A CITY IN LOVE WITH ALL THINGS PIGEON

Res­i­dents of Kash­gar prize the birds for food, busi­ness and en­ter­tain­ment

China Daily (USA) - - XINJIANG - By XU WEI in Kash­gar xuwei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

For many res­i­dents of China’s west­ern­most city, the place to be after work or at week­ends is the pigeon mar­ket, where stout-bod­ied birds are the sub­ject of in­tense ex­am­i­na­tion and dis­cus­sion.

Crowds of Uygur men and boys gather at the out­door mar­ket near the cen­ter of Kash­gar on Tues­day af­ter­noons to fix their eyes upon caged pi­geons.

“You can tell at first glance whether a pigeon is pretty or not, just like a woman,” said Ah­metjon Younurs, who owns a store sell­ing pigeon food, medicine and lofts.

The 45-year-old has been a pigeon fancier since he was 12, and the most ex­pen­sive pigeon he keeps is now val­ued at more than 100,000 yuan ($15,000).

“The good breeds out­class the others in all de­tails: the crown, beak, wing and tail,” he said.

Younurs’ five-square-me­ter store at the pigeon mar­ket pays tes­ta­ment to his abil­ity to turn his pas­sion into a pro­fes­sion — the most ex­pen­sive pigeon loft at his store sells for more than 2,000 yuan.

His­tor­i­cally pi­geons have been bred for a va­ri­ety of pur­poses, from meat to com­mu­ni­ca­tions and aes­thet­ics.

In Kash­gar, the birds are still eaten fried in a dish known as squab, but it is the courier pi­geons that garner the most at­ten­tion.

“We love keep­ing courier pi­geons. You ob­tain im­mense sat­is­fac­tion dur­ing the breed­ing process,” said Adili Wu­fuer, a ven­dor of pi­geons at the mar­ket.

“Our fa­thers and mothers loved pi­geons, and so did our grand­par­ents. That’s why we love pi­geons too.”

De­spite busi­ness at the pigeon mar­ket be­ing slug­gish dur­ing week­days, with Wu­fuer some­times un­able to sell a sin­gle bird for two days in a row, he still be­lieves in the value of what he does.

“I am in this trade mostly be­cause I love it. The prof­its do not mat­ter that much to me,” he said.

Kash­gar’s love for all things pigeon ex­tends to its rac­ing pigeon union, which now has close to 200 reg­is­tered mem­bers — each of whom must own at least six birds to join.

Com­pe­ti­tions are held on a quar­terly ba­sis and mem­bers pay a reg­is­tra­tion fee of 30 yuan per pigeon, with races up to 450 km in length of­fer­ing a max­i­mum prize of 4,500 yuan.

Lu Wei­dong, pres­i­dent of the union, said it also helped pigeon fanciers of both Han Chi­nese and Uygur eth­nic­i­ties to bond.

“Lan­guage is not a prob­lem as some of us know both lan­guages. The at­mos­phere within the union is great as we also share the same love for pi­geons,” he said.

Lu’s fam­ily started rais­ing pi­geons after his father moved to Kash­gar many decades ago, and he in­her­ited a love for the birds from his par­ents.

“When your par­ents love some­thing, it be­comes in­grained in you as well. Then it just be­came part of our life,” said Lu, who was born and raised in Kash­gar.

“Some peo­ple love cats, some peo­ple love dogs. We just love pi­geons.”

PHO­TOS BY XU WEI / CHINA DAILY

Crowds of Uygur men and boys like gath­er­ing at the pigeon mar­ket to watch caged pi­geons in week­ends.

A trade hap­pens at the pigeon mar­ket near the cen­ter of Kash­gar city in the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

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