I recently had the chance to spend a few days in Kashgar, China’s westernmost city. It’s about 2000 miles west of Beijing, in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Flying time is about 6 hours, with a mandatory change of planes in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi (which has the distinction of being the city in the world that sits farthest from an ocean). Two main groups of people live in Kashgar–the local Uighur ethnic minority people, and the Han Chinese, who have migrated to Xinjjiang since China assumed control of the region in the early 20th century.
Now, you know what happens when you travel west—the sun does too. Apparantly that’s not so obvious in China, a country that is slightly bigger than the US, but still only has one time zone. The entire country is on Beijing time, the position of the sun notwithstanding. Officially then, Kashgar time is Beijing time–there is no time difference. But the locals know better–know that it’s a bit silly for your watch to show 9AM just as the sun is coming up over the horizon. So they operate on an unofficial "Xinjiang time." It can get quite confusing because all official things (train schedules, plane schedules, banking and office hours) are according to Beijing time, while informal things (meals, visiting friends, etc) are in local time. If your flight is scheduled to depart at 8AM, you’d better be thinking about Beijing time, not local time, or you’re going to miss your flight by 2 hours.
It seems to me that someone in Kashgar is in denial, but I’m not sure who it is. Is it the Han Chinese who are in denial that the local time should have at least some relationship to the position of the sun? Or maybe they are in denial they they are out there instead of enjoying the relative comfort and ease of Beijing. Or are the locals in denial that the Chinese are in control?
Perhaps it’s a little bit of both.