Silk Road Journey to the West  絲綢之路

Silk Road Journey to the West 絲綢之路

Teaching Demo | Silk Road | Eastern Civilization

ON ANCIENT TRACKS

THE SILK ROAD (絲綢之路  Sīchóu Zhī Lù)

AND MY JOURNEY TO THE WEST

Following in the footsteps of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang (玄奘)

Kashgar, Xinjiang, China | Silk Road

1995 Xian to Kashgar

I first traveled along the Chinese Silk Road in 1995, on a trip organized by Professor John Cheng through the University of Hawaii at Hilo (UHH). We journeyed by bus, train and short flights. Reaching Kashgar on China's westernmost border just in time for the Sunday Bazaar, I vowed to return one day with more time to explore.

2001 Xian, China, to Delhi, India

In June, 2001, I returned to explore the Silk Road. On this trip, I traveled overland from Xian to Kashgar, China, and across the Karakoram Mountains to Pakistan (see Silk Road Part II, Pakistan).

Although a long journey across deserts and mountains, it was certainly not as difficult as in the past. By 2001, modernization in Xinjiang had brought hotels, tourist amenities, and transportation networks, including a new rail link between Urumqi and Kashgar.

I hope you enjoy the highlights of the 1995 and 2001 photo journals below, and find the links to Silk Road maps, presentations and resources helpful.

For more information, please contact me or visit my university course at Eastern Civilization.

Jiayuguan Fort, Great Wall of China | A beacon of Eastern civilization and culture


Teaching | My course in Eastern Civilization

Sir Aurel Stein | Photo 1909

I have been sharing my Silk Road experiences with students of all ages for over twenty years. I am interested in the early works of European explorers, particularly Sir Aurel Stein (1862-1943).

Stein's archaeological and geographical work is well represented in his 1933 publication: On Ancient Central Asian Tracks: Brief Narrative of Three Expeditions in Innermost Asia and Northwestern China.

Many of Stein's original works are currently royalty-free and available on Archive.org.

1933 Chinese Silk Road Map by Aurel Stein | Innermost Asia | Click to enlarge


1995 Experience | The University of Hawaii Silk Road Study Tour

The photos shown here are highlights from my first trip along the Silk Road.

The travel began at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian, and ended at the Kashgar Bazaar, also known locally as the Sunday Market, and now officially known as the International Trade Market of Central and Western Asia.

Click on photos to enlarge.

1995 Highlights

Monks at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian

Big Wild Goose Pagoda | Xian

Rainy start on our Journey to the West | Xian

Riding the Iron Rooster to Western China

Exploring the Gobi Desert at 33 years old

Jiayuguan Fort | Western end of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall

UH Hilo Prof John Cheng | Dunhuang, Gansu Province

Turpan and Urumqi | Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

Flaming Mountain, from the epic tale, "Journey to the West"

Farmer in Turpan | Eastern Xinjiang

Taklamakan Desert | Xinjiang

Kazakh yurts in the Tianshan | Heavenly Mountains

Toordi Ashan | Our Uyghur driver in Urumqi, Xinjiang

Tianshan | Flight from Urumqi to Kashgar

Kashgar | Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

Islamic culture | Kashgar

Musical instruments for sale | Kashgar

Knife seller | Kashgar Sunday Market

Islamic culture | Kashgar Sunday Market

Sunday Livestock Market | 1995

Tobacco seller | Kashgar

Afaq Khoja Mausoleum (c. 1640) | Kashgar


My 2001 Silk Road Independent Study Project

In the summer of 2001, I made an agreement with the University of Hawaii at Hilo (UHH) to conduct independent research on the Silk Road. I proposed to travel overland from Xian, China, to Delhi, India.

My Liberal Studies Adviser, Prof. John Cheng, agreed, providing I visited Harappa, the Indus River Valley Civilization site, and Taxila, the Gandhara Civilization site.

Taxila was one of the most ancient universities in the world, where people from all over Asia and the Middle East came to study and teach. At least eighteen subjects were covered, including medicine, religion, and science. Instruction was available in at least five different languages, and this multicultural environment contributed to the pre-eminence of Taxila as a center of learning from the 5th century BC until the 2nd century AD.

Taxila was a key site where the ancient Greeks met the Buddhists, a cultural coincidence that occurred at the dawn of Mahāyāna Buddhism and the birth of the Gandhāran Civilization.

I was fortunate to be able to visit the Sirkap archaeological site at Taxila, evidence of an ancient Greek city in South Asia.

Sirkap archaeological site | Taxila, Punjab, Pakistan

Visitors today can explore the ruins of a two-thousand-year-old university, and stroll around the Taxila Museum filled with unique art history.

I kept a comprehensive photo journal of my travels, and after returning and presenting my photo journal at the university auditorium I earned enough credits to complete my undergraduate studies at the University of Hawaii.

Journey to the West  西遊記

My plan was to follow in the footsteps of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang (玄奘) (c. 602–664), who traveled to India in the 7th century, during the Tang Dynasty, and kept a detailed account of his travels.

His journal, Great Tang Records on the Western Regions (大唐西域記), is an outstanding treasure of Chinese history.

Nine hundred years later, Xuanzang's true story was brought to life in the16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West (西遊記), one of China's "Four Great Classical Novels."

Journey to the West | Xuanzang in the 16th century Chinese classic

Journey to the West is a tall tale retracing Xuanzang's travels with an unlikely group of companions, namely the tricky and powerful Monkey King, the greedy and ravenous Pigsy, and the hideous and obedient Friar Sand. Mixing fact with fiction, the story incorporates Chinese Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and folklore into the groups' improbable pilgrimage of spiritual enlightenment.

Xuanzang travel map | Click to enlarge

National Geographic | Treasure Seekers: China's Frozen Desert

Based on the lives of Sir Aurel Stein and Xuanzang: "As commerce flourished along the Silk Road, Central Asia became a melting pot of cultures. Here on the edges of the Taklmakan Desert, an exotic blend of Indian, Mongol, Chinese, and European influences fueled an astonishing cultural Renaissance. In the 7th century, a Chinese monk, Xuanzang, plunged into the desert while on a Buddhist pilgrimage to India..."

2001 Journal Highlights

Starting in Xian, at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda built in Xuanzang's honor, I began my own journey. I tried to visit the same cultural sites and physical landscapes, and to keep a journal, like he did. While his trip to India and return took 15 years or more, I had just two months.

The photos shown here are highlights from the Chinese leg of the journey, placed in chronological order.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Statue of Xuanzang | Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian

Bell Tower in Xian | Beginning of the Silk Road as a trade route

View from the train | Xian, Shaanxi Province, to Jiayuguan, Gansu Province

Sunrise at Jiayuguan Fort, Great Wall | Gansu Province

Jiayuguan Fort | Western end of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall

Singing Sand Dunes | Dunhuang

Dunhuang | Mogao Caves

Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) garrison on the ancient southern Silk Road

Uyghur man with his taxi at the Gaochang ruins

Uyghur youth at the Gaochang ancient ruins

Uyghur dancer | Turpan, Xinjiang

Raisins for sale in Turpan

Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves

Urumqi, Xinjiang Gateway to the Tianshan

Hui culture | Urumqi

Frank Li | Hui culture in Urumqi

Kazakh family erecting their yurt | Tianshan

Kazakh family arriving at lower pastures | Tianshan

Home for the summer | Lower pastures of Tianshan

Kashgar, Xinjiang China's western frontier town

Overnight train | Urumqi to Kashgar

Kashgar International Trade Market

Livestock market | Kashgar Sunday bazaar

Chili peppers for sale | Kashgar

Kashgar knives at the bazaar

Uyghur youth at the Kashgar Sunday bazaar | Xinjiang Province

Watermelon seller | Kashgar Sunday bazaar

Working at the Kashgar bazaar

Wooden pitchforks for sale | Kashgar bazaar

Id Kah Mosque (c. 1442)

Islamic culture at the Id Kah Mosque

Reading the Koran across from the Id Kah Mosque

Yusuf Balasaguni | 11th century Islamic philosopher

Yusuf Balasaguni Mausoleum | Kashgar

Online resources

Thank you for visiting my Silk Road Learning Adventure page.

