Over the weekend I lost my voice, which was ironically well-timed to coincide with our medical exams in Ürümqi. As it turns out, we got a full week off for the medicals. We were picked up from the school on Monday morning by our waiban, Josh, and the friendly man from the school who drives their people carrier. Four hours of dozing later we were there, under the gloomy overpasses of downtown Ürümqi by our hotel (full, so we were taken to another one with better wifi).

Fortunately dinner was allowed, but we were told not to eat or drink anything after midnight. I appreciated the relatively spice-free dishes (for my throat, still sore) although tomato in fruit salads is something I probably won’t get used to. Ever. I know tomatoes are fruit, and all, but…

Medical day dawned, grey and gloomy (the overpasses don’t help). It took quite a while to reach the hospital because, as Josh told us, ‘the roads have changed since last year…’ Foreigners’ hospital successfully tracked down, we started the highly bureaucratic process of proving our identity and signing various forms. Next came the samples (tricky after not drinking anything), followed by the most extensive medical exam I’ve ever been subjected to (not that it was much of an ordeal). The ultrasound tickled and the ECG pads left bruises on Tom, but we were otherwise unscathed by the process.

Following a much-needed lunch, we were let loose on Ürümqi, so naturally we bussed it off to the fabled Tech Market. It goes down. And down. And then down some more; each floor is slightly dodgier than the previous one. It also led off into an underground bakery at one point (I don’t really know either, but it was sugar and we had been denied breakfast, so…).

The next day we were awaiting results, but Josh agreed to take us to a market. We spent several hours wandering through narrow corridors of a several-storey building rather like a shopping mall, only without the large glass airy spaces. The shops are essentially boxes crammed with the vendor’s goods, with a couple of sides open to allow customers in. Most shopkeepers seem to spend time between sales on phones or laptops, watching TV. I’m also useless at haggling – but more on that another time.

Categories: Weekly

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