Coming down from the Tian Shan range to this little riverside town near the Kazakh border, we expected the ethnic mix of Kazakhs, Uighers, Chinese, and some Russians. We were aware that this area had historically been traded between the Chinese and Russian empires, and we actually weren’t surprised (although we were in awe) to find ourselves talking to a young blonde lady, a full-blooded Slav, who looked as if she’d just parachuted out of a passing Tupolev–and hearing the first words out of her mouth confirm that she was definitely a native speaker of Chinese (both sets of her grandparents had moved here after 1917 to escape the Bolsheviks, and she was, indeed, a Chinese citizen). What we didn’t expect to find–and how could we, out here in this corner of Central Asia–was provably the best beach/boardwalk scene in all of China. We shouldn’t have been that surprised–what minority ethnic group wouldn’t enjoy some summer barbeque, midway games and rides after a cool dip in the Ili River? These 美族 sure did.