The ancient World Wide Web
The flow of knowledge and ideas along the Silk Road was often disrupted, but it was incredibly powerful. Buddhism and Islam both reached China and took root. Science and technology flowed both east and west. From China, the west received the compass, gunpowder, paper-making and printing. The transfer of knowledge wasn’t quick – the first known printed book, The Diamond Sutra, discovered in Dunhuang, preceded Gutenberg by nearly 600 years. Gunpowder spread more quickly, helped by a certain Genghis Khan who learnt of it from China and used it in his conquest of all places west.
As we travel from west to east along this ancient route, we will in our own small way be carrying on this tradition. It’s an exciting thought. It is likely that we will receive more knowledge than we transmit, but in our encounters along the way, there will be exchanges that are unexpected and unpredictable in their consequences. For all the commodification of modern tourism, with tourists sealed away in a sort of mutually protective bubble from the real life of the places they pass through, conversations do take place and brief connections are made.
As a language teacher who has spent large chunks of my life in Asia, I find this the most exciting aspect of our coming trip.