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Urumqi, XInjiang province 2005:

Aug.’03_ I had the chance to fly nearly five hours north of Shanghai to visit Urumqi a small city of 2.3 million people in Xinjiang province the most north eastern part of China – the largest province in China.
Flew up on a Thursday morning and was greeting inside the security area of the airport by the GM of the five star hotel owned by the local corporation that
intended to do business with our southern business partners (the reason for the trip).

Taken to lunch in a private dining room twice the size of my apartment in Shanghai.
In the afternoon chauferred around the various local markets in a classic American limo.

That evening the first of many banquets hosted in a local restaurant featuring Cantonese food owned by one of the GMs of a local construction company (also looking to do business in the future).
Endless rounds of toasting “gambei” and food
shovelled down you until you are fit to burst.
The meal was hosted by Mr Mi (Chairman Hualing Grp).
Two separate rooms – Mr Mi (muslim/Han) moved from room to room during the evening – a multi-tasker obviously -separate deals in the future with various parties.

One room is for party from a Beijing Construction company. In our room sat the Guangdong (Southern China)
Construction people, Mr Yuan-the Chairman had yet to arrive.
A woman representing a local investment
company (she is the daughter-in-law of the Premier of Xinjiang Province), couple of other reps of local Govt.
Much toasting, with the highly regarded baijiu (smells like nail polish remover-tastes like acetone) firewater.
The local dry red wine is high in tannin-too sharp – its called Loulan – they have been growing wine here for 2000 years but have never bothered to improve the taste.
Chauferred back to the hotel – the others stay up most of the night playing mahjong.

Day 2 – Slow drive out of Urumqi with its streets teaming with diversity – 2.3m population.
Were’re only 4.5 hrs flight from Shanghai but the temperatures are down to 28-30 degrees daytime (its summer) and 18 degrees night compared to 40 degrees and 28 degrees nighttime in Shanghai..
Winter temperatures here are down to minus 20-30 C.

As with all of China north of the Yellow River, central supply stations pump hot water to most buildings and so the locals maintain that the inside temps are more bearable than we experience in Shanghai (we are of course south of the Yellow river…..and its every householder for him/herself).

I LOVE the racial diversity here – it doesnt feel like China – its feels more exotic.
Of the 2.3 million people, 74% are Han (who comprise 90% of China nationally), 11% Uighur (pronounced WAYger), and the other 15% comprise the remaining 46 minorities (China has approx 55 minority races – these are the hidden faces of China.)
Xinjiang is the largest prov.in China 1.66mill.sq.kms. Its the most western pt.of China.

The beautiful Tienshan Mountains (still capped in ice) visible from downtown Urumqi, just 30 minutes drive to Nth of Urumqi are over 6,000 m high & are over 1500 kms long, running east/west.

A bus (the company bus) has been given to the guests from Beijing, Guangdong province and Shanghai to travel south east (2.5 hours) to visit the ruins at the western edge of the “Old Silk Road”.
We escape Urumqi in just 15 minutes.
A herd of 50 camels spotted 40mins to east of Urumqi. A wind power farm nearby sprouting the largest concentration of (Danish-supplied) wind turbines in Asia – they turn slowly in the strong wind, at about half a hertz per second, resembling a herd of ungainly insects.

Turpan, (about 200 kms east of Urumqi) marks the start of the Old Silk Road.
The road to Turpan cuts thru a canyon midpoint.
Either side of the shale hills are shale &
riverstone wastelands that stretch 30-50kms from Tienshan Mts across the highway & beyond to distant sandhills in the south.
The same loose sprawling riverstone moonscape cut thru with mountain-fed watercourses, that constantly change and undermine buildings & walls-this uninviting
almost alien sliced and diced countryside runs for most of the 200kms journey.

Turpan is home to 500,000 Ughurs. The countryside is suddenly and miraculously verdant green, vineyard country…..has been for 2000 years – a true oasis.
Marco Polo & countless other traders/travellers have trod this way on their way to China’s ancient capital Xian, in Shaanxi Province in their search for whatever the east (then called “The Middle Kingdom” had to offer.
What people those ancient travellers and traders were – it was arduous enough travelling in a small bus – let alone walking behind a caravan comprised of 10-20 camels for months on end!
The temps (it had been raining in Urumqi [24 deg.C] had now soared to 45 deg.C+ in Turpan.

The ground temperature is measured electronically @ a tourist stop (near the fabled Monkey King’s Red Mountain) and here it measured 53 degrees C.
It had been as high as 65 degrees C.
We are in an area of land about 300 meters below sea level (similar to the Dead Sea in Israel).

A few kms past Turpan, lay the mud brick ruins of Gaochang (2000 yrs old). Outside is a small noisy caotic market run by Uyghurs, small kebab stalls & melon sales.
I was of course in jeans-totally unprepared for the high temperatures and slowly staggered around for most of the day feeling like something the dog dragged home.

“The sky is bluer here-high wispy cirrus clouds similar to my memories of my weeks in the Himalayas.”
Karez, is next, a small settlement, a few kms back towards Turpan, hidden down 5kms of tree screened concrete slab road-small vineyards on one side, bare sand on the other.

A tired faded museum recalls the labour of the Uyghurs over the last 2000yrs.
They used hand tools to dig underground irrigation tunnels, that transformed after some kms into open channels to irrigate the vineyards….it was a case of, “dig and live”….nothing could survive out here without this precious mountain water.

Hundreds of kms of conduits for cold Tienshan mountain water. Moved up the road to the local “Grape Valley”- offering a slew of small restaurants and stalls selling fresh fruit.
Lunch on tables outdoors under the overhanging grapes reminding me of Crete.
The locals cooking lamb over an open fire, loads of grapes and raisins freshly picked. Tables became beds in the evening – its seemed most people slept outside in these temperatures.

The colourful red, green, turquiose carpets are draped over every piece of furniture…….”sometimes, life can be very good!”
The locally made thick white noodles which tasted really delicious, mixed with vegetables and lamb in steaming hot bowls, certainly came back to ‘haunt me’ and I only just made it back to my hotel room five hours later……
“Montezuma’s revenge”…..ahhh aint life grand!

Day 3 – The same bus picks most of us (the Beijing party have gone elsewhere) up from the hotel front door, this time accompanied by the local entrpreneur Mr Mi (reputedly worth some $US 600 million) who sat beside the driver and chatted with all and sundry.
Today I had an interpreter – a local Uighur woman who was his GM import/export.
Our first visit was to his house sitting on five acres of land, behind an old office & factory block. It is only 15 minutes drive west of Hotel.

Can you imagine walking through the orchard of a property owned by a Chairman of a large corporation in the west – as part of an introduction to a company?
We then walked through his vegetable garden to his private menagerie (peacocks, emus and even wolves [kept in a private stinking cage].

Next stop was to grind some corn flour using these ancient grindstomes (some of us got our hands dirty pulling the grindstomes around) kept in a large structure behind his garden.
His School for 600 orphans is located in the next property to the house.
Next stop the orphanage/school, where kids are brought to him from all over Xinjiang Province, following one of the many earthquakes in the souhtern region near Kashgar (Kash as the locals call it).

20 kids are playing soccer on “the only grassed soccer pitch in Urumqi”.
The kids are happy and well dressed and run over to Mr Mi surrounding him and chattering as if he was their father.
He also runs (in a large warehouse attached to the orphanage/school) a training workshop for the local unemployed.

Now a little business –
We drive to a large 7 square km site, future
project. Presently, mainly wasteland, stones, with a small abbittoir, & showroom.
After inspecting the small cutting chain (apprentices practicing), empty slaughterhouse, freezers-we move to the usual meeting room arrangement, leather chairs in a “U” shape.

The most important places are where the left side of the ‘U’ mts the base – here the host & the important guests sit.
The host can choose either the seat @ the base, or on the left edge. The future project ( sprawling abbatoir, factories and auctioneering facility) is discussed in broad terms-no search for pledges or commitments @ this stage.

Next we drive over to the foothills of the Tienshan Mountains to visit what turns out to be a Kazak village – only 45 minutes away by bus.
“I am sitting opposite a lake across from snow covered peaks, 40min SE of Urumqi.”
Surrounded by a Khazak circular tent encampment (perhaps 50-60 tents) perched precariously on steep grassed (this time) hills rising higher into pine thickets, peaks above, shrouded in mist.

As we arrive we are set upon by 12 Kazaks on horses looking for riders for baksheesh of course. No takers – we elect to eat lamb kebabs cooked beside the tent. The taste of the local lamb is wonderful – perhaps its the mountain air??

Inside the tent we removed our shoes & sat on cushions laid on richly embroidered carpets, matching the walls -garish reds, purples, pinks, orange, yellow flowers on wild splashes of blue & crimson.

The 12 reps of 3 companies sat around a 30cm high table, covered in local breads, fruit & cold meat. After lunch (which included more lamb, hogget melting off the bone, chicken & goats head), the men sat down to play poker (Mr Mi supply’g RMB 20,000 cash for the bets)….remember this is another business day and these people are here to talk about a RMB 5 Billion ($US 600 million deal to be consummated in three months or so)….haha this is Xinjiang I love it here!!

