Cars In China

When we first arrived in China, most of the roads were relatively empty, with buses making up most of the traffic. Yes, there were a few cars on the road, but they were owned by companies, not private individuals, because at that time (1993) we were told that it was illegal for a private individual to own a car. It appears that several years later, when more and more Chinese were able to afford a car, the law was changed so that cars could be privately owned. And the floodgates were opened.

When we first moved to Beijing (2001) it took about 30-45 minutes to take a taxi from the west side of Beijing between 3rd and 4th ring road to the northeast side of Beijing between the 3rd  and 4th ring road. Three years later, the traffic had become so congested that the same route regularly took 90 minutes or more.

In an attempt to limit the number of cars added to an already overworked transportation infrastructure, the Beijing government holds a lottery each month for people who want to purchase a license for a car (you’re supposed to buy a license before you can buy a car). According to this past Monday’s online issue of the Washington Post World, for the month of March, 970,000 people entered the lottery – for the 20,282 plates available for that month.

This statistic tells us at least two things: 1) there were almost a million people in March who wanted to get a license for a car; 2) more than 20,000 cars are added to Beijing traffic each month!


We invited several of our Uyghur friends over for an Easter party, complete with egg dyeing and an Easter egg hunt – in our living room. 🙂

Whenever you get a group of Uyghurs together, it’s not a complete party unless there’s music and dancing. Our party was complete. 🙂

Below are the links to two of the songs that we played and sang at our party. As you will see, it was an interesting mixture of Uyghur and American culture. And they sure had fun using their cell phone cameras to videotape each other!

Ap AkhCountry Roads

Uyghur Noruz Party (or, “Is he a Uyghur or a foreigner?”

Today I attended a Noruz party with several of our Uyghur friends. Noruz is the Uyghur New Year, and it always takes place on the first day of spring. Yes, I know, today is April 1, and the first day of spring this year was March 20. However, this is Xi’an, not Xinjiang, and most of the Uyghurs who live here are students, far away from their home in Xinjiang. So they organize their New Year celebration whenever they can.

This particular Noruz party was held at Jiaotong University across town. When I first heard about the party, I just wanted to go see what it was like. But once some of my Uyghur friends knew that I wanted to go, they wanted me to not only come watch but also play my dutar for the party, and they wouldn’t take no for an answer! As if I tried very hard to say no. 🙂

I had attended several events like this while we lived in Kashgar, so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what it was going to be like. Nope, wrong assumption! The biggest difference that I found was that me and one of my Uyghur friends were the only two people who were wearing a doppa, a decorative Uyghur skullcap. That was a big surprise to me, since just about everyone who attended a party in Kashgar wore a doppa.

Another difference was that I, one of the very few foreigners attending the party in the midst of a sea of Uyghurs, was the only one who played a traditional Uyghur musical instrument. Oh, there were lots of songs performed, but all of the other songs were sung with an accompaniment track (think karioke), no live instruments. Maybe the circle of friends that I had in Kashgar were more musical than most, but I don’t think so.

Since we arrived several hours early, we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and practice outside on the grass. It wasn’t too long before we attracted a small crowd of Chinese students who wanted to listen to the Uyghur music. It was interesting in an amusing kind of way to overhear some of their comments, “Are they all Uyghurs?” “I don’t know.” “I think maybe the old one (referring to me) is a foreigner.” “No, I don’t think so.” The same thing happened when we went to a small restaurant on campus for dinner. Most people just assumed that I was a Uyghur.

It’s hard to describe what I was feeling during the whole day today. For pretty much the whole time that we’ve lived in China, one of the most difficult things to bear, day in and day out, is the fact that I’m always seen as the different one, the foreigner. Most days it’s not a big deal, I can make a joke about it with kids who point at me and say, “Lao wai!” (old outsider, meaning foreigner). I sometimes point right back and say with a smile, “Xiao nei!” (little insider). But sometimes it gets to you, and you just yearn to fit in.

Today, I felt like I almost fit in with my Uyghur friends. Almost.