I hope you enjoy the photos and information in the links provided. If you feel motivated to know more about the Silk Road or other Learning Adventures, or would like to arrange for me to give a public talk, please let me know – I’d love to hear from you.

–Steven Martin

Mount Everest Photo Tibet 西藏

Mount Everest Photo Tibet 西藏

QOMOLANGMA | SNOW GODDESS OF MOUNT EVEREST, TIBET (西藏 Xīzàng)

This is the story of the most spectacular photo I have ever taken.

In the summer of 2000, I made an agreement with the University of Hawaii at Hilo (UHH) to conduct independent research in Tibet after my summer study abroad at Peking University (北京大学). I proposed to travel overland from Lhasa to Kathmandu, Nepal.

My Liberal Studies Adviser, Prof. John Cheng, agreed, providing I kept a detailed photo journal of my travels.

Ancient Buddhist rock art near Lhasa | 1066 AD | Click to enlarge

Lhasa, Tibet, and the journey ahead

After a month-long study abroad program with the University of Hawaii, ending in Chengdu, southwestern China, I set out with two students, to Lhasa, Tibet.

Potala Palace, former residence of the Dali Lama | Lhasa, Tibet

I planned to travel southwest from Lhasa, by Toyota Land Cruiser, across the fertile valleys of Xigazê and Gyantse. These ancient cultural and religious centers are the gateway to the Tingri Plain, a 4,500 meter-high basin located north of Mount Everest.

Tibetan village | En route to Xigazê | Tibet

The trip began inauspiciously. As mandated by the Chinese visa restrictions in Beijing, I had booked through the China International Travel Service, CITS, for the hire of a Toyota Land Cruiser and local driver for two weeks, as well as a national guide and an international guide – not a cheap excursion by any means. I had paid in advance for what I hoped would be a relatively new model vehicle to get us over the mountains and difficult terrain ahead. What actually appeared outside the CITS office in Lhasa that morning was an ancient, battered truck with bald tires, stinking of fuel from what was clearly a leaking tank. The less said about the social skills of the Chinese driver, the better.

Within ten minutes of sitting in the fume-filled truck, I was physically sick. I made the decision that there was no way I was going to spend two weeks like this, and insisted that the driver turn around and head back to the CITS.

Smiling, but unyielding, I explained quietly and politely to a series of CITS officials that the truck was unsafe, and unlikely to get us to Everest.

After several hours of this, I was very relieved to see the arrival of Mr Quan, a distinguished-looking driver in a beautiful late-model Toyota Land Cruiser. We were back on the road.

Getting petrol in our Toyota Land Cruiser in Lhasa before the trip to Mount Everest

And so it came to pass that Mr Quan, myself, my two students Kawika and Aaron, our national guide, Mr. Wu, and our international guide, Nancy Lan, set off for Everest.

Over the next few days, I learned that Mr. Quan was indeed a driver of quality, who had previously served many dignitaries on past tours, including the Kennedy family from the United States and other international government officials.

Mr. Quan (right) and Tibetan villagers at the window of our Toyota Land Cruiser

Valleys, villages, and mountain passes

With Mr. Quan at the wheel, we crossed though expansive valleys with fields of yellow rapeseed flowers and visited small traditional Tibetan villages. We cautiously drove up steep, dangerous switchback roads to high-mountain passes, some at 16,000 feet or more.

At each pass, we stopped to check the vehicle, especially the brakes, before descending to the next valley. I followed local tradition by tying prayer flags to shrines to thank the spirits for our safe passage, and send peaceful mantras in the wind.

