Still on a high after finally making it across Mongolia after a week and a half of hitch hiking, long painful bus rides, camping, no showers and no sleep. I made it to China. I ended up in a little town called Chinghe after hitch hiking with a nice car full of interesting scientists and arrived in a very different China to the one I had left behind a month before.
The streets are lined with miniature white picket fences, there are giant bouquets of plastic sunflowers shooting out from the ground, plastic palm trees and plastic trees that light up. It is neon light crazy. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could see it from Google maps lit up in all colours at night time. It’s almost like it’s a Christmas celebration here every night with plastic trees decorated with tinsel that light up in different colours.
What world have I entered? I felt as if Julie Garland would appear carrying toto in a basket followed by a bunch of little munchkins.
But in this perfect, bizarre little Chinese “Land of Oz”, security is strict. As soon as you enter anywhere in Xinjinag you must register yourself with the police, saying where you have come from and where you are going. Unlike its neighbouring country homestays are illegal and are virtually impossible, instead you must find accommodation in hotels that are allowed to have foreigners staying in them (which is only three in this city).
So after three weeks of sleeping in tents, in local’s gers, carparks and overcrowded minibuses not having access to internet, a hot shower, or even drinking water entering a hotel room was certainly a foreign thing for me.
It was as if I entered another planet. The contrast between the cities I had visited in the last month compared to the one we had found ourselves in were completely different. It’s as if the Monoglians still hold their nomadic ways and their cities are basic, no frills. A shop is a shop, a restaurant a restaurant. The shop has shelves and the restaurant a table and chairs, and that’s it. The buildings are all old soviet style concrete houses with crumbling paint.
Chinghe, like other bordering towns in Xinjiang, used to be culture rich with the Uyghur people, Kazakhs, Hui, Mongolian and more, but now under the control of China things are starting to change. The Chinese government are developing large cities that are attractive to the ethnic Han Chinese people. It is a way of shifting the huge population of the Han Chinese people into the more remote areas of China and unfortunately, it is almost like a polite invasion. In Chinghe now the accepted language is Chinese, with schools now making the children learn Chinese. This puts the locals at a major disadvantage if they only know their local tongue, giving them access to limited jobs.
Here is a great link that looks at different things xinjiang provience in china is good for... http://www.farwestchina.com/2011/09/xinjiang-suffers-from-minority-complex.html