Our life in Urumqi

The thing I was most scared of, before moving out here to the middle of bum-fuck-nowhere was not the isolation, the language barrier, or the violent riots three years ago that so damaged the reputation of this region (yes we feel safe and, oddly, I’ve never had anyone warm me against going to London…)

No, what scared this warm-weather-girl were the climate charts… read ‘em and weep. I did! This is a city at high altitude, and its claim to fame is that it’s the most inland city on the planet. Yeah, I bet you’re jealous of us now!

For fully four months of the year, it does not get above freezing. For the coldest six weeks of the year, it doesn’t get above minus 15. The coldest we clocked it was at minus 31. It’s insane, seriously. Insane.

The normal garb for going out was: dress, three pairs of tights (every bit as uncomfortable as it sounds), inner jacket, outer jacket, thick socks, thick boots, thick gloves (often two pairs), scarf and beanie. It took me half an hour to get dressed in the morning.

The cold did, in fact, create for some unintentional comedy. The days that our kitchen was so badly cold that I kept the fridge on only to stop the vegetables inside them from freezing kept me entertained for weeks. Ian’s comment that ‘oh, no, I’m not cold, but my chin feels like it’s going to fall off’ likewise gave me a good giggle. And my parents must surely have thought I was insane when I tried to explain to them “oh, well we’re getting used to it, it’s not so bad now, it’s just bitterly freezing and biting.” Hmmmmm.

Then there’s what I like to call the ‘Urumqi shuffle’ a peculiar waddling walk that comes with trying to move along a footpath coated with a thin, sheer sheet of ice. Through winter, I walked with all the grace and elegance of a kangaroo falling down a flight of stairs, while drunk. It was great watching other people make tools of themselves trying to walk, but it’s not so funny when you’ve just landed on your arse on streets that you just KNOW are covered in other people’s spit, though.

But, freezing though it was, once spring started, then the seemingly impenetrable cold disappeared in what felt like one night. It wasn’t quite one night, it was actually more like three weeks, but those three weeks saw a temperature turnaround of some fifteen degrees. It was heaven.

About a month ago, though, the best bit started. Green! Flowers! LIFE! And, like the temperature turnaround, it all happened in a few weeks. Although this is a city based on the edges of a harsh, baking desert, Urumqi is now busting at the seams with life and colour, and is a wonderfully temperate place to be. Here are some pics…

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