Night Market at Grand Bazaar
August 24, 2009

Yesterday was my last day in Urumqi. I went back to the area where I had been caught up in the worst of the rioting last month. This was the same area where I saw the dead bodies on the street, the area where the mobs zeroed in on me, the area the tanks and soldiers stormed into and pulled me out from in the middle of the night.

The street scene looked nothing like the night of July 5. People were going about their ordinary business in broad daylight. It could have been any ordinary Urumqi summer day: temperature a touch too hot, sun a touch too bright. Yet the situation hadn't returned to normal. There was a heavier presence of soldiers there than at any other intersection I've seen throughout Urumqi this past week. Not one, but two stations of soliders stood at attention--atop podiums beneath small awnings--outside the entrance to the compound into where I had blundered in and found myself seeking refuge or escape. One station was right atop the spot where I saw the first dead body. The other station was on the other end of the massive metal arch gating the compound, on the spot where the tank that provided bottles of drinking water had been standing.

Nisagul and I had just spent our afternoon saying an extended goodbye at Rendezvous, a western cafe on lower Yan An Lu--just around the corner from where I saw the second dead body that night. After conversation over chocolate cake, Nisa and I strolled from the cafe and stood at the bus stop across the street from the apartment compound. It would have been no problem to retrace my every step, but I didn't want to get too close. I narrated recollected events to her from the bus stop across the street. "That's where the first corpse was. It's the same place where the mob started questioning me. Over there is where the second tank was," I gestured in the direction of where each event happened. "Deeper inside is where I got stuck until the soldiers brought me out. Let's not go in there..."

Revisiting in daylight I was able to get more specific detail about the location. To pinpoint everything for the record:

Nisagul and David
at Rendezvous
After I'd had enough revisiting, Nisa and I got on the next bus leaving the lot: the route 61 into central Urumqi. I got off just three stops later, at the TV and radio broadcasting station. This was the destination I had so stubbornly been trying to reach the night of the riots. At the rear exit to the bus we said our final goodbye and promised to send postcards to each other. It will have to be letters or postcards. There's no other option to communicate with Xinjiang from outside of China, given the present blockade on all forms of electronic communication.

I stepped out the back door and gave a final wave; Nisagul stayed on the 61, riding into the city.