The violence in Urumqi earlier this month pitted Uygur against Han Chinese, leaving almost 200 people dead and shattering the illusion of social harmony in the frontier region of Xinjiang . But this simplistic plot line of ethnic groups facing off fails to acknowledge the complex feelings Uygurs - particularly the young - have about their lives in Xinjiang. While frustration over a lack of opportunities appears almost universal, young Uygurs in Urumqi are deeply divided over their relationship with the Han. 'It's very regrettable that this unrest has happened. But it only involved a small group of [Uygur] people,' said Zulnar in perfect Putonghua. Encouraged by her mother, Zulnar, 25, and her four sisters began learning Putonghua, which most Uygurs consider a second language after their Turkic mother tongue, much earlier than her peers. 'Since we were little kids, my mother talked to us in a mix of Uygur and Chinese,' she said. Zulnar attended primary and secondary schools where all subjects but Chinese were taught in the Uygur language, but her university degree was taught in Putonghua. This helped her land a job soon after graduating in 2005 with a degree in environmental engineering. In a striped top and a skirt that stops just below her knees, what sets Zulnar apart from the Uygur crowd is not just her language skills but also the extent to which she has assimilated into the Han-dominated society. 'I usually don't go to Uygur districts. People stare at me because I look very different, I don't wear a headscarf or traditional clothes,' Zulnar said as she strolled uncomfortably down a Uygur-populated back alley. 'Somehow I feel I am different from them.' Zulnar spends free time in shopping malls, singing Canto-pop in karaoke lounges and watching soap operas. She even found her first boyfriend in a way most Uygur girls would be too shy to try. 'I met my boyfriend on the internet. I was very impressed by an online story he wrote and then I got in touch with him through the [instant-messaging service] QQ. I told him how much I admired his writing.' Born to a traffic policeman and a housewife, Zulnar said her family were slightly better off than many - but still far from comfortable. She is planning to study at a university in Turkey next year for a postgraduate degree and hopes this will lead to her dream job as an environmental analyst for the government. 'The gap between the Han Chinese and the Uygurs is still very big. I think learning Chinese can help narrow the differences,' Zulnar said. 'It's impossible to avoid learning the language if you want to advance.' Her willingness to integrate into Han society is, nevertheless, rare. The income gap persists despite efforts to boost development in the region, and cultural mutual misunderstanding runs deep between the ethnic groups. The No1 grievance among young Uygurs is the difficulty of finding work. Two weeks after the rioting, Muslims flocked back to Urumqi's mosques for Friday prayers. But Mamut, 28, chose to vent his frustration in a video-game parlour. 'I am not in the mood to go to the mosque; I've not made any money since the rioting,' said Mamut, who otherwise attends regularly. Mamut set up a mobile-phone booth in a shopping mall in 2006 after unsuccessfully looking for work for a year. Although he has a journalism degree, Mamut said he applied mostly for low-paying jobs but still struggled even to get interviews. 'Most of the employers told me to my face that they didn't want ethnic minorities,' Mamut said. 'I even tried to become a security guard, and that didn't work out.' Mamut said he applied for jobs mostly in companies set up by Han because they paid higher salaries than Uygurs. 'The Chinese will pay 1,000 (HK$1,150) to 1,500 yuan a month, but the Uygurs only pay up to 800 yuan a month.' Although his mobile-phone business earned him an average monthly net profit of 1,000 yuan before the unrest, Mamut said he was despondent about the future. 'If I knew I would still have so much trouble getting a job with a university degree, I would have skipped it,' he said. 'I would rather have used the 40,000 yuan in school fees to invest in something with a better return.' Mamut also speaks fluent Putonghua. But this does not seem to be encouragement enough for him to further assimilate into Han society. 'Why should I be interested in Chinese culture?' he said. 'They never taught us our own culture and history in schools.' In the days after the violence, a heavy police and army presence made Urumqi a frightening place to be. But for Atila, 21, the silence was unbearable. As a crowd quietly watched police officers search a restaurant in a Uygur district, Atila approached a Sunday Morning Post reporter. 'I just wanted to tell you that the Uygurs speaking on television about ethnic harmony don't speak for us,' Atila said. 'They are just a small group of people with vested interests. They don't know the pain we are suffering now.' The 21-year-old mother of one had the chance to study at a university in a central province, but she could not adapt to the new environment. 'I decided to drop out. I was the only Uygur in the school. The discrimination was a bit hard for me to cope with. Some of the students would ask me if we still rode camels when we went out, and if we lived in a desert.' So Atila returned home and helped her family run a garment wholesale business in a booth they rent in the Rebiya Commercial Building, named after Rebiya Kadeer, the exiled leader of the World Uygur Congress. Ms Kadeer, once a successful Uygur businesswoman who was touted as a role model by the government, built the block in 1992, but was jailed for endangering state security in 2000. Now in exile in the United States, Ms Kadeer has been accused by Beijing of masterminding the July 5 incident, a claim she has rejected. 'I think she is a very kind person, she had donated a lot of money for charity work and helped a lot of people,' Atila said. The building was sealed off by police after the unrest, effectively closing a number of small businesses inside. 'A lot of Uygur families don't have any savings,' she said. 'This has affected a lot of people.' Atila said she still had a lot of stories to tell, but had to rush home to look after her baby. Too afraid to give her number or call to arrange another meeting, Atila said: 'I hope I will run into you on the streets again.' All names in this story are pseudonyms to protect those interviewed.