August 26: Khiva, Uzbekistan
7:14 I’m sitting in the lobby of the hotel, trying in vain to connect to the internet. After 15 minutes of futility I ask the front desk clerk, “Is your wifi working?” He replies, “Not quite.” “That would mean no, I take it.” He answers, “No, not quite.” “When do you expect it to be quite working?” I ask. “We turned off the wifi last night at midnight when they shut down the internet.” I can’t help but ask, “Who shut down the internet?” He replies, “The internet people. They turn it off at midnight most nights. It usually comes back on around 9 o’clock though. Check back then.”
8:30 Jalal, our Uzbek guide, accompanies us to the Western Gate and gives us an introduction to the city and a tour of the ancient mosque and receiving hall. On our way out of the mosque we come across two boys in their Sunday finest. Jalal points out how happy they are, clutching new toy cars, but then adds that they might have a different outlook in an hour when they are due to be circumcised. I imagine it’ll be a while before you get them into a suit or shiny shoes a second time!
10:45 Jalal is obviously under pressure to show us the sights deemed to be of most interest to tourists, and of course this involves parading us past about 300 stalls where vendors are selling arts and crafts, fur hats (not big sellers in August in the desert), wood carvings, brass engravings, and of course silk carpets of every size and description. I’m not in the market for any of this stuff so I break away and head in the direction of the bazaar.
20:00 I’m back at the hotel, editing photos and trying to get on the internet before it shuts down at midnight. I hate to stereotype, but the people we met in many parts of China were rather standoffish, most Kyrgyzstanis were quite friendly, but the people of Uzbekistan have a special way of making you feel welcome. Most people in the market will look you in the eye and immediately smile, wave or nod. One vendor gave me a big bunch of grapes and another refused my cash when I tried to pay for a bottle of water with a large bill. He insisted that I just take the bottle for free. Young kids and old ladies need little if any prompting to pose for photos. Some even motion for you to take their photo, then want to see it and show it to the other vendors before letting you leave with a free sample of their wares. Needless to say, I was touched by the people of Khiva.