Having something of a yen for the place after working on Sino-Soviet affairs in Cold War days, and been banned from travelling when I was at the British Mission in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution, I visited Xinjiang, China’s remote northwestern province, two years ago. As a VSO teacher of English Nick Holdstock spent an entire year there, not just in the capital city, Urumqi, but in the town of Yining, close to the frontier with Kazakhstan, and saw a lot more than me. His account is highly personal, and the better for it. He first went as a Mandarin speaker in 2001, having previously taught in south China, then returned in 2010. The dates are significant.