Well, it was summer! And I must say I put it to good use. In particular I used part of August to take the family - and me - to China to travel down the ‘Silk Road’ spending time in Xinjiang, Gansu and Shaanxi. This part of China is extraordinary. At least in the West, it is being in Central Asia with a Chinese accent.
With a four hour flight out of Beijing you find yourself in Urumqi or Wulumqi as the Chinese call it. However, it is a capital without a Han majority - the majority instead held by Uighurs. One of the first things you note - this on the highway in from the airport to the City of over 2 million souls is that signs are in three languages - Uighur, which uses an Arabic script, Cyrillic - for all those Russians so close - and Chinese.
The travel down the Silk Road is magical though how I’d feel about traveling by caravan through this desolate - without evident water or trees for that matter - I don’t know - especially where you face a 2 to 3 year travel if you are heading for the Mediterranean. But we were heading in a eastward direction - to Turfan or Turpan or Tulufan named aptly as it turned out the ‘oven of China’ and might I say with good reason as the weather taught us, Dunhuang and on to Xi’an - the home of Qin Shi huangdi - the great Qin emperor - and his might terracotta warrior (bang ma yong) army.
But for us it was not ‘bee-line’ travel. Indeed, after Tulufan we veered north and east and headed for the tourist city of Hami. And on from there to Yi Wu (not the Fujian Yi Wu) but the Xinjiang Yi Wu and from there to Eclipse City. Yup. The 24 folk in the bus with both a national and a local guide were headed for a total eclipse of the sun. Believe it or not our tour organizer is - and it is not the only such tour operator - dedicated to organizing total solar eclipse tours around the world.
So, there we were with about 4,000 other souls, about 24 kilometers from the Mongolian border (a military zone by the way) in a location named by Chinese officials - Eclipse City. To say the least it was breath taking - the solar eclipse not the ersatz city.
As we traveled down the contemporary Silk Road I might add - and notwithstanding we were in the wilds of Xinjiang and then the famous Gansu corridor - it appeared as though China’s whole economy was passing before our eyes. Up through corridor from Central China enormous truck after enormous truck - both night and day - loaded down with new cars, heavy equipment - the equipment looked destined especially for the oil and gas industry of Xinjiang and loads of steel and wood. In the other direction equally enormous trucks carrying fruit - especially hami gua, the particularly delicious melon of Xinjiang and other commodities. Literally a continuous flood of goods in both directions. As a visual picture of China’s economy it was perfect.
While our compatriots were all eclipse enthusiasts, they were not that alone. Imagine not only were they eclipse enthusiasts, the veteran on the trip had 14 under his belt - but they were also Olympic ‘nuts.’ The veteran here had attended 10. So, the group headed head-long from northwest China targeting Beijing and the Olympics. Though novices the family followed.