Many things to see, simply not enough time to see them
|Miles Driven Today
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|US, Canada, UK, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China
We’ve now been traveling for 5 days, along the Northern edge of the Silk Road. This all started in Kashgar, and continued through these cities, for almost a week.
The Silk Road was the road of commerce, and it operated from 1200 AD, onward for hundreds of years. Marco Polo traveled into China, and came upon these cities as he toured the area, and as he eventually met Kublia Khan.
We’ve been so busy getting into and out of these cities, that we’ve been unable to enjoy them at all. This failure of logistics is a great disappointment, as I’ll likely never come here again, and I’m visiting extraordinary places, with no time for anything but a shower in the hotel.
It seems that Edelweiss, our tour operator, simply did not comprehend how difficult travel in China would be, and how every traffic stop, gas purchase, etc, would take away the critical hours that we need, on every day, so that we can explore.
When you arrive at a hotel at 7PM, and have to leave by 8:00 or 8:30 the next morning, there’s no time to do anything at all. Like I said, this is a great disappointment.
I’ve begun to discuss this with my fellow travelers, and it seems universally agreed that all of us would have been glad to add 5 days to the length of the tour, so that we could spend an extra day in some of these cities. But, cest la vie
The Silk Road Hotel
In Dun Huang, we’re staying at the Silk Road Hotel, which I’m told was built about 10 years ago, but almost went out of business because the roads into Dun Huang were not built yet.
That said, the hotel has a very nice exterior, and it’s placement next to the dunes makes it the perfect spot to go out and see the things that make Dun Huang a special place, hidden in plain sight, in the dessert. The bikes are always featured prominently at these hotels, where we are like rock-stars, and the bikes are like Buddha statues.
The hotel has a penthouse, where the restaurant is located. From this open-air penthouse, you can look out and see the dunes, located less than a mile away.
If you’re adventurous, and if you have time, you can take a camel ride around the dunes. I’m told that this ride takes about an hour, and I would have really loved to get on a camel, and ride the dunes, but on this morning, I needed to get some lingering pain in my back addressed. That said, I’ve got a little video of the dunes, which shows their awesome beauty.
VIDEO OF DUNES FROM PENTHOUSE
What, no chiropractor?
About a week ago, I was able to visit a chiropractor, who was also an acupuncturist, and who also offered Chinese Herbal Medicine. At the time, I did not realize how rare this would be, as we’ve been trying to find this combination of skills and capabilities for a week now, and it’s been impossible.
So, while in Dun Huang, I decided to visit an acupuncturist to see about getting some relief. Stephan’s back has also been bothering him, so he decided to join me, and see if he can also get some relief. So, at 10:00 AM, we headed downtown to the Acupuncture studio.
The cab found the place for us, and we entered to the smell of cigarette smoke, and three women, clad in white medical coats. Using the eTranslate application, we were able to communicate what we wanted, and away we went…
Acupuncture is usually a combination of using needles, and often times, cups. Cups are glass jars, which can be applied to a problem area, using suction. The concept is that the suction stimulates blood flow, causing blood to rush to the service, to accelerate healing. Below, you’ll see a picture of me, covered with these cups.
These doctors spent about 75 minutes treating Stephan and I. They got a kick out of the fact that two Westerners had found them, and were seeking treatment. They were very attentive, and very kind. Aside from the smell of cigarette smoke, this place was wonderful, and the doctors were the same.
After the treatment, we headed back to the hotel to relax for a bit.
Visiting the dunes (or not)
I really, really wanted to visit the dunes. But, at the same time, if I don’t take care of the pictures, blog content, and getting my notes organized, I’ll miss the memory of this place for ever. With so much happening every day, I find it impossible to tell one day from the next, never-mind trying to recreate them, days after the fact. So, I have to spend time, getting myself and my content organized.
As a result, I did not get a chance to visit the dunes. Karin and Stephan later reported to me that I could have gone on a 1 hour camel ride in the dessert, which I would have loved. But, life is about choices, and while I hate missing this opportunity, I had to make a choice.
Finally, some time to work on this Blog
With all of the obstructions that China has placed on the Internet, combined with slow and unreliable Internet access in the first place, it’s common for me to spend an hour, performing a 2 minute task. And so, in this hotel, the Internet was pretty good, but services still restricted. So, I organized and rendered many of the videos, named the pictures, deleted unneeded content, and did as much as I could do, without being able to publish blog posts.
