Kingdom of Ten Thousand Things
Gary Geddes is a poet, editor and teacher in Vancouver, BC who is fascinated by stories of Huishen, an obscure Buddhist monk said to have fled persecution in Kabul, Afghanistan circa 450BC, traveled across China via the Silk Road then across the Pacific to the Americas, returning to China 40 years later.
Kingdom of Ten Thousand Things follows Geddes’ travels in 2001–2003 when he attempts to trace Huishen’s route, to verify the story and learn more. Part travelogue, part history lesson and part epic quest, Ten Thousand Things seamlessly blends the history of Buddhism and of China with discussion of modern geo-politics and the specifics of travel in a very foreign land, covering at times densely academic topics in language that is as readable and accessible as a Fodor’s travel guide.
Geddes’ journey begins in Pakistan in August 2001 where he struggles for several weeks to obtain a visa for Afghanistan. As he is about to give up and proceed on to China, a visa is issued at the last minute. Thus Geddes is able to provide a vivid portrait of that country in the days immediately preceding the 9/11 attacks. Reading his descriptions of a war-torn and ravaged country I could not help but remembering the vow that would be much repeated a short time later "to bomb them back into the Stone Age" and to realize how little we Americans know and perceive of life in other parts of the world.
From Afghanistan, Geddes proceeds by train to China and travels across China by various means. He often visits monasteries and museums, meeting with scholars and monks searching for information about Huishen. This search is inevitably unsuccessful. Along the way we are treated to exquisite descriptions of artifacts and historical sites, encounters with fellow travelers en route and periodic musings in which the author seems to "channel" the monk who is the subject of this epic search. The journey across China takes up the major portion of the text.
On a second trip, after returning home to Canada for several months for his daughter’s wedding, Geddes travels across the Pacific on a cargo container ship from Hong Kong to Vancouver via Seoul, Tokyo and Seattle. Much of this section is devoted to musings and discussions of the technological possibility of trans-oceanic travel in Huishen’s era. Geddes’ own experiences in this part of the journey are so far removed from what Huishen might have encountered 2500 years ago as to leave me thinking it irrelevant to the thesis under discussion, though I have to admit I did enjoy reading about the experience for it’s own sake.
The final section of the book covers subsequent trips Geddes made to Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras and to Queen Charlotte Island on Canada’s north Pacific coast. There is much discussion on the possibility of Asian influence in Mayan art and culture and of books postulating a trans-oceanic Asian-American migration published in the early 2000′s. The book ends with a trip to Queen Charlotte island and the discovery of a cairn which may have been constructed by Huishen during the year he is said to have spent there.
In the end, Geddes never does come up with any definitive proof of the obscure monk’s travels, though he remains convinced of their veracity. And in the end I am left thinking of the old maxim that it is the journey and not the arrival that matters.