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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Hotan Market
CLASSIC CHINA Beijing April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29-30 May 1-2 May 3-4 May 5 Pinyao, Shanxi May 6 May 7 Xian, Shaanxi May 8 May 9-10

TIBETAN PLATEAU Xining, Qinghai May 11 May 12 Tongren, Qinghai May 13 May 14 Xiahe, Gansu May 15 May 16-17

THE SILK ROAD Lanzhou, Gansu May 18 Dunhuang, Gansu May 19-20 May 21-22 May 23 May 24-25 Turpan, Xinjiang May 26 May 27 Kashgar, Xinjiang May 28-29 May 30 May 31 June 1-2 June 3-6 Hotan, Xinjiang June 7 June 8-9 June 10-11 June 12-13 June 14-16 June 17-19

A LAST LOOK Shanghai June 20-29 Beijing June 30
Hotan Market, Xinjiang Province, June 8, 2003


June 7. HOTAN (Xinjiang Province)  Our lovely hotel started to roust us from our room at 8am in the morning local time.  We kept pushing back and shutting the door in their faces but they kept it up until we finally gathered our things in complete exasperation and checked out. It was totally frustrating since  it wasn't even noon Beijing time and local time was two hours earlier, the hotel was nearly empty and it was evident that they didn't do much work to clean the rooms anyway.  Rob was particularly annoyed since he was just getting ready to shower when the power went out and it didn't come back on before we had to check out.  The bathrooms always leave a lot to be desired and this one was no exception.  The shower spilled directly onto the tile floor but its really annoying feature was the "clap-on" light.  It gave you all of about two minutes to do something before going out and you had to create some kind of noise to get it back on again.  I heard Rob stomping around in the bathroom and finally he asked, "Is the power out?".  I checked the bedside light and confirmed that it was. Bummer.  

After our charming experience at the hotel we were more eager to just get out of Karghilik and on to Hotan.  We caught the next bus out of town.  The bus was fairly full so we had to put our packs on the roof but got good seats in the front.  As we pulled out of the station the bus crossed the street and stopped in front of a small store where a large container of gasoline was brought out and siphoned into the bus tank.  The conspicuous China Petrol station (high red painted concrete roof and aisles wide enough for an 18-wheel truck) was just across the street.  They were always huge, even in the smallest towns, and this was the first time one of our buses had not stopped at China Petrol for gasoline.  As we drove out of town we passed a large area of oil storage tanks that were enclosed in a security wall and equipped with armed guards at the corner towers.  It seemed a bit much for this little town but confirmed what we were just beginning to understand - the evident hostility between the locals and the Chinese over who had the rights over the nearby oil resources.

The drive out of Karghilik was not very interesting.  We passed the same barren landscape that we had seen the day before only occasionally catching a glimpse of the sand dunes at the edge of the Taklamakan Desert. The most entertaining activity was counting the numerous sand devils that spiraled across the horizon.  We encountered far fewer oasis areas than the first half of our journey to Hotan from Kashgar.  When we finally did reach some green we were faced with our first SARS hassle of the day.  

All of the buses were pulled over to the side of the highway while each and every passenger disembarked to go through a SARS screening.  We had all of our transportation tickets showing that we had been in Xinjiang Province for 13 days (one day shy of the SARS incubation period) and the bogus blood test and x-ray certificate from Dunhuang.  But, as soon as they spotted our tickets from Gansu the local bureaucracy went into a tail spin. There was much talking and head scratching.  If Xinjiang was truly SARS-free and we had been in the province during the entire incubation timeframe and had been tested in Dunhuang just prior to arriving it was impossible for us have SARS.  But, that sort of straight forward logic was well beyond this group of mental giants.  They even made phone calls ("Blah, blah, Gansu, blah, blah, blah, Dunhuang, blah, blah, blah, Meiguo (USA), blah, blah, blah, California") before they finally agreed to let us continue on to Hotan.  We weren't entirely sure what we would be in for when we reached Hotan since the final statement to our driver was, "Blah, blah, blah, Hotan", to which our driver responded, "Blah, blah, blah Hotan, ha, ha, ha".

While we were waiting for the decision to be made Rob met an Israeli fellow that was in the bus behind us.  He had already been to Taxkorgan and nearly got into a fight with the officials there over the SARS testing.  Rob just advised him to say that he had been in the province for more than two weeks and not to mention Gansu or to provide any tickets for their review.  When our buses met up again at a later stop we found out that he has passed the screening without any trouble.  The trick was jus to lie.

Our SARS screening process took a whole two hours.  We had been on the road for about 15 minutes when the bus blew a flat tire.  The driver and his sidekick (the money guy) got busy changing the tire and had it done in just 30 minutes.  While we waited we saw a steady stream of people dash into the desert to relieve themselves.  I was puzzled by this since there had been a public restroom back at the checkpoint and we had only been driving for 15 minutes.  The majority of the people were women who, much to my surprise, walked about 50 feet from the bus, just over a small hump in the sand, and dropped their drawers.  From behind the small hump you could only see their upper body but as they approached the spot many of them began to hoist their long "evening" gowns, revealing their thick tights underneath. As they made the quick transition from standing to squatting some of them flashed a bit more.  When returning to the bus one woman was fine tuning the fit or her tights and had her dress clear up under her arm pits!  While the women were dashing off to the right of the bus, the men went off to the left and were less discreet, one man giving us a full moon.  This apparent lack of modesty conflicted with my understanding of the Uyghur culture and the custom of keeping heads, arms and legs covered.  Of course, I had also seen some women nursing babies rather indiscreetly in the bazaar so perhaps they were just practical about matters of biological necessity.

All of the checking and tire changing had us a good 2 1/2 hours behind schedule reaching Hotan.  The hour or more before we arrived was through a nice oasis area with tall cooling trees along the highway and miles of long dirt roads extending to the sides into traditional Uyghur residential areas.  When the bus was only two km from Hotan we had to detour around some construction that took us through a narrow local road.  The Israeli fellow's bus passed our and turned down the road just ahead of us.  However, when our bus made the turn the traffic had backed up and in order to avoid hitting a motorcyclist at the back of the lineup our driver swerved to the right and ran into a tree.   The motorcyclist was lucky.  If our driver hadn't reacted quickly the motorcyclist would have been seriously injured or possibly killed.  We had seen an accident just a few minutes earlier and it hadn't looked good.  All of the accidents we had seen in China involved a car, truck or bus and someone on a motorcycle or bike. It was, however, very bad luck for our driver.  The bus ran up over a log when it hit the tree and the drive shaft was just spinning on top of the log.  After a good hour of effort they were unable to get the bus loose and the sidekick went to get another bus for us to go the remaining two km.  We considered making a run for it to avoid the SARS hassle at the station but decided it just wasn't fair to the driver.  He was responsible for delivering all of the people on his list and we didn't have the heart to make his day any worse than it had already been.

When we arrived at that station we didn't see any sign of the Israeli guy which we thought was probably good.  He wasn't the type that would let himself get taken to the hospital and he would probably still be kicking up a fuss if they were hassling tourists.  Rob got off the bus first and they tried to lock the rest of us in while they screened him.  He put his foot down and pointed inside the bus towards me, who was already yelling up a storm, and they opened the door and let me join him.  After we filled out the SARS form and had out temperature taken they tried to keep our passports and push off to the side.  We demanded our passports back but stood to the side to see what was going to happen.  They went through everyone on the bus before calling over some biohazard storm troopers to deal with us.  They tried to explain that we had to go to the hospital and pointed to an ambulance.  We said that there was no need since we had already been in Xinjiang for two weeks.  They didn't understand and went to retrieve someone that spoke English.  Their translator was a Pakistani fellow who had gotten stuck in Xinjiang when the border was closed.  He spoke English well but our first thought was, "Hmm, this might not be good.  Pakistanis aren't always the most pro-American bunch of people."  But, he turned out to be very helpful and after relaying our message we were advised that we would have to stay at the Hotan Hotel and would be delivered to the hotel by ambulance.  That was fine with us and with no further delay Rob passed out Marlboro's to make everyone happy and we hopped into the ambulance. 

The Hotan Hotel tried to charge us their high room rate but thanks to the info we had gotten from the Dutch couple in Kashgar we told them we wouldn't pay more than Y100.  They didn't agree initially and had to call the manager who inquired as to whether we had been to the hospital.  Fortunately, our Marlboro smoking ambulance team got on the phone and explained our situation.  We got our Y100 room and some wicked looks from the hotel staff.  Hee hee.

The hotel room was pretty nice and even had a bathtub!  After dumping off our things we headed out in search of some food and spotted Jenny and James sitting on the patio in front of the hotel.  They were surprised to see us.  They had sent us an email about the horrible experience they'd had entering Hotan the day before and thought we might stay away.  They spent some five hours at the hospital refusing to undergo the blood test and x-ray exam before they final succumbed.  When they arrived their passports were taken from them so they couldn't leave and too many officials got involved in the battle over their SARS tests for them to get around the procedures.  It became too much an issue of pride and face for the officials involved.  One of them had a slight fever from an upset stomach that also caused the situation to escalate.  The fact that they spoke Chinese probably didn't help them in this instance either since it is harder to pretend you don't know what's going on when they know you can understand them.  They opted to have their blood drawn with sterile needles that they watched be opened in front of them rather than the dodgy knife they were using to get blood out of who knows how many people's fingers that day.  They were also able to confer with James' father, whose is a doctor, about the x-ray exam and in the end didn't have to undergo anything that seemed harmful to their health.  However, in the process they took the opportunity to raise hell in the hospital and make life difficult for all of those people involved.  We left Hotan several days after them and we didn't encounter any other foreigners, since their episode, that had to undergo the SARS testing so "Cheers" to Jenny and James for putting up a fight!

Jenny and James were sitting with an American guy who had also been harassed when he entered Hotan.  He and his wife were even made to pay for their tests!  Not long after we sat down with the group Erez, the Israeli fellow, turned up as well.  His approach to the SARS screening had been to just leave the bus station so he ended up walking down the street with an ambulance inching along beside him.  However, the first hotel he tried to stay at couldn't take him and brought him to the Hotan Hotel as well.  The American guy was so pissed of that we didn't have to undergo the tests and had gotten a cheaper hotel room than him that he went to cause a scene with the hotel.  This prompted some phone calls and apparently a local official was going to come down and talk to all of us.  With this news Rob, Erez and I decided it was time for us to leave, not wanting to get re-involved with the SARS mess and in the end the whole lot of us just took off down the street to find some dinner.  

After much walking we failed to come across a restaurant so we tried to take taxis to a place where some folks had eaten before but our taxis went opposite directions and didn't really know where they were going anyway (a common problem for Hotan taxis and pedicabs apparently).  So we ended up at a sidewalk shish kebab restaurant that was actually not far from the hotel.

Welcome to Hotan....