The Strangest Thing Happened

I had a very rare and unexpected experience the other day. In the midst of packing up and preparing to leave Beijing, I sat down one morning to check my email in a coffee shop near where I work. (Background, I tutor English to a number of children and adults to get money, and in this case to a small, energetic boy who is about seven and has very little interest in learning about the past tense but, I’ve discovered, likes very much to win at games, including those conducted in the English language.) Nobody had sent me any mail, but I did have the email newsletter for the Bookworm Cafe in my inbox. The Bookworm Cafe is probably the best English-language bookstore in Beijing, and one of Beijing’s main expat cultural centers. Paging absently through the newsletter, I discovered the following event notice, set for that evening:

“Modern-day adventurer and explorer Hannibal Taubes is part of an ongoing project to walk the whole distance from Samarqand to Beijing. He has traversed the entire Tian Shan range on foot, walking through Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and China’s Xinjiang province. On the way, he fell into a variety of adventures – including snowshowing in Xinjiang and trekking across Kyrgyzstan during the 2010 civil war. Join us as Taubes tells his tales of adventure and shares photographs of his amazing travels. Plus Taubes will offer practical tips and insider information for future explorers who want to embark on their own adventure.”

As you can imagine I found this an extremely startling thing to read about myself, especially since I had no idea that I was supposed to be giving a talk that evening! I had had some brief communications with the Bookworm Cafe a few months before when I got back from Beijing but since the emails were sort of inconclusive and tapered off I assumed that they had forgotten about the whole thing, as had I. I rushed over there by taxi and inquired: To my shock, I was set to give a lecture (!) that night at seven thirty and tickets (!!) were already on sale for twenty kuai a piece (about three dollars.) They even had printed out extremely flattering fliers and posted them around the doorway:

Flier about me at the Bookworm

My friend Aleksei Popov (my flatmate, who is a Communist and intends to rule Russia with an iron fist someday, so watch this name) showed up to provide moral support, and a few hours and some whiskey later I ended up giving an hour-long lecture about the Trans-Asia Trek to about twenty people who showed up. I talked about walking through the Ferghana Valley and the various good and bad things that happened to me there, showed them some pictures on a slide projector, and answered some questions. My favorite question was a Chinese guy who asked me if I had ever had any “erotic or romantic encounters” while walking across Asia. I also had an ambiguously encouraging conversation with the girl who sells the tickets, who told me that she enjoyed Rory Stewart’s “The Places In Between” but mostly because it had a dog in it. I have no idea if any of the people had fun or not or whether it was actually worth anyone’s three dollars, but the whole experience was certainly unexpected (not to mention pretty flattering). I don’t have any photos or recordings of any of it or I’d put them up here.

So that was strange. In other news, I am leaving Beijing in three days and heading thence to Hong Kong and thence, after a short delay, to Kathmandu, where I hope to spend the summer studying Tibetan. I consider this part of the Trans-Asia Trek, since the next leg is Tibet and this time I intend to actually speak some Tibetan when I go there. At the end of August I’ll go back to America to finish up my last year of university. When I graduate next spring, inshallah, I will return and finish walking across Asia. Until then, I’m going to post some photos and writings about the various bits of Beijing I particularly like, as well as perhaps some stuff about Kathmandu. So stay tuned for that.

One comment

  • Drone
    September 9, 2012 - 2:24 am | Permalink


    your articles of your travel look very interesting to me.

    But I would like to ask you something…. do you still keep in touch with the “unexpected bird”

    from Korea… that lady? I can’t contact with her anymore, so I would like to know if something

    happened to her.

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