24 November 2007

City of Western Peace

I am in the heart of China: Xi'an, once Chang'an, for centuries the capital of imperial China, and the capital of the first Qin emperor, who first united China and from whose name, pronounced "Chin", is probably derived the name of the country in English. You can witness his bold cruelty for yourself in the excellent movie "The Emperor and the Assassin" featuring three hours of subtitles. The emperor's burial mound is the size of a small mountain--the largest tomb in the world--and reputedly contains, vast riches, rivers of mercury and Indiana Jones-style booby traps to ward off intruders. Nearby is the famous Army of Terracotta Warriors. What can I say about the Army of Terracotta Warriors except "I saw the army of Terracotta Warriors"? Those who have been there will know what I mean. When I returned from the warriors, I unwittingly walked down a seedy street near the train station where several women actually grabbed and tried to physically force me into various sex toy shops and massage parlors. Although this was creepy, I got to evade them by using Aikido.

Xi'an was also the Chinese terminus of the Silk Road, and it is from here, tomorrow morning, that I will set off on the epic journey to Kashgar popularized by my paison Marco Polo. The first leg of this journey will consist of a 17 hour journey by train to the small settlement of Jiayuguan. Here, the Great Wall ends and a narrow pass between mountain ranges guards the erstwhile entrance into the Middle Kingdom. Beyond lie only the deadly barrens of the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts (Taklamakan means "enter and never return"--nice). Following Jiayuguan, I have another long trip to Turpan, the second lowest spot on Earth and home to several ruined cities long ago eaten by the desert. A short hop up to Urumqi follows, and then it takes another 24 hours by train (!) to reach Kashgar, heart of Uighur country (pronounced WEE-ger, which sounds like wigger, which is funny). I think it was my recent reading of "Against the Day" by Thomas Pyncheon that inspired my trip into the no-man-lands of Xinjiang.

I have been enjoying a pleasant couchsurf in Xi'an these past few days, hence my inactivity. Today, I really did very little except buy train tickets and hang out with another local couchsurfer, this one a young Chinese woman named Maria. She tried to help me find a place to try acupuncture, but we didn't get to that agenda item until after they'd all closed. So another time I'll do the Chinese needle pain thing. I have a few more couchsurfing gigs lined up, so I may not be paying for hotels for some time. Yay.

1 comment:

Jhenn said...

Is this through couchsurfing.com?
You beat up some prostitutes?! That's a story for the kids!