Posts Tagged ‘Uyghurs’

Five Things We Love About China

1. THE FOOD! Whether it cost 30p or £3 just about every meal has been delicious, healthy and great value. The delights which can be cooked up in a single wok or the ingenuity of a restaurant on the back of a motorbike trailer can only be marvelled at. Never forgetting those who cook it – the millions of generally friendly men and women who work long and hard providing great food. Just brilliant!

2. COMMUNITY LIFE. In the park, in town and city squares, and on the streets it all goes on. Karaoke, orchestra practice, aerobics, ballroom dancing, line dancing, tai chi, games of cards, and mah jong (at any given moment, there must be at least one million games of mah jong happening in China!)

3. PUBLIC TRANSPORT. A huge network of cheap and efficient long distance coaches, city buses and village minibuses mean that you can get around this vast country cheaply and you almost always get a seat. Not to mention the trains. I will especially sorely miss the “bottom bunk hard sleeper”. First a decent China Railways meal, then a soothing politically correct lullaby before lights out at 10 pm, a comfy bed with sheets and duvet and when you wake up, you’re in another part of the country altogether.

4. RURAL LIFE. Anywhere there’s some land, there are small scale, neat and productive fields. The country people have a well developed self -sufficient lifestyle with piglets on the porch, chickens in the garden, and lovingly tended veg patches. Outside are stacks of wood for the winter, feed for the animals, pickles and preserves. The country people know their environment intimately and how to make the most of it.

5. Jim says NATURE. The physical geography of the place, the desert, the Tibetan plateau, the mountains of Guizhou, the lakes and rivers and the man-made beauty of astonishing rice terraces and lovely villages. Di says THE MINORITIES – the exotic Tibetans, friendly Uyghurs, busy and sociable Dong, chatty Bai, tough and resourceful Miao, hardworking Hani and especially those gay Tibetan line-dancers!

And then there’s also the fantastic MARKETS – Kashgar Animal Market, Kaili Bird Market, and all the other wonderful country markets – colourful, sociable, and endlessly fascinating where we have spent so many happy hours! And Jim wants to put in a word for big bottles of TsingTao beer at less than 50p…

And Five Things we will not be sorry to leave

1. The Noise. Conversations and instructions all delivered at top volume and usually in a scolding tone, the peculiarly Chinese sound of loud hawking followed by the inevitable gob, furious mobile phone calls shouted at full volume, blaring car and bus horns, dreary pop music and loud martial-arts fantasy films on the buses.

2. The ugly mess. The rubbish, the litter, the urban scene mostly an eyesore with falling down buildings which no one can be bothered with any more, so they build another one. Beauty spots covered in crap, litter tossed out of the bus and on to the ground, gutters blocked with rubbish and plastic bags. Piles of sand, gravel, bricks, cement, routinely blocking roads, pavements and shop fronts.

3. The tourist biz. The regions have obviously all been instructed to come up with some sites of touristic interest – whether they be an ancient irrigation system, a mosque, a big fishpond folk art village or a sunset on the rice fields. Huge inappropriate viewing platforms, coach parks and steel gates where ticket offices are then constructed to extract at least £3 but probably much more from every one. Legions of Chinese tourists dutifully worship at these shrines to consumerist tourism, complete with the obligatory trappings, the enormous telephoto lenses, tripods and various other leisure-related totems supplied by the camera industry.

4. The bad driving. The meaningless gridlocks on village streets, at bus stations and city road junctions, which occur for no other reason than selfish and/or stupid driving, and a certain cretinous type of bus driver who prefers any activity -smoking, gobbing, talking on his mobile, yelling out of the window, whatever- to actually driving the flipping bus to its destination. Being blasted out of the way on a pedestrian street or on a zebra crossing (don’t make me laugh!) by a car or scooter quite possibly going the wrong way.

5. The construction boom (enough said about that one) and the relentless pursuit of wealth which seems to have gripped the nation – or a certain sector of it.

Not to mention…strange sugary milky stuff masquerading as coffee, strange sugary airy stuff masquerading as bread, going into a supermarket and not knowing what 90% of the items on sale are, being reduced to a state of total non-communication through a mixture of cultural and linguistic barriers and total illiteracy, the OCP (the spoilt self-obsessed twenty-something Little Princesses and Little Emperors – products of the urban One Child Policy), that heavy metal guitarist with his soaring rock guitar solos who seems to feature on 75% of Chinese pop songs, cold hotel rooms with rock hard beds, being shouted at, oh that’s enough… roll on Vietnam!

P.S. I know you will have noticed a startling omission from this list – the toilets. They ranged from luxurious tourist toilets to the village communal shit-pits (sorry, but there is no other word). But in general, they are plentiful and not as bad as I thought they would be – and, anyway, anyone can get used to squatting over a stinking trough with a load of other women.

Jim working in his hard sleeper bunk

Bottom bunk hard sleeper


productive little veg patches

Wonderful veg plots

food at a restaurant in Dali

Lovely fresh food

An open air orchestra practices in the Park in Kunming

Park Life

A market in Guizhou

Great minority markets

Line dancers in Kunming park

Line Dancing with the Gay Tibetan troupe

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Street stall in XinjiangXinjiang is the huge province in the far north-west of China where we’re getting our introduction to China. That’s a bit like arriving in Great Britain from the Orkneys, it’s not really typical China at all.

