The life and times of the first Uygur flight at­ten­dant

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By GAO BO

Dur­ing her 32-year ca­reer as a flight at­ten­dant, Maria Wupur flashed the stan­dard “six-tooth” smile to pas­sen­gers more times than she can re­mem­ber.

In 1979, Xin­jiang Air­lines Co chose the then-19-year-old as the first Uygur cabin crew mem­ber, three years after she served in the air force of Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tionArmy.

“The se­lec­tion pro­ce­dure was very strict, the same as for the pi­lots, and I was the only can­di­date se­lected,” she said.

When Wupur, now 54, started work, wear­ing her mil­i­tary uni­formshornof its badges, she never imag­ined it would be such a tough and long job.

Ini­tially, she worked on prop­driven planes, which didn’t have the range to fly out­side the re­gion, and were so slow that the flight­fromUrumqito Kash­gar took five to six hours.

The planeswereso small that only one at­ten­dant­was­needed, and Wu­per did ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing clean­ing, chang­ing the seat cov­ers, and check­ing sup­plies.

“The planes jumped sharply in the air­flow. I wasn’t phys­i­cally sick, but the pas­sen­gers al­ways were, so I com­forted them dur­ing the flight and cleaned the plane af­ter­wards,” she said.

Her salary­wasabout20yuan ($3.30) a month, and a ticket cost more than 100 yuan. “Alet­ter of in­tro­duc­tion was re­quired to buy a ticket, so trav­el­ing by plane was re­garded as a sign of sta­tus,” she said.

It wasn’t un­til the 1980s that Wu­per and her peers re­ceived their for­mal uni­forms — sky­blue with tai­lored skirts for sum­mer, and dark­green for win­ter— de­signed by tai­lors in Beijing. In 1985, a newde­sign, a tai­lored suit in orange, added a spe­cial charm.

The same decade saw the in­tro­duc­tion of jets, which changed the­wayMaria and her col­leagues worked. They were of­ten mis­taken for ex­patswhen they be­gan work­ing on flights to other prov­inces be­cause few peo­ple from other parts of China had­met Uygurs be­fore.

“The num­ber of pas­sen­gers rose, and so we wrote and prac­ticed our broad­casts in Uygur and English,” She said, “The Uygur pas­sen­gers were al­ways pleased­wheny­ougreet­edthem in Uygur.”

In 1991, the Xin­jiang branch of China South­ern Air­lines, which took over Xin­jiang Air­lines, op­er­ated the re­gion’s first Boe­ing air­craft, and civil avi­a­tion be­gan to de­velop rapidly in China’s north­west.

Five years later, the company in­tro­duced a Xin­jiang-themed uni­form fea­tur­ing Uygur pat­terns, and scarves made from At­las silk, a tra­di­tional ma­te­rial. “We could be rec­og­nized im­me­di­ately, no mat­ter what air­port we ar­rived at,” Maria re­called. The company now em­ploys more than 1,000 cabin crewfrom 14 eth­nic groups.

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