Tag Archives: China


Originalmente falsificado.

La invasión de baratijas nos obliga a buscar la autenticidad Columna Fronteras Abiertas, de Témoris Grecko Publicado en National Geographic Traveler Latinoamérica, enero de 2012 Desde hace un tiempo, cuando hablo de mi “ex” me refiero a una Aussie (australiana) … Continue reading

Tiananmen’s lone driver

Who are you, lone driver? Who are you, a man who would not put orders before heart, before reason? Who is this soldier who went through that hell inside the tank, the commander yelling, the comrades yelling, the voice from the headquarters yelling: “Go on, don’t stop, crush him, go fucking on!!!” Who are you, who tried to evade the brave man standing in front on you and, having failed, chose to give up and wait? 

What became of you? Nobody knows, no one ever asked. Jail? Reeducation? Execution as a common criminal? The rope or the gun?

You made a life-loving decission on the wheel. You lost your life for it. Someone has to remember you. I do.

God, Truth and Religion: against the institutional control of faith

–There is only one God and one Truth. These are our God and His Truth. Everybody else is fatally wrong and they will suffer for their sins. We are the only ones to be saved.

Who told me this? Was he a Buddhist? Mmm, no. With a different wording, Buddhists told me the same thing in Luang Prabang (Laos), in 2006, and in Kumbum (Tibet), in 2008. Was he a Hindu? No, Kali Hindus told me this in Nasik (India), and Krsna Hindus did it in Varanasi, both times in 2005. Nor was he a Sikh, because that happened in Amritsar (Punjab), in the same year. He wasn’t an Evangelical pastor, this guy said that to me in Kashgar (Xinjiang), last year, and another one did recently in Kampala (Uganda). Nor was he a Jew, this old Haredi man “taught” me this last November in Jerusalem. Of course, he wasn’t a Catholic: I’ve been hearing this in Mexico since I could understand language, and more so now, when fundamentalists have a big say in our government.

No, he was a Muslim. Not the first one, I’ve been reminded of the obvious Truth of Islam in many countries, from Xi’an to Madrid, with stops in Iran, Syria and Kenya. And as so many others, from all religions, this pious man from Cairo who spoke to me this morning, could not accept that people from every faith believe that theirs is the only divine one, that all the others are infidel and wrong. They, as this Egyptian friend, present as the very only evidence of their statements the visible truth of their word.

To my eyes, religion distorts and manipulates people’s faith. Some say that, without religion, we would still be living under the law of the jungle, that religion has given us moral and ethics. They rush to dismiss the humanity’s ability to develop and teach herself moral and ethics. This is false, and as an ancient, massive and living evidence of this I provide Confucianism, a strict philosophical doctrine without a God that has ruled the lives of hundreds of millions of Asians since long before Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Judaism were invented.

One of the perverse things of religions is that, as they give you a moral and an ethics that you should always follow, they also give you the very only valid “reason” for which you should burn, steal, rape, hurt and kill: for the sake of religion. Religion teaches you that you should restrain yourself and respect your neighbour, life, property, nature. That’s good. But it also tells you that, when God is enraged (and it is the men of religion who will tell you when is it that He is enraged), you should kill by sword and fire, and that you shouldn’t feel remorse or regret for this: you are justified because God is with you. Don’t think, don’t feel, just obey His divine word and find satisfaction in that. (Perhaps with the sole exception of Buddhism, but Buddhist monks were behind many bloody Tibetan wars, as they were behind brutal slavery until just half a century ago.)

I’ve seen the rage of God in several countries. Or rather, the rage of people who thought they were acting on behalf of God.

Not all religious people are like that, of course. I have a deep respect for religious people who, in turn, show respect for others. For the others who believe in something different. And for the others who don’t believe. Sometimes I think that these kind of religious people are not exactly religious, but rather people who have managed to live their faith apart from the perverse call of religion. Many of them, though, will tell me that they feel religious themselves, and I’m no one to tell them they are wrong.

