Golmud 10 Aug 2004
We arrived in Golmud tired and with Ray feverish.
Whatever he got, whether from the tick bite in Wu Tai Shan or
from food, was really wearing him out. Golmud was to be our recovery
stop and now that Ray is on antibiotics we hope to continue on
the pilgrimage shortly. But not before I add a note about Golmud,
city of cities!
Kippling coined the phrase, "the Back of Beyond" to
describe the lands beyond the Passes of the high mountains that
surround the Indian subcontinent. Well he might have been referring
to Golmud! For this is truly the Middle of Nowhere. A town invented
by the Chinese, built by the Chinese for mining and military
purposes, and completely inhabited by the Chinese. It is a dream
of Beijing that sprang up in the provinces, a little Rome in
the wilds of northern England. All around are hundreds of miles
of sand and stone and treeless hills and mountains. Not even
a blade of grass in many places. Ray spotted some antelope from
the train window at dawn before we arrived (I looked but missed
them trying to focus my bad eyes), but that was about it for
fauna as well as flora. It looks like the landscape around Leh
in Ladakh, for those who have been there: pinkish hills and desert.
Golmud city is ... interesting! It is about ten blocks by ten
blocks. Look down any street and at the end you can see the wilderness
beyond just at the end of the street. The streets all end in
dust and stones. But here in the center of town, things are jumping!
There are luxury stores like Pierre Cardin and Italian clothiers,
an outdoor gear shop featuring Swiss made imports, and this Internet
Plaza with the fastest and best connections that we have experienced
yet in China. All this at the end of the world. Hard to grasp
when you try to put the entire picture together. I theorize it
is all a kind of compensation for the Chinese who have to live
out here. The best of modern China in the Wasteland. Fast food
McDonald's-type restaurants, bars, shops and fashion. All to
make up for having to live nowhere's ville. I keep thinking though
about the marketing guys at Pierre Cardin's HQ in Paris. Did
one of them suddenly get a brilliant idea and announce to the
Board of Directors one day that it would be a really brilliant
idea to open an outlet in Golmud?
The guidebooks describe Golmud as a hellhole. It isn't. Just
small, weird, and restricted in the things you can do here. If
you stay in the center of town it fools you. But "out there"
is Tibet and the wilderness that the locals are trying to forget.
I think the wilderness will win out in the end. When the resources
run out no one will stay and the sands will sift back into town
and erode even Pierre Cardin!