I had an interview earlier this week with a reporter for the Richmond Nub and at the end of our chat, I asked her where I should take the magic carpet today. Her answer was China, so where do I begin? Which scarf? Which part of China? Which memory? I decided to start at the very beginning with my personal pandemic coping aid, yes my silk scarves which would lead me to the most Eastern starting point of the ancient Silk Route, the town of Xi’an in China.
The Chinese guarded zealously their silk and it was a valuable trading commodity for what they desired in ancient times, stronger, taller horses from the west to help the warlords. We are talking about 3000BC so silk has been about for a long time. The Silk Road would wind from Xi’an through China, India, Persia, Arabia, Greece and Italy. We know that Japan had silk in 300 AD, but it was much later that the silkworm eggs found their way to Italy in the Middle Ages and later to Lyon in France; England would benefit from the Huguenots bringing their silk weaving skills in 1680. It’s fascinating to discover the journey over the centuries of silk and makes me appreciate these wonderful vintage and more modern scarves I have collected. So, we have answered one question, where to start. Xi’an it is.
The next question, which scarf? Many have their labels, made in the People’s Republic of China, so I am certain of their source, but I have chosen a long red, jacquard weave, silk fringed beauty with rolled edges, without a label, because red is a favourite colour for celebration in China and it feels fitting for my journey today. I used to live in Hong Kong on top of The Peak and Chinese brides in their red traditional wedding dress posed for their photos in the small park across from our flat. Red is their lucky colour. My tale today is not of brides, but warriors and horses, over 80,000 of them guarding the tomb of the first Emperor of China built long before the birth of Jesus.
I will wrap my long red scarf (I hope it is Chinese) firmly around me and we’ll be off on the magic carpet which has been gathering dust for too long in my garage to find Xi’an. My actual journey was a long time ago in early 1979 when Westerners did not travel to China. We left Hong Kong by train and exited at the border, went through laborious checks, walked quite a distance along the railway track with luggage and boarded what looked like the same train after more checks. Now we were in the PRC. We finally arrived in Canton and after a few days there, we travelled by sleeper train and somewhat basic airplanes for three weeks seeing sights I shall never forget. It would take me a long time to write a book about all the adventures, but I promise to tell you a little more in future blogs. Today, we are flying directly to Xi’an, the beginning of the Silk Road.
My real experience was in a small party of about sixteen people, as guests of the Bank of China with many guides and interpreters along the way. At one time we had three Mr. Wongs, our host whom we called HongKong Wong, Long Wong and Peking Wong, the latter having been personal guide to President Nixon in 1972 when he met Chairman Mao. We were in very good hands. I had known about the amazing find of the Terracotta Warriors guarding the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, but to be allowed into the area where they were being excavated at that very time was indeed a privilege. There was no museum as such or any facilities for tourists in these days. It was forbidden to take photos...my camera was slung around my body beneath my bulky red fox furcoat which had been mothballed for years but was now worn from necessity to beat the many degrees below freezing. I took this blurry photo from my hidden camera of life sized terracotta horses and warriors being exposed for the first time in over two thousand years. The photos are faded with age.
Later we went on to visit the hot springs some sixteen miles away and bravely disrobed and bathed in rather stinky steaming water, hot yes and supposedly good for one’s health. It didn’t do much for Chiang Kai Chek who was kidnapped there and forced to participate with the Communist party to oppose the Japanese in 1936! Mind you, his third wife, at one time his mistress, the glamorous Soon Mei-ling outlived him to be 106, so maybe these hot springs had something going for them! I think she liked beautiful silk scarves as well.
I may just tarry a while in China and report next week on my blunder wearing my daughter’s trendy 70’s apres-ski long boots with quilted black uppers and thick platform white soles. Anyone who has seen a Peking Opera, will know they are like the ‘hou di xue’ the Emperor’s Boots! You can just picture the weird sight we presented, me in the red fox furcoat, the boots and my large red Western nose, my husband in red embroidered satin Chinese helmet style hat lined with black fur, the only thing I could buy for him with limited Chinese language and little choice. No wonder small children hid behind their parents. I might as well have been an alien from outer space! So much has changed in nearly fifty years.
I will pack two extra scarves with ‘Made in China’ labels on the carpet flight today and tell you about Mr. Peking Wong and Mr. Long Wong next week with a few more surprises. I will keep an eye open as we fly today over the Silk Road for caravans of camels making their way eastwards bearing Scotch whisky and Belgian racing pigeons. I doubt if I will see them leading any big strong horses for warlords!
Busy Bee, Scarf Face!
Series 2, Blog 33.