Travelling again, this time far to the east, to a city at the other end of the alphabet and the Eurasian continent. A journey that Mr. Marco Polo would have taken months and years to make was one I made whilst leisurely reading my books and sipping champagne (Air France unexpectedly upgraded my ticket to business class, doubtless as a result of my endless voyages around the globe. My aeroplane even passed over Ulan Bator, one of my favourite ‘uttermost places’ as Bruce Chatwin would have called it, before landing in Beijing.) A thousand kilometers to the north of here are the vast open expanses of the Monogolian steppe, deserts unmeasurable to man. Xining itself is full of greys and browns and little green; a dry town it seems.
I spent two days in Beijing before heading out here. It is the first time I am in China. Beijing seems to me to be a city of great extremes: broad stalinien avenues with imposing buildings either side of the treeless boulevards, which alternate with narrow hutongs, a warren of narrow streets and alleys which seem to have existed for centuries. Some these areas seem to border on waste ground, or are in the process of being demolished….Tianamen of course was very impressive; with a strong central authority one can of course undertake all sorts of grandiose architectural schemes.
But right now I am in central china, in a city of two millions, an ancient stop on the old silk road but now a forest of high-rise buildings. Every tower seems to have been constructed in the last few decades although during the arrival from the airport I saw old earth-coloured buildings merging into hillside, structures which seemed very old. But this new city is shrouded in smog and the horizon and mountains around are invisible. So it must have be in Manchester and London a hundred years ago, I suppose. In my hotel room I can hear incessant banging and clanking coming from a new high-rise under construction next to here. But far below some of the buildings below seem semi-derlict. The view from my hotel room window (which has not been cleaned in many millennia) looks like this:
I am here for one week, for a conference, and then I am heading to Tibet, yes, Tibet. On the famous train which goes to 5 kilometers above sea level. I will try to write about that, too. And about Xining, before I leave.