chapter  3
29 Pages

A hard choice: to work or not to work?

There was an impressive daily gathering of unemployed Uyghur men in the section of the New South China Street (Xinhua Nanlu, 新华南路) near the Erdaoqiao (二道桥) bazaar area in Ürümchi. Each morning, some 100 young and middle-aged Uyghur men formed many discussion groups of various sizes (from 3 to 11 or more) that jammed one sidewalk of the street (the other side was part of a massive construction site in 2007 and 2008). Group members argued passionately with one another over the matters such as the quality of a mobile phone or the prices of a particular kind of SIM card. The arguments could admirably go on for several hours, as if these Uyghur men did not have better things to do. Occasionally, an argument could slide into a loud quarrel. Those not in a group listened to the debates with great concentration and interest. These Uyghur men did not disperse till late afternoon on very cold days and early evening on warm days. I found sim ilar noisy gatherings of unemployed Uyghur men in a street corner in downtown Kashgar, otherwise known as Qäshqär (喀什). I reckoned that their families must be sup ported by their wives. A Han taxi driver agreed and offered his opinion:

A few Uyghur men are good workers. But many dislike work. They want to make a quick buck and daydream the pie in the sky. Each day all they need is some nan bread and a bottle of water. If they run out of money, they steal.

Some Uyghurs sim ilarly criticized Uyghur men for their “laziness”. A 65-year-old Uyghur retired textile worker (Informant 38) once asked her neighbour, who did odd jobs and was poor, why he did not work in the city’s night bazaar to earn some money. He replied that he won’t since it was far away from his home, and he would like to sleep rather than work at nights. She concluded: