Category Archives: SEGMENT III

Day 54: Dunhuang City Museum

The Dunhuang Museum was an exciting experience, because the museum provided the history and the context for what we were seeing in the ruins the previous couple of days. Most of the development of Dunhuang occurred during the Han Dynasty, when the emperor sent troops and their generals to protect the frontier of China. At that time, Dunhuang and the area around it was the outer edge of the country. The Han general finally defeated the Hsiung Nu raiders from the North.

Following this major victory, trade needed to be controlled and taxes charged. So it stood to reason that Dunhuang occupied a very strategic position in the future success of China. As a matter of fact, the heavy control over the trade and passage through the Silk Road allowed the Han Dynasty relative peace and prosperity. The country advanced in many areas during that time.

After a period of turmoil and disorganization, the Tang Dynasty continued to maintain strong control over the passages. We visited the Mogao Grottoes in the afternoon, and while there are no photos to share the experience, the Buddha sculpture, paintings, and architecture were a clear expression of the flourishing of encounters with the outside world. Trade, language, art, and religion were being introduced, explored, challenged, and absorbed between many cultures during this time (600AD-900AD).

I am posting a few pieces from the museum that I particularly liked and found quite unusual. They seemed to be very robust and expressive, similar to the style of the better known horses of the Tang period. The Photos of Han and Tang (200BC-900AD) Museum pieces, from top, left to right:

1. Celadon plate
2. Pair of Cocks
3. Arabic lettering
4. Bronze Turtle
5. Pair of men pulling a strap
6. Expressive Figure

The new museum itself was surprisingly beautiful and excellent in its presentation of material. It was very thoughtfully and clearly laid out, and spanned everything from early neolithic implements to planning for the future generations. It will be interesting to compare pieces as well as the building with the Arab Museum of the World that I visited in Paris in July. I am inserting a couple of photos to show you how the new building interior courtyard looks. I would highly recommend this museum to anyone intending to visit this area.


1. Slanted Door detail to match building geometry
2. Atrium Roof
3. Interior Courtyard, applying small gridded windows similar to those used in the beacon towers in Gaochang and Jiaohe

Day 53(b): Back on the Trail of the Silk Road


We have been traveling in Turpan and Dun Huang for the past few days, tracking the portion of the Silk Road through Northern China. From Dunhuang, there were two routes westward. the northern route was faster but more dangerous, and the southern route was longer but easier. The easier route connected a series of oases that were 4 to 5 days apart, whereas the harder route stretched the distances between water. Traders and emissaries had to plan their strategies for survival carefully.

Aside from extreme weather conditions and access to food and water, they could not predict who they would encounter. Dunhuang was the outpost and garrison for the Han Dynasty troops. They regulated the comings and goings of each caravan and made sure that they were entitled to passage through these points. While the influence of the Sogdians from Samarkand and the current day Uighur population were prominent in Xinjiang, there appears to be reduced or little significance in the Gansu region.

The photos above are a replica of what existed on the site previously. It is difficult to reconcile original ruins that leave a lot to the imagination, with wanting to see something that is close to the conditions at the time the site was active. This site is now a museum and contains a lot of history that helps to bring the original situation to life.

If you think this looks more like a stage set, the irony is that there is a full scale working model of an ancient city in Dunhuang. It’s something like a Universal City. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and other history-based films were shot there. We decided to pass on the experience.

Just a note on postings: still having problems uploading pictures and this continues to persist. Please let me know if you are still experiencing problems viewing them.

Day52(b): Food! Food! Glorious Vegetables!

In addition to items one might expect from a typical Chinese breakfast buffet in Turpan, we were treated to an array of dishes, all cold, and mostly vegetarian. These locally produced vegetables were lightly flavored with oil and a hint of garlic or chili pepper and proved to be not only a visual delight, but very appealing to the palette for an energetic wake up. Dishes included the following:
1. Fresh broccoli
2. Lotus roots with ginkgo nuts, fungus strips, celery strips, red cabbage clips, red pepper, and straw mushrooms
3. Fresh steamed yellow and orange carrots (a contribution to China from the West)
4. Clouds Ears with onions, red and green pepper strips, bean sprouts and green onions
5. Shaved Gourd strips with Green onions and red peppers
6. Green beans (also likely a Silk Road vegetable imported from the West) with carrots, leeks and red pepper
7. Chinese Greens
8. Marinated cabbage with deep-fried pork strips
9. Deep-fried pulled noodles
10. Mini tschung and corn on the cob (another item from the New World) sections
11. Mung beans and pickled cabbage

