The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Dispatch from Xinjiang: Manas

The Epic of Manas is twenty times the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined. The hero, Manas, is a Luke Skywalker type hero to the Kyrgyz people: a quasi-magical protagonist that united a people against a vast empire a long long time ago. There are still Kyrgyz people whose sole occupation is to recount Manas’ rebellion against the Uighur Empire twelve centuries ago.

In contrast, the city of Manas is neither epic nor vast and is still largely Uighur. What brought me to this ho-hum Xinjiang town? Suntime Wine–China’s drinkable wine–has its headquarters in Manas. While on the bus ride to Manas, I found out that the interview I was depending on for my wine article fell through–China wouldn’t let me interview anybody, even for a soft piece on the future of the Chinese wine industry. I was left in a small town, regretting my decision to have come when I could’ve spent a night in a yurt next to the aptly named Heavenly Lake.

But it’s amazing how much difference a beer, three skewers of spiced lamb, and a walk can make. Manas was my first foray into a small Uighur city, and I was a rare American. The taxi-driver communicated to me that he’d driven French people before but never an American. The waitress tried to flirt with me in her very limited English—it involved mostly very attentive service and lots of giggling. The cook grabbed my notebook and tried to make sense of it by staring at the Roman alphabet as if it were a Magic Eye. A student, who’ll be attending university in Sichuan next year, walked with me across town just to practice his English. Once I relaxed, I realized that Manas provided exactly what I wanted from this trip, even if the stories were hardly epic.

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