November 27, 2010

Xinjiang: The New Frontier

I had a flight to catch to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. China's largest province has seen ethnic tensions rise in recent years. Bordering Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, a third of China's oil reserves are to be found in this volatile region. The "New Territory" is inhabited by a hodgepodge of ethnic groups including Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Mongols, Tajiks, and Kyrgyz. This has been augmented by a massive influx of Han Chinese in recent years. The Uyghur are still the major ethnic group in the Xinjiang autonoumous region, but will be soon overtaken by the Han population that is the majority in most other Chinese provinces. Uyghurs can generally be distinguished from Han Chinese by their olive skin, sharper features, and ability to grow hair on their faces.

I hurriedly packed and had breakfast with my landlady. "Beijing is safety, Xinjiang is not safety!" she warned as I headed out the door. At Beijing's Nanyuan Airport a small child poked me to see if I was real. On the flight, the same toddler was sitting behind me. She had finished delousing me by the time we arrived in Urumqi. I followed the signs for "distant range arrivals" and picked up my luggage. I decided to immediately head to Turpan, where I was scheduled to rendezvous with my friend Preston the following day. At the bus station I discovered that all buses for Turpan had already left, so I shared a taxi with three chain smoking men to my destination.


"You are not Uyghur???" ~ Question asked in English to me by a shocked Uyghur taxi driver after I did not understand his original query posed to me in the Uyghur tongue.