A little ways from Shanghai
March 11, 2005 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Anyone know of useful resources regarding travel to/in Xinjiang Province, China?

I may be traveling to Xinjiang this summer, particularly Urumqi and Kashgar, and information on the net seems to be extremely sparse--if anyone knows anyway I could get useful information, regarding accomodations, language, expectations, preparations---whatever---it would be greatly appreciated...
posted by numble to Travel & Transportation around Shanghai, China (3 answers total)
Best answer: Never been, but I'm currently living in China. See below for my "China" talk. Your best bet is to ask people who've been there. Check out the China blogs. I have one guy on my LJ friend list who went there this summer and I know of at least one blog in English done from Urumqi. You should talk directly to them. Email me if you want links.

As far as I know, you don't need any special visas, or at least those special visas you do need aren't enforced that much. It sounds natty, but when you're over that way nobody's obeying the law anyway unless they're a peasant trying not to be fucked with or out to make money off of it. This is what I've heard from others who've gone that way. The reason information is sparse is because you don't need much. I think, if you're travelling out there, you should approach it with that mindset. Especially because if you're going to Urumqi and Kashgar, the last thing you want is to get roped into Hanland, which is sort of like McCarthy giving you a tour of the Soviet Union. It's all very Disneyfied and paranoid. The natives are pretty broke, and if you want to see "Xinjiang" and not some Han/Communist reinterpretation of it, you have to be ready to avoid the official channels and operate on the fly without too much planning. Get online and get some friends, Han or otherwise, in Urumqi where you can stay for a bit. In terms of the accomodations, I know that at least most cities are modern-ish. You won't be sleeping in yurts unless you want to. More likely than not, it will be concrete hotel rooms (very likely without ac, but then maybe with too, you never know), running toilets (they might be public, depending on how cheap you want it), you should learn to wash your clothes by hand (it's easy, just buy one of the 20 cent bags of detergent sold anywhere in China, stick half a spoonful in for a t-shirt, and knead for a minute, then drain, and continue to add, knead and drain until rinse water is clear, then wring and hang to dry), and bring lotion and deoderant. Those are probably the only two things you'll find impossible to locate anywhere in China (supermarkets have lotion, but not deoderant). They'll have toothpaste, toothbrushes, washcloths, bars of soap, and other such basics. It's a third world country and honest people here act like it - they're incredibly generous, but rough around the edges and they expect that a bed, food (which is just... oh my god), and clean water are enough (unless you have some debilitating illness, which they'll do their best in their rough n' dirty way to accomodate). And they won't try to speak English to you unless they're either an English student or they think you really can't understand Uygher, Chinese, or whatever other minority language they're tossing at you. Most people can speak a few words of English. Do NOT buy from vendors who hollar "hello" and tell you their stuff is "really good". If it feels polished, overdone, unauthentic, a little too hospitable, enthusiastic, or smarmy, it is. Xinjiang is dirt cheap, even more than the east coast, and if prices seem like they're inflated, they are. China has perfected the tourist trap. Remember to be skeptical of touristy stuff, and know that it might get a little teeny bit materially uncomfortable at times (but again, unsanitary is pretty obvious because you can smell it, avoid it), get to know someone locally before you go, and you'll have a fantastic time.

Are you in China now? Can you speak Chinese? You'll at least need to know a little Mandarin if you want to go out on your own. Most urban Xinjiangers can be expected to know a little, and again, I hear race relations are tense out there, and Han Chinese will kind of avoid the "Xinjiangy" parts, so you'll want to be able to converse with natives. Study a few Uygher words and they'll love you for it. Nobody ever learns Uygher.

Don't not go. Me and my Chinese girlfriend are also making plans, so if you wanted to tag along, maybe...
posted by saysthis at 12:08 AM on March 12, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the info! I'm currently a junior at Williams College taking my 2nd year of Chinese. I've been in China this past winter for about 1.5 weeks of traveling, and I was "studying" in Taiwan this past January. I'll be enrolled in an intensive language program from mid/late June to mid/late August this summer in Beijing. I want to go to Xinjiang in the month I have before the program starts..

Since my school offers grants for studying in Asia, I have written a proposal for researching differences between Han and Uyghur civic identity -- I don't know if I've gotten the grant yet, but the proposal can be seen here. It may be a little ambitious, but it is just mostly tentative ideas...
posted by numble at 9:13 AM on March 12, 2005

Just wanted to mention that I am very jealous; I've studied historical Central Asian peoples and desperately want to go there, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. I have been reading a bit about Xinjiang as East Turkistan, more Central Asian than Chinese. I'm sure you'll have a plethora of information for your paper, at least from all the independence literature.
posted by scazza at 4:24 PM on March 13, 2005

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