October 18, 2009
I awoke this morning to darkness and it was nearly 8am—Am I in
Later. . .
I’m on the road again, off to Turpan, this time by bus. We occasionally pass wild camels strolling by the highway, which absolutely thrills me. Suddenly, the driver slams on the breaks, going from 60mph to nil in a blink of an eye. I’m just glad he does us the courtesy of pulling over to the shoulder in the process. He exits the bus and I watch him with interest. Slipping on a pair of gloves, he walks toward the rear. Did something break? Do we have a flat tire? I certainly didn’t feel or hear anything to warrant this conclusion. What does the driver know that I don’t? I watch him as he crotches over a black object, picking it up and tossing it into the hold with the passenger luggage. This mysterious object, I realize, is a huge chunk of coal that must have fallen off the bed of a passing truck. Why let it go to waste? Nevermind the safety of his 60 helpless passengers, this guy wants his freebee.
Let it be noted, that this is not the first time a driver has stopped for road kill. Once, when I hired a driver in rural
Turpan. . .
The military appear to be absent in this small city. There is a distinctive Arab atmosphere here and I feel as if I’ve been transported to the
Upon arrival in Turpan, I am greeted with numerous offers from drivers who want to take me to the attractions outside the city. While I would like to join a tour or hire a driver, finding a hotel is my first matter of business. Of course the hotel so highly recommended by the guidebook is now a pile of rubble, as is the only bank that exchanges currency and the travel agency I was hoping to arrange a tour with. In
At Turpan Hotel, I score a decent economy room for a mere 50RMB (US$8) and am again harassed by a potential driver, but now that I’m settled into my accommodation I am willing to hear him out. He has already found two Israeli men who want to hire him as their driver, under the condition that they can find another person to share the cost. I agree to join them in their tour, but first we must find these Israelis so we can settle on our plan.
Halik, the driver, says they were planning to visit the Bazaar and invites me on his quest to find them. Having nothing better to do, I agree. We hop in his car and driver over to the market, scanning the sidewalk for tall, white boys. We walk through the Bazaar twice, without a foreigner to be seen. No worries, I make a pit stop for some traditional Uighur food, a few meaty, fatty lamb kebobs. Halik and I take another lap but to no avail, so I’m driven back to the hotel and Halik will continue on his search. He solemnly swears that he will find the two tall Israelis by nightfall. I’m skeptical, but impressed by his persistence. I now also realize how utterly desperate this guy is to be our driver. After the July rioting there have been virtually no tourists visiting Xinjiang. I can’t help but feel a little sorry for Halik and wonder if this is his only means to make a living. I decide that I will hire him to be my driver, Israelis or not.
Eventually everything does work out for all of us. The Israeli guys, Yonathan and Eran, find a third wheel (me), I join their tour, and Halik gets to drive us around for a day. We all agree on a price (300RMB for the car for the day) and the time, 9am (Beijng Time).