Xinjiang has been in the news for months in 2021 for whatever reason. I don’t want to mention it in my blog. The ‘issue’ will soon become history and we will know the truth in the future.
Just a couple of weeks before I wrote this blog, I found this photo on LinkedIn:
This is what CNN thinks where Xinjiang is (from a LinkedIn user), somewhere close to Hong Kong, when in fact, Xinjiang is in the northwest of China, next to Kazakhstan. That’s why I went to Xian first and from there went to Xinjiang. I decided to go to Kazakhstan after this Xinjiang trip actually. I will talk about it later. For those who still prefer to believe in CNN (I have been there in person but if some still don’t believe me), they can google Urumqi instead of Xinjiang. Urumqi is the capital city of Xinjiang. Then you will know.
Anyway, here I was in Xinjiang.
Before this trip, I did some research. I have a friend from China so I asked her if it was safe to travel around Xinjiang. If you google, you will find that there was a riot there in 2009 (and a few more minor ones in the years after that). My friend said, ‘I like the south. It is beautiful and you get to learn more of the culture of the place but that’s also where the riot was. Maybe you can avoid that part this time.’ That left the northern part of Xinjiang. I checked Lonely Planet. Their advice was to take a local tour because it’s hard to travel around in the north. Hence, I took their recommendation and booked a local tour.
The first thing I did was to go to the tour company to sort everything out and of course to pay for the tour. The one thing that I didn’t expect was, I got a private ‘escort’ who’d tour me around Urumqi and accompany me in the tour group. Good and bad. He always thought I needed to take a taxi until we couldn’t find one (there was no Uber or Grab back in 2011 in China). Then he suggested, ‘do you mind if we take a public bus?’ I enthusiastically said, ‘yes, please.’ He even paid for my bus trip.
He was a courteous young guy who had just graduated from university. I forgot what he studied but I remember he studied in Xinjiang. He is Han Chinese. This was probably his first job so he was very concerned if he was doing it right. I could feel that he was very nervous about what he did and said and if he was good enough for his guests. He was curious about everything too and he was such an enthusiastic learner. He always wanted me to correct his pronunciation every time he said something in English. There was nothing to correct, please. Don’t worry too much about it. I totally understood but I was there to relax, not to teach / work. Whatever he did and said made me feel a bit stressed.
One thing that impressed me was the girls in Xinjiang. If anyone wants to find a pretty girlfriend, Xinjiang is the place. Xinjiang is famous for its beautiful girls. The girls all have prominent features (born, not a product of plastic surgery) unlike the Han Chinese who usually have a flat nose and relatively small eyes especially those from the south (and they like to ‘alter’ them through heavy make-up or plastic surgeries). The Xinjiang girls also have nice figures, well, not as nice as the Vietnamese girls but good enough. I couldn’t stop gazing at them. I am glad that I am not a guy otherwise I would be sued.
Speaking of Han Chinese, some of them said they were the minority in Xinjiang whereas Uyghurs said they were the minority in Xinjiang. At the time of writing this blog, I was still confused so I checked Wikipedia. The ethnic composition according to the 2010 census was like this: 45.84% Uyghur, 40.48% Han Chinese. The rest were formed by Kazakh, Hui and others. So, both Uyghur and Han Chinese didn’t belong to the minority groups.
My first stop was the famous bazaar in Urumqi. I remember I took some photos there but they are mysteriously gone. Anyway, similar to other Muslim countries I had been to (like Iran and Turkey), the stalls surround an old but pretty building. There was a section where food was sold and there was another section where souvenirs including the famous Xinjiang knives were sold. It was a very crowded place. Tourists, locals and pickpockets visited there. I mention pickpockets because I was a victim, yes, even with the young tour guide who was supposed to look after me was walking right beside me.
