2005.08.20 Urumqi, China

Drinking Kymis in Bishkek

My house is filling up. It's a three-bedroom flat, which has been spacious for just me and Nisagul. As of yesterday, we have a new roommate: Tiffany. As of tomorrow, there will be four: Aunt Martha is coming to visit for several days.

Though I refer to her as "auntie", Martha is technically not my aunt--she's my father's cousin. It will be fun to have somebody from back home to show around town and share my present existence with. Also, she's agreed to shuttle over a few items I've found difficult to come by in Urumqi. My requests from America this time are one box of baking chocolate and as many packages of cream cheese as she can manage. I've been in a baking mode of late: for some time I've been wanting to bake up a Key Lime cheesecake for local friends.

Tiffany has finished her time teaching English in Urumqi. The end of the job has meant she's had to vacate the apartment provided by her school. She won't go back to California immediately. We're in fact hoping to travel together to Tibet, along with Nisagul. The plan is to set off around the end of August.

I met up with Joyce a few days ago. She was en route to Pakistan, changing planes in Urumqi with several hours to kill. Unfortunately, those hours happened to be from 5:00 to 10:00 A.M.. All the same, I went out to the airport to catch up--and to borrow her tent, which may prove useful on the Tibet journey.

Joyce seems well. She tries not to appear down: things finally ended with her American fiance. She is in fact moving on and occupying herself in healthy directions. This return trip to Pakistan is solely business.

When we first met nearly two years ago, Joyce had the heaviest rucksack of any traveler I had met. When I sarcastically asked her if she was carrying around a load of rocks, she simply said, "Yep," and burrowed into her bag. She pulled out samples of precious and semi-precious stones: aquamarine, sapphires, and assorted others I couldn't identify. Over the course of her travels around remote parts of Central Asia she'd happened across several mines and saw potential opportunity. She's finally taking the step, going into business for herself as a gemstone dealer, along with a couple partners back in Beijing.

Tiffany and Nisagul
Tiffany and Nisagul: Roommates
and Travel Companions

So, my immediate plans are to have a good time re-connecting with Aunt Martha, then to set off for Tibet. I'm allowing a couple months for the journey, though don't think it will actually take that long to make it to Lhasa and back. Tiffany and I have been contemplating the necessities we'll need to prepare for a difficult journey (e.g. first-aid kit, food reserve, water purification tablets) as well as those necessities to keep us sane over the remoter bits of the trip (SET, many issues of Games magazine, and a large book of crossword puzzles).

It crossed my mind a few days ago that a nice route back to Urumqi from Lhasa might be via Nepal, India, and Pakistan. I have made that trip by road before, though in the opposite direction. The stretches between Lhasa and Kathmandu and the stretches between Hunza and Kashgar are spectacular. I've been additionally inspired to see that road again after finishing a book accounting one writer's journey hitchhiking across Tibet to the Nepalese border, Vikram Seth's From Heaven Lake.

To be honest I think the chances are likely that I won't actually exit China, instead returning to Urumqi after time in Lhasa. Still, I'm leaving open the possibility of a detour southward. Despite its status as capital city of hashed-out hippies, there is something magical about Kathmandu I'd like to see again.