Time Zoned Out

So far, the trip to Xinjiang has gone well, mostly. The train ride was entirely too long, to be sure. We left at 6:45pm on Saturday, and arrived at 10am on Monday in Urumqi. This was in a fairly cramped sleeper car. I had hoped that spending so long on the train, that we’d have time to get a lot of reading and such done. But we were limited in some respects, such as there being no electrical outlet for the laptop, and thus, with my dead battery, no means of doing any electronic writing or anything while on the train.

The hardest thing to get used to in Urumqi is the time change. Now, this might not seem like a big deal. Given several days to get used to a two hour time change seems like it should be a simple matter. The problem is, there is a split between what’s called “local time” and what’s called “official time.” The entire nation of China is officially on Beijing time, so it makes some sense just to keep our watches on that time. Official time is recognized at banks, museums, trains, and so forth. But the unofficial local time is two hours behind. So restaurants, hostels, pubs, and so forth are all on that time. So whenever one plans anything, one must always be sure whether the people one is planning with are using one time or the other. So sleeping and seeking out meals can be tricky, because in effect, one is always living in two time zones at once. It makes it difficult to understand why the entire nation is kept on a single time zone. Can the advantages of doing things that way really be that great? If everything were kept exclusively on official time, we’d have to deal with very late sunrises and very late sunsets. Pretty much most countries of this size have multiple time zones to deal with this, and I don’t see any evidence that they have major problems as a result. Russia, I believe, has 11 time zones, and somehow they manage.

Thus far, we’ve had some great Uyghur food, a how-the-hell-did-this-get-here authentic Caribbean & Central American restaurant, and just tonight, a great Kazakh restaurant. Yes, this means that I had a dish that involved horse meat. I didn’t exactly have the same revulsion to that that one might have, say, to dog or cat meat. Eating horse didn’t seem wrong in the same way, just … odd. But I can report that it was quite tasty, and that Kazakh people may be onto something about this as a food source. Still, given the choice, I think I’d still have to prefer lamb or beef. The Kazakhs also enjoy a kind of beer made, in part, from fermented mare’s milk. I’m a little wary of trying that here, but I may have to, just to see what it’s like.
There is some bad news to report. Allison started having what began as a mild migraine headache, but what escalated to a massive attack making her feel nauseated by the time we were finished with the meal. We decided to postpone a meeting at the local expat hangout, a bar creatively named “Fubar,” until tomorrow night. We tried it already last night, and had some local wine. The only decent grapes grown in China, that is, grapes suitable for wine, are grown here in Xinjiang, and I can report that the wine was excellent. With any luck, Allison will feel better by the time the ibuprofen kicks in, and certainly by the time we wake up tomorrow.
We’ll be here until 8pm official time on Saturday, so we should be back in Beijing by Monday morning. We’ve already seen the Urumqi city museum and the “Little Mountain,” as well as the local night market.

Tomorrow, we’ll visit the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum, which should have much more impressive stuff, like the Tarim mummies and Silk Road artifacts. Friday, we’ll visit the famous Tianshi Lake, or “Heavenly Lake,” where we’ll hopefully be able to have lunch with Kazakh herds people in their yurts. (If that doesn’t work out, we’ll instead take a day trip to the much-older city of Turfan.) And then, there’s the Da Bazaar, where we should be able to purchase anything from local arts and crafts, food, and tourist-trap merchandise.


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