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Xinjiang: Urumqi, Day 1

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It’s been a while since I posted. Again. As mentioned in my last post, my laptop has been totally unusable from a few days after final exams finished, then I was off travelling, and then the last week in China was pretty hectic anyway. Yes, I’m now back in London, but I can still say that I was in Beijing last week! That’s something, right?! I arrived back last Friday evening, and… I already miss China. It feels very surreal (still), and I have this feeling like I’m still supposed to be going back. I can’t be staying here, like, permanently now,  can I…?

Don’t get me wrong, London is an amazing place to live and I love it (don’t talk to me about prices, don’t talk to me about prices, don’t talk to me about prices….) but my year abroad in China has been full of so many amazing (and some less so amazing) experiences and I am 100% glad I did it. No regrets whatsoever. More of that later, maybe. But for now, I’m gonna go back almost a month to the 11th of June – the start of my travels to China’s far West: Xinjiang.

During our travels, I wrote the old-fashioned way, on paper – so here goes typing it up and inserting pictures, of which there are many!

Arrival in Urumqi

After landing at the airport in Urumqi, one of the first things I noticed that I thought was pretty cool was seeing signs in Chinese, Uyghur AND English.

Good English, as usual…

We made it onto a shuttle bus into the city, on which the only seats remaining were one right at the back squashed between luggage and the men to which the luggage belonged, and one seat up at the front next to the driver. Coordinating where we should get off wasn’t made any easier this way, shouting across the minibus, earning us stares from the other passengers. Nevertheless, by the time we got off somewhere on the road our hotel was on, both Beth and I already loved the city. Unfortunately, local buses still confused us, after getting on two that didn’t get us to the right place, we took a taxi…which drove about 2 minutes back up the road, and dropped us off opposite our hotel.

After dropping our stuff, we decided to go to one of the city’s main parks which wasn’t too far from us, Hongshan Park (Red mountain park), named for a red pagoda at the top of a hill inside the park. As soon as we left the hotel and made to cross the road, Beth grabbed my arm and shouted “CAKES!” and started pulling me towards a little shop she’d noticed just a couple of doors away from our hotel. Of all the little bakeries and similar places I’ve seen in China (mostly Beijing) this one was by far the best…it could win on one factor alone: It was clean.

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The fact that the cakes/biscuits were tasty and looked delicious was just a bonus 🙂

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We bought a few each, sat down and ate, at which point I counted all the different baked goods on sale and panicked when I reached 30, realising that would mean eating 10 a day if I wanted to try them all before we left Urumqi. Yeah…they were that good.

This little bakery was where we learnt our first word of Uyghur: Thank you – which is pronounced ‘rahmet’.

As we were entering the park, we saw a guy selling yoghurt…and decided to buy some. We realised that if we wanted to keep eating this way, we might as well forget set mealtimes. Who needs mealtimes anyway, when you have so much to choose from all the time… and so little time to actually choose?

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A cooling yoghurt snack/drink

He filled cups with cold yoghurt out of his mobile fridge, added sugar and nuts on top, and only half-smiled when we said ‘rahmet’. But when we asked if he could tell us how to say ‘tasty’ in Uyghur, he smiled more and replied: I don’t know, I’m not Uyghur, I’m Hui.
Oops.

Hongshan Park is lovely: white picket fences, plenty of shady greenery, a bit of a fairground inside, including but not limited to a ferris wheel, from the top of which we had a (clear, unpolluted!!) view of most of the city. From the top of the hill where the pagoda stood, there was this sign on a railing, beyond which was a rocky drop down to the main road…

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Beyond the railing

The sign on the railing

The sign on the railing

I don’t think anyone who wanted to cherish their life would willingly try to cross that road…from up there.

On another part of the railing, there were countless padlocks crammed onto any free space, engraved (scratched, to be more accurate) with the names of friends or couples… Beth correctly pointed out the romance in what the padlocks symbolised in terms of relationships.

After the park, we tried to find the well known International Bazaar because the hotel reception desk had told us that the Wuyi Night Market (famous for its many different food stalls) had closed down, something we  had not come across in our research. We found another small bakery on the way to the bazaar, got caught in a torrential downpour and incredible winds that pretty much forced us back inside the shops, which were selling headscarves and abayas! That’s not what you think of when someone says China, right?

And what about this scene? (The picture doesn’t do it justice, take my word for it: it was beautiful!)

Beautiful scene

Beautiful twilight scene

The stormy weather meant that we found a little underground market, but didn’t find the actual International Bazaar. I went into a mosque to pray, the first time I’d done that in a long time. Trying to avoid the storm meant that it had become quite late by the time we got back to the hotel. Lots of places started closing what we thought was quite early, but maybe this was because of the weather, rather than the time?

By the end of Day 1, or even halfway through the day, Beth and I have both already decided that we are coming back to this city. That’s gotta say something about the place.

Beth’s input
“I want to live here forever. I want to get a padlock and go with my hypothetical boyfriend to lock the padlock onto the railings in Hongshan Park and then go back after I’m married to find it. And therefore I have to live in Urumqi when I’m older!”

Good logic there.

Attempting to describe Urumqi, I’d say it’s definitely much greener than expected, we both expected barren deserts or something, it’s definitely much greener than Beijjng, there are way less people, it’s hilly (Xinjiang is a mountainous region) and the air is fresher! There are less people smoking, less dogs (in fact, I can hardly remember seeing any today), no spitting spotted yet, and there are dessert places! Yum! Urumqi is a city with a totally different look to any of the other Chinese cities I’ve visited.

Nuts, raisins, chocolates – clean and tidy!

A painted electricity box, showing a woman holding Xinjiang’s famous ‘nang’ (naan)

It’s a lovely city with a friendly vibe, beautiful weather, a bustling lifestyle and plenty of small cake shops to satisfy those sweet cravings 🙂

Bakery no. 2!

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About Ibtehaal

I graduated with a degree in Chinese and Economics, which involved spending a year studying Chinese in Beijing. This turned out to be the hardest but most rewarding thing I think I have ever done. I've now returned to China for another year, to study in Shanghai and figure out my next steps.

One response »

  1. Pingback: Xinjiang: Urumqi, Day 2 | ibby

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