Strangers on a train find common cause on journey of enlightenment
Every day at 2:01 pm, a train departs from the station inUrumqi, the regional capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. During its 28.5-hour journey south, it stops at all the major cities and counties in the south of the region, including Kashgar and Aksu, before arriving at Hotan, its final stop.
We rode the train on June 9, and sawpeople mixing freely in the carriages, irrespective of occupation or ethnic group. Many of the passengers discovered there was much they could learn from each other during the long trip.
One of them was Gulmina Yiliham, who was heading home to Hotan. It was the third and final part of a long journey home for the summer vacation from Hangzhou, capital of East China’s Zhejiang province, where she has been studying quality control at a university for three years.
The 22-year-old student found herself sharing a sleeper cabin with us, and Xing Shuzhen and her 7-year-old daughter. They were traveling from Shandong province in East China to visit Xing’s husband, who is a businessman in Kashgar city.
To pass the time, Gulmina and Xing began to chat. They discussed Gulmina’s life as a Uygur studying outside Xinjiang, especially the things that trouble her when she is far from home.
“Everything is fantastic. I’ve made many friends from all over China and seen many new things. Unfortunately, every time a terrorist attack happens in Xinjiang, I can tell that people feel tense around me. It’s not a good feeling,” Gulmina said. “The media should just call them terrorists, not terrorists from Xinjiang.”
Xing said she understood, and admitted that several friends had cautioned her before she left Shandong. “I’ve been coming to Kashgar every year for the past three years now. I don’t think there is anything to worry about. The warnings often come from those who have never set foot in Xinjiang,” she said.
Gulmina said most parents in Hotan want their children to study at universities, and special measures have been put in place to provide greater opportunities for students from southern Xinjiang. Traditionally, young people from the area believed that starting their own business at a young age offered far more promising prospects than going to school.
As the train approached the desert of southern Xinjiang, the sand began to seep through the tiny gaps of the closed windows. “I can’t believe I actually miss the sands of the Taklimakan,” Gulmina said, adding that she will return toHotan after graduation.
AlijonMetkasmu, a 20-year-old lawstudent at Zhejiang Sci-Tech University inHangzhou, was traveling to his home in Yutian county, Hotan prefecture, for the summer vacation. His parents are farmers, and they do everything they can to support his education, he said.
The train finally stopped at Hotan after a journey of 1,971 km. When Alijon disembarked he was warmly welcomed by his father, who had traveled over from Yutian, the county seat. “I am so proud of you,” said the 40-something farmer, with tears in his eyes as he hugged his son.