Everybody Okay

Meenday Sips Tea
August 21, 2009

I am so relieved to have come back to Urumqi: all of my friends and their families are well. Finding that out in-person really is the best. Even if I had somehow managed to glean that information without coming in-person--despite the current communications blockade--it wouldn't replace sitting down face-to-face across from people close to me.

I've seen much of the same faces, those people I saw most often over other recent times in Urumqi: Rahila, Nisagul, Meenday… it's so good to see them all, and to see that they're all well. My favorite teacher from Xinjiang University is also well--and she relates that she had heard of no incidents involving anybody there: faculty or student, local or foreigner. Which means that the one local friend I can't get through to--Nik, working at X.U.--he must be okay, too. Whew…

Dinner with Rahila
My friends may all be well, but tensions are still apparent throughout the streets of Urumqi. People's Square has been cordoned off and is eerily vacant: save for military operations. The public plaza seems to have become the central staging ground for deploying soldiers and riot police throughout the city. Convoys of troops drive around town in their trucks bearing bi-lingual white slogans printed on red banners. At many intersections deployments of 5 or 6 soldiers maintain a presence, standing on a small podium beneath the shelter of a tiny portable awning. There are "WANTED" posters plastered all about town, too. Identical versions are repeated in both Chinese and Uighur--displaying a grid of the same mug shots. I haven't examined these posters too closely, but presume the outlaws pictured are connected with the riots on July 5. Their faces and names all look Uighur. The slayings on July 7 were largely perpetrated by Han Chinese; none of the faces on the WANTED posters look to be connected to the latter massacre.

Friederike's and my time here in Urumqi will total about ten days. We've found a fabulous rate on a double room at a large, new hotel right off the grand bazaar. The "Ak-Saray" normally caters to traders from Kazakhstan and jade dealers from Hotan. Not only has the number of visitors coming into Xinjiang plummeted, but road construction on Yan-An Lu out front of the Ak-Saray means an additional discount beneath rates at comparable hotels around town. That the room is so cheap, only 80 yuan ($11.70 USD) per night, takes some of the sting out of having to pay anything at all to stay in Urumqi. It feels odd staying in a hotel in this city where I've lived over recent years... but I don't want to chance staying at some local friend's home right now.

Hookah Night with
Nisagul and Friederike
Friederike is due to move along August 23. Her flight will route her back through Dushanbe for a couple days; I'm jealous. I found Dushanbe to be such a cute, charming city: nice, clean well-maintained streets, parks, and public areas--not to mention all the nice people with whom I could attempt to speak Persian.

Me? I'm eastbound, heading the opposite direction. I've got a rail ticket to Beijing leaving August 24. I'm looking forward to moving along. I've checked-in and checked-out with almost all of my friends here in Urumqi. Once I hit Beijing, it will be so nice to have Internet access again. I'm hoping to stay with Lisa and Erik there for some time, maybe take some days at Rachel E.'s place as well. It will be good to see how Joyce and Maria-João are doing. It's the right time to spend some extra days with friends out here. I don't anticipate returning to China for a long while.

David Pours Tea
I haven't decided, but am thinking that I should cut the overall trip short. I had considered staying on the road until the end of October. If I choose to not be in Asia that long, I'll have to let Catherine know that I won't be able to make it to her and Sam's wedding down in Singapore--which will be a disappointment. If I do indeed decide to wrap my time in Asia up before their wedding, I'll book a ticket back to Seattle after I've made it to Beijing, land of unfettered Internet access. I hope I can find a flight that's not too expensive from some city out east.

But even if I do return early to the U.S. for some months, I think I should make one final jaunt somewhere nearby. Maybe that will be another spur up to Ulaan Baatar, or down to see relatives in Hong Kong--assuming there haven't been urgent issues with mom's health or other family members in the U.S. that require me to fly back immediately. (It's so frustrating being off-line, not knowing any recent developments with family.)

Or, perhaps on a happier note, the Census Bureau might have work lined up for me again soon. Before I came back to Asia there were rumors of another operation starting up this autumn. That would seem like the right reason to compel me sooner back to Seattle.