That said, and as I’ve mentioned, I’m now publishing these posts, leaving placeholders for where the videos will be inserted later.
Inserting the videos into old blog posts
Some of these videos are amazing, and I can’t wait for you to see them. But, for now, you and I will have to wait. But, I’ve decided that the way that I’ll handle this is to update the posts to include the videos, once I’ve got them updated. I’ll then insert a new post, which has links to all of the updated posts, so that, if you’re interested, you can go back and watch the videos.
The pageant of the dunes
Because we are located so close to the dunes, it turns out that the government has built a stadium, within a 5 minute walk of the hotel. This stadium is purpose-built to show “The pageant of the dunes”. I don’t believe that this is the actual name of the show, but it’s a good description of what happens during the show.
We sit in an amphitheater, and we look out onto a little bit of dessert, where some props have been laid out. The area we look upon is a sloping hillside, which is about the size of a football field.
We arrived at the amphitheater at about 8:20, for a show that is scheduled to start at 8:40. Precisely at 8:20, a “gentleman” appears, and he starts talking. Actually, he starts screaming. We are seated about 4-5 feet from a loudspeaker, and his voice is rattling my brain, and the brains of my fellow visitors.
it turns out that he’s an auctioneer, trying to sell “the works of the Master” to people in the audience. While he’s talking, a master calligrapher is creating new works, which are then auctioned off, and the audience is bidding wildly… Well, not wildly at all, but there is some enthusiasm for these “works of art”.
The pageant – Part I
The show starts, and although it is spoken entirely in Chinese, you start to quickly get the picture. The story is, once again, the story of romance, of strife, and of conquest over adversity. We watch as we see that, some time ago, a man was in the dessert, and he became overwhelmed, and nearly died. The nomads found him, and nursed him to health, and he met a beautiful woman, and fell in love. But, the guy in charge, also had fond feelings for this same woman, and the struggle ensued.
I can’t say when this all took place, or over what period of time. But, the Silk Road, this hotel, and this pageant describe things that went on in the Taklamakan dessert, a huge dessert that separates the North and South paths of the Silk Road. So, it’s easy to see how the guy could have become overwhelmed with the heat. This is an insufferable place, in “the middle of nowhere”.
INSERT VIDEO OF CAMELS AND THE GUY ALMOST DYING
The pageant – Part II, III, IV
As the first part ends, we realize that our stadium is on a platform that rotates. So, it rotates about 60 degrees or so, and we’re presented with another set of props, more elaborate than the first.
The pageant continues, and we enjoy the colors, the lights, the spectacle, and the story. It seems that even though I could not understand one word of the show, you can get the general picture, and understand the narrative.
It’s clear to me that much of this was propaganda, but that said, the spectacle was awesome, as you’ll see from the videos below.
VIDEO OF PART 2
After about an hour, the whole thing came to an end, and we were rushed out of the stadium. Once again, the Chinese have a very strange way of managing crowds. As we stepped off of the platform, onto the ground, we there were people screaming at us, telling us to move along.
I don’t’ want to be overly-dramatic, so let me clarify. if you left the stands, and began to walk, you were not yelled at. But, if you delay, and try to look out at the props, and the actors, you are screamed at, and hustled along.
And the night ends
After the pageant, it was a short 5-minute walk back to the hotel, and some much needed rest.
What will tomorrow bring?
We travel about 250 miles to Jiayuguan, where we’ll spend another night. As has been the case all to often, we’ll see exactly what this means, once we start the day’s journey.
Note for the record
Here’s the thing. Today is October 1st, and I’m finishing up writing this post, which tells the story of one week ago. I’m trying to remember all that happened, and all that I had anticipated about what tomorrow will bring. But, honestly, everything is a blur. Each city sounds and feels like the one before. If there are differences, they are impossible to remember, unless I’ve taken rich notes. I try very hard to take notes, creating video diaries, entering notes in my iPhone, but when we stop for gas, the gas stop is also very busy, and it’s tough to get notes down, given all of the other activities. So, I do my best to recreate everything, but time destroys details, and details and subtleties transform this blog from a record, to a story.