Nĭ hăo China!

All Packed and Ready to Go 

One of my esteemed readers (thank you, Murtala) recently commented, “Perhaps this incredible adventure is the longest travel in your life.” That sentence has stayed with me over the past month, turning it over in my mind, considering a lifetime of travel. And yes, it is the longest, intentionally studied, travel that I have attempted. However, my unparalleled adventure was when I followed my soon to be husband, in 1971, to Beirut, Lebanon, and found myself, within a year, in West Africa. In those days, communication was by post or a telephone call booked at the central telephone exchange. Then, water was boiled and filtered in a ceramic container; now, water is purchased in plastic bottles and everywhere! Forty-seven years later, the world has changed, significantly….email, mobile phones, Facetime, credit cards, ATM. Travel arrangements are confirmed and tickets are purchased  over the Internet, no need to send a telex and wait days for a reply.

“One enters into a great sandy desert, where neither water nor grass is to be found. It is necessary to look at some high mountain in the distance, and seek for abandon bones, to know how to guide oneself and recognize the path to be followed. Hsuan-tsang, AD629

All packed and ready to go on the Silk Road. A term coined in 1877 by the German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen.  The Silk Road was never a single road but a vast network of trade routes stretching from Xian (Chang’an) to the Mediterranean. Travelers have written about trade routes as far back as the Han Dynasty around 100 BC but ancient mummies in the sands of the Taklamakan Desert indicate travelers to China some 2000 years ago. In the twenty-first century, the Silk Road, has a new name, The Belt and Road, a development strategy focuses on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries, the People’s Republic of China, the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and the ocean-going Maritime Silk Road to Europe. The exchange of goods and thought perseveres.

19th century map of northern silk road. Names highlighted are cities on my journey.
-Central Asia, Kathleen Hopkirk.Eland Publishing 1993.

 

21st century Chinese railway map: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/china-trains/railway-map.htm My trip is exclusively, China by rail.

The years living in Nigeria and Egypt instilled the desire for continuous learning, which encouraged, though late in life, this journey through China and Central Asia. Study of Egypt’s five thousand-year history and Nigeria’s considerable diversity of people and culture prepared me for China’s immensely long and incredibly complex history. Empires have risen and fallen but the vastness of the territory from China to Central Asia is daunting to comprehend. First stop, Beijing…to be continued.

Beijing to Tashkent: Following the Silk Road, the countdown

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Here it is! My dream voyage finally in place. Seven years ago I said to a friend that I was too old to take this trip and I listened to myself list the many excuses as to why I should not and could not attempt such a trip. Then, early in 2016, things happened. Friends, my age, had heart attacks, strokes, cancer. Some survived, a few did not. My husband was critically ill and I had an accident requiring surgery. Then in October of that year, I had a sudden realization, maybe an epiphany, maybe not,  but the clarity to know that this was my chance to travel the Silk Road. If I was going to go, it was now. So I began. And today, I am one month away from boarding Egypt Air plane to Beijing. The trip will take two months.

My plan is to traverse China mainly by train. In the ‘stans’ most transportation will be by road.  My interests are many. Though I am well aware that this journey is late in the context of the ancient silk road still, I will see what has survived in the cultures and crafts and of course, experience the land that hundreds of thousands of people have travelled and have met their fate.

My plan is to share this experience through this blog. As many of you know, I have a strong dislike for social media but with the strict orders of some friends, I have added my name to Instagram. My goal is to write about subjects that interest me on my blog and post a picture or two on Instagram that connects to the blog. This seems rather cumbersome to me but I am told this is what I should do. If all fails, I will resort to keeping a diary, a scrapbook, and a picture album to be shared on this blog at a later date. (Update one week before travels: I have studied Instagram and have decided that it is not for me. It is not the platform that I seek to share my experiences so I have deleted my account.)

Much of my interest about the Silk Road stems from research, studying, photographing and writing about traditional crafts in Egypt and Nigeria. Indigo, silk, glassblowing, equestrian festivals, bread making are just a few of the subjects I will seek out. More over, I am fascinated with the movement of Islam through these countries and have many opportunities to visit Muslim communities throughout this trip. But too, I am well aware that while something is sought after another thing is found.

The original mission of this blog is to archive my work and share my deep connection to Egypt and Nigeria. Bear with me, as I change writings to a travelogue for the duration of this journey.  It will be experimental, no doubt a challenge, and most definitely, an opportunity.