01 April 2022

Journey to the West (part 2)

(Posted from the vanage point of 2022, but written in 2010, I didn't have too much to say about the Uyghur situation in this post, but I think there is some stuff in other posts coming up - let see what I felt more than a decade ago in a place now known as a bit of a concentration camp)

Me and a beer
Turns out there was not much to do in Urumqi.  There was a pub called Fu-bar run by a lad called Manus from Portrush that had a good selection of beer (it had been a while, but I was still waiting to find a good pint on draught).  The museum was interesting enough for a couple of hours, as long as you look past the usual propaganda.  They had some very old mummies.  We weren’t allowed to take photos, but “officials” were allowed to ignore the signs.  Another prime example of, “All people are equal, but some are more equal than others.”  I unexpectedly found 1984 on sale in the official bookshop.  The bookshop looked and felt like a dead library.

Not a library it seems

Slogans were something we’d encountered throughout the country, normally written in a large red font and positioned anywhere you could imagine.  A few of the ones we noticed were:

  • Oppose separation, encourage co-operation
  • Build a harmonious society
  • Raising a girl is as good as raising a boy
  • The liberation army is sacred and is not to be violated
  • It is a legal obligation of every citizen to keep national secrets and party secrets
Audrey tells me this is one is the same as the last one in my list above

The last one I found most sinister (which we saw in Urumqi), basically saying that even if you know the country/government is doing something wrong, you shouldn’t speak out about it.  Most of them were quite benign, and were basically good ideas, apart from the fact the party ignored them when it suited them.

We wanted to get visas for Kyrgyzstan from their consulate, but were hit immediately with a bombshell.  Those Hong Kongers (and the Chinese in general) required a letter of invitation.  We were already in the process of getting them for Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, but wouldn’t have enough time to get the Kyrgyzstan one before my Chinese visa ran out.  Plus, we would be losing a lot of valuable time hanging around in China, somewhere we now wanted to get out of quite quickly (we felt we’d spent too much time there already).

So we had to change plans and destinations.  Flying from Urumqi to the west, there were not many options.  And of the options we had, many of them would pose similar problems to what we already had with Kyrgyzstan (Iran, Azerbaijan, back to Russia, Armenia).  Finally, we booked flights to Tbilisi in Georgia.

On the train to Urumqi

Street food, very tasty, like shashlik

We still had nearly two weeks to get ourselves around the most wild and rugged area of China.  First stop would be Kashgar, the legendary Silk Road city.  We booked soft sleeper tickets that would take us along the northern section of the Silk Road, and got a comfy little compartment for two all to ourselves.

One day later we woke up as the train pulled into Kashgar.