Imagine that you've found yourself in Kashgar, the western-most city in Xinjiang, China’s western-most region. Your friend sends you a text message and tells you to meet him at 3 pm. Sounds pretty straight forward, right? Not in Xinjiang. If your friend is of China's majority Han ethnicity, you can assume that by 3 o'clock he's referring to Beijing Standard Time. But if your friend is a Uighur, the largest ethnic minority group in Xinjiang, he might be referring to “local time,” which is two hours behind.
The reason for this confusion is simple: China, a country that is of roughly similar size to the continental United States, has one time zone: Beijing Standard Time. This means that when it's 6 o’clock in the nation's capital, it’s 6 o’clock almost 3,000 miles further west, in Kashgar. Allison Schrager, in her widely circulated article from last week advocating that the continental U.S. reduce its time zones from four to two, cited China as an example of why such a change would be less problematic than people would expect. Maybe so, but the single time zone does present odd sights: In the summer, for instance, it isn’t uncommon in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital, to see people enjoying a beautiful sunset ... at midnight. Or for the sun to rise there in the winter around 10 AM. In order to accommodate people inconvenienced by the time zone change, shops and restaurants in Xinjiang often adjust their hours—but the effect can still be disorienting for the unaccustomed traveler.