Tag Archives: overland UK to NZ

Stage Nine – Out of China – Ningbo, Fuzhou and Pingtan – the BIG FERRY SHOWDOWN

Arriving into Ningbo
Arriving into Ningbo

Ningbo

Different ticket prices for different size children
Different ticket prices for different size children

Ningbo had only just built a subway system. Very easy to use, clean and straight out of the train station, I soon found myself walking unfamiliar roads toward my hostel, thank you, maps.me. I’d chosen the hostel for its proximity to the Ningbo port. Now I no longer needed that connection it was far from Ningbo proper. Began to have misgivings as I walked in the busy highway to get around the construction zones. When finally broached, the hostel was better than many I’ve met (particularly on the Camino!) and had lovely pods in which to shut yourself away. The common-room was filled with young people intent on their devices, the boys mainly playing League of Legends on screens that varied from huge to tiny. Couldn’t see the kettle.

I need not worry about my onward travel. Real Russia had sorted my ticket to Fuzhou and it would leave from where I’d just come from. I’d collected both paper tickets at Beijing South Railway Station. So I could relax in the slightly grubby shower and prepare to find food.

The new touristy hutong of Ningbo
The new touristy hutong of Ningbo

Headed down to a newly constructed ‘old Chinese hutong’ full of the snack bars and trinket shops so evident in the popular Beijing hutongs. (I didn’t see any churros in Ningbo.) This was a strange place so I turned off and went down a lane to find myself in normal Chinese life. There were folk going about their business, working in shops selling pots and pans, front doors and fish in plastic tubs. There wasn’t much on offer. Particularly the fish stalls. When I remember the markets in my HK childhood there was such a wild range of sea food, flapping and bubbling away. This scarcity? A result of overfishing?

Outer suburbs of Ningbo
Outer suburbs of Ningbo

Nothing near reported on Happy Cow so I acted like my son, Felix. He had a nose for a good restaurant. I tried to sniff out vegan food from the lines of cafes on offer. I chose one seemingly run by women. Not only staff but three customers and two children came to offer opinions, examine Google Translate and point at pictures on the wall. I had no idea what I would get as the front of house person waved me to a seat. It was delicious. Steamed rice, soupy garlicky lettuce and a stirfry of garlic beans in soy sauce. Perfect.

Plastic sealed crockery at Ningbo cafe
Plastic sealed crockery at Ningbo cafe

Tao 23 said, within the way become the way; those who gain, welcome within the gain. Those who lose, welcome within loss. Without trust in this, there is no trust. Winners and losers both, may as well accept your lot!

I slept very well within my capsule. The ladder was so widely spaced when I climbed down I needed some good leg waving to seek the next step. Useful to exercise those little-used muscles. As I approached my capsule in the evening, a young American woman cried out, ‘Oh! Another foreigner!’ and we embarked on a conversation. I explained my itinerary and she insisted she would be only too happy to get on the road early to show me the way. Insisted. She was up, bright and early at 6:30, snapping on lights and rustling about. When I signed a gentle remonstration, she said, ‘Nonsense! They’ve come in all drunk and silly and disturbed me in the night, I’ve got every right to see what I’m packing in the morning. That’s just how they behave in hostels here!’ I hadn’t heard a peep out of anyone in our female-only dorm the night before and if that was indeed the way to behave in dormitories in China, then perhaps one might offer an example for future peaceful, quieter sleeping. I merely demonstrated by action, quietly turning off the lights and shutting the door when we’d left.

Ningbo railway station passenger waiting area
Ningbo railway station passenger waiting area

Turned out Sarah was an English teacher from North Carolina. She’d spent six years in Korea previously and I think she’d been in China four years already. She’d just signed on for a further two year contract. She was a bit sad to hear I’d missed out on the Ningbo sights, especially the Lake and the oldest library in China. She preferred not to speak Chinese, although she was learning, for people got angry with her attempts. She travelled a lot in her weekends. She preferred the bus, for if she saw a brown sign that indicates a historic site, she could get off and explore. She used to be a librarian before she was a teacher so she spent most of her free time reading in her little apartment. She went back to see her family every second year. She got bored just sitting watching Fox tv all day but she did enjoy shooting pistols with her dad. She told me that although they’re not allowed, Chinese people have a lot of guns. And if they don’t shoot people they use knives. I suggested America was winning in the gun death numbers and she wasn’t so sure. She had to do a lot of study to get her license and the problem is most guns are got illegally, they’re the ones who kill people, the ones who don’t know how to use a gun correctly. She also had some observations about Chinese children, now mainly raised by grandparents who were essentially peasants. Their educated children go to work while the children lose all their manners and are no better than animals. I ventured that these days grandparents were often the main childcarers in Western culture, too. Sarah just shook her head. These people were raising the society of the future and it looked grim to her. I offered my notion that the society of the future was being raised by their mobile phones, the opiate of the masses. Sarah responded with some interesting facts about Chinese religion. The temples and churches were run by paid actors. They were not real monks. It can’t be easy, living alone in a flat, going out only to go to work or Chinese class or see the odd film. She taught full time, 22 fifty-minute classes a week. That was a lot of prep. She seemed a solemn person who didn’t miss her homeland. She’d just got a kitten so it looked like she’ll be in China for a while. She didn’t trust the medical system. One of her friends, who’d been here 20 years, had a mystery infection. Three operations later, he was dead.

