Tuk to the Road

The trials and tukulations of Jo, Ants and Ting Tong the tuk tuk and our three-wheeled odyssey from Bangkok to Brighton...in aid of the mental health charity Mind. For more information please see www.tuktotheroad.com

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Daisy is a mule and it was only a bad dream

7th July, Urumqi

We are currently in Urumqi, the cosmopolitam and ethnically diverse capital of Xingjiang. It was very hot when we arrived yesterday, but last night a heavy wind drew in the storm clouds. It rained during the night and again this morning and the temperature feels more English than we have experienced in the last 2 months.
We haver another day off here; are we starting to take it easy you might ask? Unfortunately this is a 'day in the office' day off, rather than a 'touristy' day off. We have already put in a 2 hour internet session this morning and have just started our afternoon session. Internet cafes have become our third home, coming after the inside of TT and the inside of hotel rooms. Still, not complaining, we are both becoming confirmed techogeeks.

Last time I wrote we were about to go on our donkey cart ride in Turpan. We both felt foolish to discover that Daisy was in fact a mule, which we worked out after asking how many baby donkeys she had produced and being informed that Daisy was unable to produce offspring. After studying the other donkeys in Turpan we realised that Daisy was too big to have ever been a donkey. Her mother was though and I am not sure how much female donkeys like pushing out large mules after having being mated by a horse. So, I have yet to discover real donkey smell and the ferrety, horsey, doggy smell is actually that of a mule. Sorry Daisy!

Daisy and her Uigher driver took us firstly to see the Emin Minaret; a large brick built brown mosque, which was quite impressive because of the different designs used in the brickwork. Next, we headed into the countryside and the Uigher villages. It was like being transported to a different country. The writing was all in Uigher, the smiley faces that shouted out 'hello' looked very different and the houses and smells were different. The Uighers mostly have 'exotic Asian eyes' (that is how I describe oriental eyes), although not as pronounced as the rest of South East Asia. Some of them have blue or green eyes, brown hair and their skin tone goes from dark brown to pure white. They do not look a homogeneous race and over the centuries I think they have mixed with other ethnic groups, although our guide says this is quite rare. I suppose it is like every country, some people look different to others. I am English, but only a quarter of my blood actually comes from England, the other quarter from New Zealand and the remaining half Swiss Italian.

Yesterday morning we left Turpan and were allowed to drive on The Expressway. We couldn't believe our luck. The reason for this priveledge was that the old road was seriously under construction and all vehicles were mixed together on the super speedy highway that we have spent the best part of last month fantasising about. TT loved it and used her 550cc engine to enjoy her new speed limit (100km/hour). The main advantage was that ther tarmac (oh god, not going on about tarmac again Jo!!) was free of irregularities i.e. potholes, bumps and vehicles driving the opposite direction were the other side of the central reservation separated by a barrier. This enabled the driving to be considerably less stressful, because nothing could overtake coming the other way and play chicken with us. We sped along and visited the 'Dead Sea' of China. For about an hour we got to float in extremely salty and slightly chilly water, while Chinese techno was blasted out from a nearby building. The lake was surrounded by rugged brown mountains on one side and the snow capped peaks of the Tien Shan range on the other. It wasn't as beautiful and romantic as it sounds though, because lots of Dong Feng lorries were driving up and down to the lake to harvest the salt and the water was brown.

After that we carried on towards Urumqi and were met by the side of the Expressway by a Xingjiang TV crew. They carried out a brief interview in Chinese, while our guide translated for us. He said that he told them that we use terrible language, but I don't believe him. The swear box has been successful and we are now using only the best parts of the english language (as Pedigree Chum uses only the finest parts of the animal for their dog food). The TV crew followed us down the Expressway and filmed us with their meaty Sony camera. They had their hazards lights on and didn't pay much attention to the Dong Fengs beeping and nearly causing a TT sandwich, which I am sure would have provided some excellent TV footage at our expense. Our arrival to Urumqi was slowed on the outskirts by a large truck that was perpendicular to the road, blocking both lanes. Quite how it came to be in that position I do not understand, because it did not appear to have been in an accident. Another mystery from Chinese roads.

We arrived at our hotel and were met by some journalists from a local paper. This is the first bit of media work we have done in the whole of our China visit. We first had to unload the spares from TT's roofrack because she needed to sleep in an underground carpark with low headroom. We discovered that our radiator fluid had leaked everywhere, soaking most of her spares and ruining our cardboard boxes. I am not sure how much spark plugs (all 8 of them) like radiator fluid and hopefully they will be OK after drying off. I am sorry to say that during those 10 minutes the swear box went straight out of the window. Anyway, not the end of the world and I needed access to the spares to change an indicator and headlight bulb anyway.
TT saga sorted and we went out to lunch with the journalists and Jack's boss at the CSITS. Ants asked for a noodle dish with no meat, but which appeared with little strips of sausage in it. I think poor Ants is being prepared for the meat loving Russian countries coming up in our itinerary.

In the evening Ants and I felt a tad rough. I had a tummy ache and Ants had a headache- after taking some Chinese medicine we both felt a little better. Jack had organised for us to go to a night of Uigher entertainment. There was a huge buffet and then we were entertained by tight rope artists (suspended 100ft up with no safety net or harnesses), traditonal Uigher songs and dance performances. Our spirits were lifted and it was a brilliant evening- thanks Jack for organising it.

This morning we both slept in late and then did internet session number one. This was followed by lunch courtesy of the CSITS in Beijing with Jack and his boss. I got to sample my favourite Chinese dish from back home, Duck pancakes. It was very tasty but slightly different flavours to in the UK. I have found this before when travelling in India. My favourite Indian dish in England is chicken korma, but I don't like korma in India. I did like my pancakes, but they were just a bit different i.e. no cucumber, the sauce was less sweet, the pancakes were more heavy, the duck was more juicy. Ants asked for some garlic which they said they didn't have. Jack told them that was rubbish because they cook with garlic. In the NW Ants and I have taken to eating raw cloves of garlic before lunch and supper. It is good for the body and particularly the immune system, but very bad for the breath. About 20 minutes later they returned with 50 cloves on a plate, skinned and washed for Ants to eat. Unfortunately we were both full up and only managed one each. We only expected a few cloves and found this garlic mountain highly amusing. People in the restaurant watched with interest as we ate the garlic.

We will be leaving China in three days and I will be so sad to go. It is such a great country and I shed a few tears at the thought this afternoon. I am sure there will be real waterworks at the border. We are both apprehensive about Kazakhstan, after hearing the story from another traveller who had some problems getting insurance at the border. Our fears have been slightly allayed after Ants has just spoken to an insurance company who promised we can get insurance at the border- fingers crossed.

I have been having some horrible dreams recently, hence the title of this blog. The first was being told by medical school that I wasn't suitable for them and therefore my place was taken away and my dreams of becoming a Dr ruined. My second dream was that we went to Kazakhstan and people were on drugs and trying to kill us with knives. I was having a panic attack and we couldn't find a hotel or escape. The place I dreamt about wasn't really Kazakhstan but a fiction produced by my slightly anxious imagination.


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