BEIJING — At the Luding Bridge, the site of the single most celebrated event on China’s Long March, I was the lone foreigner in a group of boisterous, chain-smoking government officials. They reeked of baijiu, a fiery grain alcohol, and hollered to each other so loudly that I couldn’t hear the private tour guide. One of the cadres reached into a battle display to wrest a rifle out of the hands of an inanimate Red Army soldier. “It won’t budge!” he yelled. When I revealed that I was retracing the Long March by motorcycle, the men, who carried designer money pouches, shouted drunken reactions: “Are you sure you’re not Chinese?” cried a burly cadre in a sleek leather jacket. “You must really love Chairman Mao! We should make you a Party member!”
In 1934, an estimated 86,000 soldiers in the Communist Red Army decamped from their Soviet-style base in Jiangxi province in an attempt to escape from Chiang Kai-shek and his encircling Nationalist Army. The desperate retreat, which Mao Zedong later ingeniously labeled the “Long March,” lasted four trying seasons and crossed 11 provinces. Along the way, the marchers traversed snow-capped peaks in their bare feet and used dilapidated wooden rifles—if they were armed at all—to defend themselves against the Nationalists’ machine guns and U.S.-supplied arsenal.
Today, the Long March is the closest thing the People’s Republic has to a national creation myth. It was during this trek that Mao solidified his position in the Communist Party leadership, and to this day, in a nod to symbolism, Chinese leaders often announce new policies from key sites along the famous route. For decades, the Long March has been a critical element of the Communist propaganda narrative, providing the Party with a veneer of ruggedness and frugality at a time when its top leaders have become a pampered elite.
This summer, in an attempt to better understand the Long March’s evolving legacy in contemporary China, I retraced the entire route by motorcycle, traveling from Jiangxi province to Yan’an, the Shaanxi city that served as the Communist headquarters from 1936 to 1948.
Read more. [Image: Adam Century]
It may upset them when they pass through the security checkpoint.
Is it useful? Maybe not. But it’s definitely cool.
On June 22, 2013, murder occurred on the “roof of the world.” Ten mountaineers were killed at the foot of Nanga Parbat—the world’s ninth-tallest peak, located in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region on the border with China where some of the world’s tallest mountain ranges converge. The victims included American, Chinese, Lithuanian, Nepali, Pakistani, Slovakian, and Ukrainian nationals, and the audacious attack shattered a rare sense of calm in Pakistan’s northernmost corner, bewildering locals. Members of the Pakistani Taliban doggedly scaled the heights to the mountaineers’ camp at an altitude of 15,000 feet and stormed the tents in the dead of night dressed as paramilitary police. One media outlet’s coverage flashed a haunting image of vulnerability: an orange tent on the mountain slopes bathed in moonlight.
Five days later, I boarded a plane to Gilgit-Baltistan.
I had set out to complete a journey I began 10 years ago: to traverse the mighty Karakoram Highway (KKH) connecting China and Pakistan. A decade earlier, I had traveled along the 800 mile-long KKH from Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region to the border with Pakistan. My travels became my college thesis—an analysis of the relationship between China, Pakistan, and Xinjiang’s restive Uighur Muslims in light of the traffic of militancy, drugs, and arms from Pakistan to Xinjiang. I argued that the KKH, a symbol of Chinese-Pakistani friendship, had proven to be both a blessing and a curse.
Now I set out to complete the journey from the Pakistani side in a week-long trip by plane, car, and boat. Once again, I discovered how lofty international relations and local communities intersect on the KKH—from tales of a “new Great Game” between China and America and infrastructure woes along the Pak-China Economic Corridor, to remarkable strides for women’s empowerment and development in communities keen to plug into China’s prosperity. I wound my way up through a land of glaciers, ibex, and snow leopards to the Khunjerab Pass at 14,000 feet—one of the world’s highest international border crossings. All the while, I was shadowed by the murder on the roof of the world.
Read more. [Image: Ziad Haider]
Despite the progress we’ve made in vaccines, drugs, and sanitation, infectious diseases—a category that includes everything from the run-of-the-mill flu to antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”—still kill some 170,00 Americans each year.
But most states—33, to be exact—have taken fewer than half of the recommended steps to prevent the spread of things like whooping cough, HIV, and hospital infections, according to a new report the Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit that works to prevent outbreaks, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a public health philanthropy.
Because storms, apparently, do not bother to celebrate Thanksgiving, there is one raging toward the East Coast right now. It will bring, among other assorted holiday treats: “ice to slick the roads, heavy rain to foul up the airports, and wind so ferocious it could ground Spider-Man in the Macy’s parade.”
The storm will not only “foul up” the airports, though; it will also lead to delayed (ugh!) and cancelled (gah!) flights—all this over, yep, the biggest travel days of the year. Which is both frustrating and, for the many who might have their holiday plans compromised by the weather, extremely sad.
Read more. [Image: NASA/NOAA]
A cruise around the Hebrides, the Scottish islands that inspired Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, and Robert Louis Stevenson.Read more. [Image: Suzanne Stout Smith]
I took Spirit Airlines, the country’s undisputed king of fee-mongering, to Chicago for my college reunion a few weeks ago. If it wasn’t the single worst flying experience of my life, it was certainly the most memorably bad. Among the indignities suffered, I will mention three:
1) Having to pay a $50 carry-on fee ($5 more, amazingly, than it would have cost me to check the weekend bag).
2) Sitting in seats that would not recline—and without a complimentary beverage.
3) Arriving at the Spirit kiosk to check in at ORD precisely 45 minutes before my late-Sunday flight would depart … only to learn that Spirit had canceled my ticket mere seconds before I swiped my card, per their draconian reservation-cancellation policy. I spent the night in a hotel and woke up at 3:30am to make the only morning flight back to NYC.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
"Next time you’re feeling down about the chaos of public transit – the crowded cars, the ambiguous smells, the lack of air conditioning – here is a perfect antidote: a beautiful portrayal of commuting by train, as caught by a 3D scanner.”