So let’s talk of organised or institutional religions, then, whose shortcomings, evildoings and contradictions are there for those who won’t close their eyes. Religion is something far too delicate to be touched by the hands of mortals, but it can’t be spared from them because it was created by mortals.

A recent example comes with the latest scandals of paedophilia within the Catholic church. The Pope wrote a kind of apology letter to the Irish people, which fell far short of satisfying the victims, as they publicly stated. The papal spokesman, Federico Lombardi, denounced an anti-Catholic plot and complained that the Vatican is being unfairly mistreated for this matter, for peadophilia is as common within the Church as it is in any other human institution. Is he accepting that the Church is as low and worldly as a rugby team or a State-run orphanage? Does the Church want to be held to the same standards as any other organisation? As The Economist magazine stated: “That sits oddly with the Church’s claim to represent God on Earth and with the trust and respect it expects from the faithful, particularly from children (exemplified in the priestly title: ‘Father’)”. From The Economist too: “If you preach absolute moral values, you will be held to absolute moral standards”.

But religions are not self-critical. They can’t be, as each of them claims to be in exclusive possession of the God’s Truth, and God is perfect.

The fact is that religions, in their institutional forms, are mere human creations based on myth and legend, with no real arguments to pretend to have a better truth than any other human explanation of existence. They sustain themselves in their own sayings, no more. Still, they tend to meddle with other people’s lives, they dismiss everybody else and, thus, they justify and provide the moral ground for their faithful to abuse others.

I think that believers on this or that, and non-believers, would live together and understand each other a lot better without the heavy pressure of institutional religions. It is inflamed Hindu priests who demand the faithful to burn mosques. It was Shinto Buddhist monks who conforted the Japanese soldiers who launched Chinese babies to the air only to pin them with their bayonettes in Nanjing. It is passionate Evangelical pastors who campaign to apply death penalty to gay people in Uganda. It is Shia Muslim ayatollahs who demand to execute young Iranians for expressing dissident ideas. It is Sunni Muslim clerics who call to kill all infidels. It is curly Jewish rabbis who promote the anhiliation of Gaza people and call Orthodox Israeli soldiers to disobey orders to stop the occupation of thy neighbour’s land. It was revered Catholic military priests who accompanied and gave moral support to the believers when they tortured innocents to death in Franco’s Spain and in Videla’s Argentina. It is also pious Mexican Catholic clergymen who are promoting legislation to send women to jail, the very victims of rape who have had to go through clandestine abortions. We don’t forget.

Yes, I know. There are also enlightened ayatollahs, rabbis, priests, monks, imams. But their good work doesn’t make up for the evildoings of the institutions they belong to.

There is no need for that, people should be able to gather to pursue their beliefs without an institution ruling and exercising power over them. Because at the end of the day, that’s what religions are: huge power mechanisms, with a strong tendency to invade other people’s lives. And for that, we have more than enough with our politicians and generals: let’s at least disposses them of the religious arguments they use to justify their wrongdoings. Evil should never be done in the name of God. Anymore.

A year on the road and a birthyear with the Sun

Dear friends:

Last March 2 it was a year since I flew out of Mexico and started this second round-the-world trip. I’m in Nairobi now, which has trapped me just as it did back in 2005. And, as I decided that I will turn 40 once and only once (not tempted to repeat), I won’t have a birthday, but a birthyear with the Sun. Therefore, I’m also starting here a series of celebrations which should follow the fireball in the sky: from South to North as the Boreal Summer approaches and the Austral one heads off, and from East to West as the light chases away the darkness.

In this year I have seen things that have made me feel ever more amazed about our world, its nature and its peoples.

