The Uygur who puts the ac­cent firmly on Bei­jing

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By GAO BO gaobo@chi­nadaily.com.cn

When we met, Asan­jan Memet was ne­go­ti­at­ing with a tourist op­er­a­tor, try­ing to per­suade the com­pany in Sichuan prov­ince to in­vest in his com­mu­nity on the out­skirts of Bei­jing.

Af­ter nine years living and work­ing in the Chi­nese cap­i­tal, the Xin­jiang-born 33-year-old speaks with a Bei­jing ac­cent. “Un­less peo­ple know my name or my col­leagues in­tro­duce me, strangers don’t know I’m a Uygur from my speech or man­ner­isms,” he said with smile.

Asan­jan works in Shidu town­ship in the Fang­shan dis­trict, close to the bor­der with He­bei prov­ince, about 80 kilo­me­ters from the cen­ter of Bei­jing. The area is fa­mous for its moun­tain­ous Karst land­scape along the Juma River, which runs through the town.

As deputy direc­tor of the pro­grams pro­mo­tion of­fice un­der the town­ship gov­ern­ment, Asan­jan in­tro­duces com­pa­nies and in­vestors to Shidu to de­velop the lo­cal tourism in­dus­try.

“Tourist num­bers sur­passed 3 mil­lion in 2013, which helped a lot of lo­cals to in­crease their in­comes,” he said, “About 85 per­cents of the vil­lagers work in the tourism in­dus­try. That’s why so many com­pa­nies want to in­vest here.”

Asan­jan’s aim is to main­tain the sus­tain­able devel­op­ment of the in­dus­try, and pre­vent the search for profit from dam­ag­ing the lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment. His life as a town­ship of­fi­cial started in 2006. Hav­ing re­cently grad­u­ated from the China Uni­ver­sity of Geo­sciences, Asan­jan ap­plied to be­come a vil­lage of­fi­cial, and af­ter pass­ing the en­try exam he be­came an as­sis­tant to the head of Xidi vil­lage un­der Li­ulihe town­ship. “I just re­garded it as a chance to learn and prac­tice at the grass­roots. I didn’t imag­ine I would stay there so long,” he said.

Although pres­sure of work pre­vents him from vis­it­ing Xidi very of­ten, he has happy mem­o­ries of the three years he spent there, and even re­mem­bers most of the vil­lagers.

Ini­tially, he was un­fa­mil­iar with lo­cal con­di­tions and the ba­sic poli­cies in the ru­ral ar­eas. “I al­ways thought I could do ev­ery­thing well, but it wasn’t easy to be a qual­i­fied vil­lage of­fi­cial. So I con­cen­trated on ev­ery tiny thing re­lated to the vil­lagers,” he said. Although he had been shy at col­lege, his work re­quired him to talk face-to-face with ev­ery vil­lager, which boosted his con­fi­dence.

Af­ter a year in Xidi, he was hon­ored by the vil­lagers, who voted him one of the top 10 vil­lage of­fi­cials out of the 1,000plus in Bei­jing. He said he thought deeply about his work. “I ac­cu­mu­lated knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ences day by day and tried to find so­lu­tions by my­self,” he said.

Although he was grate­ful that the Shidu gov­ern­ment ar­ranged ha­lal food for him when he ar­rived, Asan­jan felt the town­ship needed a restau­rant where Mus­lims would feel com­fort­able, safe in the knowl­edge that the food they were eat­ing con­forms to Is­lamic stan­dards, so he and a younger brother started one near a scenic spot in 2011.

It quickly be­came popular. “One day, sev­eral stu­dents from Pak­istan came to the town­ship, but they re­fused to pay for a meal they’d or­dered at a house­hold restau­rant be­cause they thought the food wasn’t ha­lal. The two sides quar­reled, so I went there, and ex­plained ev­ery­thing in English,” he re­called,

Ev­ery few months, his mother vis­its from her home in Maigat county in Xin­jiang. Next time she ar­rives, she will have a new grand­child to cos­set, be­cause Asan­jan and his wife are ex­pect­ing their first child, and have re­cently rented a new apart­ment, about an hour by car from his of­fice.

“I’m a Bei­jinger. I’m also a Xin­jianger,” he said, “I just do as much as I can to help peo­ple learn more about Xin­jiang and Xin­jiangers.”

Life as a town­ship of­fi­cial

As a Uygur teacher at a mid­dle school in Bei­jing, Nurmemet Tu­niyaz is determined to project a pos­i­tive im­age of the peo­ple of the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

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