Dear G & B
Dear G & B
A post from a few weeks ago that I never got round to uploading….
Images: Beijing river, Maglev train, Shanghai skyline from Pudong
Dear G and B
I’m coming to the end of a 10 day work trip to Taiwan, Shanghai , Beijing, Sichuan and Kuala Lumpur and am yet again on a flight, not far from landing in Birmingham. Just watched 3 terrible films in a row, which on top of sleep deprivation and jet lag has all but melted my brain. I’m very excited to see you both in a couple of hours though. Whilst I was away you went to your cousins 5th birthday dressed as batman and robin (George says “batmeeeeeein” which is hilarious) and the photos look great. Haven’t spoken to you much whilst I’ve been away as I was travelling most evenings trying to get a round and get the trip over as quickly as possible. Anyway, done now.
What can I tell you about this one? I went on the Maglev (short for magnetic levitation) train in Shanghai that goes to the airport from the city in 10 minutes. As the name suggests it is levitating on magnets, so there is no friction and it goes up to 300km/hr. Not sure how fast it has gone in the past. I’ve always taken taxis before which take about an hour, so will definitely do that every time from now on.
The strangest thing was that the skies were clear all across China – no smog or evidence of the pollution that usually makes everything so grim. It was actually really crisp and fresh. Then I realised the national congress for the communist party was being held in Beijing and they had probably shut down all of the factories to get the skies clear for the that. Or the cynic in me thinks so. Was nice to enjoy the views of the ever more impressive sky lines they are creating at alarming rates. Apart from constantly being exhausted I had a good time – work was much easier as we have employed a local to run an office for us in Beijing and it took the usual stress of not being able to order food/taxis, etc away. I have to learn Chinese, as will the rest of the world in the not so distant future.
Always surprised by China and find it more and more developed each time I go, both physically and culturally. Their absorption of the rest of the worlds habits, cultures and technology has happened so quickly. As a guy I met at the British council said: “there will never be another china” and I think he was talking about it as an economic phenomenon. I wonder what it will be like by the time you are both grown up. I either think civil unrest will have weakened it and split it into fractions, or it will be ruling the world and causing upheaval overseas.
Just as I was flying into China there was a massacre in Kunming where a minority group used knives to kill 30 people and injure 4 times as many. These types of events are happening more frequently, or rather technology is allowing the world to witness them. Your mother always thinks I am going somewhere dangerous, and these events don’t help her nerves. As I was flying from China to Malaysia, a flight coming the other way dropped out of the sky and 230 people were lost and nobody knows how. Air Malayisa Flight MH370 – look it up. I think you have to fly non stop for 300 years to be certain of being involved in an air crash, so the probabilities are ridiculously small and being rational, I simply can’t worry about it. I love flying.
Dear G and B
At the beginning of December I hopped over to China for a week, first to Shanghai and then on to Beijing. For the first time in many visits the pollution was all but gone and the skies were clear – I even managed a run around Peoples Square in Shanghai and the air didn’t even taste of battery acid….
Because it was clear, although minus 8 in the wind, I decided to use up an afternoon’s free time to look around the Summer Palace, one of the few main tourist attractions in Beijing I haven’t seen before. I guess it is better in the summer, but I figured I could escape the crowds there and by this point in my trip, that in itself was attractive enough to warrant a visit.
The palace is actually made up of many buildings that surround a lake, all from slightly different eras. It would have been more impressive, but most of it was burnt to the ground by us Brits during the opium wars and has since been reconstructed. It was bitterly cold and I didn’t have any gloves, so after the second hour I lost patience and trooped off, but I think I saw most of it by then and had a nice, contemplative time in the process.
The most impressive structure is the Incense Tower which looks down upon the rest of the palace from atop a hill and is an ornate circular pagoda. It has amazingly steep and symmetrical twin staircases that run down each side to lake level with some covered with beautifully decorated roofs. Walking down them was a joy. At the (semi frozen) lake there were some food stalls and trinket sellers where I bought a coffee and browsed for gifts, but was slightly put off by the vacuum packed chickens feet. I’m sure they are a delectable cold snack for on the hoof as it were.
Afterwards I had a meeting around 60km north of Beijing so took the metro to the end of the line where I waited for a lift to pick me up. It was like post-war China; bleak, grey, flat landscape with communist style buildings and very little else. People stared at me from their cars and I felt quite uneasy – not the China I have become used to and I was glad to get out of there before I saw some kids riding pigs and pointing at planes overhead…
I had a great night out with a colleague around HoHai lake in a converted hutong made into a bar that sold various Belgian beers with a live band. He had had a tough week as his wife and baby had been knocked off their bike back home and we’re in hospital briefly, so it was good to unwind at the end of a trip. Nothing is as good as coming home to you two though.
Today was one that I’ll remember forever. I went Rhino tracking in the bush just outside Gaborone (pronounced Hab-or-own-eh) in a game park called Molokodi. I have to say that whilst getting dressed at 6am this morning that I was dubious of how good the park would be and my expectations weren’t high. I arrived at about 7:15 and set off with one English speaking guide and one tracker who carried a rifle.
We started in a typical safari truck and followed some trails, scanning the sand for Rhino prints. In the meantime I saw a large male giraffe, some impala, an ostrich, some warthogs and their piglets, a kudu and a fluttering of brightly coloured bird species. The weather was perfect: not too hot and really crisp and sunny. We found some tracks after about 45 minutes and set off on foot throught the bush to follow them.
The tracker knew it was a female and calf and showed me how he identified where they had been – prints, rocks turned over, recent tree damage, etc. We came across some warm Rhino poo after about 45 minutes and I knew that we couldn’t be far away. It was really exciting. The tracker crouched down and pointed. Around 50 yards away through the trees we saw them weaving in amongst the scrub. The baby heard us (or could smell us) and bolted off, so we had to follow them both on foot again. We got slightly closer for a few more seconds and then they ran again. This went on a few more times until we manoeuvred downwind from them. They watched us closely but let us get much nearer. Scarily near. My heart was racing, but eventually they seemed pretty comfortable that we weren’t a threat and settled down. At one point they even lay down in the sun, probably tired from the chase.
I took hundreds of photos, and it was a really magical experience. After a while they started to move off and we didn’t bother them this time. Instead we trekked back through the scrub trying not to get caught up in the huge spiders webs that hang everywhere with terrifying-looking spiders in the middle of each. We saw some more birdlife then made our way back to the truck which took us to see a tame cheetah in an enclosure. His parents died when he was young so never learnt how to hunt. You can even stroke him, which is pretty scary. Amazing growling purr that he makes and such a beautiful animal.
We had lunch by a very scenic lake and then headed back to the hotel where I had to get changed and do a bit more work. I was on a total high. A great experience.