China’s New Silk Road: Weekly Arts & Culture Round Up – May 15, 2020

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China’s New Silk Road: Weekly Art & Culture Round Up
Friday May 15
Op/ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis

This is my new weekly more personal, culture and travel based round up, an incentive to travel and engage in and with Belt & Silk Road arts and cultural issues. Every week we will feature Silk Road explorers, book and music reviews and a recommended cocktail. All work and no play…so this piece, once a week, is our TGIF. Just email me if you’d like to be involved or have something to say. Without further ado, here are this weeks musings:

 Travelling The Silk Road With Charles Stevens
Picture this: some random university student from the UK decides that for his summer break he’s going to take an expedition along the New Silk Road from London to Yiwu, get Jeep to loan him a truck, acquire funding from some of the top research institutes and consultancy firms in the world, and convince an array of established researchers to share their contacts and help him get him into otherwise restricted areas. He then goes out and does it, traveling across Eurasia, visiting all of the key Belt and Road projects, meeting with many of the big players, and somehow managing to make it back home to London in time for the start of the school year. The story sounds improbable but that’s exactly what Charles Stevens did. The trip was sponsored in part by Silk Road Briefing, and you can catch up with his exploits over on Wade Shepard’s Silk Road Q&A.

 A Poetic Journey Through Western China
For years, Silk Road travelers made the grueling trek past towering mountain ranges and ancient cities now lost to time. Centuries later, Anna Sherman attempts to retrace the journey. In her latest missive in the New York Times, she is on the road from Xi’an To Turpan.

 Travels With A Tangerine
In 1325, the great Arab traveler Ibn Battutah set out from his native Tangier in North Africa on pilgrimage to Mecca. By the time he returned nearly thirty years later, he had seen most of the known world, covering three times the distance allegedly traveled by the great Venetian explorer Marco Polo—some 75,000 miles in all.

Captivated by Ibn Battutah’s account of his journey, the Arabic scholar and award-winning travel writer Tim Mackintosh-Smith set out to follow in the peripatetic Moroccan’s footsteps. Traversing Egyptian deserts and remote islands in the Arabian Sea, visiting castles in Syria and innumerable souks in medieval Islam’s great cities, Mackintosh-Smith sought clues to Ibn Battutah’s life and times, encountering the ghost of “IB” in everything from place names (in Tangier alone, a hotel, street, airport, and ferry bear IB’s name), to dietary staples to an Arabic online dating service— and introducing us to a world of unimaginable wonders.

By necessity, Mackintosh-Smith’s journey may have cut some corners (“I only wish I had the odd thirty years to spare, and Ibn Battutah’s enviable knack of extracting large amounts of cash, robes and slaves from compliant rulers.”) But in this wry, evocative, and uniquely engaging travelogue, he spares no effort in giving readers an unforgettable glimpse into both the present-day and fourteenth-century Islamic worlds.

Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji
Never heard of the 20th centuries most prolific composer? Well it’s hardly surprising, as  Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji banned all public performances of his own works until just before his death, in 1988. Gay, half Persian, half Sicilian and grumpy, he was a caustic critic of other people’s works, and banning his own from being heard, lived mainly alone in Dorset, where over the years he composed some astonishing pieces, including one classical work for piano that lasts over 9 hours. (It was performed, in later years, by the autistic pianist John Ogden). Sorabji’s music evokes Persian mysticism, and imagines in places how the Silk Road would have sounded. His “Gulistan” (Rose Garden) is a personal favourite, with the perfumes just dripping from the score sheet.

By Chris This Week

Chris’s Cocktails – The Whisky & Soda
Yup, I know, fairly standard. But is it? It’s an old colonial British tipple of course, and Scottish distillers benefited in ways of empire trade just as the Chinese are trying to flog us Maotai. Crucial to this is the quality of the ice: big ice is best as it melts more slowly. Proportions should be 2 measures of whisky to 6 of soda, and use a decent soda too, such as Fentimans or Fevertree. This is not a drink to be cheap with, even given the familiarity. Johnnie Walker Black label will work well, as will the green. Anything else is probably showing off a bit, although I’ll make an exception for India’s very fine malt whiskies such as Amrut or Ranput. When was the last time you had a Whisky or Whiskey & Soda? You might be surprised at just how damn good it is. Slainte!

Have a great weekend, and stay safe out there!

About Us

Silk Road Briefing is published by Dezan Shira & Associates. Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the practice Chairman. Please contact Chris at or through his Linked In account, or visit the firm at


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