Day 1 – Friday 4th September 2009
After a little rush at work to get some bits finished before this break it was a relief to sneak onto the train in time. Our 600Y (60 quid) tickets got us a journey leaving at 6pm Friday night, eventually arriving at lunchtime Sunday in Hami, Xinjiang.
Day 2 – Saturday 5th September 2009
The only full day on the train, and one i tried to sleep through as much as possible. We travelled through both Xian & Lanzhou today. I plan on maybe popping to Xian for a few days to see the proper Terracotta Warriors before i leave China next month, if possible. It was only around early Sunday morning that we finally reached Xinjiang and that i saw the amazing scenery for the first time, constrasting wild mountains against banal desert. The two together, along with some incredible lakes, help Xinjiang to hold a uniqueness and magic that millions go to visit every year. The mixture of races also makes it an interesting destination for domestic Chinese tourism, with only relatively few Chinese ever travelling abroad. At times in Xinjiang i felt as if i was in the Middle East or Northern Africa and the area holds an atmostphere quite different to the other parts of China that i have so far been to.
Day 3 – Sunday 6th September 2009
The trip to get here from Shanghai was nothing short of monstrous. After arriving 3 hours late in Hami, we’d actually be on the train for a whopping 42 hours!! Yes, not ideal, but i couldn’t afford flights and this was our only other option. Fortunately my ipod just about last the distance thanks to my computer doubling up as a recharger, and the substantial amount of sleep that i managed to fit in during the journey. Our neighbours were also not the typical shouting and screaming uneducated type that some provinces seem to have in droves, and were pleasant and quiet throughout. All-in-all i am certainly not looking forward to the return journey at the end of the week, but it was bearable and about as good as could be expected. I read a report that by 2015 the route will only take around 10 hours, which makes me feel a bit cheated!
Day 4 – Monday 7th September 2009
For several days now i have been mistaken for an ughyur, a Chinese minority, found mainly in the most western province of Xinjiang, and the subject of alot of recent press coverage following the considerable troubles that this province has experienced in recent months. Whilst the situation of ethnic tensions continues between themselves and the Han majority, Xinjiang remains a slightly concerning tourist destination. We have quickly discovered that the majority of any problems seem now to be restricted to the major city of Urumqi as several days in Hami have shown up little sign of anything. We have seen a police presence spread around the city strategically, and even some public-run “gangs” seeking to protect the vulnerable, but seldom any actual action. Of course, we are pleased for this for the sake of the locals and also in terms of getting our own tasks completed so that we can fully enjoy the rest of the time we have left here on more interesting things.
One of the highlights of the day was wondering around a Chinese police station for a few hours whilst we tried to sort out various certificate and stamps for Ruby. It was the nearest i’ll be getting to using the internet too, with only police and government allowed access to the internet in this whole province, currently (population here is approximately 20 million!). The police officers there seem to sum up all the ones that i’ve seen in China so far, some being quite genuine and interested in helping the public and actually doing some good, whereas others were sat around eating pies with there feet up probably working out how to spend their latest bankhander. I’d say most fell in the former category here and i was surprised at how much they were willing to help us out to get the certifications that we needed. Much was down to Ruby’s friend Dabo who with his local status and senior age was able to command enough respect and interest to get our things processed.
In one final attempt to be wooed by Chinese wine i bought a Changsheng bottle from 1994 which seemed to be the best available at the top, topping a pricey seven pounds! It came in a special presentation box and, with its 15 year age, i expected it too actually be quite good. Unfortunately, it was only ok and still worse than the chilean wines that i can get here cheaper. But atleast it was ok. I am now looking forward to my return to London where i can stock up on affordable Aussie and Italian wines, that i love most.
Hami Main Square
Ruby at her old secondary school
Dinner with Ruby’s father’s friends, in Hami
We went to a strange but interesting group of architecture in Hami, and had the chance to dress up in traditional Uighur dress. The location had Han Chinese temples and Muslim mosques together.
Hami skyline across to nearby mountains
Day 5 – Tuesday 8th September 2009
Day 6 – Wednesday 9th September 2009
Married for 90p!!
We also popped to Ruby’s old university in Urumqi. It seemed a little rundown but also had the same feel as campuses back home, with an open expanse of relaxation and business, with students playing Basketball or studying by themselves. Interestingly, the Han and other ethnic groups would be at either end of the court and weren’t mixing together often.
Wednesday evening we spent with some of Ruby’s friends at a local restaurant with exciting food, and even better music entertainment!!
Day 7, 8 & 9 – Thursday – Saturday 10th – 12th
We finally returned home, much to my relief after a being away in some quite perculiar places where westerns would all feel quite isolated from what they now, particularly if they speak virtually no Chinese like me. It is always a great feeling to be back safe and sound in the flat when we go away to the areas of China that do not cater for non-Chinese are i can now once again do the things that i have missed, such as internet which was turned off in Xinjiang and also just generally watching my sports and dvds. We managed to get everything done that we wanted and so are pleased that we dont have to go back there again for the time being. Prior to applying for her UK visa Ruby will need to return to Hami for some more papers and certificates but that probably won’t be for a few months yet, as i will need some time in UK by myself to organise a new flat and organise my finances. This will be a tricky time, but hopefully not too long and we can be patient with an exciting future ahead of us.
I can now concentrate on the final two weeks that remain at work, and wait for Ruby’s passport to arrive if her application proves successful. If ok, we would then fit in our trip to Thailand straight away, and organise a cheaper flat for her before i return home. It will be good for her to get working again and earn some money for herself in the months coming up to xmas.
The passport would be a real treasure to Ruby who still has yet to travel abroad, even to a neighbouring asian country, and she currently feels a little trapped in China. This freedom will offer her a choice she had seldom enjoyed before, and give her a new insight into other countries, starting with Thailand. I think travel is hugely important to learning about other people, and perhaps something we in the west take for granted and don’t always take advantage of as much as we could. My return to UK certainly doesn’t mark the end of my travelling either. Ruby will be wanting to visit various parts of Europe, and i am still desperate to see a good portion of South America in the coming years.