Saturday, January 19, 2008

Stepping foot on Urumqi & Turfan

Just returned from a trip to China...
In fact, the very first trip to Mainland China, and of all places, Urumqi, the capital city of the Uyghur Autonomous Region ...
Had hit the brakes when the order from my boss came...
For, who in the world would want to visit such a frigid place in the deep of winter?
For a warm blooded creature like me, how about a high of minus 9 degrees and a low of minus 19 degrees?

Anyway, just when you least expected it, it turns out to be quite an adventure...
The trip to Beijing from Osaka was short... a mere 2.5 hours, compared to the 3.5 to 4 hours on the Beijing-Urumqi sector...
But the pain of being squeezed in the Boeing 757 on that sector...
(The Boeing 757 is very much like an elongated Boeing 737, and definately not a comfortable place to ride in for such long trips.)

Urumqi is the capital of the Xinjiang province, and the seat of Xinjiang University...
I had to this day, tried my best to avoid going to China on official trips for the one big reason that (at least according to colleagues who had gone there) the folks there want you to drink with them...

And man, upon arrival at the hotel, there it was... a 46% proof Chinese wine, sitting on the table...
Luckily, our counterpart at Xinjiang University was not the persistent type...
I must also say the wine was really good...
Smooth, and it really warmed up the system...

But things turned out quite differently on the second day...
A Vice President joined us for lunch, and he really kicked the booze off the table...
So there I was, happily gulping in glass after glass and in no time, was in full swing...
My head was just spinning and it felt quite good, actually...

Unplanned as it was, they pushed out the karaoke machine...
Before I knew it, I was croaking away... aaaahh...

Our gracious host took us to Turfan, another important trading post along the Silkroad...
I found myself quite captivated by the scenes that seemed to open up to me like those in a documentary movie...
The donkeys, the poplar trees... the cute little mosques... really fascinating, I would say...

But, with reference to my friend MM's experience with cleaning a nasty toilet during his scouting days, the sanitary condition in this area is, pretty shocking...
Imagine the jolt of seeing raw and untreated sewage in the public toilets along the highway and the tourist sites... and I am not talking of merely small lumps...

That aside, lunch at Turfan was absolutely delicious, and the loo at the restaurant was as good and clean as any other that I have seen anywhere...

So, ironic as it sounds, I sense that I may be heading back there for a second time although I hope it will not be in the midst of winter...