Prayer flags at a mountain pass on the way to Xigazê

Fields of Tibetan barley (qingke) in a picturesque valley

Tibetan farmer standing in a green field of 'qingke' barley on the way to Xigazê

Visiting a rural Tibetan village

Meeting an elderly Tibetan woman

Prayer stones at the Tibetan village

Tibetan scriptural texts stored in a rural monastery

Mount Everest and the Qomolangma National Nature Preserve

Entering Qomolangma National Nature Preserve, we headed to the Rongbuck Monastery to photograph the north face of Mount Everest. Our Land Cruiser powered up the last mountain pass of the trip, through sunny skies and cold winds, and as occasional gaps appeared in the clouds, we caught distant glimpses of Everest across the most impressively massive valley I ever saw. (See my photo top of this page).

Entering the Qomolangma National Nature Preserve

Supply truck on the Tingri Plain

Sheep crossing the Rongbuck glacier and stream

Everest towers above the Rongbuk Monastery

Rongbuk glacial valley at the foot of Everest

View of Mount Everest near the Rongbuk glacier base camp

At the foot of Everest, June 2000

Story of most spectacular photo I have ever taken – Qomolangma, the snow goddess of Mount Everest

South from the Rongbuck Monastery, across a glacial valley of naturally-crushed grey rock, I hiked to nearly 18,000 feet and stood at the foot of Everest. The north face of the mountain towered nearly 10,000 feet above.

The air was thin and the wind reddened my skin. I set up the camera and took pictures, in color slides and black and white prints, but Everest had a mind of its own.

As quickly as the summit appeared through the rapidly moving clouds, it was gone from sight. I had seen just enough to know it was there; but for several hours, until nearly dark, I saw only grey clouds breaking across the summit.

It was getting dark and dangerously late to return to camp, and I scrabbled down the glacier feeling somewhat defeated, reflecting on the stories I'd read of climbers who spent years planning and training, only to fail in their bid for the summit.

The truck started, and we drove away in the darkness with the mountain at our back. As I was reaching for something behind me, I caught from the corner of my eye the sight of a sudden change of wind. In seconds, the east wind whipped away the covering clouds from the mountain, revealing the full magnificence of Everest in crystal clarity.

Qomolangma, the legendary goddess of the mountain, was miraculously lifting her veil.

"Stop!" I told Mr. Quan. "Wait!"

I gathered my gear and launched out of the truck, fumbling to get a shot before the surreal moment was gone.

I knew it was the perfect photo of the top of the world.

Mount Everest from the Rongbuk Glacier | June 2000 | Click to enlarge

Thank you for visiting my Tibet Learning Adventure Page.

I hope you enjoy my photos and the information in the links provided. If you feel motivated to travel to Tibet, or would like to arrange a public talk, please let me know – I’d love to hear from you.

–Steven Martin

Awards

Awards

ACADEMIC AWARDS AND SCHOLARSHIP

How it began: In 1999 I took a course in Expository Writing at the Hawaii Community College. As part of the course, I wrote a short essay about my travels through 40 countries, "Great Expectations". To my surprise, the essay won awards at local, state, and international levels (see below).

Read Great Expectations – Republished as the "Jewel of Travel" as an online Learning Adventure.

Accolades

2022 Certificate of Honor for Dedication and Service

Prince of Songkla University Retirement Ceremony

2019 Promotion to Asst Professor of Asian Studies in Sociology and Anthropology

Teaching, Research and Publication in Asian Studies

2016 PSU Quality Assurance Award | Top 5 in Social Science

Academic Publication Award | Web of Science (ISI)

2015 PSU Quality Assurance Award | Top 5 in Social Science

Academic Publication Award | Web of Science (ISI)

2014 Best Paper Award | PSU Phuket International Conference

Prince of Songkla University (PSU) Best Paper | Social Science Catagory

2012 Best Paper Award (Green Tourism) | Asia Pacific Tourism Association (APTA)

APTA Conference 2012 Best Paper | Taipei, Taiwan

2004 Hohonu Academic Journal | University of Hawaii at Hilo, USA

Academic Publication | China, a Magic Place: The Geography of Chinese Philosophy

1999 The 22nd Annual Dean’s List of National Academic Achievement, USA

List of America's Outstanding College Students

1999 HCC Literary Competition, Hawaii Community College, USA

First Place Winner | Hawaii Community Colleges Statewide Contest

1999 League for Innovation Literary Competition, State of Hawaii, USA

Top Three in the Personal Essay Category | State of Hawaii League for Innovation Student Literary Competition

