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.

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