First of all, I watched in big close-up the Iranian Green Revolution. It was a unique chance to witness the bravery, generousity and glamour of a wonderful people rebelling against the military-religious dictatorship that rules them. If it was only for this experience, the whole trip is worth it. As long as the authoritarian regime is in place, I won’t be welcome back in Iran, which makes me very sad. But I believe in the Iranians and trust that they will get rid of that fanatic, corrupt cast of pious cheaters, liars and killers. I wrote a book on what I saw and heard, which shall be on sale in Spain (a little later in Mexico and Argentina) by mid-April. It’s title is “La ola verde. Crónica de una revolución espontánea” and it will be published in Barcelona by Los Libros del Lince. It’s in Spanish, of course, and though you can dismiss the possibility that some foreign publisher would like to acquire it and translate it into English, this is not very likely. As one English writer puts it, “we English native speakers stopped reading foreign language authors since Voltaire was alive”. Hope dies last, of course, so we’ll see.

I’ve also seen the pledge of the Uyghur people from Kashgar, pushed far from their homes as the Old City, a crucial stage on the Silk Road, was being bulldozed by the Chinese government to build huge appartment blocks in its place. I saw huge Buddhas in the Mogao caves and six-hundred metres sand dunes nearby, in Dunhuang. I crossed the snowed Pamirs and the Tian Shan, now in Kyrgyzstan, where my belongings ended in some thieves’ hands. Then, in Uzbekistan, I went to the now-defunct Aral Sea, where ship corpses strangely lie on the sand in the middle of the desert.

Iran was the highlight. But I was almost caught by the police commiting journalistic crimes and had to escape to Armenia, where I made a detour to Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied, utterly destroyed Azeri city of Aghdam. In Georgia, I went up to Kazbegi, a wonder in the Greater Caucasus, in Georgia. Then I took a little holiday. Sort of, because I went to Barcelona to write the book, but my dear Catalina and many other friends, old and new, made me feel the most welcome.

Back on the road, I went to the Turkish Kurdistan and then to one of the most amazing cities on Earth, Istanbul, where I was also warmly received. In fact, this part of the trip makes a big contrast with the Central Asian one, which was tough for many reasons, being the main one a deep feeling of isolation. Now, and for months, I’ve met lovely people in almost every place. Like Beirut, Damascus, Aleppo, Nicosia, Tel Aviv, Accre, Jerusalem, Ramallah… and Mama Africa: it was a coming back home. Uganda, Congo (with it’s volcanic eruptions, an eclipse, gorillas), Ruanda, Uganda again… and now Kenya.

So here I am, reporting on a year on the road… and inviting everyone to join me in this birthyear with the sun…

No time for siesta. Life is fiesta!!!

The celebrations actually started in Kampala’s Backpackers on New Year’s Eve and following weeks, with Sean, Adam, Kate, Clare, The Prince Formerly Known as Frankie, Andy, Rafa, Peter, Rachel and so many more! Nakasero nights, Kololo nights… Kabalagala nights and mornings! What a start!

And then Nairobi, with Laura, Melanie, Waireri, Sheila, Waringa, Cynthia, Peaches, David, Ben, David “Hacienda”, Wendy “Paloma”, “Rodríguez” and again, Adam, who took a few days off to celebrate with me in Westlands, Langata, Hurlingham and… well, not yet, but Madhouse should appear at some point.

What next?

Well, be aware: A party! Coming soon to a venue near you!

Next in line are:
Following the Sun from South to North: up to Cairo, by mid-March; Tel Aviv, late this month; and Istanbul, late April.

Then, from East to West: Barcelona, late May; Madrid, in June; and Mexico City!!! in… well, all this is temptative, so let’s say August.

The celebrations will have covered, by then, 8 cities in four continents.

Naturally, Mexico City’s celebrations should be rather quiet, my body will be quite diminished after all this, and well, it’s 40… but I paid everything I owed and was punished for every sin in the deserts of Central Asia and Iran, this is my only 40th birthyear, and that’s my beloved city!

(And the celebrations threaten to connect with the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence, in September… dammit!)

So, as you see, I’m not as serious as you no doubt thought I was. And you are welcome to be as unserious as you can in any, or all, of these fiestas!

Happy bithyear!

