Anthony Bourdain traveling through Chinese food

Given how much Anthony Bourdain traveled in the world, it comes as no surprise that he made it to China. Though his death is still shocking, I’d just like to take a moment to talk about his brief encounters with China and Chinese food.

“The one thing I know for sure about China is, I will never know China. It’s too big, too old, too diverse, too deep. There’s simply not enough time.” (Bourdain’s words from On Parts Unknown). Of course he’s right: China is huge, both culturally and geographically.  There are 1.3 billion people living in China, and just about as much geographical area  as the United States (depending on how you divide borders). There’s an immense impenetrability often associated with it, and because of this, fear. But Bourdain wasn’t afraid to explore China or to really grapple with its intricacies, much like his ventures in other parts of the globe.

It’s true that Bourdain suffered from depression, which is something very few could possibly glean from his energetic pursuits. Not too long before he committed suicide earlier this month, Bourdain was in Hong Kong, learning jiu-jitsu with tenacity like a pro.  His sparring partners would likely have no idea that before long, the man would be gone. Instead, there was a man throwing himself into the ring and really engaging with a culture face-to-face. Though he did not live as long as it seems fair for him to have lived, it’s clear from his adventures that he was always fully present when he was around.

Bourdain didn’t shy away from spicy Sichuan food, either, and instead found the humor in spices that sear the tears right out of one’s eyes, quoted as saying “If you imagine Ilsa, she-wolf of the SS tormenting you with nipple clamps as the la, the ma, provided by the pleasantly deranging peppercorns, would be like the naughty nurse with the ice cubes,” when talking about Sichuan’s mala spices.  He was a fan of whatever took him furthest away from what he knew, staying forever curious in a way that can sometimes baffle even me, someone who has lived in China for so many years. Familiar places have their strangeness, and strange places can be familiar. But even if a strange place is unfamiliar, it is still worth stopping by.

There is something poignant and pressing that we as travelers and citizens of the world can take from Bourdain’s experiences. It is that nothing is truly impenetrable, not even China and its Great Wall. No place is deserving of knee-jerk fear and aversion; other cultures deserve our very best, on-the-ground-efforts to engage with the world. China is becoming a bigger and bigger part of our daily lives, and so we would do well to make the effort to greet it with curiosity and stamina.

Bourdain’s end came as a shock, and so in tandem with the lessons he has taught us, we must learn leverage with what we are doing and what we feel we ought to do. Reach out when we feel alone. Listen when someone is upset and needs attention. Recognize when professional help is needed — and feel no shame when it is.

And when it comes to China, order some hot pot, brew some tea, and eat some dumplings. Who knows? China might just be what you should order from the menu.

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Lakes in the Desert/沙漠里的湖

(Hannah originally published a version of this article on Atlas Obscura here)

(下面有中文版)

This is not a mirage, it’s an example of a spring-fed lake in the Badain Jaran Desert. Do you understand why it’s there? Neither have many others who have visited them over the years.

Nestled in-between “Megadunes” (aka some of the largest sand dunes in the world) near Alashan Youqi, Inner Mongolia, is probably one of the strangest sights you’ll find: almost 100 lakes plopped right in the middle of a desert! It’s one of nature’s greatest contradictions: sheep graze and birds swoop toward the salty water while it reflects the yellow-brown dunes all around.

Many researchers agree that the lake water probably came from concentrated groundwater beneath the sand. They say that this can form springs, which then become deeper lakes. Despite the groundwater, however, most of the lakes have a pretty high salinity level. Meaning: roughly 50% of the lakes in the Badain Jaran Desert are salt lakes.

Other researchers say it’s because of precipitation and snow melting in certain areas. You know what I say? We need more research! Luckily, this is being done to figure out where the water comes from, and why in some areas it’s disappearing.

Whatever the reason, you can still go and have a good time. To get there, go from Zhangye (张掖) in Gansu Province (on the Lanzhou-Xinjiang railway line), then get a bus to Alxa Youqi (阿拉善右旗). A driver can take you to the desert entrance, but to fully experience the desert, you’ll need a guide. A jeep for two days, one night is around 2,000 RMB, and can hold up to 4 people. Bargain liberally.

Oh, and small tip: the jeep is very much worth it. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you like the idea of mixing Aladdin with Mario Kart, then this is the place for you.

这个场景并不是一个幻想,而是一个自然发生在隔壁沙漠里的湖。你明白为什么存在吗?其实,很多过来看湖的游客也都不知道。

这种意想不到的场景是处在超级大沙山之中,就是世界上最高的沙山之一,在内蒙古的阿拉善右旗附近。没错,沙漠里有一百多个湖!应该就是大自然最大的矛盾,因为你在看羊慢慢地吃草与小鸟飞到湖边的时候,也同时能看到湖面影射的沙山。

大部分研究者觉得这么多水应该来自地下水。这种水可以变成泉水,然后变成湖。但是虽然有地下水,湖里的盐度很高,换句话说这个沙漠的百分之五十的湖都是盐湖。

其他研究者认为这些湖是因为降水或者融化的雪而形成的。我呢?我以为我们应该多研究研究吧!辛运的是还是有研究者在深究这个地方为什么有湖,而且为什么有些湖慢慢地在消失。

但是,你还是可以过去玩一下。你要从甘肃的张掖出发,然后坐车到阿拉善右旗。可以找一个司机带你去沙漠的门口,但是如果要进去你应该要跟一个吉普赛车。一个吉普赛车两天一晚大概要2,000块钱(车里可以做四个人)。我应该不用说你要多讲讲价。

哦,还有一个小点:吉普赛车很好玩,但是要胆子大点才能坐。如果你很想把《阿拉丁》与《Mario Kart》结合起来,那你就过来玩吧!