Monthly Archives: September 2007

The epilogue

The jet lag is fading now, like an old red wine stain on a much loved rug.

I’ll be back at work in the next few days, back in the same old routines and habits. I think I’ve learned some things from my very displaced adventure though. I’ll give you a top five or so.

1) 97% of the worlds population is essentially helpful, even if you don’t speak their language. The other 3% is comprised of muggers and bank managers (not that I was mugged but I did have problems with banks)

2) The best way to make friends in any culture seems to be to make and offer copious amounts of tea. Tea will ensure some sort of social contact in almost any situation. Beer is sometimes a good substitute for tea if no kettle is present.

3) Everyone has a story to tell you. Again this applies regardless of language. Oddly enough sometimes people who don’t speak your language find it easier to open up than those that do. I had an entire conversation with someone through a language computer and they told me things I doubt they would have in other circumstances.

4) Everyone gets lonely sometimes, erspecially when travelling. The trick is to find the other lonely people and start some sort of club…

5) The ability to sleep under almost any circumstance is a gift to be cherished.

My final adventure…

…was to go to the beach in Hong Kong (the humorousley named Repulse Bay, which is in fact very picturesque) where I sat and watched the sun go down on Asia for the final time. Actually the Sun will go down on Asia many billion more time but this is the last time I’ll watch it, for the time being at least. I went down to where the waves rolled in and eased my feet off in the sea.

This time tomorrow I’ll be half a world away, it looks like a good day for flying though…

The long way up

I don’t normally write serious stuff but I had to blog this.

So I climbed up the peak of Hong Kong Island yesterday. It was sweltering and humid and took around an hour, it wasn’t the biggest hill I’ve ever climbed but it was rather steep. When I got to the top I could see down into the city and across the bay into Kowloon but looking in the other direction I could see the sea for the first time since I left the Baltic states. All this time over thousands of miles I’ve been travelling overland. For a British person, not being near the sea is an unusual concept (given that we are never more than 70 miles from the sea at most). Suddenly in front of me is water, water with no visible shore in the distance. Something else happened too.

I have been feeling tired and not quite myself recently. All this travel feels like my soul has…eroded slightly. Maybe it’s the Sherpa thing, when you travel you need to stop every now and again because your soul travels much slower than you do.

I stood looking at the sea and then I saw something small coming up off the sea. It’s wings were static. It was a bird of prey (perhaps a falcon or an eagle – they were pretty big) lazily riding up the thermals of the mountain and then it was joined by two more and they reached the peak and hung in the air for a few minutes before plunging down the other side of the hill to be lost amongst the artificial canyons of the skyscrapers. Watching them made me feel a bit less tired and maybe a bit regretful to be going home…

Hong Kong

Currently I’m in Kowloon in Hong Kong – I’m staying in the illustriusly named Chungking Mansions. The Chungking mansions despite it’s name is in fact a crumbly old skyscraper with exposed pipe works leaking water and electrical conduits hanging from the ceiling, filled with black market goods stalls, cheap cafes and sleazy backpacker accomodation. In fact I’m staying at the “Disney Hotel” (NB the Disney Hotel, Chungking is not in anyway, affiliated with Walt Disney, his corporation or any associated intellectual property).

Hong Kong is easily the most Blade Runner place I’ve ever been. It feels far less sterile than Beijing. Best of all (to a British backpacker trying to find his way around) all the street names are English. Not just in the English alphabet you understand but actual Englsih names like Gloucester street. I know it shouldn’t be a suprise given that it’s a former colony but it is nice. I’m off to drink yet more cataclysmic amounts of tea now.

It is worth noting that my arrival in Hong Kong was delayed by two days in an incident involving rice wine…but being as this is a family oriented site I’ll spare the details.

Off to Hong Kong

Tomorrow I’m off to Hong Kong – I didn’t realise but, technically Hong Kong is still not part of China, it’s in a kind of limbo state between Capitalism and Communism. I’m not quite sure what to expect of it. Maybe skyscrapers and neo-colonialism with smattering of alleyways and street markets.

