I was aware of the unrest and problems in Xinjiang before I went to Urumqi, but I wasn’t prepared for all the check points and security measures that are part of daily life in Xinjiang.
Occasionally, the Uighurs who’d like to separate from China take violent action. The Chinese hold the extremists or freedom fighters depending on your perspective responsible for a car bomb incident in Tianamen Square, a deadly, coordinated knife attack at a train station in Kunming, a bombing at a market in Urumqi and attacks lasting two days in Kashgar.
When I arrived in Urumqi my taxi from the airport had to get gas. This was my first taste of the security measures. The driver approached the gas station and stopped by a guard post. Then he motioned for me to get out of the car as he opened the trunk with my bags. All this was pantomimed so I was worried it was a scam, but no. This was normal procedure. I got out and was directed to a bench covered to keep the sun and rain off the waiting passengers. Only the driver can go to the pumps after passing inspection. A few minutes later the taxi re-appeared and I could go back in.
At the hotel I had to put my bags through an X-ray before I could check in. This would become routine.
When I visited the major park downtown, I was surprised to see a SWAT team outside the entrance. They were there every time I passed. After going through a metal detector and putting my bag through the X-Ray, I entered. Inside there wasn’t the usual joie de vivre. Some people had finished tai chi, but you didn’t see much dancing, badminton, exercising or martial arts. They had a lot of amusement rides that you paid for, but no one was on them. I did see a group of 4 soldiers marching through the park and later 4 police who were more like sauntering. In a few spots soldiers were posted to keep watch.
To take the air conditioned buses, you have to go through a security check and open up your bag. I learned you can’t bring water through the bus security. You can’t bring on lighters or yogurt. It’s in the 90°F+/36°C so I didn’t want to surrender my water each time I took the bus so I wound up finding ways to hide it in my bag, which was doable since they didn’t really think I’d be a terrorist, which a very safe bet. Still it’s such a pain.
I went to a Burger King one day and by the entrance they had a desk with a riot helmet, riot police shield, and wand for metal detection. I saw the same thing at a bookstore too. I never say a guard behind the door at any place, but think that perhaps these are props to keep people in line.
After awhile it just got to be too much. By mid-afternoon most days, I’d just get so tired of going through security checks. I don’t know how people take it day after day all the time.