While we were squeezing ourselves in the crowd and I was listening to the guide, I could feel that something was moving in the pocket of my trousers. I grabbed it with my hand (lucky that it wasn’t sharp) and pulled it while I turned around. I saw two guys standing behind me. They looked shocked and were nervous. Quickly, they retrieved the 1.5-feet long silverish thongs back and disappeared in the crowd. Apparently, the long thongs were for that purpose. I didn’t lose anything as I didn’t put anything in that pocket except an unimportant small piece of paper. They probably thought that piece of paper was money. I am glad that digital money is so common now. I have less to worry. I only need to worry about my phone. Well, it’s not really the case. Ah! It’s getting complicated when it comes to digital – identity, privacy, cybersecurity… and a headache. Anyway, the guide still didn’t know what happened until I told him. He said he should have paid more attention, etc. I didn’t really care what he said honestly. That incident gave me a shock.
Other than the above, I enjoyed the bazaar. It’s huge and it’s got character.
The next day, I visited a cultural village where the culture of the minority group was exhibited. There were a few hosts there wearing their traditional garment, playing their traditional music instrument and singing their traditional songs. They even treated us some traditional food. All were part of the performance but you see, that’s for tourists. It was just like the Cambodian Village I visited in Cambodia.
The following day, we went to Rainbow Beach.
A few years later when I went to Argentina, my new friends suggested me to go to Juyjuy. After I learnt about that place, I said, ‘Nah! It’s ok. I think I will just head to Patagonia.’
The following day, I was joined by a mother and her 12-year-old daughter. All three of us joined a larger tour group. The tour guide was also with us in that larger tour group. It turned out that this young tour guide’s mission was to look after the three of us within the larger group. In the larger group, there was a guy from Slovenia. He probably also found out this tour in Lonely Planet. There was another tour guide (a female) looking after the entire group. She said to my guide, ‘I don’t understand why your company likes to hire another tour guide for their guests. What a waste of money. I can look after everyone in the group.’ The young guy of course didn’t say anything. The female tour guide is a local in Xinjiang. She was very funny. The Slovenian guy didn’t understand any Mandarin so the other people in the group helped to do translation. At first, I thought the Chinese guy sitting next to him was his friend but it turned out he was travelling by himself like me. Sometimes the 12-year-old girl did the translation. She was so cute and her English was nearly perfect. Because the three of us were the guests of the same tour company, we ate had all our meals together so we started talking.
The mother told me she hired a private English tutor for her daughter. The tutor is American. Hence, her daughter spoke English with some American accent. Other than her personal things, we also talked about the place we visited and the country. I love talking to the local people when I am travelling. You get to know so much about their perspectives, their way of life, what they think about basically everything. She’s from Qingdao where the famous Qingdao beer is brewed. She asked me if I had ever been there. ‘Nope.’ I answered. She said, ‘come. Some of our buildings are quite European because we were once occupied by Germany. One good thing that the Germans did was the sewage system (other than the beer). It’s probably the best in China.’ We started talking about other things that were made in China. Remember that was in 2011. China was condemned by other people including Bill Gates for producing all sorts of pirated products. We talked about that too. But look at China now. In 10 years, China is developing its own tech products and getting patents for some their products. Imagine what the situation will be like in the next 10 or 20 or more years. Just the thought of that gives me goosebumps. I don’t remember everything we said but it was really interesting to know more about China through the mainland local’s eyes.
Speaking of talking to the locals, when I was in Urumqi, I ate in a restaurant near my guesthouse. As I mentioned previously, I went to Xinjiang after the riot. When I walked into restaurant and checked the menu, I found out it was owned by Uyghurs. Because of that, the restaurant didn’t serve pork which was ok for me. The beautiful waitress served me. I was gazing at her beautiful face, speechless. I said after a pause while I was still studying her face, ‘let me check the menu first.’ Then she politely left. To see such a beautiful girl standing that close to me in person was a joy. I sound like a guy or a lesbian.
