This picture was taken in 2005 when I visited Urumqi, the city in Xinjiang Province in China that is now having all the unrest. The Uighurs and the Han Chinese have been living together in that vast part of the world for many decades now. I remember being amazed at the incredible numbers of people who gathered together in this marketplace. In the middle of the picture are two old men who captured my attention, as they seem to be observing the scene in front of them, and I wondered what they were talking about.
We were not carefully watched while we were there, and it was easy to pick up the tension between the ethnic minority population, the Uighurs, and the more affluent Han Chinese population. When I think of China's government and how prone it is to suppress dissent, I fear for the future of these people. No matter what one's feeling might be about how to handle unrest, if you haven't been there, you cannot understand what these people might be feeling. One sympathetic local resident told me that the minority population feels like they are living under occupation.
I was standing in line to go through customs when traveling from Beijing to Urumqi and I watched the Chinese soldiers pulling all the people out of line who looked darker and more ethnic, and they didn't treat them very well. They shoved them around and treated them like second class citizens -- which I guess they are. So now things are beginning to erupt in violence.
I traveled there from Boulder, where I had witnessed street demonstrations against the war in Iraq, with sometimes thousands of people gathered with signs, shouting and blocking traffic. The belief I had in the safety of those demonstrators was complete. There is no such safety if you demonstrate in China. Or in Iran. Or...
It's late at night and I can't sleep. I got up to see if I could find some peace within my turbulent thoughts by sending out a missive to you, my friends in the blogosphere. What, if anything, can I accomplish that might ease the pain and suffering in the world? You, my new friends, are all over the world and come from so many different backgrounds. Do you also see these images and react to them? Surely it doesn't help for me to agonize over this.
For the first time, I wonder if the monks and nuns who retreat from the world and spend their lives in prayer, sending their thoughts upward toward the heavens, living a life removed from the newspapers and the TV images and the geopolitical upheavals might be on to something.