Saturday, 29 October 2011

Beijing reflections

Well after seven months in Beijing, I have headed south, back to beautiful Yangshou and the limestone karst mountains. Climbing is once again the order of the day. My plan is to stay in Southern China for a few more weeks, then head to Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, before heading back to the UK in the New Year. Having been in Yangshou for a week or so, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on Beijing with a few pics, some of which you may already have seen.

The summer in Beijing was characterised by extremes. Often really hot and dry, but with breaks for heavy rain and humidity. I am told this was an unusual year. An umbrella was a sound investment, whatever the weather!

Beijing has many attractions ad historic sites of interest. However, for the most part these are packed to the rafters with internal and/or international tourists. This picture was taken by the lake next to the Summer Palace. I went for a short walk around it, which ended up taking 2 hours! 

One of the best things about Beijing for me is that I have met some great people, both through work and climbing. Here are a couple of people that have become great friends and who I will miss being around. In no particular order, it's Ben, Maggie and Si.

One thing i have really enjoyed about Beijing is the art scene, which was somewhat unexpected upon my arrival. The 798 area reminds me of Brick Lane and has been a favourite destination on many an occasion. Here are a couple of recent pics from there

The writing on the wall below is apparently a famous love poem called something along the lines of "a beautiful face amongst the peach blossoms". I didn't know this; I just thought it was cool.

All in all I will take away good memories of Beijing. That said, I miss the UK and all my friends and family. As such it's nice to winding my way back home. A couple more months and hopefully a few more pictures yet though. 

Thursday, 1 September 2011


My most recent jaunt was to a place called Yangshou, near Guilin in Guanxi Province. A fellow climber and friend I met over the summer was heading back to America earlier this month and fancied a trip down. We were there about 4 days in total. The guys at Beijing Climbing Club arranged everything for us in advance, so for us the whole trip was relatively effortless, bar the climbing.

Yangshou has these amazing Limestone Karst mountains that pop up everywhere in the midst of this beautiful sub tropical area. The landscape is featured on the back of the 20 RMB note. Most of the rocks, at least the climbable ones have names, such as this one known as the egg

This next shot is the view from on the Egg. Almost looks like something from Jurassic Park. 

We spent two days climbing here. It was a beautiful place. The only downsides were mosquitos and the ability to get sunburnt, even when stood in the shade (apparently due to the reflection from the paddy fields). Yangshou was the the first place in China, where I really felt like I was in Asia. Perhaps because it's the first time out of a major city. It was great to see straw hats and water buffalo, and people living such a simple life. 

The town itself, surrounded by this beautiful scenery is probably about half the size of Chester. And, as well as being a popular destination for climbers from around the world, it is also popular amongst Chinese travellers. It's easy to see why. A little over two and a half hours flight from Beijing and an hour from Guilin. Anyway, here are a few more snaps of one of this magical place.

I hope to go back to Yangshou before I return to the UK. having said that, I seem to be saying that about quite a lot of places I write about. Perhaps I will just have to keep it as a fond memory and a place where I enjoyed 4 great days of climbing.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


Well, it's taken me a while to writing about Japan, which is good as it's given me plenty of time to reflect. I thought it was amazing at the time, and on reflection haven't changed my mind.

Although being only two and a bit hours from China, in all other respects the two countries couldn't be further apart. China, in it's unrelenting economic growth is often chaotic and often polluted. Beijing, for example, a lot of the time has a smoggy skyline like something from Dickensian London. It has mile after mile of construction site,  and an overcrowded transport systems (traffic jams like I've never seen before). Tokyo on the other hand is clean, calm and organised. Of course, Tokyo hasn't always been like it is now, and has no doubt had it's share of development side effects in the past. The current characteristics of both cities, and indeed countries, merely reflect their stages of development. It would be hypocritical to criticise China for focussing on growth more so than environmental issues; our developed countries have all done it at one stage or another.

Anyway, here are some of my favourite bits of a country I will no doubt go back to, if I get the chance:


Wet Osaka. I arrived in monsoon season. If it wasn't raining, it was mainly cloudy. Umbrellas were a common site.

The skyline from the tops of buildings was pretty spectacular,  both during the day and at night. The clouds on this particular day were pretty amazing:

Catching the skies just after a storm and just before dark gave great results, such as in the next pic. I saw a similar sky in London last Autumn, but it didn't have quite the same depth of colour.

Osaka, like most cities, has it's own brand of taxi. These, I have to say, are not my favourite. Interestingly all the drivers were dressed impeccably, either in bow ties or ties. I sensed that taxi drivers in Osaka are probably treated with a lot more respect than in some countries, and treat their customers in the same way. This kind of respectfulness and politeness was Japan all over for me.

Kyoto was one of the most beautiful places I have been. With its hilly surroundings and streams and river running through the middle, it is a breathtaking place. Holding the Kyoto Earth Summit there in 1997 was genius. Who could not sign up to stopping climate change, when in such an environmentally beautiful place. It would be like holding a meeting to get people to grow cocoa beans in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. The shame, of course, is that several leading countries have failed to ratify the treaty. 

A bit of afternoon fishing anyone? This bird was in a stream at the back of some houses. I can imagine waking up and looking out of the back window on to this lovely backdrop. Nice!

This I think the next bird is a Crane. There were several of them, and other huge birds, that looked like Eagles, fishing along the main city river, most of the day.

