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Archive for April 25th, 2008

Well, a part of the Silk Road, since do to the whole thing would take more than the 2 months that I have in China. Indeed, one person or one caravan never completed the entire route: goods changed hands many times from origin to destination. And would I would have to transverse the better part of this hemisphere and well into the West. So called the “Silk Road” by a 19th century geologist, there is much more than one road and many more goods than just silk were transported along its routes, over land and ultimately by sea, as well.

I took a fascinating 6 week course on the Silk Roads at the ROM this winter to prepare myself for China. Practicality would have suggested a crash course in Mandarin, but you go where your passion leads right? Mine led me to a darkened classroom every Sunday afternoon with a group of fellow history enthusiasts, lectured by a passionate professor of religious studies from UofT.

Trade with the West was initially driven by China’s desire for the Ferragamo horses of Central Asia. Tall and swift in comparison to indigenous Chinese ponies, these powerful animals gave the Chinese a decisive military advantage on the battlefield. You will see statues of them depicted in spirited mid stride on sideboards in tastefully decorated Asian style homes. (I am trying to find a way to ship one home!) In turn, the cities of the West and Rome coveted China’s exquisite silk, the production of which remained a closely guarded national secret for centuries. And so went over 1600 years of movement, in goods, people and ideas.

I fly tonight to Dunhuang, my first stop on a 10 day journey. (10 days give or take: I have left the return journey open so as to take my time if I wish to linger along the way) Dunhuang is a strategically important oasis town in Central Asia, as it is located near the point where the North and Southern Silk Roads came together to continue on to China’s capital, Xi’an. (I fly there next) The primary attraction now at Dunhuang are the Mogao Caves: they are part of a system of 492 temples or grottoes, which contain what is considered to be one of the finest expressions of Buddhist art, spanning over a period of 1,000 years. Buddhism is one of the ideas that moved from West to East and morphed and changed along the way. We saw Power Point slides of the Caves back in Toronto which were impressive enough to make me want to fly for 4 hours to see the real thing.

Dunhaung is situated at the edge of the Taklamakan desert. I chose my hotel specifically for its location on the edge of this desert: the sunsets are supposed to be spectacular. Taklamakan apparently translates to “if you go in, you won’t come out”, so no unescorted wandering for me! But perhaps a camel ride is in order.

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