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Welcome to Urumqi

We strode off the plane into the dry, but warm desert night. Sand blew across the runway blurring our vision of the terminal beyond. We loaded into a bus with the rest of the plane, and I noticed for the first time how much lighter people’s skin was here.

At baggage claim we re-encountered an acquaintance we had made in the Chengdu airport. She was a charming woman, local to Urumqi, by the name of Nan-nan. We inquired of her where would be a good place to stay. And (low and behold!) the woman produced a variable library of hotel and hostel information that she just happened to be carrying along on the flight. With Nan-nan’s help we made contact with a hostel called the Xinjiang-Cornfield International Youth Hostel, who, low and behold, even spoke English.

With further aid from Nan-nan we found a bus which would bring us proximate to the hostel and established a deal with the woman who calls out the stops to call especially vehemently in our direction when ours came. We lounged and watched Chinese music videos and the giant flat-screen at the front of the bus and studied Urumqi out the window.

Urumqi is a city of about 2 Million people located in the middle of the desert. Or to be more exact, at the boarder of the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts. It, like every city we had been to in china, smacked of money, but not in the same way as Chengdu or KunMing. Large and expensive cars drove next to us. I saw my first Buick in China, taking its place among Audis and Mercedes Benzes. The high way system was new and impressive, utilizing over and under passes so as to avoid the need for stoplights. As all the Chinese cities we had visited, there was a section of town with plenty of giant buildings. But in Urumqi, this section was more spread out. In fact the place had a feel, both architecturally and in terms of city planning, somewhat like a cross between Chicago and Russia.

We found our hostel to be comfortable and the first true youth hostel of the voyage. The white painted walls had been covered with writing from dozens of countries: messages to fellow travelers, sketches, quotes, and a section where the flag of each country had been drawn in marker and the names of visitors from that place put below. We added an asiawheeling sticker, and under the sketch of the US flag, Scott added his name next to California (the 3rd name these) and I added Iowa, my most humble state, with hopes that some day another name might appear next to it. But to be honest, I’m doubtful. Urumqui is way out in the middle of nowhere, China.

That is not to say that I don’t believe Urumqi to be an important place, or that I believe its role in the evolution of the world has not been great. Not even am I trying to say that Urumqi is not becoming a more cosmopolitan and globalized city. I am merely saying I can’t imagine very many people from Iowa coming to this youth hostel. It’s just not something that young Iowans do. And that is the biggest shame.

Exhausted from the day, we lay down and for the first time in a while, set no alarm.


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