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Dear followers of my Journey to the East致东游记读者

Dear followers of my Journey to the East,


I have reached the remotest, hottest, driest, and stormiest place on the route from Amsterdam to Shanghai. All my efforts to find a middle way—geographically, environmentally, philosophically, and psychologically—have now run into the extreme temperatures and drought of the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts in Xinjiang, China. Climate change has even destroyed the most resilient factor of mitigation, Springtime, making it feel already like August here. At least, that’s what the locals say. All my speedy progress to reach this region before the summer heat strikes, has come to nothing in this merciless desert zone, patiently waiting for my surrender. This should not happen. So I stand still at the big thermometer at the Flaming Mountains, indicating a heat beyond human endurance, and think twice.


This is the second time on my journey that circumstances have become stronger than me. Both times relate to the core argument of this project: the clash between West and East and how to overcome. The first time, it were the hostilities between the western foothold in the Muslim world and the Islamic Republic of Iran, verging on the brink of war, that prevented me from continuing through Turkmenistan. Now, it is, in some respects, the clash between a linear concept of modernity and the cyclical reality of nature that makes the climate so completely out of joint. Both situations show the dead end of the collision course the planet is on, lacking the imagination and willpower to fundamentally break with the conventions of zero-sum thinking and the mechanisms of colonial and extractive mindsets.


I can be forced to change my transportation for the sake of my health. But I won’t be stopped the further exploration of cultural clues on how to overcome winner-takes-all mentality. For this, the region I’m traveling through is full of references. Xinjiang is a province of China with dozens of ethnicities, developed over hundreds of years in the wake of Silk Road-driven exchange, dialogue, collaboration, and shared values. Along this Silk Road, a Buddhist spiritual life developed that is fundamentally different from the linearity of the West, let alone the exponential linearity we see in recent decades, leading to unbearable tensions as experienced in Tehran and now in Turpan. I’m looking forward to reaching a deeper understanding of the Buddhist paradigm that became a lifeline for centuries. So, I will continue the journey on foot or using local transport services like buses and slow trains, to visit places reminiscent of a tradition that does not divide, like an Iron Curtain, that does not dogmatize, like the Council of Nicaea, and that does not judge, expel, deny, or at best reconcile opposites, like Solomon on his Throne in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, that I all wrote about before. I’m looking for places representing a completely different mindset, from which I hope to learn.


Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of this moment is that it happens exactly when my Journey to the East crosses one of the most powerful Chinese legends, the Journey to the West, in search of Buddhist sutras. In this 16th-century novel, when the monk Xuanzang reaches the Flaming Mountains and only overcome the heat by a mythical intervention, secured by his disciple the Monkey King Sun Wukong. Alas, I have no disciples, nor am I in touch with the Iron Fan Princess who can help me cool down. So, I will look for some learning at a slower pace before resuming the journey by bike as soon as I find my clues here.



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