Here we are then, at the end of over a month in the ‘Stans for tomorrow I leave and fly to China. Yes. China. Am I just a tad intimidated, yes. Do I know but one word of Mandarin, no. Can I even use chopsticks, no. But then again after over four weeks in Central Asia, where the prevalent language is Russian, I seem to have done all right. Maybe I am feeling just a little bit braver to cross over to an entirely new culture after this experience. I really was not prepared for such a culture shock as I received here. The giant billboards all selling their wares in flashing Cyrillic, the menus, oh the menus, totally incomprehensible, the food, what am I eating, nobody could tell me, the supermarket checker, pardon? what? But the taxi drivers all knew what “how much” meant, even if they did have to write the amount on the dirty windows. A smile or a grin goes a long way when someone has been patiently explaining something for five minutes and you have no idea what it is. Take heart English speaking people, other cultures imagine that by speaking louder and louder you will understand better. Amusing aside: I was in a big electronics market here in Bishkek and I watched what I imagined was a crowd of American roughnecks from the oil rigs in Kazakhstan barge their way in. The biggest and most heavily tattooed member of the team approached a young lady in her phone cover booth and said really loudly “Say, where do you guys keep the portable music players? Ya know, Walkmans”. I mean, where had this guy been? Did she look like a dispenser of Walkmans? Could she understand a word? Did he really think that there was a chance of buying a Walkman in the whole of Kyrgyzstan?
This is the first time I have sat down to write a post with no preconceived idea of what to write about so I will try and be a little more lucid. I left Bishkek for a town in the south, near to the Chinese border, called Osh. I had heard there was a bus, twice a week, that would carry me over the border to Kashgar from there, albeit it would take twenty hours, but the rumour spoke of beds on the bus, so I took a chance. I wandered the travel agent street asking agents over and over “Bus? Kashgar?” and all I received was shaking heads and “no bus, Kashgar” but I clung on to the rumour and finally found a local guide who offered to drive me to the ticket office for this mythical bus. Some way out of town we pulled into what could only be described as a ruin from Soviet times. All collapsed concrete, rust, stray dogs, you get the picture. Hmm, I thought, this could be awkward, this looks like no bus station I have ever seen. But there it was, The Bus. Looking like something from the Fifties (1950s) it was filled with beds, three levels high and four beds wide. I was only a little bit tempted but then I was told that it was leaving in two hours and the next one would not leave until the following week. This change of schedule was due to the Chinese border closing for two days for a national holiday. Oh no, I am not ready for being this spontaneous, so that plan was abandoned. Then I got a little sicker than I had been. My cold got worse and I developed what is politely called in America, stomach flue. I felt dreadful for 24 hours and was so pleased I wasn’t on a twenty hour bus ride.
My brain returned and I decided that I would give up on Osh, fly back to Bishkek and find a plane to take me to Urumqi in China. Up early this morning, took the short hop back to Bishkek, it is only a forty minute, $40 flight. Here I am sitting in a charming garden with fountains, flowers, apple trees, a gazebo, table service and pots of tea. There is a plane to Urumqi tomorrow at 10.00 am and I have a ticket so plan B seems to have worked. I am slightly disappointed that the bus didn’t work out but I am aware now that when I think I may be being intrepid others may think I am being just a little foolhardy! Apparently my Angels will only put up with so much.
Onward then, China here I come. You may or may not have heard of the “Great Firewall of China”. The Internet is heavily censored. Apparently there is no access to Google, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter (Skype or WhatsApp, unknown) so whether or not I will be able to access WordPress (my blog site) or even email for the next few weeks remains to be seen. The security gurus claim that within five minutes of entering China all my devices will be monitored and infected. I have installed a VPN on the computer so anyone monitoring my activities will be led to believe I am in Holland, but will it be enough? I don’t know.
So don’t be alarmed if I go dark for a while, though hopefully everything will work and I can keep you up to date on my progress from Western China all the way to Beijing.
We shall see.