2005.01.15 Urumqi, China

David, Tiffany, and an ice camel.

I'm about to head back to America. It's been over a year since I left the U.S.. Excepting a few days spent across the borders with Hong Kong and Kazakhstan, I've been in China for the entire time. I figure it's a good point to pay a visit to the motherland.

I am eager to spend time with family and friends. Getting away from the soot and sub-zero temperatures will be nice. At the same time, I really don't want to leave Urumqi now. Life here is great. I'm learning fun things. I have lots of good friends. My apartment is getting cozier.

When I moved into my flat, the furniture was swathed in blankets, doilies on each armrest. The material was a heavy, loud, yellow--with the exception of one blanket bearing a picture of three dogs talking to each other. "Happy Afternoon!" one English-speaking dog proclaimed to the others. The furnishings themselves are all new and actually pretty nice--certainly much more so since I did away with the talking dogs. I recently draped black scarves with a subtle paisley pattern over the sofa set. I guess I could have just exposed the cushions as would be done in the West. However, it seems to be some sort of Asian requirement to keep even the most functional objects in packaging. Television remote controls are always to be found in the plastic bag in which they were shipped. I just saw Nisagul's PC for the first time this evening--the keyboard was wrapped in Saran Wrap. Somehow my furniture would feel naked here without something over it.

I finally turned that third bedroom into the hookah lounge. I plopped down a pseudo-Persian carpet and some traditional cylindrical Uighur pillows. I'll be hosting perhaps 15 to 20 friends tonight to inaugurate the room and say goodbye.

I've been cooking more often. Food in Urumqi is so cheap and good that there really hasn't been much incentive to prepare my own meals. I am at least competent enough to whip up a basic hummus, pasta with marinara sauce, or cheeseburger every week or so.

My house is full again--another reason I'm reluctant to leave town. The X.U. dormitories lock up during the break between semester: all students get kicked out. I suppose it's just as logical that the school should lock everybody out for five weeks as it is that they take roll call and lock the students inside at 10:00 each night while courses are in session. So, Nisagul and Rahila have both moved into my place for the interim. Language benefits aside, it's fun to have good friends around.

I should be in America through late February. I'll of course take much of my time in Seattle where all of my family live. I'm pretty sure I'll make it as far as California as well. The rest is up in the air--maybe I'll take a road trip back east.

I know I'll return to Urumqi for at least the next semester. I plan to travel around the region next summer, which should be easier now that the Urumqi Public Security Bureau finally issues one-year, multiple-entry, student visas. Prior times I left the country--even to Hong Kong--I needed to pay $50 U.S. to get a new visa to re-enter. Theoretically the visa I pick up on Monday will be the first issued under the new system. I think that means a lot more trips to Alma-Ata, across the Khunjerab Pass, and other regional destinations over the coming year.