It's a case of love imitating art. A Uygur boy meets a Han Chinese girl, and the encounter on a rainy day becomes an Urumqi version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Abulitipu Mita, who was a taxi driver at the time, saw Chen Hao, a beautician desperately trying to catch a cab in the pouring rain. Mr Mita, who already had a passenger in his cab, stopped, picked her up and the pair exchanged numbers. Since that day their relationship has blossomed and they say it is an example of how love and understanding can break down cultural differences and prejudice. But when the riots broke out last Sunday after years of simmering ethnic tension, it was the first time since they met three years ago that the couple felt fearful about meeting in public. Mr Mita and Ms Chen, both 26, decided to meet less often, fearing that they would draw hostility from both sides of the street. 'After the riots, I felt some Han Chinese strangers in the streets would look at me in a different way, but now I think things are back to normal and everything will be fine,' Mr Mita said. Marriages between Uygur and Han Chinese are rare in Xinjiang , even though the ethnic groups comprise the majority of the region's population of 20 million. There are differences in religion, as most Uygurs are Muslim, and lifestyle. There is also the social stigma associated with dating outside an ethnic group. The couple first had to win support from their family and friends. 'When my friends first knew I was going out with a Han girl, they asked what was wrong with me. There are so many beautiful Uygur women, they said, so why would I choose a Han Chinese?' Mr Mita said. But his friends gradually accepted his Han Chinese girlfriend after socialising with Ms Chen. She said her family and friends accepted Mr Mita relatively quickly. 'Of course, my parents were a bit concerned, but they still respected my decision,' she said. 'My first boyfriend was a Han, and we split up due to some differences. Seeing a Han is not necessarily better.' But winning the hearts of the Mita family has not been as easy for Ms Chen. 'My family was not very supportive at the beginning and is still a bit wary now,' he said. 'But I am sure this can be resolved as religion is the only issue that is bothering them now. I am quite confident I can convince my girlfriend to convert.' However, it was when marriage was on the cards that Ms Chen realised she would have to dramatically change her lifestyle. Ms Chen, who moved to Urumqi from her hometown in Hami five years ago, was slightly taken aback as she realised what marrying Mr Mita involved. 'I didn't think too much about it until we started planning to get married. To marry a Uygur man, a woman has to be a Muslim, too, and this means I have to convert,' said Ms Chen, an atheist. 'My lifestyle will have to change completely, as I will need to wear a headscarf, speak their language, pray regularly and, in the summer, I can't wear sleeveless tops. And if we have children, I am not sure how they will think about their ethnic identity.' Speaking flawless Putonghua, Mr Mita is within a small Uygur elite who received a university education and is now a businessman who has many Han Chinese friends. Most Uygurs, the biggest minority group in Xinjiang, remain in rural areas and receive little education. Ms Chen said she still needed some time to think it over thoroughly, but still intended to marry Mr Mita. 'My parents are a bit worried whether I can overcome all these changes and if I might give up halfway through,' she said. 'I think I can handle all of these. I am an optimistic person.' Despite the ethnic rift, the couple remain confident their relationship will be strong enough to withstand the prejudice. 'This is not going to affect us. Not everyone in our ethnic groups is like them,' said Ms Chen, referring to the violence of protesters from both sides.