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When I first arrived in Korla, I found it to be a very unique city in Xinjiang by virtue of the fact that it was so remarkably not unique. In stark contrast to many of the better known cities of Xinjiang, such as Kashgar, Khotan, Turpan, and Qumul, Korla strikes one as a rather bland, typical Chinese city, with cookie-cutter buildings and a noticeable paucity of historical sites (with the notable exception, perhaps, of the Uyghur graveyard which Michael pointed out to me the other day and is currently very high on the to-visit list). This makes Korla a rather typical city for China proper, but distinct among the Silk Road delights of Xinjiang. In fact, the only comparable city I’ve heard of is Shihezi, another prefab city owned by the Bingtuan and elicited from the ground in some “modern-China” orgy of construction over the past few decades. A fellow expat dubbed Shihezi the “Korla of the north,” and I’m just as certain expats and Shihezites alike are saying Korla is the Shihezi of the south. And yes, I just coined a new term for a resident of Shihezi. Sounds delightfully biblical, too.

But after having lived here for two months now (wow), the concept of a truly unique sort of “Korlaness” is finally taking shape in my mind. Most of these features are either subtle in a “you-studied-anthropology-as-an-undergrad” sort of way (read: probably not that subtle) or can be attributed to the fact that I live here. But there’s one unique “Qorla Quirk” that is quite tangible and easily shared, and that’s Korla’s elite fleet of squad cars.

Many years ago while traveling through Europe I saw a freaking Lamborghini Gallardo parked in front of the Coliseum, manned by two poliziotti and decked out in full squad car regalia, sirens and blue paint job and all. Since then, I’ve always seen a city or country’s police cars as a special reflection of that location’s personality. Rome would naturally pull off something as flamboyant as a Lamborghini; Memphis is economic, patriotic, and utilitarian with its fleet of Chevy Impalas. And Korla sports golf carts, apparently.

This little golf cart isn’t an aberration, either. Based on my totally non-scientific haphazard counts, the golf cart to actual squad car ratio has to be at least 5 to 1. The other day, while waiting at the bus stop, I saw a convoy of four of these things heading with maximum haste to what must’ve been a huge crime scene. Unfortunately, even with the flashing lights, it was hard to take them seriously chugging along at what must’ve been 15 miles per hour.

How exactly do these adorable little police pods illustrate what makes Korla Korla? Maybe Korla is a hip city paving the way to the environmentally-friendly future of an electric police force. Maybe Korla is a moneyed city of upper-middle class Han Chinese, whose golf-course-esque conspicuous consumption shows up even among the cops. Maybe Korla is a confident city, which relies on a force so elite and well-trained that actual squad cars are totally obsolete – how can 6 cylinders compare to the muscular pistons of a stalwart young Chinese patriot’s calf? Or maybe this is a nation-wide trend in China and I am erroneously attributing it to Korla. Who knows? It’s cool either way.

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Hi there!

My name is Vincent. Unlike most of my childhood friends, I kept on digging, and digging, and digging that pit, knowing that someday, I would make it to the other side. And now, I’ve made it to China.

In a bureaucratic sense, anyways. I’m actually in Indiana, heh heh, but today, after a months-long, uphill battle with Chinese officialdom, I finally received the paperwork I need to apply for a Chinese work visa. In two weeks, I’ll be working at 农二师华山中学 and will be an official, card-carrying worker bee under the 新疆生产建设兵团外事局。 The former clump of Chinese Characters is the name of a middle school. The latter translates to “The Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.” Like all things Chinese, it’s got an obtuse, ceremonious name that doesn’t translate well into English, but the XPCC, or “Bingtuan,” which is actually a weird paramilitary army slash economic powerhouse, has a very interesting history that may come into focus as this online journal matures.

For now, suffice to say, I am going to be an English teacher at a middle school located in Korla, an oases city on the northern edge of the Taklamakan Desert which itself is located in China’s northwestern most region. Here’s a thousand words:

That’s where I’ll be, in the heart of China’s “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.” That ovary-shaped patch of brown under the pinpoint is the Taklamakan desert. Even though I haven’t been to this particular city yet, I think I can saw with confidence that it’s an interesting place. I do know, for example, that it’s almost as far from every ocean as physically possible given the configuration of the continents. I know that this city straddles the ancient silk road. I know that a city that is roughly equidistant from Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and India should provide a delightful cultural cocktail very palatable to someone with budding anthropological aspirations like myself.

In addition to these simple facts, I hope to know even more once my 1-2 year stint in this part of the world is over. The purpose of this website is to record that process, and to share it with friends, family, and passersby.

So welcome to “The Outback of the Orient!” I leave for Korla in two weeks. I hope you check back soon.

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