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May 9, 2007 - Turpan, China

Treading Lightly

Deep in Thought

“And what do you think of this?”

The dry wind whipping in sheets through the open bus window - rustling the sun-dried newspaper held in front of me - did little to cool the sun burning down onto my legs and face. Dark blue seat covers over each seat sent off tiny shimmers of heat, visible in the strong light.

Dry heat. Dry, glaring heat.

An hour South of Urumqi in the middle of a baked expanse, most passengers on the bus had squirmed their way to the shady side of the bus including Scott, leaving me in the back bench seat up against the hot window sill. Typical of Chinese buses, a poorly dubbed action movie played loudly from the small television up front. Lots of explosions, bad dialog and 80’s haircuts on Western bad guys wearing MC Hammer pants.

Apart from a few couples self-consciously cuddling, most of the passengers sat alone. A mix of locals familiar with the three hour ride, random Chinese tourists trying to escape the crowds of more popular May Day destinations. Most everybody sat alone that is, except for me.

Next to me sat a slim young Uyghur man cradling a dusty blue backpack in his lap and dressed in a pair of worn navy track pants. Sitting next to me is slightly misleading as he had assumed the typical new acquaintance position of as close as possible without sitting on my lap. His arm was tucked nicely under mine and leg was nearly draped over mine.

“I would all like to know what Americans like you think.”

His finger danced over the yellowed newspaper page that was still in front of me. Tracing first over the large curling headlines in Arabic, through a gruesome picture of Saddam Hussein hanging and Osama bin Laden toting an automatic rifle and finally coming to rest on a grainy image of an American aircraft carrier. The USS George Washington.

Our conversation had gone from exchanging names and our upcoming visit to Turpan in a mottled mixture of Chinese and English to this. My take on Saddam, bin Laden and an the American war machine.

“My teacher says that America has 20 aircraft boats and are building more. China is going to be building one soon.”

And that was my opening. Time to do my own dance.

“What do you think China should name it?”

A smile lit across his face as he started rattling of Chinese heroes. We moved on to places to get a good bowl of noodles in Turpan and, as we rolled into town an hour later, what local touts to avoid.

“Stay away from the Russians.”

The Muslim influence in Xinjiang is heavy, and as I have encountered in my own province of Ningxia, especially during the Saddam trial, people can be fairly pointed in questioning my stance. Most of the situations are harmless and I’m happy to give my honest opinion about American foreign policy - no pulled punches - but some deserve a bit of delicate wording.

The thing that bothers me however?

That Americans traveling abroad no longer come to the table with a net positive image. Or even a clean slate.

A certain special wanker in Washington DC has decided to take that away from us.

Tumbleweeds... and no comments. How 'bout livening things up?

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