Dream Vacations

Every writer dreams about the research vacation. Ah yes, write a story set in Hawaii and write off the travel expenses as research. I wonder how often this actually happens. Teachers dream about being able to take vacations in the summer on teacher discounts too. (You can’t see me, but I’m rolling with laughter right now.)

I’m re-researching the details of Yumen Guan and the western frontier where part of my story is set and daydreaming about taking a research trip. I think there are even “Silk Road” packages that will take me from Xian out to Dunhuang. Hubby would throw a fit. I don’t think China is his choice for a dream vacation (weak stomach + meat and potatoes man — need I say more? ).

14 day Silk Road package. I’d be able to visit the ruins of the Jade Gate fortress and my beloved Gansu corridor. Until then, I’ll just stare at it from Google Maps and take lots of artistic license.

When I first read about Yumen Guan, I knew it was the perfect location for my story. The fortress ruins look so lonely rising out of the desert. Because it was built in the Han dynasty, by the Tang dynasty it would have been over 500 years old.  I studied other military gates or “Guan” to figure out what the Jade Gate may have looked like in its heyday. The construction of a stone wall surrounding a towering wooden structure seems very common.

What’s in my head is something in between the barren rock and the fortress of its heyday. Oh, and another reason for my choice? Yumenguan or Yumen Guan is readable and pronounceable. Decisions, decisions. 🙂 Back to revisions now.

Yumen Guan today
Yumen Guan today
What Yumen Guan might have looked like
What Yumen Guan might have looked like


  1. Dara
    Sep 07, 2009 @ 11:47:44

    Oh, I long for the research vacation to Japan 🙂 It would be so much fun! I would easily have to stay at least 10 days to 2 weeks. I think I would be so excited and overwhelmed by actually being where my book is set that I wonder how much research I would be able to get done 😛

    Still, it would be wonderful to take all the pictures and video I’d need and maybe get a few interviews from local historians too!

    LOL, I don’t see that happening any time in the near future.

  2. Kat
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 02:08:50

    I’ve been to Dunhuang and really, truly enjoyed it (watched the sun rise over the sand dunes), but I don’t think I went to yumen guan. Just the old metropolis in Turpan in Xinjiang. That was beautiful but so very, very hot. SO HOT. Dunhuang was pretty cooking, too. The women there wore different traditional dress than most Han–it was very black, which I thought was crazy in the heat.

    I have pictures somewhere…

    Dara — I’m currently living in Japan and, depending where your book is set, I don’t know if even two weeks would be sufficient. XD But then, I’m biased because I love it here so much. Nearly as much as I loved living in China. Do you speak Japanese?

  3. Kat
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 02:12:03

    WAIT! I lied, maybe I did go to yumen guan.

    I need to look through my pictures again. That was so long ago.

    And if I did go, I still pretty much just remember it being hot. (Of course, I was there in August.)

  4. Jeannie Lin
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 05:03:15

    Dara – I spent two days in Tokyo, but I’d love to get away from the city to other areas.

    Hi Kat – How exciting! I took a trip to China but the itinerary hovered about Beijing and Shanghai. I would have loved to at least see Xian, though the ancient palace is completely gone. I also remember it being hot!

    Another one of the romantic/symbolic things about Yumen Guan is that during it’s prime, the climate was wetter and more mild there (according to some of my research). The shifting desert had an effect on what outposts and branches of the Silk Road were favored.

  5. Kat
    Sep 09, 2009 @ 03:25:23

    I think the best time to go to China is in late spring (April) or mid-fall (October). Of course, if you want to go to the south, it’s best in the winter (ah, Yunnan… so amazing). I would also say the North (north of Beijing at least) is best in winter, as then you get to enjoy snow, too!

    I went to Xi’an very briefly (I did a Silk Road tour–I would highly recommend them!) and biked around the city wall and saw the Wild Goose Pagoda. It was cool seeing the places that Xuan Zang hailed from. 🙂

    I didn’t know that about Yumen Guan, though it does make sense. I don’t see how folks could have lived there during the summer without central air conditioning. I barely made it two hours outside in Turpan.

  6. Jeannie Lin
    Sep 09, 2009 @ 05:16:44

    You’re making me jealous, Kat! Maybe that’s why my first two stories were travel adventures. I’m living vicariously.

    I wonder if it counts as research if you go after the stories are published?