There weren’t too many guests in the restaurant. The owner and his friends were watching a movie on TV. It was probably in their language because I remember I didn’t understand it. The food was good and I had a happy tummy. Before I left, I watched the movie with them for a little while despite the language barrier.
The next day, I went to the same restaurant. I was too tired to walk to other places to get my food and the food at the restaurant was good. Once I walked into the restaurant, the owner recognized me. We started chatting. He asked me what I’d like to eat. I pointed at the menu, ‘I like this dish but I don’t eat beef.’ We paused for a while. He then said, ‘how about chicken?’ ‘Perfect.’ I said.
We continued to chat and I remember asking him about the riot. He thought for a while and answered, ‘I think these people just didn’t have a job. When you are unemployed, you do all these things.’ We then talked about my accommodation in Xinjiang. He said, ‘oh, you are staying at the place next to my restaurant? It’s not really that nice.’ ‘but it’s arranged by my tour company. I don’t think I can change it.’ He then offered, if I wanted to change my mind, I could contact him. His friend owned a hotel and it was much better than the place I was staying at and he could get me a discount too. I thanked him but I didn’t use his contact in the end. After all, I only stayed there for 3 nights or so.
The female local tour guide was very funny. She was a bit chubby but she was glad about it. Reason? She said, ‘in Xinjiang, before women get married, they all have a nice figure, and are very attractive (the guys in the tour group on the tour bus nodded). But after they get married, they become fat. If they don’t become fat, that means their husbands are not capable. Only capable husbands can earn a lot of money to feed their wives.’ I like that. 😄
We arrived at Xinjiang Kanas National Geopark. I wonder if I could live here. It’s such a beautiful place!
The rainbow or the iridescent cloud was a very good farewell gift for all of us. The whole group had a very good time together. On the bus, the female tour guide asked each one of us to say something. (I remember one time, she asked all of us to sing and I sang a song that made everyone laugh including the driver. In the end, I had to stop, for safety reason. 😄) Nobody cried but apparently everyone was going to miss this trip.
After the mother, her daughter and I finished the tour with this larger group, we joined another large group to other places in Xinjiang. Xinjiang is huge.
This area is extremely windy. I remember when we returned to Urumqi, our whole tour bus was like a toy shaken by a giant. My ears could feel the pressure. I could hear the wind seeping through the windows. Also, we were driving against the strong headwind so our trip was delayed for an hour or so. We arrived at Urumqi so late that all the restaurants were closed. The young tour guide, because of his knowledge of the area, finally found a place for us to have dinner. We were tired but grateful.
That ended my journey in Xinjiang. What a nice one!
The 12-year-old girl said farewell to me. She said she’d miss me. As she was the only child in the family (because of the previous one-child policy), I was like an older sister to her. I remember on the first day we met, when we ate together, she was so excited. She really enjoyed talking to me and we spent so much good time together. She should be 22 now. Time flies.
Did I see any factory that used forced labour to make cotton? Well, apparently, I didn’t when I was there and the local Uyghur that I talked to didn’t complain about anything. I haven’t been to the southern part of Xinjiang yet. I’d love to explore that area.
I flew back to Xian and joined another local tour to HuaShan to pay tribute to my favourite author.
This was written by my favourite author, Jing Yong. His novels were written in the 1950’s but are still very popular. His novels have been translated into different languages including English. I recently found his novels in a bookstore. Once I started reading one page, I couldn’t stop. His novels are as exciting as Lord of the Rings and as elegant as A Gentleman in Moscow and similar to the latter book, all his novels mention real historical events and characters, like the real Qing emperor could be interacting with a fictitious eunuch in his novels. Unfortunately, he died in 2018.
In one of his novels, the characters had a fight in Hua Shan. That scene was so popular that he was invited to write these on rocks here.
That ended my journey this time.
I have ticked quite a number of things and places in my bucket list. There are still more. Where else should I go?
31 May – 7 June 2011
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