Journey to the West, via the New Silk Road

The streets of Bukhara, Uzbekistan – an ancient city with a youthful population where 60% are below the age of 30 (Screengrab courtesy of CNA)

My wife and I love documentaries and it’s not easy to wow us, but CNA’s latest installment of their award-winning documentary The New Silk Road: Road to Russia managed to do just that.

The series takes viewers on a journey across 4 countries – China, Mongolia, Uzbekistan & Russia – to explore how China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has changed the country, for better or worse. The host, Anthony Morse, cuts an almost too immaculate presence, and his interviews with the show’s varied assembly of guests seem almost too rehearsed… but the awesome cinematography and amazing stories told in this documentary makes up for it.

There’s been 5 seasons of CNA’s “The New Silk Road” covering how the trillion dollar BRI initiative is changing the world

BRI is China’s massive plan to connect over 65 countries and more than 60% of the world’s population, from Southeast Asia to East Africa, via new trade routes such as the Overland Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road.

So far, we’ve caught episodes 1 to 3 on Toggle and we can’t wait for the final episode to be uploaded. Episode 1 featured Manzhouli and Harbin, and it explored how BRI has benefited these cities, with regards to facilitating better Sino-Russia ties. The episode kick started with a beauty pageant celebrating relations between both countries, as well as Mongolia. The candid scenes from the pageant photoshoot alone are totally worth the time (pictured).

Love this candid shots of pageant models posing for a photoshoot in sub-zero temperatures . I need to gif this.
(Screengrab courtesy of CNA)

Manzhouli borders Russia and has prospered greatly from the trade between both countries. Harbin, on the other hand, has a legacy of Russian cultural influence, as it hosted generations of Russian settlers.

Episode 2 on Mongolia was a bit disturbing because it talks about Sinophobia in the landlocked country, resulting from colonialism under China. It also showcased the environmental issues from the coal industry, propped up by China’s massive buying. Mongolia’s economy survives on Chinese investment, and yet a faction of Mongolians resent the problems caused by industrial development.

The most interesting thing about episode 2 – this rock band, The Hu. Can’t say I like the music, but it’s cool how the band “gentrified” traditional Mongol music (as my wife puts it).

Uzbekistan’s industrial growth fuelled by BRI is featured in episode 3. Bukhara is simply beautiful, in its ancient architecture and buildings (pictured). The episode takes viewers into a wholesale food market, a Chinese-owned factory, as well as a Singapore-owned school – MDIS!

The country appears to have benefited a lot from BRI, in terms of trade and tourism. By this episode, my wife and I jokingly concluded that China’s ambition is a reflection of the Chinese people’s natural inclination to be industrious. Not just in China, but Chinese people in general.

Poi Kalan, an Islamic religious complex (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The New Silk Road: Road to Russia is one of the best programmes on Mediacorp right now. It just completed it’s run on CNA, but if you have time, take a break from Netflix and cable, to catch this documentary on Toggle’s catch up TV.

View trailer here:

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