Out West (yet again)
Whatever the prejudices you might harbor against Urumqi Internet connections in second rate hotels, they’re probably over-generous. I’ve been effectively de-twitterized by sheer technological crappitude rather than anything more sinister, but this channel seems to be (barely) OK. (Annoyingly, they provide a computer in the room, which locks everything into chronic dysfunction.) So apologies for the deteriorated state of communications over the next few days.
The main objective of this trip is to explore Xinjiang’s Buddhist heritage, which is so vast and rich that even some superficial scratching should turn up some interesting stuff. The main current of Buddhist influence into China passed this way, hybridizing wildly with other cultures in one of the world’s great mixing zones. After arriving off the steps, the Uyghurs were Buddhist for centuries, before Islam got a grip around the turning point of the first millennium (I’ll try to fill in some dates with greater precision later on).
Updates as events, energy, and time permit.
ADDED: Scheduled to arrive at the site of interest tomorrow. Up to now, it’s been a mix of some interesting stuff (but probably not Outside in material — weird Uyghur dances with cups of water balanced on heads? I didn’t think so), Internet nightmare (Twitter inaccessible again), and grand finale: the mandatory baijiu-crazed ‘austere-enough-for government-work’ welcoming banquet. The inebriated babble effect is no doubt obvious. We saw some astounding Tianshan vistas too (‘Tianshan Grand Canyon’ — don’t be put off by the ridiculous name), but I’m hopeless at natural wonder, so I won’t even try to communicate it.
We’re in Baicheng now. I’ll be impressed if anyone’s heard of it, bt it seems shockingly well-governed, and probably the most attractive modern city in Xinjiang. For us, it’s just the gateway out to the Buddha caves, but it’s been an interesting surprise. It’s prosperous — due to petrochemicals — well-designed, seems highly livable, and it’s partnered with Wenzhou (which you should have heard of), a relationship that has been very effectively milked.
Our hotel is a beautiful Jiangnan-style place, which also came as a serious shock. We’d expected we were on the way down from the Urumuqi quarters to something seriously dire, but instead find ourselves in one of the nicest hotels in Xinjiang — and that does actually mean really nice. Still no reliable Internet connectivity though (by which I mean the opportunity to run my VPN), so the twitter shakes are getting bad. [If Spandrell’s out there — I’m not hiding from your ruthless tweet-fu logic, my tongue’s been cut out.]