Monday, 30 October 2017

Silk Road: Uyghur Culture

Two musicians playing amazing instruments, a woman on tambourine
After we arrived in Kashgar, we quickly noticed things were much different here in the westernmost city in China and Xinjiang that borders Kazakhstan. All the Uyghurs look very different, some fair skinned, almost European, and others very dark and could be mistaken for being Mexican, much like how the Spanish can have various shades of skin colour.

Our first meal was at a Uyghur restaurant that looked traditional and probably for the benefit of tourists. In the middle was a bar (with no alcohol) and a dancing floor with a platform where three musicians sat playing instruments. Two dancers, a man and a woman performed folk dances for guests.

The woman would also dance with her partner for diners
It seemed like the Han Chinese sat on one side of the room, while the other featured Hui ethnic minority people, who are also Muslim, the women wearing simple headdresses and clapping along with the music.

We were given an array of dishes to eat, like a ratatouille with noodles, a large dumpling filled with lamb, and sweet rice seasoned with spices, and of course lamb kebabs. We were also presented with baked buns with minced meat inside.

The music was fantastic, mesmerizing to listen to -- a pity we were not given an introduction to the instruments! And it was interesting to watch how the dancers interpreted the music through their dance steps.

A bowl of noodles with a kind of ratatouille
After dinner, I wanted to share some moon cakes from Hong Kong with the rest of the tour members -- 30-year-old mandarin peels with red bean paste -- but I needed a knife to cut them.

We asked one of the waitresses in Mandarin and she violently shook her head and waved her hand. Then we thought she didn't understand Mandarin and drew a picture... not the best drawing, but when we showed it to her she again shook her head.

Finally we managed to flag down our Uyghur tour guide to ask for a knife and he said we were not allowed to have one in the restaurant. In the end we had to settle for a spoon which I used to cut the moon cakes into quarters. It wasn't the best solution, but it was the only one.

Sweetened and spiced rice with lamb kebabs and a dumpling
We later found out that Uyghurs are not allowed to carry knives anywhere and they are only allowed in the kitchen, not for guests to use. It's just another of the Chinese government's strict measures to try to control this "restive region" following some attacks in the last eight to nine years, some of which involved knives.

The longer we stayed here, the more we realized how oppressive life was like for Uyghurs -- on a daily basis.


  1. I hope what's the rule in Xinjiang won't happen in Hong Kong... and, in the meantime, feel for the Uyghurs.

    On a lighter note: a Beijinger friend of mine married a man from Slovenia she met when they both attended grad school in the US. When she brought him back to Beijing, many of her relatives asked her, "Is he Uyghur?" ;b