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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



June 14. HOTAN (Xinjiang Province)  Hotan was beginning to feel a bit slow for us at this point.  The weather was holding out nicely though.  It had been very comfortable weather during our whole stay on the Silk Road, which was a surprise for such dry desert terrain.  The days could get hot but the evenings were nice and cool.  The only really bad weather was a few spots of rain and the nasty afternoon of dust and sand that swirled around the streets and into our eyes, making us feel like we were chewing grit all of the time.  We had to find an indoor eatery that night.  Thankfully, some of the best weather had happened during our camel trek.   

We spent part of our last Saturday in Hotan making one final attempt at shopping for carpets but still turned up nothing that we really wanted to take home.  The rest of the day we spent in our hotel room with the windows open for a fresh breeze, watching the pay-per-view channel while I worked on the journal.   

The pay-per-view channel had become our only source of television entertainment in Hotan.  The hotel didn't have the foreign propaganda channel, CCTV9, that was broadcast in English.  CCTV 9 provided a selection of badly slanted foreign news, some interesting programs on travel in China with emphasis on China's ethnic minority regions, and the periodic Chinese language lesson with Da Shan, a big Canadian guy with the name Big Mountain in Chinese.  The pay-per-view channel, however, offered an bizarre assortment of programming that was purchased by people phoning in and selecting a 2-4 minute piece of entertainment.  When there were no customers dialing in the channel just flashed its phone number on the screen.  Once someone dialed in we could see the navigation screen pop up and watch them sort through the contents to find their selection.  We learned that there was a library of Mr. Bean episodes, the recent Spiderman movie, and a popular episode of Charlie Chaplin (whose face was seen on a couple of billboards around town - very curious).  The main frustration with the pay-per-view channel was that the type of program changed from one category to another and back again in up to four minute increments.  We would get one person who was  Mr. Bean fan and they would get part way through selecting several consecutive sections of an episode and then someone else would sneak in an choose a Central Asian or Chinese pop song (and it was always the SAME songs).  But, it was all we really had for visual entertainment so we had to be thankful that there was anything at all.  

June 15. HOTAN (Xinjiang Province) It was already time for another Sunday Market in Hotan.  Where did the week go?  The weather was better than the week before but we didn't spend too long re-experiencing the bazaar.  It seemed to get a slower start than the last week and never reached the same velocity of traffic. We split up to wander around and while I went over to look at mineral pigments Rob wandered down the busy street and found the sheep and goat market.  We noticed a group of three police that kept reappearing in the market, harassing the local merchants. There were two women and a roly-poly fat man who walked around like he owned Hotan with his police shirt unbuttoned and his t-shirt covered belly sticking out.  It was hard not to be annoyed by this pathetic display of power.  While the Chinese and Uyghur communities appeared to maintained a mutual segregation within the region they also seemed to interact with each other in a friendly enough way.  The officials, however, were largely Chinese and, like the rest of China, were annoying little power mongers.  The only thing that made them more conspicuous in Xinjiang was that they were a minority of Chinese living amongst a majority of Uyghur people and so obviously wielded all of the power.       

After failing in our search for carpets or jade we turned our shopping interest towards the ornately decorated Uyghur instruments.  They were all hand made and had to involve hours of work.  We found a couple of little shops that made instruments and one craftsman gave a kind demonstration of his instruments but we still didn't find anything we wanted to buy. Rob had found a contact on the internet that sold a better selection of instruments out of Kashgar.  It was a shame we weren't going back that way.  In the end, the only thing we purchased at the crazy Hotan bazaar was a set of mineral pigments.  We searched out the guy who we had seen with the largest group of customers during the last Sunday Market and bought some from him.  We waited as he finished an order for the man ahead of us, casually scooping the different powers into color mixtures and rolling them up in paper.  The color of the pigments were a deceiving.   He wet his finger and rubbed them on paper before he sold them to us.  He had what looked like many shades of green but when wet one became a shade of purple and the other a bright magenta.  The man chuckled the whole time he helped us.  I am sure he saw very few foreign tourists buying pigments.  He was a crack up because his face and even his teeth were red from rubbing his powder stained hands on his mouth.

For dinner that night we made one last visit to the umbrella-table sidewalk restaurant that we had frequented for the past several nights.  I had finally given in to trying the local salads.  They looked freshly made and were kept under a glass case and away from the flies so I decided to risk it.  After three nights trying various salads with shredded cucumbers or bean sprouts or shredded carrots I was still in good health and so much happier for having had some fresh veggies!  

June 16. HOTAN (Xinjiang Province) There comes a time when you know that you have overstayed in a city.  This Monday was one of those day.  For as much as we had started to like Hotan we had become incensed by the news of more SARS tests in Yarkand.  The WTO had announced that the SARS situation in China was now contained and the geniuses of Yarkand suddenly decided that they have begin with the blood tests.  Such a total lack of common sense bordered on just scary.  We were getting eager to leave Hotan, leave Xinjiang, and just get out to Shanghai.  The weather had also taken a sudden turn for the worse as well and had become significantly hotter just over night.

After buying our overpriced sleeper bus tickets to Urumqi (The knew they had people in Hotan since your only other option was a ten hour bus back to Kashgar and then a sleeper train to Urumqi.) we went to buy snacks and check the Internet one last time.  The Internet cafe was stiflingly hot and miserable.  Our departure from Hotan couldn't come soon enough!

We had opted for the more expensive sleeper bus with A/C since it was getting hotter and we had heard stories of sand storms across the Taklamakan Desert.  So, we had a nice new bus like the one Jenny and James had left on the week before.  They even made us take our shoes before walking down the carpeted aisles.  But, they really had their nerve charging us an extra Y4 for overage on our baggage.  The baggage compartment was practically empty, they weren't being quite a diligent about weighing the local people's luggage, and we had paid an arm and a leg (in local terms) for our ticket already.  Anyway, I let the scale nazi know what I thought of their policy.  Just about everything was starting to annoy us at this point. 

We had bunks in the back of the bus but not together (Thank you ticket lady). We swapped with a Uyghur woman for her middle row bottom bunk so that we had two bunks next to each other. Some Chinese guy tried to work us out of a bunk but his ticket was for somewhere near the front of the bus so we just told him to "buzz off!". The bus was laid out in three rows, one on each side and one down the middle.  Each row had two bottom and top bunks.  It was pretty clean and had blankets neatly folded on each bunk but they weren't freshly washed.  Since our bunks were over the engine they were raised up a little from the rest of the bottom bunks and it took away any head room for sitting up.  Also, since we were over the engine we could feel some extra heat from the floor.  Fortunately, once the A/C got cranked up it cooled off and we were just as happy to be at the back and not stuck in the middle of everyone else.  In compensation for our lack of head room it also looked like we had slightly longer beds, which was good.  As we got underway I was actually questioning whether or not these bunks were more comfortable than the hard sleeper on the train.  Since the beds were parallel to the bus instead of perpendicular, like the train beds, I felt less jolted when we started and stopped.  But, sleeper bus travel is as comfortable as the road you are traveling on and as the road went from well paved to less well paved and eventually to no pavement I was missing the train hard sleeper.  Some bumps nearly knocked the wind out of me.  Sleeper bus travel also requires careful management of liquid intake since the bus only stopped every four hours or so. 

Just after we got underway I began to fall asleep the bus pulled over for a dinner stop in some small town.  Further along the Silk Road there was supposed to be another race of people whose women were identified by a scarf over their heads topped with a tiny hat on their heads. Rob managed to spot one but I never saw any.  The younger generation has probably abandoned their traditional dress in favor of the general Uyghur style.  We tried to stay on the bus while everyone else got off but they locked it up and made us get off while everyone else ate.  We'd had a few shish kebab before we left Hotan and decided not to risk and road side stalls while we were stuck on a long distance bus.  The bathrooms at the bus station were getting close to some of the worst I'd ever seen and they even had the nerve to charge for the privilege.  It was infested with flies and to make things worse the local ladies had to queue in front of the door-less stalls instead of waiting at the door.  Even from the door the low walls provided little privacy.  I wasn't normally bothered by the experience since people generally just went in, got on with their business, and then left but this was the first time I'd been in a crowded situation.  Absolutely no dignity at all....

The dinner stop wasn't very long and we were back on the road soon enough.  We were careful not to drink much at the stops and held off until we had been back on the road for a while and knew another break would be coming up.  As the road got bumpier it got harder to fall asleep and the noisy Chinese movie, followed by a noisy Uyghur movie, didn't really help.  At least they didn't have TV screens to far back but that didn't keep the volume from reaching us.  Whenever I looked up I saw either excessive violence or some pathetically weeping woman.  And they say American movies are a bad influence on the world!

The "entertainment" finally went finished around 1am and just the sporadic flash of headlights coming from the other direction (another disadvantage to our raised bunks) and an occasional bathroom stop contributed to the overall lack of sleep. 

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