I didn`t know much about the country at that time other than those now half remembered images from the television screen very early in the morning when I was 17 years old. I was working late at a supermarket warehouse you see, saving up for my own adventures in the Himalaya, which at the time -and even still now, seemed impossibly far away and exotic. I arrived home at midnight and couldn`t sleep due to a shift in my body clock from working nights and in the days before the internet I had nothing to do so just ended up watching television into the early hours. It was a time of only 4 channels on British TV and early morning schedules that didn`t cater to the libido and lowest common denominator as they does now. Indeed broadcasters, if they bothered to broadcast at all (The BBC, I think, stopped working at 1am in those days), tended to fill the time with old repeats and cheap imports one of which was the excellent travelogue cum history lesson of the Silk Road. With my own ambitions to wander the dusty, farthest flug corners of the world growing the documentary attracted me and soon I became addicted to it, rushing home to watch every night. That`s how I found the Uyghur and all I remembered of them was that unlike the rest of China, they were Muslim, and in summer they slept on the roof of their houses to escape the heat.
What I didn`t know of course in those days was that they were not part of China, at least not happily; what I didn`t know in those days was that there was a struggle for independence and that the country of the Uyghur had a name, East Turkestan, a flag and a completely seperate identity.
As it should.
I`m not the only one who didn`t know this though as I saw yesterday in Tokyo when about a hundred people turned up to protest the right of the Uyghur to exist as a country in their own right. Only a few people there even cared, to tell the truth, most of the good causes in that part of the world being usurped by Japanese Nationlists to attack China. But perhaps a few did care, perhaps a few of the shoppers in the streets of Omotesando and Shibuya who saw the demonstration go passed will have gone home to find out some more about this strange faraway place with its bright blue flag and learn to care.
It is still my ambition to go there one day, but I need to learn more before I do: more about the independence struggle; more about the unique culture of the place and the hopes and ways of the people that call it home; more about the problems, the environment, the economy and the role of the Chinese authorities. My journalistic eye demands that of me now. Yet I also want to see and photograph the people sleeping on their roofs which is the simple, innocent reason I fell in love with the idea of going there in the first place, all those late nights ago.