Kind­ness of strangers helps make a dream come true

China Daily (Canada) - - XINJIANG - By XIN­HUA in Urumqi

As the ball hit the back of the net, for the first time in his life, Tur­sun Kur­ban jumped up from his seat in the stands and waved and cheered along with the soccer fans around him.

Li Jing, who sat next to him, snapped the happy mo­ment and sent the pic­ture to the 60 mem­bers of a chat group who had held a whip-round to help the 70-year-old re­al­ize his dream of watch­ing a soccer game in a real sta­dium.

Tur­sun is from Atux city in the far west­ern re­gion of Xin­jiang, one of China’s most un­der­de­vel­oped ar­eas.

But this poor city is rich in other ways; and its long his­tory of soccer is one of them.

As early as 1872, a rich fam­ily sent lo­cal boys to board­ing schools in Turkey and Ger­many and they re­turned with a love of foot­ball. In 1885, lo­cals made their first foot­ball us­ing two leather hats, stitched to­gether and stuffed with cot­ton.

Lo­cal peo­ple still take im­mense pride from their two vic­to­ries in 1927 — over the UK Kash­gar Con­sulate and Swedish Mis­sion­ar­ies.

To­day, ran­dom street games al­ways draw a crowd. If it hap­pens to be a “big” game, mo­tor­cades from nearby vil­lages in­un­date the tem­po­rary pitch.

Com­pared with his child­hood mem­o­ries of play­ing foot­ball on a bar­ren sand pitch with bare feet, things are dif­fer­ent to­day. Tur­sun’s feet are com­fort­able in­side a pair of new sneak­ers, and he can go to one of the many green pitches in the city when­ever he feels like kick­ing a ball. He can also watch games along­side his grand­son that are be­ing played on the other side of the world, thanks to his smart­phone.

But the old man har­bored one dream; to watch Xin­jiang Tian­shan Leop­ard, the au­ton­o­mous re­gion’s first pro­fes­sional team.

The ticket price was not a prob­lem, at just 30 yuan (less than $5), it was af­ford­able. The big­gest ob­sta­cle was the dis­tance — Atux is 1,500 km away from the re­gional cap­i­tal of Urumqi.

Tur­sun’s wish was shared on a pho­tog­ra­pher’s WeChat ac­count, along­side pic­tures of lo­cal kids play­ing foot­ball, and it caught the at­ten­tion of Li, a sports re­porter.

Af­ter a rough cal­cu­la­tion of the trav­el­ing and ho­tel ex­penses, Li started crowd­fund­ing. His aim was to raise 5,000 yuan to help the old man re­al­ize what Li called “an un­be­liev­ably tiny dream”.

The tar­get was hit in just 15 days, thanks to the 60 donors.

Among those who chipped in was Yer­jet, a Xin­jiang Kazak soccer player who is a mem­ber of the Por­tuguese foot­ball club, Gon­do­mar.

“I saw peo­ple do­ing the right thing and I felt in­spired to fol­low suit,” Yer­jet said.

Af­ter land­ing in Urumqi, Tur­sun said to Li: “I have been helped by peo­ple I know count­less times in life, but it is my first time I have been helped by the kind­ness of so many strangers.”

Li said he was thrilled to have made such a dif­fer­ence.

“I have re­ceived a warm wel­come and gra­cious hos­pi­tal­ity from my Uygur friends in Xin­jiang for many years, and I wanted to ful­fill Tur­sun’s dream as a way to re­pay them,” Li said.

Tur­sun said he now wants to give back to the peo­ple who helped make his dream come true.

“I would like to in­vite th­ese dear donors to my home, so they can taste the fruit I grow,” Tur­sun said. “Even if they can­not make it to Atux, they can still feel our hos­pi­tal­ity, all across Xin­jiang.”

ZHANG XINMIN /XIN­HUA AND ZOU YI / FOR CHINA DAILY

Left: Tur­sun Kur­ban shows his foot­ball skill to chil­dren in his home vil­lage in Atux in the far west­ern re­gion of Xin­jiang. Atux has a long his­tory of play­ing soccer dat­ing back to the late 19th cen­tury. Right: Tur­sun Kur­ban re­ceives a pair of uni­form of Xin­jiang Tian­shan Leop­ard, the au­ton­o­mous re­gion’s first pro­fes­sional team, as he ar­rives at Urumqi to watch the team live.

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