I went on a tea crawl today along the road near my hostel in Beijing (Dazalan Market street) which had some pretty impressive teas on offer (as well as samurai swords, fake trainers and cheap electical goods). I settled for Olong, Lychee, and two types of black tea. I nearly bought a tea pot shaped like a dragon which changed colour depending on how hot the water was but I don’t think it would fit in my bag very easily. Maybe I could reshuffle my belongings before I leave to squeeze it in…

“You are not a Great man until you climb the Great Wall”

According to Chairman Mao that is. It is nice to know that I fit Mao’s definition of Greatness then.

Yes I climbed the Great Wall of China today. I booked a place on a small tour of a deserted stretch of the wall that had been abandoned and overgrown. It was a tricky walk at times but there were none of the crowds of people and fast food outlets that plague the more popular areas of the wall. It was a misty day and the walk up the mountain was wearisome but doable – I think my lungs have taken a battering from the Beijing smog cloud beforehand though. The most surreal part of the adventure was when our small tour group climbed up to a seemingly abandoned watch tower only to find a very small shop inside. We were miles from anywhere remotely touristy but the man in the little watchtower stood there every day for three years in order to sell T-Shirts to the handfuls of tourists passing through.

Our guide was a small man who spoke no english whose sole job seemed to be making sure that no-one fell off the wall. It is hard to get lost in a linear space so he seemed content to amble along behind the tour group chainsmoking and smiling to himself. He seemed to have a good life.

Beijing

I’ve made it as far as Beijing. The end of the line as far as the Trans Siberian Railway is concerned but I might see if I can make it as far as Hong Kong before I go home.

The pre-olympic Beijing is a bustling place with lots of building work happening here. I’m suprised at how easy it is to cross the road given the amount of traffic (most of the time) and there are lots of cycle lanes – in fact the cyclists here seem more intent on mowing down pedestrians than the car drivers do. The best sight I’ve seen so far was a platoon of about twenty police officers cycling past on bicycles ringing their bells. The second best sight I’ve seen was an English language menu in a Chinese restaurant which contained literal (mis)translations such as “The Temple has exploded the chicken cubes” and “The golden vegetables beloved by friends”.

I’m staying on a market street south from the infamous Tianamen square – bright signs hang out in front of shops and narrow alleys lead everywhere. My hostel has a tiny doorway off from the main street but leads back into a ridiculously long building with paper lanterns hanging from wooden beams inside. Everywhere al long the street you can hear Chinese tea sellers shouting out stuff along the lines of “You! – Handsome boy, try my tea”. I have never been anywhere that sells more types of tea than here. The street has a constant hum of activity (even at night) and at any moment I expect a team of Kungfu experts to smash their way through a shop window and begin fighting in the street.

I’m not sure what it is with dead communist leaders but just like Lenin, Chairman Mao is mumified and available to see in a special “Maosoleum” (You see what I did there, right?). Other attractions include the Great Wall (which my train passed under on the way in but we didn’t see it as we passed through a tunnel) and the Forbidden city. Which isn’t forbidden anymore. It is so unforbidden in fact, that Starbucks applied to open a branch there.

Curious mistranslations and mistakes

One of the most amusing things about visiting Asia as an English speaker is the way that concepts and phrases which would be perfectly ordinary in one language become horrifically mangled when transposed into another tongue. Hence in Mongolia we have:

“The Great Electronic Brian” – which I think is supposed to say Brain instead (it was on a computer advert).
“Destroy, Destroy!” – the name of a designer footwear shop.
“The Homeboy shop” – for all your hip-hop needs
“Please share happiness and wellbeing with your loved ones by peanut coloured sands” – The serving suggestion on the side of a biscuit packet

and my personal favourite:

“The Crazy English Language School and Institute” which is presumably where all these translators learned their skills. And yes, I’m not making that up, I have photographic evidence

I forgot to mention…

…that deserts don’t have toilets.

After my return to civilisation I realized that Thomas Crapper was in fact some sort of mystic visionary genius.

Also I think I made it onto Mongolian state television by leaping in the air infront of a TV camera during an open air concert. The only Mongolian word I know is pronounced something like “Tee shu” which I think means “You The Man” (although it could mean something much worse) so I jumped up and down shouting “Tee shu, Tee shu”. It was only afterward that I discovered that the concert was to honour Mongolians who had been killed fighting against the Russians. I have a nasty suspicion that I might have accidently insulted Mongolia’s war dead. Come to think of it, I thought everyone else at the concert was being a bit sombre…