adventures in the people's republic of china and beyond

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Arrival in Urumqi

Wow, that's probably been the longest time I haven't updated my blog! Apologies again - things will get a bit less crazy after I take the GRE next Saturday.

From Turpan, it was a two-hour bus ride over the mountains to Urumqi, during which we got to enjoy some Uyghur VCDs played at extremely loud volume. Arriving at the long-distance bus station, we grabbed a taxi and drove off to the hotel recommended in our Chinese guidebook.

Russian signs in Urumqi.

I was expecting Urumqi to be a grimy industrial town. But cruising in the taxi through the streets, my first impression was that the city felt very new and modern, with lots of tall buildings, but also very sprawled out, kind of like a cross between Beijing and Shanghai. We noticed lots of signs in both Chinese and Russian around, especially places selling manufactured products. The hotel was OK, but a bit too "hostel-y" for me, so we picked up our packs and set out looking for another hotel nearby mentioned in the Lonely Planet. Walking around looking for the hotel, we passed a giant Carrefour and a large public square (Nanhai square). The other hotel turned out to be terribly Western-style and backpacker-y, complete with a bearded Western backpacker guy working at the reception desk, so we left and tried the hotel across the street, which looked quite fancy. You might be curious why I'm so picky about hotels, but the only type of hotel I like to stay in is the standard Chinese hotel that can be had for around 200yuan a night($25) - I can't be bothered to stay in backpacker dives to save 5-10 dollars. When I say "standard Chinese hotel", I'm referring to a room that would be equivalent to a two-three star hotel in the West.

Uptown Urumqi is just like any other big Chinese city.

Huge Carrefour near our hotel.

The other hotel turned out to be quite modern and decently priced (建设大厦) so we settled on there. We went out to eat lunch and decided on Sichuan food, figuring we wouldn't have a chance to eat any decent Chinese food in less developed areas of Xinjiang. The food was average, but rather expensive for such a run-of-the-mill place - as we would later find out, Chinese food in Xinjiang tends to be bad and high-priced.

Xinjiang provincial museum.

The provincial museum sounded interesting, so we made it our first stop. The building was quite modern and nice - we didn't take any pictures inside, but it had a few nice exhibits including my favorite: the minorities exhibit! It featured life-sized mannequins of each minority in national dress, along with some cultural artifacts representative of each - my favorite had to be the Russian minority exhibit, featuring forks and spoons as their eating utensils and a complete four-poster bed! The main draw of the museum is, of course, the mummies that have had so much media attention because they're white-looking. I remember watching a show about them on Discovery a couple years ago. The Tarim mummies are indeed rather European-looking and are supposedly from the ancient Tocharian kingdoms in the area. I don't really see what the hubbub is about, given there are living people in Xinjiang who are really European-looking, like my yogurt-making friend in Turpan. Plenty of living Uyghurs have blue eyes, light hair, and other "Caucasoid" traits, as well as people in Afghanistan and Pakistan(read about the Kalash) - so what's the big deal?

Trilingual bus sign. The buses in Urumqi are new, modern, and have bilingual stop announcements in Uyghur and Chinese.

From the museum, we headed to the bookstore. Urumqi, unlike most Chinese cities, has very confusing streets, and none of our maps were particularly detailed. We asked around a bit, and noticed that some of the Chinese in Urumqi have a very peculiar accent - it sounds a bit like the way Uyghurs speak Chinese. We'd noticed it before with a taxi driver and someone else we'd asked for directions.

The Urumqi International City of Books.

The Urumqi Xinhua International Book City is indeed quite large and claims to be the biggest in the Northwest, although I think the one in Xi'an is bigger(it could be argued that Xi'an is not NW, though). I asked around for a book on Uyghur only to be pointed to the same pink book they sold in Turpan, with such helpful phrases as "I'm a worker" and "He is Aerkin's father", but none of the phrases I needed, like "How much does this cost" or "I want some kebabs." All the same, I managed to find a book in the Uyghur section with some helpful phrases, although it was really intended for Uyghurs learning Chinese. But thanks to the modified writing system of Uyghur, every vowel sound is indicated, unlike Arabic, so you kind of know how words should be pronounced.

To be continued...(hopefully sooner this time)

I just happened to come across your blog while searching for something else on Google. I lived in Urumqi for three months, and I really miss it...

Anyway, I wanted to tell you that the signs at the museum actually say "Europoid," which made both me and my boyfriend (Americans) and a group of French people laugh. :)


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