Xinjiang, China’s remote western province, is in the headlines with bad news again. The New York Times is reporting on more separatist violence and deaths. I reflect sadly that Xinjiang is just another of those corners of the world that are most often viewed through a filter of bad news.
But what corner of the world is it? Here is an outline of China from AtoZMapsOnline:
And here are the outlines of China’s provinces:
Would you have guessed Xinjiang was the leftmost one? The BIGGEST one? Xinjiang is the largest province of China! But it manages to be mostly invisible to most of the world.
I’ve never been there, but Xinjiang does mean something to me because I’ve met a few people from the province. Several years ago, my daughter and I lived in Beijing near a hole-in-the-wall Xinjiang restaurant, a place that had a mesmerizing effect on us.
The effect started out on the street with the intense smell of lamb cooking on an open firepit right in the doorway. Inside were linoleum tables, dirty floors, crowds of working-class Beijing residents, and fantastic food. On the wall hung a tapestry of Mecca. Through the kitchen door, we could see cooks pulling noodles, the best I’ve ever tasted, next to great plumes of flame rising from the stove. The workers were friendly, tough, quick, and in perpetual motion. Through our weekly visits, we got to know two of them by name.
It is somehow reassuring instead of troubling, when things go wrong in some part of the world, to know that ordinary people there are going about their everyday lives, working, laughing, cooking, eating, enjoying their friendships. And it’s also remarkable how a chance acquaintance can give a face to a formerly anonymous place. Getting to know two waiters far from their home and even farther from mine made me curious about Xinjiang and started me wishing for a chance to see its austere landscapes and famous Tianshan mountains, visit its Silk Road historic locations, and meet more of its people.
AtoZMapsOnline has eight more national maps of China, including this one. It’s a precipitation map, which I’ve chosen because it shows one obvious way Xinjiang differs from most of China……and because, for me, it conjures up images of camel caravans traversing the Great Taklimakan Desert.