Once leaving Kashgar we were in for a few really long drives. We stopped in some disappointing motorway towns that are nothing special - usually have a power plant or something attached to them - but they're a handy stop for you when driving through the Taklamakan Desert.
We planned to wild camp near Aksu on the first night, and Bayanbulak on our second, but due to political tension we thought it best not. We wanted to get on to Heavenly Lake in one piece.
My mate Mahoney (after a couple of long, whingey emails to him about my travel companions) mentioned to me:
‘I always thought the problem with travelling would be the people that go travelling with you.’
Couldn't have been more true. Spending over a month and 4,500km in a purpose built truck was going to get quite challenging with a couple of them. After hearing my frustrations, he advised me to use my back-slang skills to quietly diss them, which helped.
To anyone that is unfamiliar with back-slang, you take a word, and then say it backwards in a slang manner, so it seems like you and your mates are really cool and have lots of different words for things. So, beers would become reebs, and so on.
There was a particular rekcuf, who wore a shirt for a few days with ‘BADASS’ written on the back. A description of this read:
“He radiates confidence in everything he does. Whether it’s ordering a drink, buying a set of wheels, or dealing with women. He’s slow to anger, brutally efficient when fighting back. The BADASS carves his own path. He wears, drives, drinks, watches and listens to what he chooses, when he chooses, where he chooses.”
Unfortunately, I could hear mum’s voice in my head from a chat she had given me before I had left. She warned me not to get into an argument with anyone I would be stuck with, particularly including the subjects regarding (but not limited to) politics, feminism, racism. There is a better time to deal with these things, and it is not in a truck moving across China in 40-degree-heat, 10 hours a go (apparently).
To keep my mouth shut and my mind occupied on the long drives, I downloaded a few books on my kindle. I have put together a list of my favourites that I managed to read in the hopes of passing on a good story, and suggesting a distraction to any that may need it for those daehkcids in your life.
The Allegations – Mark Lawson
Distinctly appropriate-for-the-times novel about sexual harassment and the downfall of successful white middle-aged men, which was written (and read) pre-HW scandal. Very much against the nature of the witch-hunt social-media-revenge that surrounds these current issues, but reading it from the viewpoint of the men was a little weird. One of the most compelling and ‘do-I-don’t-I-believe' that I’ve ever read.
Before the Fall – Noah Hawley
Couldn’t put this down. Written by the showrunner for Fargo. Raced through it and subsequently all I could think about for a few days. Definitely understand why everyone was calling it a 'suspense' novel – I even ended up having my own plane crash dream.
New Boy – Tracy Chevalier
A re-telling of Othello set in the 70s. It breathed a new life into what was - for me - a boring A-Level text. 11-year old school children plot, argue and fued in playground politics that make sense of the more complex relationships happening in the original.
Pages for You – Sylvia Brownrigg
Read this twice. Stumbled upon it in a Waterstones and later bought on my kindle. Wonderful, but slightly eye-opening pages about compulsion, lust and ultimately, Love. (caps L there for sure).
Hot Milk – Deborah Levy
Written poetically, re. a relationship between mother/daughter and being female. Got that warm-bones feeling from being set in Spain with nothing but the sea, sun and an elderly mother to look after. Sounds like a chick-lit, but far from. A lot of people get angsty about Man Booker but this is one of the good’uns. A short read, which I will find time for again.
See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt
I had no idea what to expect from this. It is based on the American true crime case of the Lizzie Borden murders, which I had no knowledge of prior to reading. Great insight into the complex psychological thought process of a young woman fighting between good and evil which makes the reader play a detective role. Disappointing end though, as I did not wiki the murders until I had finished the book.
Wild Swans: The Three Daughters of China – Jung Chang
Solid 5/5. A true, harrowing story which happens to be on the banned literature list in China. I had to use a VPN on my kindle to access it. I even emailed the author of this book and tried to profess my love for it and maybe catch a cheeky interview, but obviously no luck. Best thing to read if you’re ever thinking of going to, or interested in, China. It shines a bright light on their relationship with communism from the view of 3 generations of women.
The Fat Artist & Other Stories - Benjamin Hale
Some very good tales with an absolute gem tossed in the middle. Probably my favourite because it involves a narcissistic performance artist eating himself to death in a gallery setting and proclaiming it as a work of art. Although a little ridiculous, it does cover the subject around art and ridicule and how far a performance, or any abnormal work in general may be perceived by the general public.
The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty – Amanda Filipacchi
Issues surrounding true friendship and beauty are addressed. The initial laid back approach undermined the important subjects (or so I thought) and at first seemed like another chick-lit tat-of-a-book. The more I read on, the more I realised that actually it was a perfect way to describe the extremes the main character had to overcome her deep rooted psychological pains. Definitely worth persevering.
Fever Dream – Samantha Schweblin
Had the bizarre ability to make my skin crawl and feel slightly feverish. My relationship with dreaming is solid (as most of you know, or have been lucky enough to hear me talk about them), and this book somehow managed to capture what it is to dream, and wake and be in the purgatory mid-frazzled brain scene when you're that makes your bones chill, and your brain super confused. A relatively short but very quizzical read.
Swimmer Among the Stars – Kanishk Tharoor
Probably the best short stories book I have read, ever. Each story addresses something beautiful with such a serene voice that you wonder why this is not advertised more. It addresses life in many beautifully poetic, adventurous, historical ways, you should find time for it. I have read and re-read at least twice and even made notes on it.
Don’t Let Go – Michel Bussi
A crime/thriller/mystery that is set in a fab location, that makes it an easy read. Should be read with a rum and ginger beer. Keeps you second guessing throughout. Feels a little bit like it should be one of those Netflix originals. If you like this sort of read, Michel Bussi does a whole series so may be worth checking out.
Do Not Become Alarmed – Maile Meloy
I had some serious trouble relating to this book, probably because I don’t own any kids. Panicking parents and kidnapped children after a cruise ship docks somewhere in the med. A couple of gruesome scenes that were unexpected, but the book clawed together in the end. Not something I would generally read, but it just about worked.