News / Asia

    Reporters Notebook: Xinjiang Journey

    Armed policemen stand guard near the site of an explosion in Urumqi, northwest China's Xinjiang region, May 22, 2014.
    Armed policemen stand guard near the site of an explosion in Urumqi, northwest China's Xinjiang region, May 22, 2014.
    After three days in Urumqi, I decided to spend my last day in Xinjiang visiting other parts of the troubled region.

    Because of the sensitive nature of the situation, I tried to be mentally prepared.  But I did not expect how difficult it would be to travel. Two cars refused me service before I found a taxi in the street that was willing to take me where I wanted to go.  

    It's nine o'clock in the morning in Urumqi, with the sun rising in the distance over towering snow-capped mountains. It feels like an ancient land.

    As we pass south of downtown, the barren desert wasteland rises up to greet us. But the desert is the least of my worries on this road.

    At every highway toll station, we are directed to a heavily armed police checkpoint for a car inspection.  Many Chinese citizens with a second generation ID card go through electronic scanning.  But we saw one young Uighur, standing under a shed, while police did a detailed inventory of his vehicle.

    Caged Soldiers
     
    Continuing along westbound Highway G30 Lianhuo, leading to Korla toll station, we met the most stringent security checks. Not only was every car stopped, but I observed security forces with powerful pump action shotguns as four officers surrounded our car.

    They required everyone to produce documents and asked us to open the trunk. The driver told me that the check will be more stringent when we return to Urumqi.
     
    After the toll station checkpoint, we saw more armed patrols and police with camouflage uniforms, helmets and rifles, as well as soldiers surrounded by protective net cages.
     
    Tourism into the Wind
     
    About 60 kilometers out of Urumqi is Xinjiang's famous Salt Lake landscape. Here is an international scenic spot. And yet I saw the area deserted, except others reporters, surrounded by a silence like a deserted ruin.
     
    Fear of violent incidents in Xinjiang and tough anti-terrorism measures have crippled the area's tourism industry. Today it was reported that the Xinjiang government will provide 500 yuan ($80) as an incentive to encourage visitors. However, despite the beautiful scenery, the money may not be enough. As some netizens said, 50,000 yuan ($8,000) would not be enough to get people to take on the adventure. While restoring tourism is a priority, law and order is probably what is needed before tourists return.

    Beauty and a Golden Toilet
     
    The beauty of the scenery along the way, you can not use language to describe it. Along the highway is an area of 1,000 square kilometers of Asia's largest wind power plant. Brown on both sides of the highway extends to iron hot rolling hills and cliffs of gorgeous color and hues. Near the ancient Silk Road, we see a still vivid Thousand Buddha Caves temple and an ancient clay castle. I can not help but ponder. With such magnificent mountains and rivers, so much fertile land, why does it spawn terrorists? Downstream of the oil and wealth, why are local residents living in dilapidated homes?  Why can they not take a slice of the natural resources?
     
    The answer might lie in a toilet.

    We traveled along the road from Korla to Turpan, then to Shanshan. Because it was late, we decided to return to Urumqi. In the wind farm rest stop, we stopped to use a dilapidated restroom built over a foul smelling, hollow pit next to the magnificent wind farm and oil wells.
     
    Here, wells from the United Arab Emirates draw up money from the ground and are used to create gold plated toilets elsewhere. Natural gas in Xinjiang, according to our driver, is transported to Shanghai. He said locals now use natural gas imported from Russia.

    At a  recent meeting of the Politburo, President Xi Jinping proposed allowing more of the natural wealth to remain in Xinjiang. However, because of reports of local corruption, ordinary people in Xinjiang would be assigned benefits.

    A Knife and Some Raisins
     
    Along the Lianhuo road, we came across locals making raisins using an ancient process of drying grapes in a small shack and then placing them on the ground in the sun. We saw the dozens of large and small reddish-purple raisins, which exude a seductive scent. In the raisin processing room, a Uighur boss and I talk and enthusiastically endorse all kinds of raisins. He takes a big bamboo basket from a dark dark room, filled with plump, sparkling raisins.  

    Let us taste!
     
    Then he pulled out a rusty iron knife, briefly giving me a little chill. Concern vanished when he got up and cut a watermelon, inviting us to eat. His wife set me up with a kettle and asked with concern if I need heat for the water. We appreciate the moment, warm and welcoming. Uighur and Han Chinese. Today, because of tensions and violence in Xinjiang, many Han Chinese are scared
     
    But my taxi drivers said the Uighurs, if not brainwashed by outsiders, are simple and warm.  This view has been echoed in recent days in Chinese official media propaganda, which says recent attackers were brainwashed by extremist religious ideology.

    In every corner, in every school, store, department store, city center - like a shopping center, movie center, everywhere - you'll see heavily armed security. But for how long? Will this be the future of Xinjiang?

    You May Like

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games, Despite Woes

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    IS Use of Social Media to Recruit, Radicalize Still a Top Threat to US

    Despite military gains against IS in Iraq and Syria, their internet propaganda still commands an audience; US officials see 'the most complex challenge that the federal government and industry face'

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora