Monday, April 28, 2008

Ethnic Diversity in China-Oct'06

This trip showed us the extreme diversity within China more than ever before. Not only does China have an extreme range within the economic compendium, but the also the range of ethnicity, religion, geography, and culture are enormous. I suppose this is to be expected because it is a very large country and perhaps the same thing could be said of Russia. As gentle readers may know by now, every country has different problems is combating the AIDS epidemic. In China, the major problems are drugs and blood transfusions. They are getting a handle on the blood transfusions. However, there are people out there who are infected with HIV from drug use or from transfusions and these people have sex.
Our trip was to two places where drugs are a major problem. Both places were places where there are several ethnic minorities.

Kun Ming

Kunming, in Yunnan province is in the south central part of China near Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Thailand. Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand come together at their northern boarders with China and this area is called the Golden Triangle. The origin of the name is not clear, but it is clear that large quantities of opium have traditionally been raised in this area. Reportedly, Thailand has eradicated most of their poppy fields, but the Shan United army in Myanmar (Burma) continues to be a major player, using the proceeds for the sales to support their army and their ongoing war against the central Myanmar government. Anyway, with drugs so nearby and easy to obtain, Kunming’s drug problem is certainly more prevalent here than in other parts of China.
Prison officials from all Provinces of China have gathered here to listen and learn about drug treatment and how HIV spreads among drug users. The climate is warm in Kunming temperatures are in the 70’s during our visit. The main tourist sites in and around the city are the Stone Forest, the minority village, and several caves.
Traffic in China is truly insane. I suppose it is because there are way too many cars, a lot of bicycles, mixed together with pedestrians who pay little attention to traffic lights. The good old united States have the most courteous traffic system in the world and one of the safest. I read where there have been 42,000 traffic deaths in the first six months of the year in China. Once out of the city, the road can be down to one lane because someone has parked partially in the road or there is a horse driven cart right around the bend. People pull out in front of you from the side of the road or if they want to turn left in front of you causing you to have to stop or greatly slow down. However, most of the drivers are young people with good reflexes and I don’t believe we have had any serious close calls yet. But I have to turn away from looking where we are going and occupy my mind with something besides traffic.

Kunming has a population of about 3.5 million and sits near a beautiful Dian lake, one of the largest in China. However, it has been badly polluted by industry, limiting its use as a recreation facility or a source of water. Sitting near the shores of the lake is the Yunnan Nationalities Village. This was built for tourist, but it was worth a visit.

These beautiful young women, dressed in the ceremonial costumes, represent their different ethnic minorities.
This is a tea room in one of the minority villages. Western hats appear to be native to several minorities. I am wondering which country had them first.
Guess who is on the rope line? The weather was perfect and we had a great lunch in an outdoor restaurant on the grounds.
We took a tram across Lake Dian up the mountain on the other side.
We visited the Jiuxiang area and went through a really neat cave where prehistoric 15,000 year old bones were found around 1990. This is the entrance.
At various places lights were used to highlight some of the stalagmites and stalactites.
At one point the rocks divide the river into two streams.
Next we went to the Stone Forest. This is a limestone karst outcrop. The ashen stone pillars were abandoned by the sea as it receded hundreds of millions of years ago.

See the elephant?

From one end of China to another. Urumqi (Chinese pronounce it ou-loo-mu’-chi but the English spelling must have been changed or the city renamed) is near Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia in the far northwest corner of China. The Silk Road ancient trade route went through this country. The Silk Road started in Xian and once it reached Kashgar (Kashi), it branched off to Persia, India, Afghanistan, Turkey, etc. It is arid country surrounded by deserts and mountain ranges. The Taklimakan Desert is a “searing griddle” according to the guide books.
Our Chinese travelers noted that the country did not feel like China, with so much Middle Eastern influences, although about 50% of the population is Han. The city itself has a population of about 1.3 million. There is not much to see in Urumqi itself but we ventured out about 75 miles to the oasis town of Turpan. On the way, we actually saw a small camel caravan of 2 camels. This is high sunny country. Fortunately we visited in October when the temperature was in the mid 80’s.
Turpan is an old city with a long history. Traces have been found of humans living there, dating as far back as 6,000 years ago. Turpan means 'the lowest place' in the Uygur language and 'the fertile land' in Turki. Lying in the Turpan Basin, the elevation of most of the places in the area is below 500 meters (1,640 feet). Turpan is the city with the lowest elevation in China. Turpan has a population of 250,000, made up of 21 different nationalities. Among these the Uygurs account for over 70% of the total number.