Day 51: Thing for Thina

Today is a travel day, so I am getting ahead of the pack by sharing some information about the Silk Road. I read the book “the Silk Road, a New History” by Valerie Hansen and I want to cite some interesting points from it. The book covers three key chapters of my selected cities: the Turpan, Dunhuang, and Samarkand.
Dunhuang, while known for its Buddhist cave paintings, has a treasure trove of over 35,000 documents that recorded official edicts, announcements, and private letters. These were found in a garrison outside of Dunhuang. The dry desert air helped to preserve these documents from the 1st Century BCE to the 1st Century CE. Agreements were written on bamboo strips and wood before paper, originally used for wrapping, became the material for writing. Paper did not become widely used for writing until the 2nd Century. All envoys passed through this garrison at Xuanquan outside Dunhuang in either direction to control movement.
Turpan, a walled city further west from Dunhuang, was known for its foreign community dating back to the Tang Dynasty. It was only the halfway point between Samarkand and Chang An (current day Xian). One of the most significant groups living in Turfan, believe it or not, was the Sogdians, who originated from Samarkand! They settled in Turfan to farm, run rest stops, take care of animals, and trade.
A chapter of the book is devoted to Samarkand, one of our stops in Uzbekistan. The Sogdians who hailed from this area were originally migrants from Iran and practiced Zoroastrian beliefs such as leaving bones of their dead exposed before burial. Trade between Sogdiana and China peaked between 500 and 800 CE. Many Sogdians from Samarkand may have migrated to Turfan when Sogdiana was conquered by the Muslim genera in 712.
The difference in timeline between these cities can be substantial, so the context between them is important. The book focused on the period between 200 BCE and 1200 CE, with major Islamic developments in the latter half of the time span. This later period coincides with the Tang Dynasty at its peak in Dunhuang.image
In case you were ever wondering, the name “China” is derived from a reference to “Thina”, by a merchant in the 1st C. CE with a description of China as “a great inland city from which silk floss, yarn and cloth are shipped by land…” Since Ancient Greek did not have a letter for “ch”, the letter theta was used. In Sanskrit, where the English word for China is derived, China was pronounced Chee-na. This word came into use around 221-207 BCE during the Qin Dynasty.
As far as the Silk Road is concerned, it is a relatively recent concept from 19th C. explorers. The Silk Road consisted mainly of clusters of cultures that lived and traded among each other. The paths were unmarked and did not provide the big saga event romanticized by the Marco Polo story. Silk was only one among other goods traded that included chemicals, spices, horses, glass and paper.

Day 49: Room with a View


To the left is a lovely view from our 25th floor hotel. Apologies for the dirty window.

Update: what a difference a day makes! The new panoramic photo shows today’s view. Urumqi is one of the 10 most polluted cities in the world, as cited by Tsinghua University. We had a strange deja vu when we arrived in Beijing a few years ago the day before National Day on Oct. 1. The same dramatic transition occurred miraculously, as if God opened up the skies!

Beijing and Taiyuan beat Urumqi for the record. Three million people here are the same number in population as Tashkent. Interesting to compare the two. Note the mountains in the background.

Status Report on photo uploads: between 4 devices (a computer, I pad, and 2 cell phones), we have not managed to figure out why the photos are not loading properly as they have in the past. I am going to abandon ship on the Day 48 posting.
The technical problems getting access to the internet continue to persist. It’s a connection between the host editor, wordpress, and the website that is not allowing the pictures to link. Thanks for your patience.


Day 48: It’s the End of the (Silk) Road–for now


About Uzbekistan: In a short week, I have grown very fond of the country and people of Uzbekistan. The people are gentle, calm, and kind. They are looking for ways to catch up with the rest of the world, but in another respect they. maintain a balance of initiative and acceptance. The driver summed it all last night. On the drive from the airport around midnight, he said to me, unsolicited, “People who visit Tashkent ask where the night life is. People in Tashkent prefer to sleep”.

About the Silk Road: the sights weren’t quite what I thought they would be. I guess I was expecting museum quality perfection. The presentation of archaeological finds, while being designated UNESCO world sites, is still hampered by a country’s wealth and priorities. That might explain why Germany has a high number of heritage sights, aside from probably having a heavy hand in the designations. Italy has the highest number of any country in the world.

In places like Uzbekistan, some of the work is performed by others not much better trained for that type of work than you or me. Matching original materials with what is currently available is dependent on money and knowledge. Our Western attitudes and expectations impose pressure on countries to deliver better appreciation of their cultural relics. This of course is controversial and can be debated.

On traveling alone: a friend referred to me as “gutsy”. I guess I have always been a bit rebellious, refusing to listen to the voice of reason. But this was in a way pretty safe and predictable, without dipping into the odd looks at my traveling alone. People either assume I am I married or divorced, and I don’t always feel compelled to convince them that I am happily married with kids.

I always seem to end up bringing Gee Kin back to the places I visited without him, so I have become a scout of sorts. Maybe that’s the role I enjoy, and he has been incredibly generous, supportive, and understanding of my compulsion. It certainly was true of Germany and Turkey. Obviously, it’s a lot of fun to share these experiences with your partner, family and friends, with a higher rate of predictability.

It’s not so bad, either, to have time to collect your thoughts about where you are, how you are seeing them, and why things happen the way they did historically. It’s a different lens from which you are seeing the world.
For now, I have completely satisfied my needs and wishes for this part of the trip and look forward to sharing the next segment with Gee Kin who will be meeting me at Midnite in Urumqi! We’ll be picking up the Northern part of the Silk Road in Northwestern China, so stay tuned….

Photos below, from top, left to right:

1. Tour group from Ferghana Valley visiting pilgrimage sites. The local gentleman jumped into the picture of ladies because he couldn’t resist getting his picture taken! (They also loved being photographed).
2. Djuma Mosque. six of the columns date back to the 10-12thC, but most of the construction dates to the 18-19thC. The new columns were propped up with copper bands to protect them from insects and moisture.
3. Niche facing Mecca, as all mosques have.
4. Courtyard.
5. Camel for comic relief! Good tourist trap.
6. King’s harem courtyard in the Tash-Hauli Palace
7. View of the inner city bound by a fortress wall
8. Reconstruction is actively taking place throughout Kiva, using sun dried mud brick covered with straw reinforced mud.
9. Detail of column with swastica sign
10. Kunya-ark Mosque.