1999 Nota Bene Academic Publication | International Honor Society, USA

Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society Award | Nota Bene Literary Anthology | Selected from 1,642 Submissions

Scholarships

  • 2005 (3 years) Taiwan Ministry of Education | Taiwan Scholarship | Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (TECO), Los Angeles. Master’s Scholarship | National Chengchi University.
  • 2011 (2 years) PhD Scholarship | Faculty of International Studies (FIS) | Prince of Songkla University (PSU), Phuket, Thailand
  • 2012 (1 year) PhD Research Scholarship | Prince of Songkla University (PSU), Hat Yai, Thailand | Faculty of Environmental Management.

Press and Media Appearances

Letters and Documents of Recognition

Education

Education

MY FORMAL EDUCATION – FROM GED TO PHD

My formal education was unconventional. In 1978, at 15 years old, I left home in the Ohio rustbelt and flew to Hawaii where I planned to live in a treehouse.

After working as a beach lifeguard and having some opportunity to travel and surf around the world, I realized that I may have missed something by not having attended high school or college.

Travel made me curious. It was time to go back to school.

Receiving my Master of Arts (MA) in Taiwan Studies from the president of National Chengchi University, Taiwan

Back to School

The first step in my schooling was to take the General Educational Development (GED) test at the University of Hawaii at Hilo in 1991. This gave me a certificate equivalent to a high school diploma.

Next, I enrolled at the University of Hawaii. I began my studies in 1992, at the age of 30. The first courses I took were Physical Anthropology and World Civilization. These courses, and the professors who taught them, encouraged me to continue learning. Twenty-five years later, I am still learning and sharing my enthusiasm with my students.

MY DIPLOMAS AND THESES


 

Doctor of Philosophy | Environmental Management

2011–2013

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Environmental Management

Prince of Songkla University, Hat-yai Thailand

Dissertation: A Surf Resource Sustainability Index for Surf Site Conservation and Tourism Management


 

Master of Business Administration (MBA) | Hospitality and Tourism Management

2007–2010

Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Hospitality and Tourism Management

Prince of Songkla University, Phuket, Thailand

Thesis: Coastal Resource Assessment for Surf Tourism in Thailand


 

Master of Arts | Taiwan Studies

2004–2006

Master of Arts (MA) in Taiwan Studies

National Chengchi University, Taiwan, ROC

Thesis: Ethnohistorical Perspectives of the Bunun: A Case Study of Laipunuk, Taiwan


 

Bachelor of Arts | Liberal Studies

1994–2001

Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Liberal Studies (Experiential Studies in Chinese Culture and Philosophy)

University of Hawaii at Hilo


 

Associate in Arts | Liberal Arts

1998–2000

Associate in Arts (AA) in Liberal Arts (Honors)

Hawaii Community College | Pālamanui Campus (formerly West Hawaii Center)


 

Certificates in Chinese Philosophy

1995, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002

Certificate Programs in Chinese Philosophy ( 中國哲學 )

Peking University ( 北京大学 ) Department of Philosophy

Experiential Learning

In my teens and twenties, especially while working as a beach lifeguard and American Red Cross instructor in Hawaii, the ocean was my teacher.

Over time, and as I traveled, I gained an appreciation for learning and teaching (see The Jewel of Travel). Everywhere I went, there were new things to learn, and when I returned, I was able to teach those lessons to others.

I believe that experience has to come first, and as we naturally gain intellectual curiosity, we develop the mental qualities that enable us to really enjoy and benefit from university education – providing us with something that may have otherwise remained inside, undiscovered.

Thank you for looking at my Education page.

–Steven A. Martin

Graduation Day at National Chengchi University | Taiwan, 2006 | Click to learn more about Taiwan Studies...