bus station. He was not deterred and pulled over to talk to a security guard on sidewalk and asked him to read the note for him. The security guard smirked a reply that left our driver still uncertain. We asked him to continue. We got to the cross-road and I motioned for him to go right (east). He wouldn’t and instead turned left and went to the central bus station. Once we got there, I motioned my arms in a big X – not here. We remained calm because we had time. We didn’t need to catch the bus until the next day, afterall. Once he got the message we didn’t want the central station, he felt comfortable wheeling around and going to the ‘other’ bus station on the east end of town. As we drove to the east station, we passed the large public market in Hotan. It was 90% deserted due to the ongoing holiday. But still, it had some activity and we decided to stop by once we got our bus tickets.

Our driver left us in front of the station and we found the ticket window in the back. Michelle took the lead and handed her Chinese note through the window to the lady selling tickets. As she was reading the note, a Chinese guy butted up and pushed a 100RMB bill to the ticket lady and demanded a ticket. The ticket lady started to respond to the guy until Michelle said forcefully ‘What is this?’ The exasperated ticket lady was also stressed and threw the guy’s money back out through window and it drifted to the ground looping like a paper airplane. The guy looked shocked and surprised and leaped for his 100RMB bill. He got the message and patiently waited his turn.

We waited on the street for the bus to the market but after 10 minutes, we gave up and walked the mile back toward the market. The big day for the market is Sunday but we weren’t willing to wait for that either. Donkey carts and piles of sheep skins waited on the side of the road. We turned into the main market and explored the few outdoor tables and stalls selling Chinese made dollar store stuff as well as stalls with fruits, vegetables, shoes, scarves, jewelry and the like. Once in a while, we would be approached by someone proudly practicing English. “Hello, how are you”, “I am fine, how are you”, “Fine thank you” We didn’t dare try to stretch their vocabularies further.

Of course we found the food stall and sat down to have a fluffy pita looking thing filled with what we guessed was jumbo size lamb samsa. It was cheap, sizzling hot, and greasy. At the first bite, hot oil streamed out. We concluded the bread was filled with only deep fried fat. The second bite wasn’t any better and we decided to leave the delicacy behind. As we walked off, the hot grease cooled and coagulated on our hands. It set up like dripping candle wax on our fingers. We couldn’t figure out how to clean it off. Our tissues were feeble and there wasn’t a washroom around. We did our best. 

Then Michelle tried ‘Tangzaza” triangles of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves and covered in home-made yogurt and syrup. We strolled and got some fruit for later and made our way back to Marco’s Dream Café for a late lunch and were greeted warmly by Mimi.

After going through wifi withdrawals, I just had to find my way to the internet café off the square. In was down an alley and around the back of a dodgy looking building. Once inside, I found the cavernous café on the second floor. Hundreds of computer terminals were being used by anxious teens and young adults. Most were playing computer video games but some were looking at lingerie ads. It was a beehive of activity. In the adjoining room, there were bigger video games and pool tables. I was struck by the fact that the only woman in the place was the clerk who took my 8RMB for two hours of computer time. The other users were logged into the computer with personal ID cards. I was lucky and was able to surf with a special pass. I imagined the authorities monitor to see who is logging into subversive sites. The internet connection loaded pages slowly and I needed the full two hours to read a few emails and finish off a blog post.

For dinner, we ventured to the Uyghur night market on the opposite side of the public square from our hotel. It is small but lively with an array of treats from fish to tandoori chicken to dessert. They didn’t have the nang or logman we craved and we ordered a wonton soup which was disappointing with doughy wantons and flavorless broth. We found delicious kebobs cooked tandoori style. Then we went from good to great as we bought some delicious tender roasted lamb that was sold by weight. We finished our night of grazing with a drink made with walnut yogurt of sorts – homemade….
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