Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Silk Road

Do you enjoy cinnamon, curry, ginger, pepper or turmeric? How about silk? I think I have always just taken those things for granted even though I knew that they were imported from one country or another. Although, I gave only passing thoughts as to where it all began. The vastness and importance of the Ancient Silk Road was but a blip on my education cycle. Pity.

One thousand years ago Xian was once the Capital of China and at the most prosperous and arguably the most important city on the planet. UNESCO has a detailed website dedicated to it's history and importance so I will not try to fill in any historical details. What I will say is that my mind and eyes have exploded open about the historical significance of these ancient trade routes. Over land they traversed the entire Asian Continent, touching into Africa and up into Europe. However it was the Ancient Silk and Spice routes that started it all and Xian was the place to be.

This city is covered in monuments, statues, parks and memorials as a reminder of how deep the importance of  Xian's history is to China and to the world. I took photos in a few of the neighborhoods and parks but they only scratch the surface of the historical tributes that adorn Xi'an.

A stunning example of the cultural crossover as a result of history is the Muslim district near the Bell Tower and Drum Tower. This is food paradise that is packed daily with tourists and locals but the Muslim and Middle East influence is everywhere and it is a part of every day life. I personally would have never thought of a huge ancient Muslim influence in China. This is not your bull**it Muslim influence we see scattered on the daily and nightly news.  of the countries names are modern so the area will be easily recognized by us mere mortals

That being said there are a few large Mosques here but I have not taken the time to find them. I did stumble across a smaller one which was over 1300 years old. The caretakers were kind and happy to invite me in to look around but not real excited about me taking photos. I smiled and put that shit away after taking this shot of the information sigh out front.
It was looking a bit run down but how would you look at 1300 years old. It was an active place of worship with workers, prayer rooms and a shower room that I accidentally walked into. The 3 old dudes cleaning themselves and each other did not even flinch when they saw me. They just smiled (which made me throw up in my mouth) and went about their business. I did not need Muhammad to tell me to get out of there!

There is religion in China contrary to the Western views of communism and religion. As I said there are plenty of worshiping Muslims, plenty of Christians and Christian churches but they are not prominent plus Buddhism and other religions are practice open and free, well as free as I can see. I went to the Xingshansi Nanlu temple complex which was huge, ornate and in the middle of one of the busiest shopping districts in Xian. I will write about it later but it was busy with worshipers openly praying and giving thanks.

There were pictures of one monument that caught my attention. It was odd because whomever I asked about it they had no idea that it existed. That is not unusual in a city of 8 million people and a person can not know where every temple, shrine or monument was located but this seemed different as it was quite prominent. Enter my co-worker Candy Bao. She knew where it was and took painstaking care to get me directions. Why the name Candy? It is common for the Chinese to take a Western/English name and Candy is oddly quite common. With my directions in one hand and my trusty subway map in the other off I went one morning in search of this mysterious monument to history.

Get off the subway, go straight cross the road and walk ten minutes. So I get off the subway turn right and walk for 30 minutes confused that I can not find what I am looking for. Maybe I better check my directions. Yup, our hero went the wrong way even with proper directions. Back tracking and now using my phones GPS I came across this gorgeous and well maintained monument and gardens. I told Candy "the directions were perfect" and nobody knows I wandered aimlessly to start my day.

Finally there is a Mall in the West End that houses a few museums that blew me away. Located in this museum/shopping mall and park  there is a monument to "The beginning of the silk road". It was here that I suddenly realized the enormity of it all. There are historical relics from most countries that were along the road. Some I expected such as China, India and Mongolia however when the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Georgia, Pakistan and Armenia are displayed you start to get it. I do not know why I needed to see the names of 26 cities engraved on this monument to have it all come into focus after wandering the museums but this is where I had my "Holy Shit" moment.

 Exciting and Timely News Alert
It has recently been released that China has pledged over $1 Trillion (with a T) to recreate the Ancient Silk and Spice Road. They are calling it the Belt and Road Initiative and you can read about it here. I will say this about the Chinese, they have not so quietly have been taking over the world economically and they are starting to flex their muscles. The world is changing and the old ways of thinking are dissolving. History is littered with cycles of world change and we are ripe for another one in our time. It may not be pretty, it usually isn't, so hang on because here it comes!

"China will become the center of economic gravity as it becomes the world's largest economy," The 'Belt and Road program includes no military component, but it clearly has the potential to up-end the world's geopolitics as well as its economics.

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