On the escalators Ningbo Railway Station
On the escalators Ningbo Railway Station

We made it to the train station and I shook her hand and wished her well.

Which old man would you prefer to be your snackfood host?
A question at Ningbo railway station.
Which old man would you prefer to be your snackfood host?

Onwards!

Fuzhou

The train was a straightforward fast train (more of them in the world, please!) and the touts waiting in Fuzhou seemed to be more prevalent. I ignored them and walked with determination towards the bus stop. I found a kind man in a uniform and showed him where I needed to go. He looked around frantically and there was another kind man with a mobile phone at the ready. He looked things up, wrote things down and made me a plan. (I’m glad I read The Arrival, thanks, Sean Tan.) Perhaps the younger fellow also worked for the trains or transport department for they seemed to know each other.

Fuzhou South Bus Station Tunnel
Fuzhou South Bus Station Tunnel

It would cost me one yuan to Fuzhou South Bus Station. Half an hour trip. Got off at elderly, concrete station and stood confused, not knowing where to go. Luckily a man in a uniform waved at me and gave me directions. Went through a grim tunnel and then into another section before spotting the ticket window. Then I would buy another ticket for a hundred thirty seven yuan. Running out of cash, I couldn’t see an ATM. But I had enough for the moment.

Everyone got on the bus and immediately drew the curtains, many to better see their mobile phones and most, eventually, to sleep. I reached over the preparing-to-sleep masked woman next to me to twitch the curtain a little so I could see. She nodded assent and then remained in the same position for the duration. The drive took 90 minutes and went over a big bridge onto Pingtan Island.

All day I had sat next to, or across the aisle from, a mum with her small wriggling son. The individuals on this bus were two dead-tired parents and their demanding toddler. Perhaps one raised by his grandparents?

Pingtan Island

The helpful man at the station had told me I would have to catch a taxi in Pingtan. So, ignored the touts and the ricketty little tuk tuk things outside the bus station because I needed cash to get the cab, and thought, okay, it’s just over 5km to the hostel. I’ll walk. It started to rain. And sunset! Bam. Suddenly it was dark. I found some cash. I began to regret my choice. It would take an hour. I was tired. Hungry. I went back to what I’d thought was a cab rank. There was building featuring a big green neon sign shining off the wet roofs of a line of cars, giving an impression of a row of cars with green lights on the top. Really.

I remembered my father’s sage advice to always go to a big hotel if you need a taxi. So I went to the Ramada Inn where they were hosting a wedding. I stood outside in a dither. Should I just call it a night and stay here? Should I ask for a taxi? Should I walk? Aaaargh! I really didn’t know what to do. The guy hosing the big black limo/jeep hosed a pretty girl in passing who shrieked at him. Action! I went inside and girded my loins to try to communicate. The receptionist had no word of English. Nothing. By a clever combination of brilliant mime, dance and Google Translate we worked out I wanted a taxi. I asked if she could call one for me. She told me it would cost 25 yuan. I asked if she could break a 100 yuan note? Yup. Cool. Good. Then she gave me a post-it with a number on it. And asked for her money. It took me a while to realise she’d called me the Chinese version of Uber on her own account. How nice was that?

When I got into the car the driver wanted to check the address so I showed him my maps.me and off we went. Then he started chatting on the phone and according to maps.me he went the wrong way (I’m pointing and making noises from the back seat and he’s nodding, yup under control and I’m not feeling that) and finally he went around a corner, the wrong corner according to maps.me, and there was huge construction works and a young lady running towards the car. He pointed at her and said, ‘Hostel’. I opened the door in mystification and she said, ‘Hello.’ And I said, ‘Hostel?’ Really? In this building site? And she said, ‘Yes.’ As we walked up to the hostel she explained how kind he had been. He had rung her to come to meet me because he was worried because I didn’t speak Chinese I wouldn’t be able to find my way to the hostel and he was right. I probably wouldn’t. Not only that, but the young lady from the Ramada Inn had also rung ahead to warn her I was coming. I relaxed a little. Pingtan was starting to feel positive. I was in safe hands!

