Saturday, August 9, 2008

The bus journey

We pull up. It’s just after 10 and the sun has finally gone down in this remote part of western Xinjiang. Strolling barefooted down the narrow aisles in between the bunkbeds we put our shoes on at the exit of the bus. Ahead lies dinner and round the corner a chance to ahem ‘freshen up’.
The bare surroundings of the diner mirror the landscape, the only colour bar the blue plastic seats is the fearsome black grime eminating all over the kitchen area.
A cheeky chappy comes in with a deck of cards trying to hustle diners with three card monty – no one is dumb enough to fall for this routine. He leaves within 60 seconds.
The Hui chef attends to his wok on the roaring stove; the results are slopped onto bowls and passed around.
A host of men shuffle off to the bogs – open holes in the concrete. While others are pissing away three men whip down their kegs and are crapping for all the world to see through the fetid gaps, one even nonchantly speaking on his mobile while laying his deposit.
So far this day we’ve covered around 750km, there’s another 300 or so to go before we arrive in Yining – a town with a wild, gritty reputation for multiethnicity, drugs and prostitution.
Bus rides in this part of the world, as well as being bad for yr stomach (I barfed gloriously a couple of hours back), are also a relentless security nightmare. Countless passport checks both in station and on the road, bags checked and stickered as safe. No leaving the bus station once you’re in. A caged existence.
Sirens wailed, combat police stood to in our last city where we changed buses. One day before the Olympics security is at all time high in Xinjiang following bombs and riots in the Kashgar area.
Now if only Beijing 2008 had a freestyle crapping tournament the Chinese would win hands down.

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