by Lia Engelsted ‘11
Our day began with a police escort. Since we are one of the largest groups of foreigners to ever visit Shihezi, the tour agency thought it necessary to set us up with the local authority in case any issues came up. We spent the morning at two companies: a dairy processing company and a glass bottle company. Liyun Dairy has 144 factories in China and specializes in producing Gold quality milk powder (as children’s formula), milk cartons for school children, lactaid milk (many Asians are lactose intolerant), ice cream and other dairy products. While their headquarters is located in Inner Mongolia, the company boasts exports to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Macai, Egypt, Philippines, and even Canada. Liyun Dairy was an intriguing company for a variety of reasons: 1) The tour guide repeatedly explained that the firm ‘only produces the milk products, they don’t sell it’. So, the 2007 milk powder scandal in which melamine was found in batches of the products did not affect their sales. 2) Not one cow was mentioned and/or pictured anywhere during the tour.
The Huaxing Glass factory was every pyromaniac’s dream. The company produces 85% of all glass bottles in Xinjiang, ranging from beer, wine, and baijou to vinegar bottles; amazingly enough, all the equipment is made in China. When we stepped into the factory, our noses were hit with a wall of chemicals. As we were guided further into the bottle-making factory, the grinding machine sounds intensified so much that we needed to plug our ears with our fingers. The heat became nearly intolerable as we learned that the glass is heated to 1500 °C to mold it into bottles. We watched in awe as fixed quantities of molten silicon sand, resembling blobs of lava, shot down into a machine that shapes the bottles. The machines flip the red-hot bottles onto a conveyor belt to cool down rapidly. The bottles are then sorted through a pressurizing machine and a worker to discard any with imperfections. I sympathized with the young girl who has the mind-numbing task of staring at empty bottles all day long, looking for minute dents.
Both tours were approximately 20 minutes long and ended as the police escort suavely escorted us to a stairwell that led down to the outside, where our bus was conveniently parked. Seems to be a Xinjiang thing.
After the speedy company tours, we returned to our hotel for an hour of leisure time in which Becky and I attempted to give each other foot massages (chiefly because the hotel ‘World Foot Bath’ did not open until noon to provide us with professional massages).
Next, the group went to our favorite activity: meal time! As we sat down around the large round table, preparing ourselves for our hot pot lunch, we were reminiscent of the first hot pot group dinner in which Derrick put his fingers in the bowl of scolding hot soup and the warned the group not to do the same. We each received our own spicy or mild hot pot and then put our chopstick skills to the test by grabbing the potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, meat slices, tofu, and turnip chunks that rotated around on the lazy Susan.
The afternoon was spent reliving the days of Shihezi’s reclamation with a leader of the Construction Corp and China’s ‘first female tractor driver’. While listening to Chinese for approximately 4 hours was a bit tedious, the stories were astounding. In the 1950’s, the government sent soldiers west to Xinjiang to build the Western Frontier. An 81-year-old former leader of the Corps recounted moving from Guangxi, an autonomous province, to Xinjiang in 1949. The summers were hot, the winters cold, and the mosquitoes relentless. During these early days of resettlement, the times were difficult and hard work was the only solace. It warmed our hearts to see how grateful the former soldier was to see foreigners interested in his story.
In 1952, Chairman Mao sent out 8,500 females to join the soldiers in the western frontier. These women ranged from 13 to 25 years old and were expected to help build the western frontier and keep the soldiers content in the ‘Wild West’. As a result, most of these soldiers (or what the women called ‘army uncles’) became husbands. We were fortunate to meet not only one of these women, but also the first woman to drive a tractor for the Reclamation Corps; her picture blesses the 1960’s era one yuan bill: Mrs. Jing reminisced on the difficulties she faced as a frontier woman, including the 33-day journey (on the back of an open-bed truck) from Xi’an to Shihezi and losing ties with her parents. We admired her energy and gawked at the fact that she hasn’t lost any of her teeth (as she proudly pointed out) – her mouth is still all natural!
We ended our day with a bowl of noodles and an infinite number of late night telephone calls from the hotel masseuses.
The following are significant contributions that each group member has provided us on the trip thus far:
- Joe: provides us with his first hand knowledge of growing up in China and a calm, soothing personality
- Jean-Jacques (a.k.a. J.J.): ‘African Bridge’, a card game that pleases a range of personalities, and his international jokes
- Fazal (a.k.a. Fazaw): his unique sarcastic wisdom, floss, and cookies
- Brad: his ‘old soul’ and hot dance moves
- Erik: his knowledge of cars, electronics, and engineering; and his incredulous ability to wake up from a deep slumber in .02 seconds
- Petya: her enthusiasm for life and funny words like ‘clingee’
- Becky (a.k.a. Baykee): her passion for learning and foot massages
- Becca: her constant laughter and excitement for Harry Potter World
- Jake: eye candy
- Rick: his soothing commentator voice that narrates our journey
- Derrick (a.k.a. D-Rock): his guitar skills, ‘what is the biggest challenge’ questions co-opted from Professor Brown, and philosophical inquiries
- Brown (a.k.a. not Brownie): his expertise on China and board games; and his lovely wake up calls
- Martin (a.k.a. Moxie): ‘world’s funniest joke’ and his bashful, long-winded stories
- Chih: his youthful energy, giddy laughter, and charming good looks