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My Xinjiang Story Summed up in 15 Photos

April 22 | No Comments

In October of 2013, my wife and I decided to board an airplane that would take us back here to Xinjiang, China. It had been 3 years since we had called this place home, and now we were making our return. Xinjiang has been such a huge part of my life and I was excited to share it with my son who, up until now, has never even left the country.

A young boy waits for his flight in an airport

Most people don’t consider the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi to be a great place to live.

And for the most part they’d be right.

Previously we had lived in Karamay, a clean, quiet town a few hours north of Urumqi. This time, however, we needed to settle in the capital for at least a year or two.

Here’s a quick look at the photos that defined the first 6 months of this move to Xinjiang’s capital city back in 2013.

Adjusting to Urumqi’s Pollution

The biggest adjustment so far has been the air quality. Pollution levels in Urumqi rival most major cities in China.

During the polluted winter months there’s nothing better than a nice snowfall to clean the air and remind me that beauty can be found most anywhere, even within a crowded city like Urumqi.

Urumqi winter wonderland after a snowfall
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Revisiting Delicious Uyghur Foods

One of the best parts about being back in Xinjiang was treating my taste buds to the food they had been missing for so long. No other place in the world has the unique taste of the food here.

One of my all time favorites, of course, is the popular Uyghur dish called pollo (pilaf).

Uyghur polo cuisine

But I also don’t mind a good piece of Uyghur naan.

A Uyghur bread man in Xinjiang, China is all smiles

Or even the occasional street food peddled around by vendors all over the city.

Xinjiang street food vendor

Then again, Xinjiang has changed much since I first arrived in 2006. It used to be that KFC was the only “foreign” franchise in the province.

Now, Urumqi is home to Xinjiang’s first Burger King.

The very first Burger King that opened in Xinjiang, China
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Changes in Xinjiang Toilets?

Sometimes this change is readily seen while other times it still feels like China – and Xinjiang in particular – is a 3rd world country. Highway rest stops are a great example.

A nasty public toilet in Xinjiang, China

What’s crazy is that just two hours north of the highway are some of the nicest public toilets you’ll ever see in China.

This is part of a new initiative in Karamay to offer sanitary public toilets in an effort to help residents forget that they are living in the middle of nowhere.

A new, beautiful public toilet in Karamay, Xinjiang

Speaking of toilets, you know what else is sanitary?

Toilet paper.

So sanitary, in fact, that you can make a wedding dress out of it. I caught this at my local grocery store a couple months ago.

An incredible wedding dress made of toilet paper as seen in Xinjiang, China

I don’t know who in their right mind would wear a toilet paper dress on their special day.

This is especially true when modern Uyghur dresses like what I saw below are an option. (as a side note, check out these articles on attending a modern Uyghur wedding)

Modern Uyghur wedding dress

Chinese Celebrations in Xinjiang

Despite all the Uyghur population here in Xinjiang, the entire province still celebrates the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival or 春节).

It’s actually surprising how a bunch of red lanterns can turn a barren tree into a somewhat beautiful decoration.

Decorations for the Chinese New Year in Urumqi, Xinjiang

Spring Festival also means annoying firecrackers at all hours of the night. Somehow my son was able to sleep through it all. I wish I could say the same for me.

The morning after the Chinese New Year, the amount of firecracker debris is unbelievable.

A worker cleans up the mess left behind from Chinese New Year celebrations

Despite the annoyance that is Spring Festival, I actually have enjoyed this winter a lot.

I took the chance to attend a Xinjiang Flying Tigers CBA playoff game

A CBA basketball game in Xinjiang, China

…as well as take a winter hike through Urumqi’s Nan Shan. Pictures don’t do justice to how beautiful this was.

Hiking in the NanShan mountains in winter. Near Urumqi, Xinjiang

All in all it has been an amazing last 6 months. Melting snow outside is an indication that warmer weather is on the horizon and I can’t wait to see what new adventures that brings.

Stay tuned… :)

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About Josh Summers

Josh is the author of Xinjiang | A Traveler's Guide to Far West China, the most highly-reviewed and comprehensive travel guide on China's western region of Xinjiang. He lived, studied and run a business in Xinjiang, China for more than 10 years, earning recognition for his work from CCTV, BBC, Lonely Planet and many others.

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