Kazakhstan visa, pick pockets, Uigher lifestyle

Urumqi Travel Blog

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Mosque and Minaret by Erdaoqiao Market

People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Hannes (Sweden), Colin (Canada), Josh (USA), Portia (USA)

I really hate arriving into cities late at night, so i wasn't best impressed to be dropped on the outskirts of Urumqi at 22.30. Colin had a friend of a friend called Josh that was living here, so gave him a call to arrange somewhere to meet, as he would be sleeping in his spare room. The plan was made that we would meet up at the University campus and Colin would go to Josh's and we would stay in the University owned hotel over the road.

As we were about to get in the taxi, Colin realised that he was missing his small bag, containing his camcorder and went rushing back to the shop where we had made the phone call from.

Erdaoqiao Market
The bag wasn't there. It was so lucky that he spoke Chinese though, as his pleading for the bag to be returned, ended in the owner calling upstairs for it to be brought back down. Originally she had said she knew nothing about it, so it was a really close escape.

20 minutes in the taxi took us past some interesting buildings, mainly because many of them had Russian writing on. Now English had become the fourth most written language, behind Mandarin, Arabic and Cyrillic. China's diversity was once more screaming out, as is so often does!

Josh met us at the front gates of the University, where he studies Uigher and Chinese and took us to the hotel over the road. Incredibly they denied us access, as we weren't students and didn't have a written letter of approval from the University! We trudged around the surrounding streets with our heavy backpacks for the next hour or more and every hotel was unable to take foreigners (Chinese government policy), except for one, which was out of our price range.
Central Urumqi
We even tried calling a Hostel in the guidebook, but this was shut for repairs. The decision was made to get back in a taxi and head all the way back to the South of town, where we knew of a Hotel.

Hannes, Julia and I got back in a taxi and Colin gave the Hotel name to the driver, but he mistakenly told them the wrong one, Xinjiang Binguan, instead of Xinjiang Fandian. I knew we were at the wrong place when our car door was opened by the Hotel porter, so we didn't even bother exiting the car, just showed the driver the name in our book, he let out an arrrggggh, and we finally made it there just before 02.00!

I was desperate for a sleep in the next day, but Hannes and I both required our Kazakhstan visas and we had deliberately pushed ourselves to be there for Monday, so couldn't justify lying in and not going! A taxi took us out to the embassy, as it was a 30 minute ride and only cost 21RMB ($3).
Serving pommegranite juice
What lay in front of us when we got out of the cab was a huge queue of people, all jostling at a small entrance, we'd arrived too late!

A guard started to wave at us from next to the gate and the sea of people calmly separated for us to pass through. Was this really China? Were we getting to jump a queue like the locals so often do, and without pushing and screaming too, miraculous! I wasn't going to ask questions, i just did the sensible thing and walked straight in.

Inside the embassy the staff were very helpful, always dealing with us ahead of any of the locals and after popping out to make some visa and passport copies, we returned and had our forms submitted a little over 30 minutes after we had begun. Where was the catch!

The three of us went to a Kazakh restaurant  for lunch and then to use the internet for a few hours, before heading back into the centre to meet up with Colin.
The chef in the restaurant that we ate in tries out Colins camera
It was pretty easy to find each other at Erdaoqiao Market, where a huge Minaret and Mosque dominated the skyline. Wandering around the side streets, we bought some excellent 1RMB ($0.15) Pomegranate Juice and then sat at a restaurant and ate some dumplings and fried rice with lamb.

All of us had started to gain an interest in the Uigher population, so rather than heading to the Han style Chinese centre, we lost ourselves in the back streets of the Uigher neighbourhood. Most of the houses had red spray paint on them, a marking that they were due to be demolished, no doubt for large skyscrapers to be constructed for Chinese businesses, or flats for Hans to move in to. I wondered where the Uigher people would be relocated to, they probably wondered too.

Walking into a maze of tiny alleys, i saw people bartering for all kinds of items, stalls selling broken brik-a-brak, food vendors with lungs, intestine and hearts.
Bread vendor infront of a Chinese designed mosque
There was a skinned sheep lying on the floor, racks of lamb and beef butchered and hung in the middle of the street. Large piles of garbage littered the area and it didn't take a miracle worker to fathom out why i seem to so easily get sick off the food here!

Several hours passed by, as we became immersed in the area, the people and the customs. Stood at an intersection of a busier main road, we stopped to chat about where to head next, when i felt my wallet moving inside the pocket of my shorts. As i looked down i saw what i initially thought was a child next to my leg, then understood that it was actually a male adult crouched down.

The next thing i knew, he was pulling his long tweezers from my pocket and still attempting to hold on to my wallet with them! I managed to bang his hand away and i was quite shocked by what had happened, i didn't really know what to do.
2 Uigher ladies share a joke
In such instances, you would expect the thief to run away, but instead, he hovered around us and looked distraught with the fact he hadn't pulled the crime off. Another man came up to him and they began chatting, this was obviously an organised group. I had come very close to been robbed and it was not a nice feeling.

From that point on, our priority was to get out of the area, keeping an extra close eye on our bags and each other. During the course of the afternoon i had felt my bag pulled at a couple of times, but it was locked and i wondered if it hadn't just been people accidentally knocking into me. Now when i watched closely, people really were following us at times and when we stopped, would circle around to wait for the slightest opportunity to try and get on the blindside of us.
Colin photographs the Uigher kids playing football
This was a very weird experience and i was just happy when we made it to the larger, less crowded centre of town. The following day Hannes caught another guy opening his rucksack up, so be very careful if you ever visit Urumqi!

