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Kindness found amid the violence

WEARING a long-sleeved shirt, Zhao Mindong, a 33-year-old math teacher from Shanghai, was reluctant to show the arm wounds he suffered in the riots that erupted in Urumqi on Sunday.

"I'm OK," Zhao said calmly while sitting in a hotel in the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. "They are just minor injuries."

But on Sunday night, Zhao wasn't so sure he and his wife would escape so relatively unscathed from riots that killed 156 people and injured more than 1,000.

Zhao had traveled for two days across more than 3,600 kilometers by train and arrived in Urumqi from Shanghai last Thursday, escorting 320 Uygur students studying at Shanghai's Nanhui High School.

"I sat with my students from Xinjiang on the train, talking day and night about the picturesque scenes and local customs," Zhao said, "I had thought I would go to Altay sightseeing with my wife, who flew to Urumqi to join me."

When Zhao and his wife went on Sunday night to the city's Great Bazaar, a downtown area mainly inhabited by ethnic minority groups in southern Urumqi, they were unaware violence was brewing.

They were traveling in a cab driven by a Uygur when seven to eight rioters brandishing wooden rods and stones surrounded their taxi.

"Our driver got out and tried to stop them but failed," Zhao said.

The rioters pulled Zhao and his wife out of the taxi and beat them. Zhao's glasses were broken, his shirt was torn and his watch was stolen.

"A woman of Uygur ethnicity came up and tried to stop the mob. She helped us to the roadside and told us in Mandarin to run for it," Zhao said. "Another cluster of rioters ran at us again. Other Uygurs at the roadside patted us on our shoulders and hinted quietly the direction of a safe lane for us to hide."

Zhao hid in the downstairs of a community building, which was home to Uygur ethnic groups and asked for help but he could not understand the Uygur dialect spoken by people around him.

After calling one of his students on his mobile phone and getting him to translate, Zhao, his wife and two other Han Chinese women were given shelter by a Uygur couple in their home.

Zhao and his wife were taken later by police to the Urumqi City Hospital of Chinese Traditional Medicine. They suffered only minor injuries, including head bruises and cuts on their arms.

"It was the first time that I have encountered such violence in my life, but I am lucky to have received help," Zhao said. "There were far more good people than rioters."


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