by Erik Baish ‘12
This morning, everyone was graced with a wake-up visit from none other than Professor Brown. Since our room phones were turned off to prevent would-be “masseuses” from calling in the middle of the night, a knock on the door became the easiest way to rouse the troops. Those of us who took advantage of the hotel’s sauna and baths last night had no trouble stretching out of the typically stiff Chinese beds, while those who were on the receiving end of the nastier spells during last night’s fireworks wizard battle required some extra horse intestine at breakfast before feeling limber enough to board the bus.
Today’s activity was the last long haul on our trip west from Shanghai to Horgas. On the plains surrounding Shihezi, we started ticking off the 500 or so kilometers separating us from the Kazakh border. It was as if we were traveling through some hazy nether-land, where the horizon between snow and sky was obscured and irrelevant. We entertained ourselves in the desolation by singing ad-libbed Xinjiang highway blues tunes accompanied by guitar. When those got old, we played J.J.’s card game, aptly named “cards,” while munching all of the sweets that Chih had bought for the group. Lunch consisted of cheap, delicious noodles at a roadside pull-off located somewhere between here and there. Noodles must have seriously drained the group’s energy because for the next two hours, I slept. When I woke up, I was certain that we had transcended this earth and landed in Avalon. At our feet was the shore of Lake Sayram, surrounded by tall snowy mountains. The illusion of paradise held until we turned around and saw the cargo truck jackknifed across the road and heard its tires shredding on the berm, trying to heave the truck back onto the road. Leaving the deserted Chinese version of Lake Tahoe, our driver took us down into a valley on a very wiggly bumpy road that was in the process of being bypassed by a dazzling bridge-tunnel-bridge-tunnel project. The bridges and tunnels soared over and dug under the most beautiful mountainside rockery we’ve seen yet.
The rest of the drive to Horgas was punctuated only by a police checkpoint and Lia’s presentation Horgas in Xinjiang, which she variously pronounced as “Shunjyang,” “Sinjin,” and a bunch of alternatives. We’ve learned to be on our best behavior at checkpoints so that Mohammed can sweet talk the policemen into letting us through smoothly instead of taking all of the passports and searching the bus. Near the border, Professor Brown pointed out the fact that the buildings were of a different style and that there was even a cross on the top of one that’s most likely used as a Christian gathering place. The Kazakh influence extends to Cyrillic script on signs and a more Russian speaking population.
Upon reaching the border at Horgas, the group giddily lined up to get a picture at the guard post, raising our fists in celebration of triumphing in our quest westward on Route 312. We had to explain to the border guard that we’d traveled all the way from Shanghai for the chance to take our picture at the border. The guard closest to us was very friendly but the other one retreated to his protective steel plate so that he could point his gun at us to discourage any further progress. Lia remarked that Horgas’ border crossing was somewhat anticlimactic, lacking any of the cargo bustle that one would expect of a special economic zone set up to encourage Sino-Kazakh trade. After browsing the trinket market, where peddlers were pushing pseudo-soviet memorabilia, the group jumped in the bus for the last driving leg of the trip, making Yining by dinnertime. After over 3000 miles going west across China, everyone’s ready for a break. We haven’t got long to unwind though, as we’re due in Beijing tomorrow night!
Missing from the profiles in the previous entry was the author: Lia “Blurt Alert” Engelsted. Her conversation squatters, creative pronunciation and general good spirits have made the trip great fun.