2/25 – Woke up this morning to the conductor pounding on our door. Urumqi! (pronounced Ur UM chee). We scrambled to dress and get our packs together, and looked out the window. Snow on the ground, and smog in the air. A big city. In my mind, Urumqi, on China’s western frontier, was not so big and crowded, or so smoggy. Oh well.
We got off the train, looking for an ATM to get some Chinese money. The Yuan is equal to about 16 cents US, or 6 yuan to the dollar. There was an ATM in the train station, but it rejected our card. Since we left Türkiye, it takes us an average of 5 ATMs before we find one that will give us money. We hoped to have better luck here… We walk next door to the huge and crowded ticket hall, going through a metal detector, a pat-down and a hat removal, to find no ATM there. We need cash to buy train tickets, and to get a taxi to our hotel. Back out on the street, it is SO crowded! Thousands of people with places to go. We try a bank, no luck at their ATM, and they can’t give us a cash advance from our credit card, nor change our remaining Kazakh money. The cleaning lady has some English, and tells us to try China Bank, by getting on Bus 52. We explain that we can’t take a bus, as we have no Chinese money. She reaches into her pocket and produces two bills, presumably enough for bus fare. First Nice Person of China!
We try a nearby hotel, where we hope to find someone with advice in English. No luck. We walk down the very crowded street, past markets and mobile phone shops. I spy a sign that says ATM. Success!
Now we return to the ticket hall, through the metal detector and the pat-down. This time they are interested in the water bottle in Jim’s pack, which they weren’t interested in before. My hiking poles are a red flag, and I have to open my pack and pantomime that they are used as walking sticks. We get on one of the lines to purchase our tickets to our next destination, Dunhuang. When we show the word, written in Chinese, to the clerk, he says something in Chinese that we can’t understand. He leaves his station, and comes back with a young woman who speaks English. She explains that there is no train to the town we wish to go to – we can get tickets for a 9 hour ride to LiuYuan, then take a two hour bus from there. Sounds like a plan, and we get our tickets.
Jim dickers with an unlicensed taxi driver for a ride to our hotel. He’s sure we are paying too much, but it’s not a lot by American standards. Jim shows the man his hand drawn map (my phone plan works here, but Google Maps does not, thanks to the Great Firewall of China blocking all Google products and social media) and the guy takes off in the opposite direction. After a while, he rolls down his window and asks directions of passersby. Deja vu! Drivers are alike in every country! He finally turns down the right street, and I yell for him to stop as he passes our hotel. Sheesh! We have arrived, safe and sound, to our lovely upscale hotel with western toilet and wifi.
For supper we walk down the street where there are a number of restaurants, and choose one that displays pictures of the dishes. We select beef and noodles with celery and greens. Eating soup with chopsticks is challenging, and my arm still hurts whenever I try to raise it, but the food was delicious!