Archive for April 14th, 2014

Scrap note (#10)

Back in Shanghai from Dunhuang today. It’s not an easy journey (taxi, overnight sleeper train, taxi, flight, taxi) so multi-dimensional disconnection and raggedness.

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Lanzhou, the major gateway city to the West, didn’t win me over. It’s congested, and — upon superficial contact — almost wholly charmless. Given its extraordinary history and contemporary frontier-hub function, that’s a great disappointment. (Despite the grunge, a modest downtown apartment there still costs US$200,000.)

The taxi-ride from the train station to the airport is unusually long because the broken country made it hard to situate runways conveniently. The route we took on the way back took us past the rapidly-arising New Lanzhou City — which is huge. There’s some prospect of a few glitzy modern buildings, if the promotional posters are to be believed. Serried ranks of comparatively tasteful proletarian residential highrises make up the bulk of the New¬† City so far.

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The Chinese West is weirdly comparable to the American West, but historically fragmented. It plays a similar role in the local movie industry, as an imaginative space of heroism, violence, and civilizational fragility. It’s vast, arid, and geographically sublime — recalling the (to me) stunning fact that China’s proportion of arable land is only fractionally larger than Australia’s. Arid mountains, deserts, and harsh scrubby plains stretch endlessly. Dangerous tribes with an exotic nobility populate the Western frontier myths. Foreigners tend to understand — perhaps even overestimate — the American fascination with the frontier, but China’s is nowhere near as thoroughly appreciated. (A fake ‘ancient Dunhuang’ has been created near the real one, catering to the huge appetite of the Chinese movie industry for historical ‘Westerns’.)

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April 14, 2014admin 7 Comments »
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