Monday, November 25, 2013

Urumqi

Urumqi will be too risky to go to, I should go directly to Tulufan, skip the capital city. I'll end up in there in a snowy mess, it'll just be full of scary chinese sinograms and I'll feel completly lost. I'll probably put my tent somewhere on the cold hard floor between two skyscrapers and freeze during the night. And Tulufan is supposed to be the warm exception in this cold desert.

I get a few rides to only nearby villages before I get a ride to Urumqi. But since I don't know enough chinese to ask and understand how far these people are going, I made a habit of just accepting all rides.
On the road I hear more and more words supporting yesterday's assertion: the government is bullying the Uygur people.
"People say in Xinjiang are terrorists but the chinese goverment itself are the terrorist"
"The Han chinese don't care about our [Uygur] culture, they care about our oil fields" So there is oil in Xinjiang.
"The government is corrupt"
"People from north Xinjiang don't even have the right to have a passport unless they are really rich"
And so on.
Assertions about injustice are endless and moving. The police has been very nice to me but is it also nice to it's own people? To the Uygur inhabitants of Xinjiang? Doesn't seem that way.
A., my driver, was a chinese teacher at the university. He didn't like that job because he felt like destroying part of the Uygur culture by converting everyone to the mandarin language.
I can understand his worries. I have met turkic people (people of Turkish origin) in many different countries now and everytime, their culture was distorted by some other, bigger power.
In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan the language is polluted by russian words, people don't bother to remember the original words anymore or invent new ones to designate modern things, they just use the russian word instead. To say tent for example, they will not say tchadr, which is correct and of turkish origin, they will just say the russian paladka.
The language is written in the cyrillic alphabet which is completly unfit for the task. Letters like YA or YU, so common in russian are rare in Kazakh or Kyrgyz and other letters, very common don't exist, they are added to the alphabet.
In turkmenistan, the alphabet is latin, that's a little better but I feel the optimal alphabet for the language is arabic. Anyway, Turkmenistan is a dictatorship and that's very bad for any culture.
Turkey is now becoming a modern powerful country and maybe the only hope to preserve it's culture. However I feel that the turkish culture is already quite far from the turkic cultures so even if it is preserved, the turkic states will still lose their heritage.
What about the Uygur region? They have the arabic alphabet, that's a big win but they are so much circled and possibly opressed by powerful china which is culturally even further from them than russia. So pretty much everyone is screwed but each in a different way.
Aside of all these cultural thoughts, A. has an incredible talent: he speaks english!
Real english. He has vocabulary, he can form sentences, I am in a dream! I decide to continue to Urumqi, partly because I need to rest my mind with an english-speaking person.
The father is a maths teacher
After abandonning his job as a teacher, A. decided to go into the jade business.
"Chinese people like Jade and Uygur people like money," he said. So everybody wins. Xinjiang has the best jade in all of China so he buys it from the farmers and then sells it on the other side, in Shanghai.
Today however, he's not here for business, he is accompaning his father to the hospital. Something is wrong with his eye. His father is a retired mathematics teacher. He doesn't speak english but he makes me develop (a+b) to the power of five. Damn these math memories are far but yeah, I can develop this using Pascal's triangle. Who would have thought that I would be solving mathematics in the middle of the chinese desert.
We are passing through dunes and small mountains. Tulufan is now behind us, I am definitly going to Urumqi. It shouldn't be so cold according to A.'s latest information so maybe I won't freeze to death.
Entrance of Urumqi

When we arrive, a surprise awaits. Mist, snow, wind, cold. Oh my god, that was a mistake.
"Father is worried, " A. says, "So I will pay for a small room for you. The temperature is -6 already and it's not even night yet."
We stop in front of a skyscraper which looks really fancy. He said hotel ok, but this? This is what I would pay for my honeymoon night with my girlfriend! The reception is all huge and golden, there are parking spaces for hotel guests and on the way to my room I meet some kind of businessman from pakistan, the one who you see in movies, who is super rich and has a harem.
"Are you here for business?" he asks me.
"Not really." If only he knew I was almost putting a tent next to that hotel and now I'm his neighbour.
My room is luxury. There are two beds, a table, a bathroom with hot water and wifi. The power is controlled by my magnetic key. I insert it in a space by the door and everything lights up. All the lights are digitally controlled by a box between the beds which also serves as an alarm clock. And I have a beautiful view of Urumqi from my window.
Urumqi, view from my room
"In half an hour we're going to the restaurant," says A.
We don't go to any restaurant. We go to the biggest and fanciest Uygur restaurant in the world. It is situated in Urumqi in a giant and classy building. Inside, everything is decorated with taste and we are sitted at a table where they start bringing the dishes. It's not that expensive but still over my budget. A. pays for everything. He insists that I chose my dish although I don't know anything about Uygur cuisine and don't have a clue about what the sinograms next to the dishes mean. But A., living in an region opressed by the chinese loves democracy even more because he doesn't have it at home so I must choose by myself.
I eat in the biggest Uygur restaurant in the world

Everybody eats very fast. I am a very fast eater myself and I always try to slow down in order to not make the others feel unconfortable. Here in China however, they all eat so fast that I can go to my normal speed and it still won't be enough. I'm getting better with the chopstics but it's still slowing me down a bit.

I get a samsa for tomorrow morning, breakfast. After writing my blog, I still have time to visit the city. I go to the grand bazaar which is not that big and to some park where a lot of people do their morning exercises in public. They exercise, dance, sing, do tai-chi. Most of them are pretty bad at it but it doesn't matter and no one is ashamed. It's not a bad practice. At noon Urumqi time (2 PM beijing time) I am on my way east again, on my way to Tulufan.
I see rich parts of Urumqi and poor parts also. I see an abandonned attraction park, nobody wants to play in winter. I meet some car mechanics, some of them speak english, they give me bread. And a few hours later, I stop a car to Tulufan.
Snowy Urumqi

The car repairmen

Panorama of the attraction park

Some flowers

Some cars work, some do not