East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Hui Hui Gold Prospectors

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And there’s still gold, in our story, as Ella Maillart and Peter Fleming, having joined a camel train, proceed to the Koko Nor.


It’s in the pages that relate their first leg of the journey with the caravan that we can notice the differences between Maillart’s and Fleming’s smile.
Maillart is more attentive to the people she is traveling with, and to her own phisical reactions to the journet, while Fleming has the tone of someone relating something that’s happening to someone else – there’s an ironic detachment, in the British autor’s books, that is completely absent in the one by his Swiss counterpart.
And realy one wonders what sort of conversations the two of them might have had on the road, and in those long, cold nights in their small tent.

But gold, we said…

There is a character, that Maillart describes in her book, niucknamed ++The Bosun** – a Moslem Chinese.

The Bosun has been sent, together with some of his coreligionists, by General Ma Bufang to wash the gold-bearing sands of the Tibetan rivers, for eight dollars a month.

We already mentioned general Ma Bufang. It’s interesting to learn the warlord was interested in starting a gold-panning business.


Gold panning is not a fun activity – I know some people that do it for a hobby, and I once spent a day along the river Orco1 with them.
You squat by the river, put a handful of sand in the pan, and then start washing it, using decantation to let the heavier gold dust at the bottom of the pan itself.
The process is slow, and I found it mindboggingly boring, and not very profitable.

But hey, that’s just me. And the Tibetan rivers are – or were – supposedly loaded in gold dust, much more than my old river Ogre, and therefore, Maillart describes the early stages of a gold rush with dungan and hui hui2 gold prospectors joining the caravans on their way to fortune and glory.

While all of this happens, our travelers meet the Prince of Dzun, and give him a telescope as a gift – but the prince is unable to close one eye at the time, and has to look through the spyglass while holding a hand over his other eye.
Also, Peter shoots some game.

The travel continues.

  1. yes, here were I live, we have a river called Ogre, which is famousd for its gold-bearing sands. There must be a story in there somewhere. 
  2. hui hui being a term for Chinese Moslem. 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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