Musings and chronicles on life, work, film, culture, politics, etc.
26 Jul 2015 Leave a comment
26 Jul 2015 2 Comments
As I’d covered Urumqi’s charms (and hassles) and wanted to see more of Xinjiang province, I followed the advice of my hotel’s general manager and headed for Turpan, a town about 2½ hours by bus from Urumqi. I envisioned a less militarized, more charming town.
I made the mistake of taking a taxi to the bus station. Don’t do that. My driver took a longer, more expensive route. Both the BRT 1 and BRT 3 buses, among others, will get you from the city center to the south bus station. There are buses leaving every 20 minutes so don’t be taken in by the touts in front of the station who will drive you.
Along the way, the landscape is stark, but that’s Xinjiang. There were some windmills and construction, but otherwise little to look at. Bring a book and you’ll be fine.
The Lonely Planet warned that Turpan is in the “Death Valley of China.” Temperatures can surpass 100°F (40°C), so I was glad I had my sunscreen and parasol. There isn’t much to the town. The bus station was a block away. After passing the butcher and getting some cold water at a general store, I soon found the traditional market.
As in Urumqi, you have to pass through security to get into the market or just about anywhere. Still the market was fun to wander through.
I just had some bread for lunch sitting in a park under a big tree.
I wandered a bit more looking for the museum, but it was so hot that I contented myself with the central park and an air conditioned underground mall, which was cool, but oddly empty.
20 Jul 2015 2 Comments
If you’re in Urumqi, the Xinjiang Provincial Museum is a must see. It’s not very large, but it gives you a portion of the history of the region. It’s located behind a street with lots of high fashion, over priced stores and the Sheraton Hotel. Get to the Sheraton and someone at the front desk will be able to speak English and point you in the right direction.
After going through security, you’ll find galleries with more English than usual. They explain how the Han first came to Xinjiang in 200 BC, way before the Uighurs. They want you to see the Han arts and crafts and remember they were there first. Point taken.
I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to see the galleries with Uighur culture on display. Those were locked up. Why?
I’d love to know if they’re usually closed. Leave a comment and let me know if you’ve see these galleries.
It seems that these galleries should always be open to show goodwill.
17 Jul 2015 2 Comments
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.
16 Jul 2015 Leave a comment
To see even more photos, click here.
15 Jul 2015 3 Comments
Before returning to the US, I ventured out to the wild west of China, to Urumqi in Xinjiang Province. Xingjiang’s a huge province (c.637,000 sq mi/1,650,257 sq km; 1994 estimated population 16,050,000; 2000 population 18,459,511 according to the Columbia Gazetteer of the World), full of resources. It’s been is described as a coal boat in a sea of oil. On top of that there’s gold, silver, sapphires and several other minerals.
The territory has been held by a variety of nations. In 200 BC the Han Chinese gained control. Since then it’s been held by Uzbeks, Tibetans, Uigurs, Mongols, Arabs, Manchus and Chinese. This history creates disputes still as the Uighurs, who’re a Central Asian ethnic group with a Turkic language, used to make up 90% of the population 50 or so years ago, now make up around 50% as Han and other Chinese ethnic groups have moved in to manage the resources and area.
I did want to see a different side of China and I did. Urumqi, the capital, has a strong Uighur look in the part of the city where the Grand Bazaar and International Bazaar are. Wandering around this area, you’ll see vendors selling dried fruits, textiles, ornate tea sets, traditional clothing, fur and daggers. The International Bazaar is written up in all the guidebooks, but you should also walk around the neighborhood it’s set in to get a real feel for life in Urumqi.
One aspect of this real life is the heavy presence of army and police. I’ll describe more of this tomorrow, but basically everywhere you go you’ll have to go through a security checkpoint, or two, to enter. Since there have been incidents of violence against the Chinese by Uighur separatists, the Chinese have cracked down. Hard.
“Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.” Columbia Gazetteer of the World Online. 2015. Columbia University Press. 15 Jul. 2015. <http://www.columbiagazetteer.org/main/ViewPlace/158323>