August 17, 2007

Wild West China

I'm in Urumqi now. Urumqi is kind of reminscent of Ulaan Bator, in that is is big and sprawling and dusty and sort of a pit. But it's my gateway to the rest of Xinjiang, so here I am until this evening, when I catch a flight down to Kashgar on the rim of the Taklamakan. I spent the flight over here from Beijing watching a young Chinese girl and her father read old Garfield comics in Chinese. Most people in Urumqi are Chinese, although there are still young women in head scarves and old men in fur hats and street vendors selling nan bread and fruit to remind you that this isn't the coastal provinces any more.

I hiked a section of the Great Wall on Tuesday. I now have the utmost respect for any Mongolians who tried tackling that thing. The section our group of twenty hiked up to was remote and partially ruined, but free of Chinese tourists and commercial reconstructions. There was one guy selling drinks at a watchtower, but having just scrambled up there with the weight of two liters of water and a camera bag myself, I couldn't argue too much with the five yuan he was asking. This small bit of entrepreneurism notwithstanding it was a good hike and a good way to celebrate #24.

This morning I checked out the Xinjiang Autonomous Region Museum, which was definitely worth seeing, although maybe not for the reasons intended. I did see the Loulan Beauty, and some presentations of native culture and dress, but the biggest eye-opener was the exhibit captions.

Covering an area of 1.66 million square kilometers, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is a treasure land in the northwestern bordering region in our motherland with vast land and richly endowed recourses. The extended Silk Road linked the eastern and western civiliations. Being situated deep in the hinterland, it conceals the deep secret of the converged ancient civiliations of the world.

Xinjiang has been the multi-national homeland from ancient times. Forty-seven nationalities live here today, among them 13 brother nationalities, such as Uyghur, Han, Kazak, Hui, Khalkas, Mongolian, Xibe, Tajik, Uzbek, Daur, Manchu, Tartar, Russian, etc. have lived in Xinjiang for generations. For a long time, they have been cooperated as one family to build and safeguard the borderland. Under the glory of the nationality policy of the Party, precious traditional cultures of various nationalities have received effective protection, inhertiance, and development. In the historical process of the Development of Western Regions, various nationalities are more united to construct together a harmonious society. We hold this exhibition of Display of Xinjiang Nationality Custom to represent the gorgeous conditions and customs of the 12 ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, and to show the splendor of the beautiful rarity of treasure house of Chinese national culture.

Right. That's a direct quote from the "Preface" to the minorities exhibit. Pretty bold stuff for a museum where the only real Uyghurs evident were the stone masons tiling a room under renovation on the second floor. Most plaques were along similar lines; Xinjiang has always been a part of China; every minority group in Xinjiang works together; everything is going great and that's the way everyone wants it! Nice and subtle stuff. There was also an exhibit on the Communist revolution and Xinjiang's role in that, although I noted they didn't bother including English translations for that section. Ahem.

And then there's this, seen on a woman's t-shirt yesterday:

War is Peace

Man, this place is wierd.

Addendum - The Great Firewall is blocking me from viewing my blog (whoops, should've taken down that link to my paper on Xinjiang, maybe) but obviously not from the Blogger posting infrastructure. I can probably still read comments through this, but there's always e-mail if you want to get in touch directly.

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