The Gansu Bureau of Foreign Experts heads to Linxia!
In late May, I jumped on the opportunity to take part in the annual foreign experts trip, this time to the town of Linxia! Linxia is known as the “Little Mecca” of China; just over 50% of its residents are Hui (Muslim Chinese) and there are several other ethnic minorities based in the city, including the Turkic Salar group.
**fun fact! I had traveled through this region of China back in 2009 as an exchange student; going through old photos, it looks like we briefly stopped for a bathroom break in Linxia and checked out a market… here is a flashback of a 20 year old Harrison!
(Back in 2017…) After a short 90 minute bus ride, we hopped off the bus to see a few historic buildings in the center of town. The Eastern Residence is adorned with decorative brickwork, beautifully framing the doors and walkways that connect each inner courtyard to the next.
Generally, depictions of humans and animals are strictly forbidden in Islamic art (the Persians didn’t get the memo, with their richly decorated miniature paintings of HUMANS!!) but sometimes exceptions for good fengshui need to be made, and the mythical Qilin-beast is perched near the front entrance of the complex.
Foreign tourists rarely visit Linxia, so wherever we went, there was a sure to be a crowd of school children clamoring to take photos with the Gansu experts.
Apparently, egg shell carving is a local artistic specialty- chicken eggs, goose eggs, even ostrich eggs could be pierced with beautiful patterns.
The local night market served sha-guo 砂锅 (stone bowl broth) and cumin-coated lamb kebabs 羊肉串, both of which are typical for Gansu.
The next day we visited two fossil museums to check out the skulls and bodies of the shovel-mouthed elephant, platybelodon.
There was a visit to Song Ming Cliff park, and we took several group photos at the foot of the mountain.This mini-vacation included many scholars from Middle Eastern/ Central Asian countries (ie. Egypt, Iran, Pakistan) and also from Russia, and if you follow the news, you would know trust among these governments is at a historic low… so, I am even more proud to be in the Peace Corps at this particular moment.
As an American volunteer I have the chance to build relationships with my international counterparts at a personal, one on one level that is independent from the web of politics that so often constructs the narrative we are expected to believe, fear, and adhere to. The Gansu experts from all backgrounds relished in convening at the table for dinner each night in Linxia, but I’m not sure our respective ambassadors would have the moral courage to do the same.
A week later, I returned to Linxia for a solo trip- since there were a few buildings we didn’t get to see due to time restraints. The most important were the gong bei– mausoleums of Sufi Islam masters. These gong bei are scattered throughout the city, but you can spot them from afar due to their height- they tower over the low-rise buildings in the old quarter of the city.
Of course this trip also ends with a sketch of 大拱北