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I'm carried away in style as region sweeps me off my feet

By Jocelyn Eikenburg | China Daily | Updated: 2021-09-03 08:17

Reporter Jocelyn Eikenburg (center) poses with Nuryam Ruzi (right), owner of a homestay in Agexiang village, and a neighbor. CHINA DAILY

I literally got carried away when a broad-shouldered young man wearing a red velvet jacket trimmed with gold, complete with matching doppa hat, scooped me up in his arms and charged through a door labeled "Bridal Suite".

We had nearly completed a re-enactment of an authentic Uygur wedding at Xiangfei Park in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

I starred as the unlikely "bride", dressed in colorful garb to rival the groom-a lacy white shawl and red vest that fell to my knees, and a long flowered skirt that hung over my blue jeans.

Raising my hand in response to a call for audience participation, little did I know that I had just signed up for a very public lesson in Uygur dance, as well as the chance to be bounced in the air while sitting on a carpet.

Despite my flushed cheeks, the collective gaze of a captive audience, and having a husband more than 3,000 kilometers away in Beijing yet to learn of my adventure, a smile played across my face the entire time.

Although it was just a performance, the experience to my mind was symbolic of my entire journey to Xinjiang-a region that swept me away with its hospitality, and left me feeling a sense of camaraderie with many people I met.

A brilliant parade of summer flowers bloomed along the winding path through the Kashgar village that led me to the home of Aliya Imam, 23, who runs a homestay with her family.

Along with my colleagues, I was invited to a long table piled high with many of the region's delights, from homemade nang bread to crisp walnuts and juicy watermelon slices.

However, it was the conversation I had with Aliya, a soft-spoken woman with a cherubic face, that touched me the most. Her eyes sparkled as she spoke of the joy of being able to work from home so that she could take care of her baby. Seated almost shoulder-to-shoulder with her in the corner of the room, I felt as if I was connecting with an old friend.

Agexiang village, which sits along the scenic Dushanzi-Kuqa highway, had earlier astonished me with its mountain views, reminiscent of my favorite national parks in the United States, but it was Nuryam Ruzi, 49, who left the deepest impression.

Her face wrinkled into a cordial grin when I wandered into her courtyard. She immediately guided me to one of the cushions surrounding a table full of local specialties, handing me a slice of steamed pumpkin, its buttery flavor richer than any I had tasted before.

Although we could only communicate through her Mandarin-speaking neighbor, Nuryam clasped my hand in such a caring way-with the kindness of a close relative-that I could understand why so many guests are full of praise for her homestay in online reviews.

But I forged the closest bond with Ding Guifeng, 54, head of Urumqi Youai Hospital. We spent at least 30 minutes discussing her work before she said farewell to me and my colleagues at the hospital entrance.

"Thank you, Ding Yuanzhang," I said, offering a handshake and using a formal term of address in deference to her leadership position. To my surprise, she gave me a hug, saying,"No, please call me Sister Ding."

I lingered in her embrace a little longer, as if all the warmth I felt from the region was contained in her arms. At that moment, I knew I had found family.

Jocelyn Eikenburg
Global Edition
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