That next morning we arrived in Xinjiang and walked into the bright sun. There were people everywhere, and I kept a tight hand on my backpack as we squeezed through the crowd. We eventually met our tour guide, who was probably about my age. She was young and pretty, but spoke very poor English. Apparently the tour company had given her the wrong time of our train. The tour company told her we would be getting in at 6 am when we were actually supposed to arrive at 10am, and since our train was late it was around noon. This girl had been waiting for us for SIX HOURS. She didn’t let it show though, and welcomed us on the bus.
In her very poor English she attempted to describe the city to us. She told us that Urumqi was a very new city by Chinese standards, and mentioned its rapid development. Then she went on to tell us about the “special people of Xinjiang”: the Uighers. Uighers are a Turkic people that live in Xinjiang, speak a Turkic language and write in an Arabic-esque script. They are Muslim and have a completely different culture than that of the Han Chinese. They are best known in China for their “Western” features and the fact that they don’t eat pork: the staple meat in China. However, this girl, I mean, “tour guide”, told us that the skin of Uigher people is so dark that we might confuse them for Africans. What?! We asked if she meant northern Africans and she told us no, that their skin was black and they looked African…. We decided to agree to disagree. From then on it was a running joke that any black person was a Uigher, or that “There are so many Africans in Xinjiang!”, “I’ve never seen so many black people”. This didn’t stop Clayton from relentlessly hitting on our “tour guide”, and exchanging QQ’s with her.
Once in the van I laid back in my seat. I was exhausted, dirty, sweaty, sandy and smelly, but I didn’t care; I was going to have a shower and a real bed. We drove an hour or so to the Tianshan mountains- Tian, meaning sky or heaven, and shan, meaning mountain. We drove up to a mountain valley with a river running through and exited to a beautiful scene on the river with a gazebo and little calves wandering around the busses! While it was bright and sunny out, it was pretty chilly up in the mountains, and I grabbed my sweatshirt out of my bag. We moved into the hotel, a very cold, open building. This place must be freezing in the winter! They informed us that there was no Internet whatsoever, but that there would definitely be hot water to take a shower. What kind of “hotel” doesn’t have Internet? But we were in Xinjiang, so we didn’t complain. Margo and I lugged our stuff to our room, a cold white room with Beijing-hard beds. We were given a water boiler and one dirty mug- actually I’m pretty sure they didn’t clean the room at all before we moved in, except for maybe the sheets… hopefully the sheets. The floor was filthy, and neither of us walked around barefoot. Margo went to take a shower first and, of course, no hot water. I ran downstairs to ask when we would have hot water since they lied to us before, and the woman was shocked and asked to come upstairs. While Margo stood, wet, in a towel the woman unscrewed the showerhead and sprayed water into the toilet for a good five minutes. I don’t know what it did besides make the toilet extremely wet, but the water was no longer arctic! Margo took an extremely lukewarm shower but it was nice and toasty a few minutes into mine! –And that’s why you always take your shower second in China.
After changing into nice clean clothes (FINALLY), we met downstairs to go explore the valley. We ended up waiting for a good hour for the bus to take us to the top of the mountain. We occupied ourselves by watching the ridiculous amount of wedding photos being taken. Some were classy or cute, but others were ridiculous. There was one girl with a giant baby pink ball gown and her fiancé was in a baby pink tux. Really? The most entertaining thing was watching Chinese people try to take their photo with two giant storks. They would try to get as close as possible without getting their hand snapped off. I’m actually surprised no one was hurt in the 30 minutes we watched this spectacle. While watching people risk their hands for a photo was entertaining we were eventually allowed to board the bus, crammed full of people, up the mountain and into the valley. The valley was beautiful and full of sheep! These sheep were a little different than the ones in the US though- they’re extremely bootylicious. At first I thought it was the females that might be in heat, but they all have HUGE butts that bounce up and down when they walk or run. There were even a few baby lambs! Margo and I developed a game where we tried to pet the skittish sheep. We had to slowly creep up on them and pet them before they ran away. Margo got two, and I got FOUR different sheep, and I even pet one twice! I win.
The best part about the Valley, besides the sheep, were the Chinese children playing field games. These weren’t just any field games: they were Communist field games. What are communist field games you may ask? Well, do you remember three-legged races? Imagine that, but with thirty children tied together attempting to run in a line screaming “YI” “ER” “YI” “ER” every step (1,2,1,2). I’m just going to go ahead and say it. It was a little creepy. There is something about Chinese children chanting or singing in unison that makes me think of Mao’s Red Guard- and it scares not only me, but also basically everyone on both of the programs I studied with. The Communist boy/girl scout uniforms with the red neckties scare me too. It was weird to see these children playing “field games” in the Valley because it was such a beautiful, pristine setting with sheep and yurts and heavenly mountains- but yet this “field day” was extremely loud. It just goes to show that it is literally impossible to find peace and quiet in China. Just when you think you’ve found the most remote, beautiful, peaceful spot, a horde of Chinese tourists or screaming children miraculously appear.
After a few hours in the valley, we headed back home to our “hotel”. With nothing to do in the area that evening, Margo and I snuggled and watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding and went to bed ready for a day of travel to Kashgar.