The bus ticket to Urumqi drained on my cash reserves, and to make matters worse the banks were already closed. I found myself with the paltry sum of 40 yuan in my wallet to see me through until the next day. Haotian was short on money too. After talking over the various options, we sent out a mayday text to the Taiwanese guys. We ended up sleeping at their hotel, this time breaking an all-time record: 6 people in a room with only 2 beds. After a good shower, I spread my sleeping bag on the soft clean carpet. Very unexpectedly, my sleep was excellent, if only too short.

The next morning I sneaked out of the room, letting my friends sleep on. It was sweet to see how the three boys had shared one bed to respectfully leave the girl by herself on the other one. I said goodbye to Haotian, who was going to attempt a long economical hitchhiking trip to Urumqi, and headed to the bus station. I was loath to spend another day cooped up in a bus, so I returned my ticket and changed it for the night departure. I would see some of Yining until the evening.

I first went to the market, that, oddly, had a sign in both Chinese and Russian. There was nothing interesting apart from a pungent smell of plastic that emanated from cheap housewares. The street vegetable market was as interesting to me, as I was interesting to the locals who popped their eyes out at the sight of a foreigner passing by.

This big town sees the presence of various ethnic groups, some of which were deported by former imperial dynasties to guard the frontiers, and others naturally found in a border region. Now Yining has been transformed by being within the “motherland”. The harm is already done: cheap products, lifestyle, junk food, demographic invasion, authoritarian political system are among the presents that China has given it.

I took a bus to the Ily river, flowing down from the faraway mountains with a strong current. There was a sort of pathetic fairground with different attractions like the throw of the rings, merry-go-rounds, mini roller-coasters, and the house of horror. On the river speed motorboats made exaggerated curves to give passengers extra emotions, and those waiting on the shore unwanted splashes of water.

The museum that described Ili Kazakh autonomous prefecture was interesting. I was overwhelmed when I learnt the area of this territory comprised between the Tian Shan and the Altay. Its sheer extension, part of which is occupied by a steppe region, made me feel helpless. Had I been too ambitious in wanting to tackle the whole of Xinjiang and its enormous spaces in just one trip? It was already unthinkable to aspire to know this prefecture. The only comfort came from the consideration that landmarks and attractions were most probably scattered over a uniform landscape, too large to be visited. The museum was the only way to get in touch with this wilderness.

At night the bus station was all in a fluster with passengers boarding tens of buses to Urumqi and I set out too, for the long night journey.