The region is vast and takes up about one sixth of China – I don’t know how big that is but we’ve travelled about 1,100 miles across it, and it feels pretty big on hard train seats. It contains a whole desert – The Taklimakan – whose name means something like “Go in but you won’t come out” which is a pretty straightforward message to all those old Silk Road travellers I guess. In fact most of what we’ve seen from the windows of the trains has been gritty old desert with a few oasis towns.

Xinjiang balconyThe majority of people living here are Uyghurs but there are also Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Kazaks, and Uzbeks. The unifying feature of all these people is that they are strongly Muslim and identify more with Central Asia than with Beijing and the People’s Republic.

Now throw into this mix the Han Chinese. They are the huge majority throughout the rest of China, and the Government is working very hard to make sure they become the majority here too. They look nothing like the Uyghur, nor do they speak, write, dress or behave anything like them.

View of XinjiangThey’ve been nominally in charge since 1949 and in the last few decades this has become a reality. The Government launched the “Develop The West” campaign in 2000, and since then has been making huge investments in the so called “Uyghur Autonomous region of Xinjiang”. Ordinary Chinese workers are getting strong economic incentives to move out here, and they’ve gone from being 10% of the population to over 50%. Judging by the numbers of new apartment blocks being built, more are expected!

XinjiangFrom what I can see the two groups do their best to ignore each other as much as possible and make no attempts to speak each other’s language if they can help it. In spite of the propaganda that the people of China are all equal and should work together in harmony for the good of the glorious nation, the message doesn’t quite seem to ring true.

The Chinese Government’s point of view seems to be “Here we are spending all this money on bringing infrastructure, jobs, industry and wealth to you. Look! Motorways, railways, universities, mobile phone coverage, satellite TV.

Cart in a Xinjiang streetAll good things surely, so why don’t you stop going on about your rights and move into the 21st century?” From the Uyghur’s point of view it seems more a case of “Nobody asked you to come here, bossing us around, and making us into second class citizens in our own country. Go back east and leave us alone”

But there are rich mineral and especially oil pickings to be had in that desert so that’s not going to happen. There have already been some anti-Chinese riots in Kashgar and Urumchi, and as there seem to be an awful lot of men hanging around with not a lot to do, I can’t see things getting easier

Kashgar is a strongly Uyghur city with plenty of mosques, bazaars, and Central Asian architecture. There are grilled kebabs on every corner, men in very pretty skull caps and almost every woman has a head scarf (some even go so far as to cover their whole face)

Street ViewMany parts of the old town are being knocked down. People continue to live and work in amongst the dusty rubble as best they can. However, there is rebuilding going on and it is being done in the local style so maybe in a couple of decades the new stuff will have weathered and worn into the same state as the old stuff and at least they might have better plumbing.

From the point of view of the tourists (and Silk Road Tourism has got to be worth quite a bit) it’s the traditional Uyghur markets, mosques, architecture, and picturesque old guys in their traditional hats which we’ve come to see. So maybe they’ll leave enough standing for us to see.

CourtyardThe lovely oasis town of Turpan on the northern branch of the Silk Route (a mere 23 hour train ride away over the Taklimakan) has a much more easy-going atmosphere. The Uyghur people here are friendly and relaxed and seem to live as they always have amongst their vineyards. It’s one of the lowest places on earth, and the hottest town in China, but the weather’s lovely right now. The streets are shaded with vines and so are the family courtyards which can be glimpsed from the street (although they were being cut as we left, it’s the end of the season here too).

Turpan is famous for its grapes and sweet melons. The countryside is full of ancient mud brick “greenhouses” with frames made of vine wood and long rolls of quilted cloth ready to cover them at any sign of frost. There are vines everywhere and airy drying barns where the grapes are dried to turn them into raisins. Although there’s hardly any rain, the fields are watered by snow melt running off the mountains which is collected in an ancient system of underground water channels. Apparently there’s about 5,000 kms of them in Xinjiang!

It seems certain that grapes have been grown here for hundreds or even thousands of years and what a perfect Silk Road commodity they are – light and easy to transport but also an ideal food for life in the desert. We were given handfuls of all kinds of raisins at every turn, but the best were the sweet golden ones.

At the carpet dealersAnyway back to the textile search. We had great hopes of finding something at the famous Kashgar Sunday market, maybe from one of the dozens of carpet dealers there – wouldn’t a nice little Kashgar rug be a good memento? No such luck I’m afraid. The local stuff is garish and pretty ugly and the rest is coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran and we can buy those back in the UK for much the same price. And like carpet dealers everywhere they talked a load of bullshit, says Jim.

So I settled for a length of ikat silk – the standard length to make a long dress and pair of trousers. It was made in Khotan just down the road (well 300 miles or so which is just a spit away in Xinjiang) and it’s the same width and of a very similar design to the stuff we watched being woven in the Fergana Valley.

Turpan MelonsSo there you go, it truly is a Silk Road and women in Uzbekistan and Xinjiang are still wearing the same designs as each other. What’s more the vocabulary of silk textiles is the same all along the route. One of the things we were hoping was that we could use Turkish all the way to China – and in the language of the market place at least, it seems to be still working.

Now its time to get our heads round Mandarin!

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