tirsdag 28. desember 2021

In search of spirit in China’s wild west

What are you doing way out here?” The policeman isn’t exactly glaring, but his look is filled with intent. We are beaten and weathered after a full day of driving through desert roads. We are outsiders, and though we have done nothing wrong, the fact that we are not from here is significant. For hundreds of years — though not so much lately — outsiders have passed through this part of northwestern China in both peace and war, seeking art and culture, spoils and commerce, immortality and blood.

We are mere miles from Dunhuang, home of the Buddhist grottoes and The Diamond Sutra, an ancient meeting place of civilizations — but first, we have to give four cops an explanation.

The officer waits. His question is sound. In truth, we had not exactly chosen the best time — June 2020, the summer of COVID — for a motorbike adventure. Me, I can get by most times in China without looking out of place, with my Asian face. My companion, on the other hand, is Danish — a maniacally-grinning one at that, with blond hair, blue eyes, and cheeks that have been carved by wind and sand.