I walked up the mountain path wearing my black Kazak waistcoat, black Khazak hat borrowed against the cold (I’m in suit trousers & white business shirt-as usual totally inappropriate attire) – the temperatures were now down to about 10 degrees C.

Halfway back down the muddy path I’m picked up by a Kazak boy on horseback-told to get on.
I was in the middle of receiving a marriage proposal from one of the local women (at least I think that what she was proposing – I took it that she was overcome by my magnificent appearance in local Kazak garb). Anyway up up and waaaaaayyy – on horseback in my business clothes, up the steep muddy hillside to a ridge overlooking the camp.

A couple of the party are there with Helen my interpreter, looking very comfortable astride these wiry, surefooted small horses bred by the Kazaks. During the day Helen had relaxed & expressed tentatively @ first, then more openly, her frustrations as a Uighur living in a Han world.
Its 6.20pm & I am missing the AB’s game against Australia – stuck up a beautiful mountain surrounded by laughing Kazaks – ahh well, I guess I can miss one game now and then.

7.00pm card game is finally over – the money has been redistributed, the kitty is spent.
We clamber back in the 20 seater coach, its bloody cold and we begin the slow rough drive over potholed-shingle tracks-15mins, to rough asphalt road.
This place apparently offers skiing in winter.

Dinner in the hotel:
5 Xinjiang dancers in bright costumes performed one by one for over one hour as we ate.
Two large tables. Three companies @ one table, one company @ the other table.
Much toasting, by individuals who get out of their seats and stand by the seat of the recipient.
Before I can toast my friend from Xinjiang, Ming Lan whom I had met in Shanghai some six months ago, I must observe protocol & toast Mr Mi (host) then Mr Yuan (Chairman. from the southern Guangzhou company).

The dancers @ behest of the MC (Han Chinese Opera singer in her 40’s), take turns to invite men from the guestlist to dance to the wonderful Xinjiang music.
(Mr Yuan receives most invitations-I receive one, @ one point all the dancers return & invite all the men to dance.
I stagger awkwardly around the floor, arms
outstretched as if I’m having Albatross lessons,
smiling @ the exquisitly costumed performer in front of me.

Flowers are given out-recipients are said to be
lucky in love (I got one – a marvellous irony).
Mahjong is played until 4.00am by Mr Zheng & Mr Yuan & colleagues.

Day 4- Picked up in limousines (classic Lincoln + a Merc 600) & drive across town to Ming Lan’s office-Xinjiang branch of Guandong Construction Group.
“U” shape meeting room once again.
More discussion on future building projects for GDIC.
Eating local fruit finishes meeting.

Gift giving – white jade (sheep fat) pendants, 6 boxes fruit, 6 bottles wine.
Back to Hualing Hotel to checkout-all accomodation and airfares – the entire four days have been paid for by Mr Mi-farewell from Mr Mi & Mr Yuan.

Drive to airport in Merc.600, luggage in Lincoln limo. Most of this trip has been for me a hugely interesting contrast as to just how business is conducted in China – how parties meet, how relationships are formed – the delicate approach to business issues – constructive discussions on future business are lowkey initially and very much secondary. The key is relaxation, a kind of formal informality as only the Chinese can accomplish, “person to person – open, and quite enlightening”.
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Notes taken from the internet XINJIANG PROVINCE:
The region, which the Chinese government formally identifies as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, covers about 636,000 square miles–four times the
size of California. Its vast stretches of arid dunes and forbidding mountains contain oil reserves estimated at up to 40 billion tons, accounting for nearly two-fifths of China’s total.

The region also contains nearly 40% of China’s coal, as well as rich resources of gold and copper.
In the glacier-fed oases that lie between the deserts and mountains, Xinjiang’s dozen or so minority nationalities coexist uneasily with the majority Han Chinese. The minorities are tied across political boundaries to their ethnic relatives in the Central Asian states of the former Soviet Union.

Xinjiang’s minorities–the largest of which are the Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighurs–have resisted assimilation by virtue of cultural, linguistic and geographic differences. “We have nothing in common with the Chinese people or their culture,” said Huji Tuerdi, a Uighur native of the city of Kashgar who now lives in the United States. “Even though they think their culture is superior to ours, we find they have nothing attractive to us except the superior technology, which they also got from the West.”

The resentment is apparently mutual. Han Chinese often gripe about preferential treatment they believe minorities are getting. They often view minority religions and customs as tokens of backwardness.

Han chauvinism reached fanatical heights during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, when mosques were razed, public prayer was banned, Koranic schools were shut down and Han settlers raised pigs in Muslim neighborhoods in violation of Islamic prohibitions.
Like Tibetans, Xinjiang’s minorities complain that they are being swamped by a flood of ethnic Han Chinese from the crowded east.

Urumqi