Saturday, 11 November 2017

Silk Road: Learning From Uyghurs

In the doctor's office on the seventh floor where most are Uyghurs
Being in Kashgar for 12 days we got to know Uyghurs better than most tourists, and probably most local Han Chinese. It seemed like the two ethnic groups lived in a parallel universe, where they didn't intersect much, unless they had to work together, like in the case of the hospital.

In the neurology ward, practically all the doctors were Uyghurs, the head nurse too, while only a handful of nurses were Han Chinese. Perhaps it was because the demographic of their patients were Uyghur.

Outside the hospital Uyghurs and Han Chinese didn't have much to do with each other. They didn't eat each other's food -- Uyghurs are Muslim and only eat Halal food, and Uyghurs were forced to speak Mandarin to Han Chinese, who hardly knew any Uyghur.

Our first neighbour waiting to be discharged from the hospital
So you can imagine the taxi drivers' surprise when I would say "hello" (yakshimusiz) and "thank you" (rekhmat) in Uyghur, and to my dad's neighbour's family I would say "good bye" (hosh) and they were happy I was trying to be friendly.

There were benefits to being Han Chinese -- you were less scrutinized when it came to going through security. Uyghurs would be subjected to more thorough searches from their ID to the items they were carrying.

When my dad was in the hospital we had three different neighbours. The first was a young couple, with whom we didn't interact much, but we were cordial.

Next came an elderly man, probably younger than my, with his extended family looking after him -- his wife, sister, and daughter-in-law with her children. We spent the most time with the daughter-in-law and her young daughter Madja.

She had very short hair -- it seems young girls have their heads shaved to ensure their hair grows thicker. At first she and we were shy, but after a day or two she warmed up to us, particularly when I gave her a balloon to play with.

Madja didn't know any Mandarin, though her young mother did. She was busy looking after her father-in-law -- constantly hoisting him up, or turning his body periodically for blood circulation.

Then when we came back one evening, the family was gone and my dad had one evening of quiet. The next day another neighbour came in, another man, probably in his 30s, but by then my dad was well enough to be discharged from the hospital and we left a day or two after.

The head nurse who spoke very good Mandarin
During our time in Kashgar, our tour guide was indispensable -- he came to the hospital a few times to visit dad to see if he was OK, and helped us arrange our hotel accommodation through his tour guide friend, who also helped us exchange money, and arrange a car for us to go to the airport.

These people were so warm and hospitable despite the situation they were living in on a daily basis. They were keen to show us another side of Kashgar and we were so glad and lucky to be at the receiving end of their generosity. I won't forget them.

Rahmat (Thank you).


  1. The security aside, did you feel that there's much discrimination of Ugyhurs by Han Chinese? Also, how long do you reckon many of the Han Chinese have been in Kashgar: i.e., were they born there or...?

    1. Yes there is discrimination in that they look down on Uyghurs... there is no attempt to understand them, partly because of propaganda. Some may have had grandparents who settled there, as there was a drive to populate Xinjiang in the 1950s.