Con amor, Témoris

A year on the road

Today, March 2, but one year ago, I flew from Mexico to China and started this second round-the-world trip. I crossed Asia from East to West following the Silk Road, perceived the growing anger in China’s Uyghur inhabitants, resisted repeated police abuse in Kyrgyzstan, climbed ships stranded on dunes in the dissapeared Aral sea in Uzbekistan, witnessed a Green Revolution in Iran, sneaked into a closed military zone in a thoroughly destroyed city in Nagorno-Karabakh, survived a car race on a narrow mountain road in the Greater Caucasus, wrote a book in Barcelona, talked to a former Kurdish fighter in Turkey, got a Muslim name in Şanlıurfa (just the name), attended Friday noon prayers in Damascus’ Umayyad mosque, listened to foreign female domestic workers who had been enslaved in Lebanon, enjoyed tea with Bedouins in Palmyra, walked the ghostly buffer zone in Cyprus, sensed the hopeless hatred in Jerusalem, interviewed Palestinian hiphoppers in Ramallah, got lost in Petra, watched a solar eclipse and a volcanic eruption, and met great men and gorillas in the Heart of Darkness (Congo), felt the sadness of the genocide in Rwanda, spoke to a pious Christian pastor who wants to kill gay people in Uganda, and came to Kenya to visit old friends.

12 months on the road…

Uigures: un pueblo sin Dalai Lama

Urumqi es un lugar donde se aprende que no hay que creerse todo lo que dicen los museos .

Por Témoris Grecko (columna “Fronteras Abiertas” en National Geographic Traveler, diciembre de 2009)

La provincia de Xinjiang es la más grande de China. Con un millón 800 mil kilómetros cuadrados, su superficie es casi tan extensa como México. El Museo Regional de Xinjiang, en la capital, Urumqi, contiene bellas exhibiciones que nos ayudan a apreciar las culturas de las numerosas etnias que habitan ahí. Los directivos de la institución lo presentan todo muy bello: “Desde tiempos antiguos, Xinjiang ha sido parte de nuestra gran madre patria”, y tienen “trece nacionalidades” que “desde un remoto pasado, han convivido en amistosas relaciones”. Esta situación idílica se ha prolongado a lo largo de milenios bajo la autoridad de los emperadores chinos y, ahora, de los jerarcas comunistas: “los pueblos de aquí han vivido y trabajado juntos, multiplicándose en este vasto territorio. Después de la liberación, bajo la brillante iluminación de las políticas del Partido Comunista hacia las nacionalidades, los pueblos de Xinjiang se unen como uno solo, se aman fraternalmente unos a otros y trabajan juntos para hacer crecer a Xinjiang”.

Tanta simpatía me hizo reír. Para cualquiera que no se negara a verlo, las tensiones étnicas eran más que evidentes. A principios de julio de 2009, tres meses después de mi visita, hordas de habitantes uigures de Urumqi salieron a perseguir y asesinar a chinos de etnia han, quienes devolvieron el golpe de inmediato y, favorecidos por la presencia policial –según denuncias uigures–, atacaron los barrios de esta “nacionalidad”. El saldo fue de 156 muertos, la mayoría chinos han, afirmó el gobierno, y de 800, pocos de ellos chinos han, según la oposición uigur.

Durante 2,000 años, China ha sostenido guerras con los pueblos que habitan lo que hoy es Xinjiang. En etapas de expansión, los soldados del emperador destruían ciudades y avanzaban hacia el oeste hasta las modernas Afganistán y Uzbekistán, a las puertas de la antigua Persia. En los tiempos malos, perdían sus conquistas y se retiraban para esconderse en el este, detrás de la Gran Muralla. La última vez, el Ejército Rojo de Mao Zedong acabó con la incipiente República del Turkestán Oriental.

Uigures en el salón de te Ostangboyi, en Kashgar. Foto: Témoris Grecko 2009


Urumqi es la capital política y económica de la provincia, la ciudad más rica y la única en la que los chinos han son mayoría. Ahí es en donde su cultura, confuciana, budista y seudocomunista, ha casi vencido a las tradiciones musulmanas y turcas (los turcos de Turquía migraron hace siglos desde esta región de Asia Central) de las etnias locales. En el centro, las avenidas y casi todos sus barrios, uno no se siente en Xinjiang, sino en cualquier ciudad han del este de China. Es como una especie de Beijing del desierto. Eventualmente, uno llega a las zonas uigures: el diseño urbano y la arquitectura siguen siendo chinos, pero la gente cambia, las vestimentas adquieren el estilo centroasiático, la gente habla idiomas túrquicos, en las calles aparecen humeantes parrillas donde venden shashlyk (pincho moruno) y empanadas de carne y grasa de oveja. Desde las mezquitas no canta un muecín que llama a la oración, porque las autoridades lo prohiben, pero los viernes a mediodía se llenan de gente que acude a celebrar.

Aunque cada vez menos: los empleados públicos tienen prohibido participar en actos religiosos, así es que no van; la policía persigue a todo aquel de quien sospecha que puede ser un militante islámico, así es que muchos hombres se abstienen de acudir para no caer en prisión; muchos clérigos ya viven en la cárcel.

Los tibetanos tienen al Dalai Lama para difundir su causa. Los uigures no, pero su situación es la misma: el gobierno chino trata de ejercer presión sobre la cultura, el idioma y la religión de los uigures para que a muchos les resulte más conveniente adoptar las de los chinos han. Y si no lo hacen por las buenas, será por las malas: cuando visité el centro histórico de la milenaria ciudad de Kashgar, en el sur de China, un rincón fascinante de la Ruta de la Seda, descubrí que sería mi última oportunidad de verlo, pues ya trabajaban las palas mecánicas y los bulldozers para derribar las casas color marrón y arena de los uigures, sepultar sus callejones y levantar ahí grandes edificios multifamiliares para chinos han.

Las autoridades justifican su represión contra los musulmanes en general con el fantasma del peligro terrorista de al Qaeda. Es cierto que ha habido algunos atentados con bomba –uno de ellos cuando yo estaba en Urumqi–, pero hasta el momento, todos han sido con artefactos caseros de poca eficacia, y realizados con un nivel de organización muy lejano del que ha hecho gala el grupo de Osama bin Laden. Es la violencia gubernamental la que engendra odio y convence a muchos uigures de que no hay más alternativa que la violencia.

Más que al terrorismo, a lo que se debe temer son las explosiones de ira popular como la de Urumqi: sean 156 u 800, provocó muchísimos más muertos que la docena que han dejado los bombazos. El Museo Regional puede tratar de engañar turistas, pero no convencerá a los uigures de que viven en el mejor país que podrían tener.



La estrategia china para controlar los territorios conquistados es la absorción de las minorías, mediante el peso irresistible de la mayoría demográfica: en el país más poblado del mundo, la migración y el asentamiento de los chinos han ahoga fácilmente a los grupos minoritarios. En 1949, los han constituían el 4% de la población en Xinjiang: hoy son el 40%. Y su papel no es sólo hacer montón, sino controlar la economía: una de las formas de convencer a la gente del este de mudarse a las provincias del lejano oeste es darles incentivos económicos con los que pueden establecer negocios. El otro campo de batalla es cultural: todo tiene que hacerse chino. Hay dos tipos de escuela: la de idioma uigur y la que enseña en mandarín: sólo los egresados de esta última pueden tener acceso a los mejores empleos. Así es que el precio del éxito –o mera sobrevivencia– en Xinjiang es renunciar a la propia lengua.

Asia Central: El Gran Juego y la Madre Sollozante


Los regímenes dictatoriales o semi-autoritarios de Uzbekistán, Kirguistán y Turkmenistán han aprendido a usar las ambiciones de las grandes potencias para consolidar su dominio sobre la población. Publicado en ESQUIRE (agosto de 2009)

Haz clic en la imagen para leerlo.


Uzbekistan’s, Kyrgyzstan’s and Turkmenistan’s dictatorial or semi-authoritarian regimes have learned to play the great powers’ ambitions to consolidate their grip on their populations. Published by ESQUIRE (August 2009)

Click on the image to read it