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

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Who Are US Allies in Fight Against Islamic State?

    There is little but opportunism keeping coalition together analysts warn — SDFs Arab militias are not united even among themselves, frequently squabble and don’t share Kurds' vision for post-Assad Syria

    Learning Foreign Language Helps US Soldiers Bridge Culture Gap

    Effective interaction with local populations part of everyday curriculum at Monterey, California, Defense Language Institute

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora