SYNOPSIS:  From Pinckney to Urumqi.  About a few characters on the plane(s).

Three plane rides were ahead of me.  1.5 hours, 13.5 hours, 4.5 hours, and a few hours of layover along the way.  Between getting up and going to bed, there would be 33 hours in transit.  A wise saying by Lao Tzu always comes to mind:  A journey of 1000 miles has to begin with a single step.  So true.  No point in fretting over the hours yet to travel or the destination to be reached. What matters is to manage the next step in front of you and to observe the people around you.

Do orthodox Jews have to pray at a specific hour?  I had never heard of that.  But watching the father-son team of Jews on the plane to New York you would almost think so.  About 20 minutes into the ride, the man whose fringes under the vest and black top hat gave him away as a practicing Jew, got up.  He fudged and fiddled with his overhead luggage and emerged not only under a white and black prayer shawl but fully outfitted with two tefillin, or prayer boxes.  Standing in the aisle he performed his prayers in the typical bobbing manner, as you would see men praying at synagogues or the Western Wall.  This took him a good 10 minutes.  Just when I thought he was done — he had unwrapped his tefillin — he fished out a second set of boxes and started the whole procedure all over again.  Now I was really intrigued.  His son was handicapped.  He had come in a wheel chair.  Was the father doing his prayers in his spot as the son could not perform the prayers himself under the circumstances?  Was there any other explanation for the second round of prayers with a second set of tefillin?  I was reminded of the practice of sending a proxy on the Hajj in Islam if you yourself are incapacitated.  I also tried to picture a whole group of orthodox Jews on this plane performing their prayers this publicly.  Could anyone have gotten to the bathrooms?  Would we ever have been served our drinks?  And finally, I asked myself if this man would have refused to sit next to me, a woman, should the plane have been full?  I just could not help but wonder. 

My Nutella had been refused into the cabin, but I could not believe my eyes when I approached my assigned seat and a woman with a squiggly, squeamish poodle on her lap was sitting next to me.  How did this creature get here?  No box, no carrier; the dog was jumping around on her lap.  Oh, she just wants to play.  No way was I going to sit next to a dog who would think my face was a playground. 

But it was my lucky day after all.  Every one of the three flights was under-booked.  On every one of them I managed to have an empty seat next to me to stretch out just a bit to get away from licking dogs, screaming children, or loudly talking youngsters.  I think I even got in one or two hours of sleep.

Beijing airport is vast.  I had three hours of layover.  I had worried I might fall asleep somewhere and miss my plane.  But I did not have a minute to even sit.  It took a full hour to get through immigration, a full hour to fetch and re-deposit luggage after customs inspection, and another 1/2 hour to make it from one end of the airport to the other.

I was just in time for the announcement that boarding for my last flight was delayed.  Not that I would have known that.  I had to ask a gentleman next to me as all announcements were made in Chinese only.  No other foreigner was in sight.  The man did not speak English, but he (and as I soon found out many other people) had an app on his phone that translated anything he said in Chinese into English.  What a world we live in.  Why did I not get such an app myself?  I could instantly speak Chinese!

Two hours later than anticipated, late at night, I arrived in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Province.  Would my AirBnB hosts be there?  Panic struck, when I arrived at the luggage belt and nobody was there — no people, no luggage.  I had dilly-dallied looking around at the airport for cool posters and signs and, lo and behold, they had emptied that plane at lightning speed.  Now the hunt for my duffel bag begun.  Had it even arrived?  Had I doomed it with my Nutella escapade?  No.  But it had already been hurled away as unclaimed.

If my hosts had been here, I would only have myself to blame now, if they had already left.   But J.B., a young man of 28, hung in there!  In a brand-new SUV equipped with the latest technology I was driven home to a small, bright apartment at a high-rise, in the center of Urumqi.  His wife, Summer, eagerly awaited me.  For only three months the couple had listed their small second bedroom as an AirBnB rental.  They had three guests so far.  But I was their first foreign visitor.  Both J.B. and Summer speak English and when everything fails, one of their apps comes to the rescue.  J.B. works for an oil company.  Summer has a government job.  By all standards, they are well to do and typical products of the economic boom of their country.  They met three years ago and have been married for one year by now.  Lucky for them, J.B.’s grandparents owned this apartment and his parents live two floors above. When the grandparents died, his parents kept the apartment for the time their son would start his own family.  Now J.B. and Summer benefit from this foresight and can live for free.  They also benefit from J.B.’s mother’s love for cooking!  They started to become hosts with AirBnB not for the income, but for the people they meet.  We instantly bonded and had lots to talk about. 

I love my new home.  It is simple, but has everything I need: a big bed, shelves, hooks and a whole string of electric outlets.  If you have traveled you will know that there never can be enough hooks or outlets.  Summer even emptied a whole row of cupboards for me.  The room was located in the back of the high-rise facing an interior court.  I could not say that the view was pretty, but it was quiet, another big plus.

I should have been dead tired, but I had made it through the worst slump hours ago.  For me it was now “morning” and I was full of pep.  But it was midnight and time to go to bed, no matter what.  A Benadryl will help.  33 hours had passed.  It can be done.

Good night. 

8 comments so far

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  1. I really enjoy your travel descriptions!

  2. XINJIANG is my favorite place in China. Enjoy your trip!

    • Rosalie, I loved it. I know that I have to go back to explore it more fully. I missed so much there. Is that, where you are from?

      • I am from Beijing, but traveled to XinJiang 16 times from 1989 to 2007

  3. Urumqi was one of our favorite spots in China and you are in for a real treat. We will be reliving some of the special moments we experienced there and look forward to following you on your journey.

    • Elida and Bill,

      Assuming that you traveled there quite a while ago, I wonder if you would recognize Urumqi today. It is a fortress! Hold on to those beloved memories of yours. They are now part of days gone by. ET

  4. Happy travels. Your hosts look so cool!!

  5. Hello Elizabeth.
    By the time I finished reading your blog I was exhausted. I felt like I was on the trip with you. Love the pictures and looking forward to the next one . Big hug