When strolling through the rehearsal hall for a break, my train of thought was interrupted by a Uygur melody. At the time, I was trying to get interviews from Uygurs living in Beijing as part of a project on Xinjiang stories to let the world understand more about this remote region of China.
Twenty-six-year-old Nurahmatjan Anwar was rehearsing with a guitar in a scratch band for a musical instrument competition – an annual music event held by China Central Television – the next day. Nurahmatjan told me that he was the only amateur in the band, with the other two being musicians from the China National Traditional Orchestra.
Despite an unerring instinct for music as a Uygur, Nurahmatjan started his music career only in his junior year at university, playing in bars and saloons to pay for tuition and relieve the burden of his family in Kashgar, China's westernmost city.
A straight-A student through elementary and junior high school, he was later admitted to a Beijing high school, where the educational quality is much higher. Four years later, he entered the University of International Business and Economics, majoring in finance. "To me, understanding economics is a guarantee for my life," he said.
His effort paid off when he got an offer from the CITIC Group.
Changing views of Xinjiang over the decade
"For the past years, since around 2009, when several unpleasant incidents happened in Xinjiang, many in the inland had held prejudice and misunderstanding toward Uygurs," Nurahmatjan told me. He came to Beijing in 2008, and a year later, the biggest riots in Xinjiang in years struck Urumqi during the summer. His hometown Kashgar and its adjacent Hotan and Aksu prefectures were no strangers to extremist violence during those years.
As a new comer in Beijing, Nurahmatjan felt the increasingly deeper bias from others and he had to make tough decisions on various occasions. So he decided to do something to resolve the misunderstandings.
"I talked a lot with my teachers, friends, and colleagues, and gradually they saw my sincerity and integrity," he said.
The Kashgar special economic zone was established in 2010, creating a lot of jobs with higher salaries for locals. At the same time, more security measures made it a safer place.
A home away from home
After spending so many years in Beijing, Nurahmatjan made his second home here. Besides work, he performs with the Artan band at a music bar in Sanlitun, the capital's commercial entertainment center.
"All players are professionals, except me. By playing in the band, I've come to know a lot of people from different walks of life," he said, adding that he is inspired by those who started from scratch and found success in Beijing. In addition, he has learnt how to communicate with his clients at work. "My clients are from different walks of life, including my audience in the club," he said, "I'm trying my best to do a good job."
Life in the Chinese capital isn't easy for those who've grown up in the city, much less for someone who is from such a starkly different background. But Nurahmatjan continues to strive for self-improvement. "Even if I return to Xinjiang to develop my career one day, I'll only go back when I'm more experienced and capable. But for now, I choose to stay."
Video director: Yang Shengjie
Reporters: Wang Xiaonan, Zeng Ziyi
Videographer and video editor: Yang Shengjie
Cover image designer: Yu Peng
Supervisor: Zhang Shilei
This is the first story in our series, "Uygurs in Beijing" – a continuation of the series "A rare look into southern Xinjiang." Stay tuned for more in the upcoming weeks.