Crappy Internet. Busy travel schedule. Those are reasons why I often do not manage to write a blog post during our travel. However, the main reason I haven’t written any posts on this trip is that I’ve been struggling on how to capture our experiences. But now that we are back in Guangzhou, I’ve just got to get the words down before they fade.
We have spent the last ten days in a region of China that doesn’t feel like and perhaps some might say shouldn’t be a part of China.
The first part of our trip was in two cities (Urumqi and Turpan) in the province of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the Northwest of China. This is where the Silk Road once crossed and became the meeting point of East and West. Those Silk Road merchants who put down roots in this region are clearly reflected in the cultures and the people that are found there today. The largest ethnic group here are the Muslim Uyghurs, linguistically and culturally descended from the Turkic group. They are quite physically diverse, ranging from a more Western Eurasian look to a more East Asian appearance. In recent years, the Han Chinese population has increased dramatically in the province which has brought with it increased tensions between the two groups. The anger and resentment of the Uyghurs could be felt underneath the tightly controlled environment. Beijing (in reference to the political power of China) has decided that the best way to respond is to restrict the movement of foreigners by determining which hotels can accept them and they have turned the area into a police state where there are police and military patrolling the streets. It is the first place in China where we have visited where large armoured vehicles drive down the streets, soldiers with machine guns stand behind metal fencing at the bazaar, police are stationed inside the hotels, and hotel and/or police knock on your door in the middle of the night to check your passport (that happened to us on our last night). It was made obviously clear to us that this would be unlike any of our previous travel through China.
Our first stop was Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. We intentionally chose to stay in the Uyghur area of Urumqi and spent a day just walking around getting a feel for the city, the people and the food. It was an odd experience knowing we were in China but feeling like we were in a place that felt more like Turkey. It was also in Urumqi that I felt unsafe for the first time in all of the travelling we have done this year. I felt a huge relief when we left the city.