Where is this man?
HOTAN CHINA C It is like living a bible story, driving through the endless sands of the Taklamakan Desert. Heading west through the sand, I experience two divergent terrains. To my left run the impressive Kunlun Mountains of northern Tibet. Snow-covered and silently majestic, offering the lifes blood of water to the dotted-about oasis villages. Stretching out in an ocean of undulating dunes to my right are the sands of the Taklamakan.

Hugging this fragile, two-lane ribbon of asphalt are several oasis villages. After days of driving, we come to a small village just outside the city of Hotan. We stop for fuel and to stretch our legs. Walking about in this sun-bleached oasis was a welcome treat after hours cooped up in the fetid Land Cruiser.

As often happens with a westerner over six feet tall, an impromptu parade of children come running to surround you. Curiosity and wonder abound on the faces of these children. My guide translates some of their questions: Who are you? Where are you from? Do you have children? How much money do you make? Understandable questions for the most part. As a man from a large North American city, Toronto, I immediately begin to scan the horizon of black haired boys and kerchief-wearing girls for signs of their parents. We bring so much baggage with us C it is wonderfully liberating to be with children without having to look apologetic. It was from the middle of the circle of children that I saw him smiling C an elegant man leaning against the wood frame of a shop doorway.


This is the Uyghur Autonomous Region, in Xinjiang Province, where men and women wear caps ranging from a simple cotton skull cap to vibrantly colourful, square-sided caps of velvet with richly detailed embroidery. Uyghur women generally wear a loose-style, long-sleeve tunic dress and a sleeveless waist coat and brightly colored scarves, while men have traditionally worn long tunic coats.

The smiling man begins to walk through the crowd toward me. Though we could not speak each others language, we greeted each other warmly and established where we were from and where I was headed. Appearing at his elbow, the mans daughter clutched him proudly and listened as we speak. I am captivated by his face C expressive wrinkles born of long hours in the sun accentuate his welcoming smile. In this light, his gold-capped teeth and skull cap gleam. Knowing some day I would return to this area, I ask if I may take some photographs of him.

That was 2006. Im not sure if he understood my gestures, but I told him I would try to find him the next time I drove through the village. I will be bringing him a glossy print of his portrait. This fall, when we tour China, road-testing a selection of Chinese vehicles, we will pass through the Hotan area again. This time, I will stay the night.
DATA:2010-9-15
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