grey marble

September 16, 2009

Back to Beijing

I picked up my Uzbekistan visa yesterday from the consulate in Beijing. Having secured a letter of invitation, it was surprisingly simple. I dropped my passport off on Tuesday, and was told to come back the next day after 9am to pick it up. The woman's Chinese was beautifully accented.

Driving back from the embassy, the taxi driver caught my accent and asked me where I was from. When he learned I could speak English, his eyes lit up and he thrust a hand into the glove compartment. He dug a cassette tape from out of its depths and popped it into his deck. An English song came out of the speakers and he turned it up. "Michael learns to rock!" he said, using the Chinese phonetic translation of the name. He told me he loved the album and played it now and again in his cab. Last year, two westerners wanted to buy the tape from him, but he refused. The next song came on. "This is a happy song," he said in Chinese, and turned the music up even louder.

Since returning to Beijing, I've been caught up in errands: wedding errands for my friends and Uzbekistan travel arrangement errands for myself. I was up late Monday chatting with my friends and going over what they need done before their ceremony.They filled me in on the various events they had planned for their out-of-town guests.

That night I met Tini's family, as we all congregated at a Vietnamese restaurant nearby. The night was clear and cool and we sat in an unenclosed upstairs patio. The owner of the restaurant was supplying the wine for the wedding; he doubles as an importer of foreign wines, and we ordered a bottle to share. The atmosphere was convivial and we ate and drank into the night.

Tuesday morning I was up early to get to the embassy; that afternoon I went with Ed to a local photo-framing place to lay out their wedding program. They had a copy of InDesign and a computer they were willing to let us borrow. It was fun trying to figure out the menus in Chinese, and I was thankful that I had so many command keystrokes memorized.

I bought my tickets on Tuesday through C-Trip, making various calls and receiving SMS after SMS in confirmation. There was difficulty getting a flight back to Beijing from Tashkent on the international carrier taking me to Uzbekistan, and I had to find a local carrier to get me from Urumqi back to Beijing on the 9th. I have a two hour window to clear customs and re-check myself in. I'm hoping that baggage claim for international arrivals from Uzbekistan is as efficient as that for domestic flights.

Yesterday, my friends had arranged a group trip to an unrenovated section of the Great Wall. We drove an hour or so out of town and then through a village marked with tourist fishing villages and hotels. We arrived at the hotel and set about making plans for the day. We split into two groups: one to hike an easier path and another to tackle the harder path. We all returned for lunch about the same time. We ate bowls of noodles and plates of dumplings along a long family table while people recounted their adventures. Three from the difficult party had gone onwards and we waited for their return.

When they eventually returned they spoke of the edge to which they had come and the slightly dicey areas they encountered. The hotel owners offered to let them shower and they disappeared into the compound. A haze that had hovered around the mountains the entire day began to descend, and the far ridges began slowly to fade.

Posted by eku at September 16, 2009 10:31 PM

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