“No, not in Beijing,” he mumbles. “Just for a visit.”
“Oh. Is this your first time here?”
“Maybe . . . third time?” He smiles weakly and falls silent.
I don’t know what to say after that.
“We’re going to have to eat fast,” Lao Zhang says. “I want to get to the Warehouse early. Okay with you?”
“Sure,” I say. I have a few jiaozi and some spicy tofu, and then it’s time to go.
“Make yourself at home,” Lao Zhang tells Hashim. “Anything you need, call me. TV’s in there if you want to watch.”
“Oh. Thank you, but. . . .” Hashim gestures helplessly toward the utility room. “I think I’m still very tired.”
He looks tired. His hazel eyes are bloodshot, and the flesh around them is sagging and so dark it looks bruised.
“Thank you,” he says to me, bowing his head and backing toward the utility room. “Very nice to meet you.”
Chinese is a second language to him. Just like it is to me.
“ So , who’s theUighur?” I finally ask Lao Zhang, as we approach the Warehouse.
“Friend of a friend.”
“He’s an artist?”
“Writer or something. Needed a place to stay.”
He’s not telling me everything, I’m pretty sure. His face is tense; we’re walking next to each other, but he feels so separate that we might as well be on different blocks.
A lot of Chinese people don’t trust Uighurs, even though they’re Chinese citizens. As for the Uighurs, a lot of them aren’t crazy about the Chinese.
You’re supposed to say “Han,” not “Chinese,” when you’re talking about the ninety percent of the population that’s, well, Chinese; but hardly anyone does.
The Uighur homeland used to be called East Turkestan. China took it over a couple hundred years ago, and now it’s “Xinjiang.” For the last thirty years or so, the Chinese government’s been encouraging Han people to “go west” and settle there.
The government takes a hard line if the Uighurs try to do anything about it.
Since the riots in Urumqi last year, things have only gotten worse. Gangs of Uighurs burned down shops and buses and went after Han Chinese with hammers and pickaxes. So much for the “Harmonious Society.”
This guy Hashim, though, I can’t picture him setting things on fire. He looks like a professor on a bender. A writer or something, like Lao Zhang said. Maybe he’s an activist, some intellectual who got in trouble. It doesn’t take much for a Uighur to get into trouble in China.
“You should be careful,” I say.
Lao Zhang grins and squeezes my arm. “I know—those Uighurs, they’re all terrorists.”
The other thing that’s screwed the Uighurs is that they’re Muslims, and you know how that goes in a lot of people’s heads.
The Warehouse is at the east end of Mati Village, close to the jiaozi place. It’s called that because it used to be a warehouse. The building is partitioned into several galleries and one big space, with a café in the corner. The main room has paintings, some sculpture, and, tonight, a band put together by Lao Zhang’s courtyard neighbor. The highlight of the evening is the end of a performance piece where this guy has been sealed up in what looks like a concrete block for forty-eight hours. Tonight’s the night he’s scheduled to break out, and a couple hundred people have gathered to watch.
Excerpted from Rock Paper Tiger by Lisa Brackmann. Copyright © 2010 by Lisa Brackmann. Excerpted by permission of Soho Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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