Friday, May 9, 2014

Flying First Class to Xinjiang / so far this place is pretty surreal

I am in Urumqi, Xinjiang, which is so so so far away from anything I know or am used to. In order to make it a bit easier for you I stole this from google so you can better see how far exactly I am from home. (where ever that might be) 

However, I want to keep this is organized as possible, because currently there is just a thunderstorm of thoughts in my head and I am trying to write everything in such a way that you do not get lost. 

First things first: The Flight (which was totally awesome) 
When I was a child my mom would always wait until the very end to board the plane so I have adapted the same habit. I usually only approach the counter when they do a last call, simply because there is no real reason for me to be in a cramped airplane for longer than I absolutely have to. 
However, in China this is quite different. Everyone's life seems to depend on being the first one at the counter so even before they announce the boarding process people will "line" up. (In Switzerland one would laugh at the line, since its really just a lot of people surrounding the gate). ANYWAY. I waited as usual until they made the last call and I approached the lady in front of the gate. She checked my ticket and let me enter that tube thing that connects the airplane to the airport. 
Because there was a line in the tube I stood further back a bit and suddenly saw a person in a suite appear next to me. I turned around and saw that the pilot stood right next to me. He points at my passport and says "USA?" and I reply in Chinese that I am in fact German. (Sometimes I choose Swiss. It always depends if I feel like talking about watches and banks or about Cars and Hitler. Today I felt like talking about Cars and Hitler) 
The pilot seemed relieved about the fact that I speak German and tells me he always wanted to spend a lot of time in Germany because the Beer is so good. 
We chat for a bit longer until we are inside the plane and I gesture that I am heading back to row 14 where my window seat was waiting for me. 
The pilot just looks at me and points at the first row (first class, baby) and tells me to sit there. I don't really want to believe what just happened, but he insisted on me sitting in first class so I obviously do not want to say no. So I flew first class. 

After take off the pilot comes and sits with me and chats with me about things while drinking coffee. (don't ask me who was flying the plane) We had a pretty good chat and he told me that I should let him know if I fly Hainan Air again, because he can give me upgrades and we exchange name cards. Then he had to quickly land the plane in Lanzhou for a quick stop to pick up more passengers. 

After we left Lanzhou he came again to me and told me to open my backpack. He put slippers and towels in my backpack and gave me a plastic bag full of stuff from the airplane. I wanted to laugh, but I knew this was a sincere thing so I thanked him. This is what was in the bag:

I did not want to question if he was allowed to do this. So lets not tell anybody. However, then this happened: 

So we spend the next 10 minutes taking pictures. IT WAS PRETTY AWESOME. 
He has been flying for over 30 years and he was pretty awesome. You can do the math why this is the case. 

Okay. Then I got to Urumqi at around 6.30pm. The air is pretty dry and it is oddly hot, but not hot at the same time. I went into the taxi lane to get a cab to my hotel and was puzzled when the taxi driver got back out of the cab to get more people to get into the cab. Some sort of technique I did not want to question. I have learned not to question and not to get frustrated by these things. 
The taxi driver was Uighur. I am sure you know there is a HUGE problem in Xinjiang between the Han and the Uighur people. Just last week a bomb exploded in the train station here, earlier this year there was a knife attack at the Kunming train station and there was the incident on Tiananmen square . I am not really the one to read about these events and opinions in the news paper, which is the reason why I decided to come to Xinjiang. 
Anyway, the Han couple got out of the cab and the driver continuing on to my hotel. He hadn't said a word, but now he asked me "USA?" and we started talking in Chinese. He told me that Uighur and Han do not get along well and told me about his frustrations. It was truly fascinating, because it made me realize the problem that is going on. (Granted I have only talked to one, but it was enough to get an insight). When we got to the hotel he apologized for being so frank to me and I reassured him that it is no problem at all. I actually really liked talking to him. I was greeted by a security guard in a metal detector thing in his hands and I entered the Hotel. 

I decided to get dinner outside in a side street and talked to some cool people that came to Xinjiang from Gansu ten years ago. I chatted with them a bit and I think it is then that I realized that I am understanding 90% of what is said to me in Chinese. (YESSSSS!) Their noodle soup was pretty good, even though I can not tell you yet if my stomach will approve of it. 

Another indication of how far away I am are the signs everywhere. Usually they are in Chinese and the local language, but there are also a good amount in Russian, which is another interesting thing. 

Also Xinjiang is on Beijing time even though it really is 2 hours behind. There is apparently a problem, because locals will use local time, whereas the Han will use Beijing time. 
It still is sort of light outside even though it is nearly 10pm.... weird. 
Oh and there seems to be no official weather forecast. Peter Hessler wrote about the same thing in his book and when I asked my travel agency for a weather forecast they told me that there is no official one. 

Okay. that is enough for today. I am tired. 

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