We visited some Imperial Residence Gardens, which were spectacular, as were most of the government buildings, gardens and temples I saw.

I took a train up one of the mountains. It wasn't the Bullet train, that came later. But, I managed to get near the front and get this shot, which I like.

My final image of Kyoto is the Golden Temple. Again the gardens here were breathtaking. It's amazing how buildings and gardens in Japan are developed in synch. In creating temples, etc, the gardens are given as much consideration as the building interiors and exteriors themselves.  


So on to Tokyo. I took the Bullet train from Kyoto, which is something I have wanted to do for a long time. The scenery on the journey is amazing and, I'm no train spotter, but the Bullet itself is pretty spectacular too (and cheaper than Virgin of course). Anyway, when you arrive in Tokyo it is like any other huge city. Lots of people everywhere and blocks of blocks of buildings. 

Equally as impressive by night. I didn't stay there all day by the way...

As with most major cities, parks and green space have an important function to play. This particular one was great. Lilies cover the lake at this time of year and produce an amazing backdrop. These chaps seemed to be enjoying it anyway

As in many parks there are a few interesting characters. This fella was no exception. I'm not sure about his outfit, but it seemed to work for him...

Here are a couple of my favourites, which I've saved for last:

As I say, I loved Japan and hope to go back one day. Next up is Yangshou in South China (next week) and then Thailand or Nepal in October. For now, Japan remains in my memory and will do for a long time to come.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Markets (of the flea variety)

Markets are fascinating places. A market is any one of a variety of systems, institutions, procedures, social relations and infrastructures whereby parties engage in exchange. So, given this definition, we can conclude that markets have been around since human interaction began, or at least since the benefit of mutual exchange was realised. Of course, there are numerous kinds of market, but I am quite fond of what I guess we describe as the flea variety. I love to wander around aimlessly - rarely buying things it has to be said - people watching and admiring the skill, with which many of the arts and crafts have been produced, and at the many ways in which people try to make a few bob.

I recently visited Panjiayuan in Beijing. It struck me how similar flea markets appear to be in all of the major cities where I have come across them. There are numbers of interesting characters in all of them; either working, or just simply hanging out. This lady was doing a bit of touch up work, whilst people ambled past her. What the picture doesn't show is how hot it was in there. It was 36C outside, and although in the shade, it was sweltering inside too.

When I look at this picture I think you could probably move her stall next to that of this man's in New York:

The conditions, however, couldn't be more different - not least in terms of weather and climate. In NYC it was around -8C on a January morning. The market was near Central Par just down from Dakota Buildings. Although some of the lucky few got inside pitches, much of it was outside in the elements. It was beautiful and sunny outside though, despite the snow on the ground and the below freezing temperatures.

I have tended to find similar goods on sale in most of the markets I have visited. For example, it's suprising how many of the old Soviet Zenit cameras I have come across. Anyway, below is a collection of the offerings I have most recently found. Looking at them I even wonder if people would be able to point to which country I found them in?

Finally, with all of the markets I've been to, I love the subsidiary action that takes place in their surrounding areas. Food, music and generally a good vibe tend to fill the streets. Long live the markets, wherever you are!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Hutong story

The hutongs in Beijing are basically the side streets off main roads (The only think I can compare to is the streets running off Park Road or Smithdown in Liverpool).  They often form mazes of tight little alleys and you can become lost and disorientated pretty quickly. That said, you never feel threatened in them as you would in Western cities, unfamiliar to you. And, before long you will bump into some old fellas in vests sat outside their house, or shop (of a sort), who will point you in the right direction - once they have worked out what on earth you are trying to say.

The hutongs, often built up over centuries, have nurtured communities, and incorporate pretty much every domestic function you can think off. So, often you will have to duck under drying washing, or dodge children playing or someone sat chopping vegetables. In addition, it's not unusual to be engulfed in the smoke of someone barbecuing meat or other foods. My friend recently took me to a hutong he was born in and lived in, until 2006. Since then the authorities have demolished most of the area as part of a redevelopment programme. The area is just off Tiannimen Square, and although derelict now, it will probably soon become land occupied by the Chinese Nouveau Riche. Sad as this is, it is a common phenomena in the life cycle of any city. Take New York (Brooklyn,  Lower East etc) or  London (Notting Hill, now Hackney), etc. You can find examples of this kind of gentrification and juxtaposition pretty much everywhere. For Beijing,  I hope the uniqueness of the hutongs is not lost in the drive for development and modernity. It would be a great loss indeed.

Anyway, here are some pictures of Trevor's disappearing hutong:

This is the street number. Just about hanging on amidst the winds of change...

Behind the facade, there were trees growing in the "once was" cafe. Unlikely to get a beer there now!

An eary stillness prevails. I wonder how many times those steps have been climbed and if they ever will be again...

A typical doorway. I loved the heels hanging on the line in this particular one. To dry maybe?

A bit of coulour always brightens the place up.

Another thing, widespread in the hutongs is the communal toilet. You can see the sign at the bottom of the path directing you to this one. I have to say they are one of my least favourite features of hutong. Some may argue they just add to the sense of the community... 

Monday, 16 May 2011


One thing I've found since being in Beijing is that people here like a rest from time to time. In fact they'll rest pretty much anywhere as they please. I wonder if he knew they were behind him before he sat down?

Nice bit of shade there fella!

Where he got the sofa from, God only knows...

I wonder if McDonalds are missing one of their umbrellas? No, doubt it!