072811

28 Jul

 Whenever someone talks to me about a would-be Silk-Road perfume project, they always say they want to start in the west, Constantinople (Byzantium) they tend to say. If you ask me, that betrays a western centrism which I want nothing to do with. As China was the source of the silk that the world wanted, frankly I think we should start in China; Chang’an (now Xi’an) is the usual starting point (for the Chinese) [above reads “ancient Chang’an,” “Han Chang’an,” and Modern Xi’an]. I said I wanted to start in China (because that was the locale of origin of silk); Mary pointed out that the Turks make silk too–that’s my whole point! The Turks got silk because an Indian monk who’d been living in China for several years pilfered (smuggled) several silkworm cocoons hidden in a walking stick and brought them all the way back to Rome (he had been sent by the Roman emperor for the exclusive purpose of stealing silkworm cocoons).
 The silk-production technology quickly spread, but the Chinese had thousands of years head start, so their silk is still the best in the world. Other cities I might focus on in the first leg are Dunhuang, Hetian (both in China), Kashgar (in farthest western part of China’s western-most province; home to mostly Muslims), and Tehran (Iran) or Lahore (Pakistan). To simplify my life, I might choose either Kashgar or Tehran. I think I could find out enough about each city, by way of cursory research, to make some sort of a perfume, no matter how whimsical. I’ll use a couple of local fables or legends flesh out more of a story. I’m sure I can find some old fairy tale, which I can get a lot of mileage out of, especially the _right_ fairy tale.
 Once when I was in a city called Wuhan, I hailed a rickshaw to take me to dinner. I asked how much it would cost to take me where I wanted to go; when the rickshaw-peddler told me, I was thinking, “If you’re willing to pedal me all the way there so cheap, I’m more than happy to pay you.” This was the very first rickshaw I’d taken in China. I began speaking with the rickshaw driver some more and he ended up asking where I was from; I said, “New York,” and the rickshaw came to a screeching halt. The driver turned around to look at me for the first time. He said in Chinese, “I thought you were from Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The beard threw me, and your text-book perfect Mandarin made me think you were definitely Chinese. They all speak perfect Mandarin out west. The price I quoted you was too low. If I’d have known you were American, I would have said at least four times as much.”
 No wonder it appeared too cheap–he quoted me a Chinese price! That’s the only time I heard Xinjiang referred to when I was in the mainland. Needless to say, from Kashgar, we get into some of the most populous countries in the world; Kazakhstan is the 9th largest country in the world, and the largest _land-locked_ country on the globe. I might choose a city called Almaty (formerly Alma-Ata), which used to be the capital of Kazakhstan. A person really gets into the middle of the “huddled masses” in this country. It saw many massive deportations and much ethnic cleansing under Stalin; so the country is quite ethnically diverse. It’s 70% muslim; most of the rest is Christian, but Kazakhstan sticks closely to the ideal of freedom of religion. I never really think about places like Kazakhstan, but I should really start to.

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2 Responses to “072811”

  1. Anya July 31, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    Adam, I thoroughly enjoyed this story, you had me right alongside you every step of the way. I also agree that the Silk Road started in China, give them the honor.

    • Adam Gottschalk July 31, 2011 at 10:12 pm #

      I figure since it is my decision, and since I did live in China for more than two years, and speak Mandarin fluently, I’ve already decided to start with Xi’an.

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