Xinjiang is impossible to fully explain. In fact, the task of trying to explain it at all is so daunting that I don’t really wanna…but I will…half- heartedly. It’s home to a majority of minorities. They look nothing like the Han Chinese people, actually most of them look like they are Indian or Middle Eastern with some bright, white features like brilliant blue eyes or shocks of red hair. Locals told us that you can only really tell what minority someone is when they open their mouths. Language and accent are the single clues where intermarriage has woven all other features together. After living and traveling around China for two years this is the first time I have ever seen this. XinJiang is a semi-autonomous region, which means that it holds the same status of places like Tibet, Taiwan and Inner Mongolia. The story goes that while Mao was uniting all of China under communism, he invited the leaders of Xinjiang to meet him in Russia to discuss the ‘future of Xinjiang’. Unfortunately the plane ‘accidentally’ crashed on-route and with all the leaders dead, Mao simply tucked Xinjiang into his back pocket and continued on. Our Uyger guide Sha Dike, explained it better than the history books. He said that none of the minorities in Xingjiang like the Han Chinese but that most don’t protest their presence because they’ve greatly improved their living conditions. Of course this comes at the price of their traditional lifestyles and culture. Sha Dike commented that in his 40 years he has not made 1 single Chinese friend; that he would like to and he’s tried…but they just ‘can’t connect’.
In the far reaches of the KK highway and Turpan basin, the Uyger culture held our hands and guided us through a complexity of customs. We went to a live animal market where people yelled over the screams of horns and roar of animals. We rode horses, donkey carts, and camels (the latter of which I will never do again thank you very much…). We ate mutton, mutton and more mutton. And drank tea, tea and more tea. Then we were trapped momentarily in Urumqi, the Chinese capital of Xinjiang. This is where China fell from grace…in our 2 days there exactly nothing managed to go right. Our hotel couldn’t summon up any hot water or pressure, the elevator worked at a snails pace if it worked at all (yah for staying on the 16th floor!), taxis evaded us, we got lost, we searched for an internet café but when we eventually found it was so censored that nothing loaded, speakers screamed Chinese pop, we got food poisoning and my finally my skirt got caught in the teeth of an escalator and left the hem coated in oil. Oh and our flight was delayed 6 hours because of ‘airplane repair’.
All this being said, China turned my nostalgia upside down and left it easy for me to leave.