Julia and I next tried to find a Western bookshop, but for some reason a road sign had been placed on the wrong road and it ended up sending us on a wild goose chase. As a result, the shop we went to closed 5 minutes before we arrived! We therefore went back to meet Colin and Hannes and walked to the South Gate, where there is the Theatre and large blue pyramid. Here we met up with Josh and he took us to one of his favourite Kazakh restaurants.

Josh assured us that the local delicacies were worth a try, so we ordered Horse Meat with noodles and onions, some salad side dishes and we washed this down with camel milk.
Barbecued food
The milk was very sour and quite disgusting, although the Horse wasn't too bad. From here we decided to get a real drink, so walked to a nearby beer garden and spent the remainder of the evening knocking back some bevvies.

We slept in on Tuesday and spent the rest of the morning just lazing around our hotel and trying to get our laundry done. We only managed to find one expensive dry cleaning place, so just handed in a few essentials and decided to leave the rest until Almaty. We used the internet for an hour or so and managed to arrange a meet up with Portia, as it was her last night in China. For some reason all the mobile networks seemed to have been playing up, i think due to the earthquake, so we had been out of contact for the last day.

At 20.
Young boy at a kebab stand in the Uigher neighbourhood
00 we met with Portia and then walked to the South Gate to meet up with Colin. Nearby there was an outdoor night market selling food, so we settled down there and ordered a range of good little snacks. These included Lamb kebabs, fried mushrooms, quail eggs, aubergines, breads and watermelon and of course some 'Wusu' beer to wash it all down. We hung out until 23.00, when Portia had to go home, as she had a flight to catch the following morning. The 4 of us remained until around midnight, and then also caught a taxi home.

On Wednesday morning we went to collect our laundry, but they hadn't even started it, so we had to scrap our plans to go up to Tian Chi mountain, as we had no clean warm clothes. Instead, we went and picked up our Kazakh visas, which were ready as promised and then went to use the internet as we weren't sure when we would have the chance within the 'Stans'.
Central Urumqi, including the theatre

The rest of the afternoon was spent going between the train and bus station and trying to book our tickets to Kazakhstan. There were no train tickets left and only limited bus tickets, so we took the bus tickets for the following day, even though this meant that we would now definitely have to skip the trip to Tian Chi. In the evening we hung out with Colin and Josh at the food night market. Josh had a huge bowl of offal, which actually wasn't too bad, although definitely not something i would order for myself.

Thursday was our last day in China and Julia and I were itching for one last fix of KFC pies, so we dragged Hannes along too. We all ordered large meals, not knowing when we might next get the chance to eat fast food like this again!! We didn't really have anything to do in the afternoon and as we came across the cheapest internet cafe ever (1RMB/$0.
Statue outside the theatre, the moon in the background
15 p/h), we stayed there for quite some time.

At 21.00 we boarded the sleeper bus to Korgas. The Chinese night buses are quite interesting, as they consist of 3 rows of bunk beds, which accommodate 36 people. Although the beds are made for Chinese sized people, they are still reasonably comfortable and it was possible to get a few hours sleep.

GREAT ARTICLE i read whilst here!!

I always knew this happened and have said it over and over, at least someone is honest enough to admit to the press what goes on! Good on him.

Deats says:
Yeah its fascinating, as much for the people as the city itself. The Uigher district is an eye opener... but watch your wallet!!!
Posted on: Jul 18, 2008
yunitn says:
this place looks really interesting...
Posted on: Jul 17, 2008
sophiefbs says:
LOL. interesting
Posted on: May 15, 2008
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Mosque and Minaret by Erdaoqiao Ma…
Mosque and Minaret by Erdaoqiao M…
Erdaoqiao Market
Erdaoqiao Market
Central Urumqi
Central Urumqi
Serving pommegranite juice
Serving pommegranite juice
The chef in the restaurant that we…
The chef in the restaurant that w…
Bread vendor infront of a Chinese …
Bread vendor infront of a Chinese…
2 Uigher ladies share a joke
2 Uigher ladies share a joke
Colin photographs the Uigher kids …
Colin photographs the Uigher kids…
Barbecued food
Barbecued food
Young boy at a kebab stand in the …
Young boy at a kebab stand in the…
Central Urumqi, including the thea…
Central Urumqi, including the the…
Statue outside the theatre, the mo…
Statue outside the theatre, the m…
Plate of Horse Meat, vegetables an…
Plate of Horse Meat, vegetables a…
Street butcher
Street butcher
Uigher neighbourhood
Uigher neighbourhood
Old man sits in front of some rugs…
Old man sits in front of some rug…
Butchered sheep in the Uigher neig…
Butchered sheep in the Uigher nei…
Butchered sheep
Butchered sheep
Man selling intestines and lung in…
Man selling intestines and lung i…
Shoe seller in the Uigher neighbou…
Shoe seller in the Uigher neighbo…
Local guys in the Uigher neighbour…
Local guys in the Uigher neighbou…
Green pepper stall in the Uigher n…
Green pepper stall in the Uigher …
Uigher neighbourhood
Uigher neighbourhood
Little child and his Mum
Little child and his Mum
The guy who tried to pickpocket me…
The guy who tried to pickpocket m…
Uigher people at the market
Uigher people at the market
Uigher people
Uigher people
Central Urumqi
Central Urumqi
Mosque in Urumqi
Mosque in Urumqi
Josh, Colin and Hannes enjoy some …
Josh, Colin and Hannes enjoy some…
Josh and Colin enjoy some Camel Mi…
Josh and Colin enjoy some Camel M…
Me drinking some Camel Milk!
Me drinking some Camel Milk!
Statue outside the theatre
Statue outside the theatre
Mosque and minaret at Erdaoqiao Ma…
Mosque and minaret at Erdaoqiao M…
Hannes enjoys some street food
Hannes enjoys some street food
Portia and Hannes and a table full…
Portia and Hannes and a table ful…
photo by: AndySD