It’s time for another Silk Road Q&A open thread.
Rather than having this Q&A session be just for Friday, let’s extend it out through the weekend. We have many community members in timezones spread out across the globe, and our discussions tend to go on for a couple of days anyway ...
Feel free to open the discussion up a little more, as many of the people commenting here have a lot of their own experience and expertise that’s worth sharing. So feel free to ask questions to both myself and anyone else who participates in these threads.
That said, last week’s session was even better than the week before it. We had 73 comments from a wide array of Silk Road researchers, travelers, and watchers, and I feel as if we learned a lot from each other and had a good time doing it.
We seemed to have a good deal of interest in Silk Road travel last week, so let's make that the theme this week.
How to travel the New Silk Road / Belt and Road?
—> How do you get started traveling the Silk Road / doing on the ground Silk Road research?
—> What places do you recommend traveling to?
—> How do you balance being researcher and being a tourist?
—> Why document Silk Road development?
—> What to do when you’re actually there on the ground?
—> How to make contacts and make the most of your travels?
—> How and where to publish your findings?
Or ask any other questions that you may have.
Please also feel free to go off-script. While each open thread will have a theme this doesn’t mean you need to constrain your enquiries to fall within these parameters. If you have a question, ask it.
As always, let’s have fun with this. Be nice. Fire away.
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Ok, I'll answer these questions as if applied to me:
Q: How do you get started traveling the Silk Road / doing on the ground Silk Road research?
A: I've long been interested in the ancient Silk Road. When I began my consulting firm, Dezan Shira & Associates back in 1992 in China, I took the time to travel around the country, and especially the West. I traveled the length of the China Silk Road from Xi'an to Taxkorgan overland back in 1996.
I recall being in the Urumqi Museum with a friend of mine, an old Africa hand. I saw a pot with a distinctive design, yet the sign said it was "origin unknown" but had been dug up from an ancient Gobi Desert site. My mate said he knew exactly where it was from. "That's distinctive right? It's from a village near Mombassa where they still make pots like that today".
I have since had numerous clients investing in China's West, I've been all over Xinjiang, Ningxia and Gansu many times. In fact I've been to all of China's Provinces and most of the major cities.
I wrote a book about the region in 2008: https://www.asiabriefing.com/store/book/business-guide-to-west-china-451 (ask me nicely and I'll send you a free copy)
This means I know the difference between a Yurt and a Ger.
When I was living in Beijing, I got fed up with China expats talking shit all the time and bitching about their jobs and getting pissed up at the same old bars all the time. So I started going to Ulaan Baatar instead, a 90 minute flight, initially once a month and then every weekend and all holidays. I can ride horses, so I rode all over Mongolia. The freedom there out of the steppes was something that wasn't in China. Eventually I bought an apartment there and still have it, 14 years later. I spend two months a year every summer up in Mongolia.
Q: What places do you recommend traveling to?
A: Travel as much as you can. It's all good.
Q: How do you balance being researcher and being a tourist?
A: Tourists visit museums, so do researchers, so it's a fine line at times. I guess the difference is acquiring a real interest. I have been to many places tourists also have, there's no shame in that, except that tourists tend to pick the more obvious spots. Time is a constraint of course. But you can always return, get off the beaten track. And build a library. I have a lot of old books in my personal library. Amazon and Ebay are great sources of material.
Q: Why document Silk Road development?
A: That varies from individual to individual. For me, it's because I would do it anyway, and because I have a business motivation. My firm is well known in China, but we have to compete with lots of other China based consulting companies, there's loads of them. But not many can afford to or even have the resources to do the Belt & Road Initiative. We do and it helps us stand out from the pack.
Q: What to do when you’re actually there on the ground?
A: I will usually have pre-arranged business meetings, so get those out of the way. Then go to the obvious places, museums and so on. Local sights. Then head for the nearest bar, with the intention of meeting people, especially other expats and locals. A few mutual beers reveals a lot more than guidebooks. Girls too. They always want to help a lonely soul from afar. I have had a string of lovers from across the Silk Road I have had mutually enjoyable affairs with who have also been immensely helpful, and who remain so.
Q: How to make contacts and make the most of your travels?
A: You have to get out and about and do it yourself. Some Embassies can be useful in introducing contacts, after all its what their Commercial Attaches' are paid for. Some are stuffed shirts, others will buy you a beer. But basically it's up to you to make the effort. And go hang out where people who you are likely to find interesting will be. Tip: There is usually an expat bar hangout near the main 5 star hotel in any remote city. Find the hotel, and walk around until you find the right bar. One beer will be enough to find out if it's one that will yield interesting conversations.
Q: How and where to publish your findings?
A: I own a publishing company, Asia Briefing, so its easy for me. www.asiabriefing.com
But otherwise contribute, and get involved with blogs like this one. But be aware it is very hard to make a living out of writing. Don't expect millions of people will read or buy your stuff. And Linked In has a 1% click through if you're lucky, which is rubbish. You might get lots of likes, but that doesn't mean anyone reads the content.
Wade has put this blog up and he can help, and so can people like me, at least on the business stuff. We do feature other people's articles on Silk Road Briefing for example. The approach needs to be a steady drip, drip drip to build up credibility and a name. It gets easier after awhile. Everyone has to start somewhere. The first step though is getting out and doing it.
You're gonna love this Q. When is the Silk Road book coming out.....?
Do you ever keep in touch/follow up with the people you interview on your travels? - Intrigued if Sergei ever made it to Chongqing to be with his love or if he is still making bubble tea and serving snacks in Nurkent.
I missed this Q&A session. Will you continue on this week?
Hi from Seattle again. Last week, I asked if anyone had run into Chinese Christians who are doing undercover evangelizing in Muslim countries along the traditional Silk Road in what is know n as the "back to Jerusalem" movement. One set of these missionaries were killed in Pakistan almost 3 years ago, but many journalists covering the incident failed to connect the dots, I wrote about here: https://www.getreligion.org/getreligion/2017/6/13/reporters-miss-how-chinese-couple-killed-in-pakistan-were-part-of-huge-missionary-enterprise.
I didn't get much response last week but I did check with 2 missionary organizations that have contacts in central Asia and both assured me that these missionaries are very much planted around the 'stans and elsewhere. And they really don't want to be outed, either. The South China Morning Post wrote about one missionary couple in Iraqi Kurdistan, so they ARE out there. If anyone else has encountered this, please let me know as I'm quite interested in this movement.
Great to be have another Q&A, thank you!
I would really appreciate your opinion on Kazakhstan from an investment perspective, for instance in banking (e.g. Halyk Bank). Do you see any more interesting themes/countries out there?