Wednesday Wanderings: The Former Nation of East Turkestan
It’s hard to stabilize a video camera when you’re being stampeded by a crowd of bedraggled Uighur shepherds, when you’re tripping over barnyard critters and women with gold-plated teeth and painted unibrows are screaming foreign obscenities in your ears.
So, for any readers who are easily susceptible to motion sickness: I guess I’m sorry for what’s coming. Go scarf down a bottle of Dramamine or something, because this Wednesday Wandering is taking us to a livestock market in the former nation of East Turkestan.
Unless you’ve read an early edition of ‘Arabian Nights,’ it’s probably not ringing a bell. That’s because in 1949, Mao’s Red Army marched into this marginalized (irrelevant) corner of Central Asia and declared it property of China (historically something of a habit for the Chinese).
Today, this unstable region remains part of China, known as Xinjiang Autonomous Zone. What’s interesting about China’s ownership claim is its shameless transparency: the people of Xinjiang aren’t ethnically Chinese, but Turkic Uighur; they aren’t Buddhist, but fervently Muslim; they don’t speak Mandarin, but Uighur, a language related to Turkish, but written with Arabic script. When separatists point to these differences, the Chinese government laughs and pats their heads. ‘China depends on ethnic diversity,’ they say—almost as much as they depend on Xinjiang’s vast mineral and oil deposits, which have an estimated dollar value in the billions. But we don’t like to talk about that.
To call China’s Uighur population angry and resentful would be using understatement to its greatest effect. In recent years, the Uighurs have cried for independence and autonomy, demonstrating their firm ability to self-rule by exploding their own public areas and immolating local buses. It hasn’t been working out that well so far, but they’re really optimistic.
This video is a snapshot of this ethnic minority group, taken at Kashgar’s Sunday Livestock Market, where Uighur shepherds gather from the surrounding villages to haggle over sheep, goats, cattle, and camels.
As you’re watching, keep an eye out for the women with gold teeth and stenciled unibrows. In many Central Asian cultures, the sight of a woman smiling at you from across the bazaar with 40 karat grills and a hairy, unbroken brow-line is considered profoundly erotic, irresistible to all men. Some things are best left unexplained.