mercredi 30 septembre 2009

China, March 3, 2008

In the end we’re taking the Trans-Siberian, then the Trans-Manchurian, to Harbin. Harbin, Little Moscow, the Paris of the East, European city. Like the districts of Qingdao, Tianjin or Shanghai, pieces of China given to the West to develop their industries; but, in the case of Harbin, a city important to Russia because the train to Vladivostok passed through by.

Thus the journey has taken a new turn: we will avoid the Arab countries of Central Asia, all the pseudo-Turk ex-Soviet “-stans” with their blue-and-gold mosques, their mutton soups, and the roof of the world and city furthest from the sea, Urumqi. We’re avoiding them just as I didn’t learn Arabic before leaving for Australia, but Chinese. Just as we avoided the alternative route, through the Balkans, Turkey, then Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India and Burma, by which we could have reached Bangkok. It’s slightly shorter, but more dangerous, and probably blocked. Less efficient. And yet, the Silk Road, via Almaty then Urumqi, rather more direct as the crow flies, we shall avoid for political reasons, because the trains from Almaty to Xinjiang are sometimes interrupted without warning, and we don’t want to find ourselves spending three weeks on the steppes – at the foot of the Himalayas, unable to cross the border, at least not without spending a fortune. It’s too much for a migration. So Harbin.

We will avoid, at the same time, the Mongolian route, via Ulan Bator. Leaving the city to camp in a yurt? No. We shall take the train of the Sino-Russian alliance, the pre-Soviet train, the train of the Japan War, the train that directly connects Europe with Asia via that borderless country, Russia. It’s also the communist train, that will make us consider, without passing through a Muslim zone, the developments of communism; we will re-encounter Islam only in its Eastern expression, in Malaysia.

vendredi 25 septembre 2009

Poland, March 3, 2008

Poland is the only popular democracy that I will pass through, leaving to the south the Czech Republic, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria. Satellite nations of the Soviet Empire, whose populations are moving west, now that they’ve joined the Union. My first popular democracy, then, but also the last country of the European Union, which I’ll leave behind when I cross the Belarusian border – the start of visas.

jeudi 24 septembre 2009

Germany, March 3, 2008

Twice I shall cross the border between West and East, the iron curtain. But after passing through the Brandenburg gate in Berlin, it’s in Thailand only that I will leave the ex-communist world behind me.

mercredi 23 septembre 2009

China, March 1, 2008

Beijing is the marketplace of the Silk Roads. Beijing is the Mongol capital, built recently, several kilometres from the wall. It’s a frontier city of the Middle Kingdom, whose centre is near Wu Han, on the banks of the Yangzi, in the province of Hubei.

samedi 19 septembre 2009

China - 29th February 2008

China, China, China tata China – I love China and the little Chinese!” That’s what I sang, straw-hat on my head, at the school concert when I was five or six years old. Later, Darhan babysat me every evening, taking the place of a French student. It was this Chinese woman who came to pick me up from school over a three-year period, taking care of me until my parents came home from work. She taught me to eat with chopsticks, so I asked my grandmother in the south for a pair. This annoyed her a lot, but she nonetheless bought me some, to make me happy.

Strangely, my clearest recollection of Darhan is that she watched Santa Barbara with me in order to learn French, but also – in my memory – through genuine interest in the series. I also remember the apartment where she lived with her husband, in a tower on the Esplanade (at the time it was my first visit to a tower, and I don’t recall that it greatly impressed me). Also, two small jade elephants that she had brought from China and which had stayed at my father’s place in Neuilley until they were lost. The paper knife in its silk case that I have kept until now and which, I think, will already have landed in Australia, inside the suitcase where I also slipped some other objects: the penguin-shaped hot water bottle, the stork toy, several rocks, the box made of thuja from Caroline, the stones of Guyana from aunt Nène, my mother’s rings, and those metal figurines from the British Museum.

At present I have some Chinese friends – Ming came to eat sauerkraut at our place on Saturday evening – and I make preparations for my own trip to China, right across the continent, like Darhan, who took a bus to come to France.