Ho was separated and she had a daughter. In this country it’s still shameful to admit separation, especially when you’re a woman. Divorces and separations are an epidemic that has been reaching any race, it is one of the great evils of modern life. She walked me to the nearby airport. There were only Chinese people at the airport and on the plane, they carried many boxes of the famous fruits of Xinjiang, they were as noisy as Brazilians or Italians. The flight between Ürümqi and Lanzhou was delayed by an hour and a half.
I arrived at night in downtown, it was cold and the Lonely Planet guide book was missing a few pages from Lanzhou. Without a map, I was also completely disoriented. I paid dearly for a map I bought in a hotel, almost useless because it was all in Chinese.
I had seen a college address on a website, glad it was close to where the airport bus stopped, but there foreigners could not stay. I ended up staying in the accommodation of a college employee, there was a guy who was a doorman in one of the buildings and let me stay in his bed, because there was another bed in the lobby, I was surprised he didn’t charge me anything. At first it was kind of difficult to communicate, Yan could not understand my accent, he thought I was speaking another language other than Mandarin, but in the end he got used to it. My accent is Southern, because of my origins. I didn’t expect to find such a nice Chinese, there was another nice guy also in the room who was a janitor and educated.
Here you can not distinguish very well the social class (like in Brazil), everyone has at least high school degree and dress the same (riches and poor), and all have the “pulled” eyes, there are a lot of people and a lot of competition too. Only peasants dressed differently, making it easy to identify them.
Lanzhou is the capital of Gansu Province with a population of 3.5 million, Tibetan influence and surrounded by mountains. The famous Yellow River (Huang He) despite the color being muddy, crosses the city before traveling another 1,500km to its final destination in Qindao. Located geometrically right in the center of the Central Empire, Gansu is a province northwest of China, bordering Xinjiang. Here it was also part of the Silk Road and part of the Great Wall was here.
The next day Yan gave me some indication of how to go to the tourist sites, wrote some sentences in Chinese in my notebook to show to the Chinese, in case I needed help since I was illiterate here. He gave me his phone number in case of emergency and as a good patriot gave me a pin of Mao Zedong, without knowing the true story of this genocidal.
It was an adventure, with the missing pages of Lonely Planet, everything got harder (* as you realized already, this trip was before the creation of wi-fi, smartphones and google maps). In doubt between going to Xining, Xiahe or touring first in Lanzhou, I decided to go to Xining first. Lanzhou, Xining and Xiahe form a triangle, with Xining west of Lanzhou and Xiahe south of Lanzhou.
I went to the train station, there were thousands of Chinese and an endless queue, so I gave up and took a bus to Xining. I saw a foreigner and I followed him, he was with a Chinese guide, who helped me to buy a ticket to Xining for Y36 (USD 4.60), the bus station was close to the railway. But the driver implied that I was a foreigner and I had to exchange my ticket for another one with mandatory insurance for foreigners for Y53 (USD 6.80).
The road to Xining was beautiful, it was even colder than Lanzhou and drizzled. On the bus, a young Chinese man seeing that I was writing in a language other than his, started a conversation. The young man had never been to Xining and was going out to try to make a living as an apprentice mechanic, he had a contact in the city.
The bus stopped at a bus station and soon bought a local map to guide me, I took a bus to the other bus station next to the railway, on the other side of town, then I have found a hotel. The main buses and trains all left from here, the place was strategic.
Xining was the part I had at my Lonely Planet, here it was where I first saw Tibetans, I made a point of recording some photos, scenes of Buddhist monks in red robes walking along side Hui Chinese (who are Muslims), head covered with white beret. Tibetan women are of larger size than the Hans, with their colorful robes, long skirts and a pair of long braids, reminded me of the “cholitas” of Bolivia, only the hat was different, the resemblance was incredible.
Xining is the capital of Qinghai province, with Tibetan, Mongolian and Uighur influence, and surrounded by mountains, with a population of 2.1 million. It was also part of the old Silk Road. Qinghai Province, pronounced “tinrrai”, meaning “Blue Sea”, has the largest lake in China. It is to the west, bordering Tibet, Xinjiang, Gansu and Sichuan. Like Tibet and Xinjiang, Qinghai was not part of ancient China, was incorporated into the Chinese empire 200 years ago and was definitively controlled by the Hans Chinese from 1949, when the Communist army defeated the Muslims. It is a province full of prisons and labor camps, where criminals and opponents of the political regime are sent, about 400,000 people are in these prisons, almost 10% of the population of the province.
In the evening I went to the evening market to dine with a Danish hippie with strange ideas and two French blonde women, Oriane and Laetitia.