Back from webless lands

Well I made it to Xinjiang, and back again! I even managed to hack into my blog and see that several people have left comments (yay, thanks :-)!) which I’ll reply to as soon as I get out of the mainland, since the proxy won’t let me post anything. This post again is being mailed to my mum so she can upload it.

I’ve only got a few minutes now, as I just got off a train from Urumqi and am about to leap onto another train to Yinchuan. I’m sitting in a smoky internet cafe right next door to Lanzhou station. The last post actually needs correcting a bit. By the time it was posted, I was already in Xinjiang, and had no intention of going to Urumqi. It’s almost three weeks since I had internet access.

When we got to Xining we found it impossible to get train tickets to Xinjiang (they wouldn’t sell to foreigners) and bought tickets to Lanzhou instead hoping to go from there. But at the last minute we met a guy who told us that would be a hopeless errand, and our best bet was to get a bus through northern Qinghai and enter Xinjiang on a mountain pass near the southern silk road. It took about 30 hours through an area known as the ‘Chinese Siberia’ since it is full of nuclear sites and labour camps. Every Han Chinese we met had been moved there/strongly encouraged to go there by the government, as part of their drive to resettle/develop/control the west.

At the border it felt like the end of the world. The road was under construction and we had to drive next to it, it was rocky desert with no plants or water, and the only industry seemed to be …. asbestos mining! We had to share a sweaty, ridiculously cramped car (three on the passenger seat, five on the back seat, four in the boot) driving for hours through lifeless rocky mountains before we descended into Xinjiang. Which was like another world. Full of melons and sweetcorn and Uyghur people in colourful scarves who took life slowly and didn’t stare at us foreigeners, since we looked pretty similar anyway. We discovered that the internet had been dismantled in the whole province, as well as international phone calls, and it would not be accessible again until late October (safely after the Chinese 60th anniversary of the Communist party taking charge). At this point my phone must have still had some signal from Qinghai, beause my mum phoned and managed to get through. I warned her we were in a communications blackspot, and asked if she could post something to that effect on my blog.

Then we set off west skirting the Taklamakan desert, along the southern silk road. When I have some more time there is so so much more I want to post about. Not only about Xinjiang, which was totally fascinating, but also about Tibet. Especially the conversations I had with people while we were in Tibetan regions. While I was in the area I was very careful with what I posted about, and I will not write in detail until I am back in Europe. It is also worth mentioning that all the names and identifying details of anyone I mention in this blog have been changed, except for me and friends who have said it is ok that I use their real names.

Right I’d better run. I’m heading to Yinchuan, which is where I used to live, and I’m desperately excited to be seeing again some good old friends 😀 Journey’s almost over.

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