Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, has the distinction of being the most landlocked city on the planet. Positioned 1,600 miles from the nearest coastline, this distinction has earned Urumqi a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
In an effort to attract more Chinese tourists, the government of China has also designated Urumqi as the “central point of Asia” and even built a monument to this effect in order to provide the tourists a target to focus their cameras on.
This attention from the government in Beijing has consequences across all aspects of society in Xinjiang… One of the more benign examples is that the Chinese government has decreed that all clocks in China must be set to “Beijing Time” and this is the only accepted official time. This leads to such curiosities as not having the sun rise until 9:45 AM at certain times of the year in Xinjiang.
Arriving in Urumqi from Beijing:
Before departing for Urumqi, all of the Chinese people I spoke with would sneer and say that Urumqi was “tiny” or “a village rather than a town” or some other adjective to indicate that Urumqi was small and backwards.
So, by the time our flight into Xinjiang was descending, I was practically expecting a village of maybe twenty people and a few mud huts. That impression wasn’t quite accurate. Urumqi is a booming frontier city of more than three million people. It is only small by Asian standards. After all, this is the continent of Beijing, Shanghai, Delhi, Tokyo, Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur and many other mega-cities.
Like much of China, Urumqi is participating in a construction binge, filling the city with high-rises, neon and traffic:
A high-speed rail line, connecting Beijing to Urumqi, is also being completed.
Urumqi – which literally means “beautiful pasture” in the Mongolian language – has come a long way from the roots implied by its name:
Urumqi, as you can tell, is not an attractive city. Wandering the streets though, there are interesting sights to be seen and one can get something of a feel for what the city must have been like in the very distant past of ten to twenty years ago:
One can also get a feel for the extraordinary tension between the Uighurs, the Chinese government and the Han Chinese the Chinese government is flooding into the region. But we’ll expand on that more in a future post… Below, you can see a group of paramilitary police making a strong show of force in a Uighur neighborhood of Urumqi:
More street scenes of Urumqi:
I didn’t buy anything here, but this was an interesting shop:
In the picture below, a Chinese government official is harassing this fruit seller for a bribe… The Chinese authorities might do well to remember the lessons that history offers in harassing fruit sellers:
One of the street markets in another Uighur neighborhood of Urumqi:
A video I shot while exploring the market pictured above and below: