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

Video Getting to Zero AIDS Infections

More than 35 million people around the world are infected with HIV, a disease that is both preventable and treatable

Children, Childhoods Lost in European Refugee Crisis

According to UNICEF, 190,000 children applied for political asylum in Europe in the first 9 months of this year - twice as many as last year

What Happened When I Landed in Antarctica

Refael Klein chronicles what it's like to visit one of the coldest, most desolate places on Earth

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs