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On the Road in China: The Far West, Journey's End

The new middle classes of Urumqi and the rest of China have taken to bowling.
Liang Yan, for NPR
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The new middle classes of Urumqi and the rest of China have taken to bowling.
Urumqi and other cities in China's northwest are full of mosques and other evidence of the predominance of Islam.
Rob Gifford, NPR /
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Urumqi and other cities in China's northwest are full of mosques and other evidence of the predominance of Islam.

As he nears the end of his 3,000-mile journey across China, on the western side of the Gobi Desert, NPR's Rob Gifford finds the last thing he would expect: a bowling alley. It's a symbol of the regional capital's new middle class, and the result of the government's effort to raise western China's standard of living. The aim is to make the Muslim minorities less likely to revolt.

Gifford's journey on China's Route 312 ends at the Kazakhstan border, in a town populated by souvenir sellers and moneychangers.

"What a long strange trip it's been," Gifford says. "As I've traveled the road, I've seen close up the social and economic revolution that's turning China upside down. What is less clear, though, is where all the convulsive change is leading in the long run."

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