The city, which is also known as Huo Zhou (a place as hot as fire), is the hottest place in China. The annual average temperature is 14C (57.2F). It is reckoned that there are 152 summer days on average, and 28 really broiling days with the temperature above 40C (104F). Although the high temperature can be oppressive people can also get some benefits from it. The abundant sunshine gives the melons and grapes ideal conditions to grow. The fruit here is widely known for its high sugar content, especially the grapes. Turpan is praised as the 'Hometown of Grapes' and the Grape Valley is a good place to enjoy the grapes of hundreds of varieties. Apart from that, the locals are quite fond of sand therapy which has a history of hundreds of years in Turpan. People lie or sit under sheds, burying their bodies in hot sand about 50C (122F) to 60C (140F). It is said to be a good way to treat rheumatism and skin ailments. There is a Sand Therapy Center in the northwest of the city which is popular among visitors.

One of the world's architectural wonders hides in Yarnaz Valley, 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) west of Turpan. The ancient city of Jiaohe (Yarkhoto) with a history of 2300 years lies between two rivers on a loess plateau atop a cliff of over 30 meters (98.4feet). It is the largest, oldest and best-preserved earthen city in the world. Jiaohe was the capital of the former Cheshi State. An Indian proverb says, 'Intelligence is bound to exist where two rivers meet'. Jiaohe, meaning in Chinese where two rivers meet, is such a place. According to historical records it was home to 700 households, 6500 residents plus 865 soldiers.
At the end of the 8th Century, the city was tossed into the reigns of the Turpan, Hui, and Mongols. Residents fled from the destroyed city continuously until in the beginning of the 14 Century, the city was abandoned, as was its glory and prosperity of over 2000 years. Owing to the arid climate and remote location, the ancient city of Jiaohe remains intact.
For a few coins, you could have your picture taken with a couple of young women in their native costumes.
We had lunch at this hotel. Notice the Middle-Eastern influence.
We visited the Karez Museum showing the elaborate Karez Irrigation system in the region that brings water from the ground. The melting snow from the mountains is the main source of the water that seeps into the porous soil forming aquifers. These kids were walking through the parking lot.
Emin Minaret is the largest extant old tower in Xinjiang; it is the only Islamic tower among the hundred famous towers in China.
Standing 2 km (1.24 miles) east of Turpan, Emin Minaret was built in 1777 in honor of the heroic Turpan general, Emin Khoja. He was an outstanding patriot who defended the unification of China throughout his life.
Right beside the minaret stands Su Gong Ta Mosque, one of the largest mosques in Xinjiang. The grand mosque can accommodate 1000 people.
We stopped at a vineyard and later were entertained with some dancing. There were several different kinds of grapes offered for sale.
Back in Urumqi, the camel was on display in front of a very large shopping area.
Our hosts took us to a show that night. We had a private room overlooking the stage.

We were given these ethnic hats. We really had a good time here. The Chinese started drinking and toasting as they like to do. The big lazy susan is the typical way a large table is served and there is always food left over.
I shot this from the plane as we were leaving Urumqi toward Beijing, just before we disappeared into the clouds.
We went back to Beijing for a night before returning home the next day. Lo and behold, it was a clear day.

This was a really interesting trip. We arrived home to catch most of the trees changing color.

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