Ka Liu Lan Island International Youth Hostel
Ka Liu Lan Island International Youth Hostel

The hostel was the most extraordinary hostel I’ve ever visited. It really was in a theme park. It was huge. Once again a four-person, female-only room, I had a capsule again, this time with a heavy metal sliding door (the Ningbo hostel had much nicer bamboo blinds). Split level spotless bathroom, with a shower over the squatty potty, and a big bowl with a metal pretend bamboo tap. I spread out and enjoyed my miso soup and crackers, mandarin, nuts and choc for dinner. This place has room for hundreds of people, in fantastic capsules with all sorts of fancy lighting options and a tv screen at the end of the bed but I didn’t ever turn that on. Totally clean and amazing, I could use the washing machine in the morning, and get up to the port to organise onward travel. It was enough. I was very glad to be there.

In Pingtan, if not in all of China, everything is done on WeChat. Every payment, every map, every message. From the lockers in the UCCA foyer to a piece of toilet paper in the public toilets, everything is WeChat.

Toilet paper vending machine Ningbo Railway Station
Toilet paper vending machine Ningbo Railway Station

Heard a lot of Les Miz audible during the night. Not much sleeping. I was nervous about the ferry ticket. Would it suffice?

BRANDY IN BERLIN!

I can’t believe I forgot to mention Brandy in Berlin whilst telling you about Berlin. The place where memories were made. Way back in the early planning days it became apparent that I could not book a ticket Out of China to Taiwan unless I booked it in Taiwan. And it had to be a return ticket. So I was hoping, when I got the Pingtan Port, I could just plead until I found a way to do it. Until Berlin, that was!

When I walked into my female-only dorm in the Happy Bed Hostel a young lady from Taiwan was lounging on her bed. Brandy was a dancer whose teacher organised annual outings to see dance festivals. To different countries around the world. This year Berlin, last year, Tokyo, was it? Her friends had left her behind while she had chosen to continue travelling in Europe. ‘You’re from Taiwan!’ I almost shouted! ‘Can I ask you a big favour?’

And so it was that we both lounged on our neighbourly beds and took turns tapping away at my computer. She finally managed to buy me a ticket! A return ticket! I had to screen-save the evidence and get it printed and the next day (after Brandy had left) the CSF company agreed to refund me the part of the ticket I didn’t use.

THANK YOU, BRANDY! XIEXIE!

The stage in the middle of Ka Liu Lan Island International Youth Hostel
The stage in the middle of Ka Liu Lan Island International Youth Hostel.
That’s my laundry to the right.

After I’d hung out my washing in the big old courtyard next to the stage, I prepared to find the port. I took my printed evidence, passports and the works. I would not leave until I had confirmation I was going to Taiwan the next day. I was confident.

My lovely friend Wheet on the reception desk wrote me out a clear description of what I could and couldn’t eat in simple Chinese. But was sorry, she hadn’t been able to find a taxi anywhere near. She didn’t think there was a bus. Okay. I had maps.me and all day. 8.9 km. I’d walk.

Another door to the hostel on Pingtan
Another door to the hostel with some fun guards not necessarily from ‘Old China’

Out of the bizarre park/maze of entirely new building and on to the road.

Pingtan Island theme park details
Pingtan Island theme park details

I crossed eight lanes of empty freeway – maybe a few scooters (without little jackets here, it was warm).

Half-way across the road. The 'Old China' theme park is to the right.
Half-way across the road. The ‘Old China’ theme park is to the right.

Wandered along until I saw people standing at a bus stop. I decided to join in and showed the waiting people the picture of the ferry. They smiled but shunned me. The driver was much more helpful. I stood beside him while he drove and considered my options. He took me one kilometre and pointed at another bus stop and said, ‘Bus 5’. By now I had decided to invoke Great Aunt Min and her wonderful perseverance. Right. Crossed many lanes. Bit more traffic but still not impressive amounts.

There's a bus stop over there somewhere
There’s a bus stop over there somewhere

None of the buses listed for the stop was 5. I think his English was a little bit rusty. So I just flagged each bus until one guy let me on. To the port! I had maps.me alive and ready and we proceeded until he stopped the bus, actually got off with me and pointed to the correct number on the next stop. 53! Stay here, he indicated! I was now a good 5 km into my journey so very happy. The driver of 53 was puzzled when I boarded but when the sign for the terminal came up and I jumped and waved she nodded and let me off the bus. So, there are working, useful, buses on Pingtan! And friendly drivers.

Bus stop for bus 53
Bus stop for bus 53 – not much else to do but wait!

There was a tall gate pulled across the Ferry Terminal driveway but after showing them my ticket the two guards waved me on through. Go ahead. You’re in the right place. It was locked up tight. Wandered around until I found an open office and a young fellow slouched at his computer. He looked at my ticket and rang a friend, handed over the phone. SHE SPOKE ENGLISH!

BUT she did not have good news. She said, due to bad weather, my ferry had been cancelled.

YOU WHAT? Suddenly I could not breathe. I had never envisaged that. What the hell was I to do? But she went on quickly, it was okay, she would organise me a ticket to go to Taipei, in the afternoon instead of the morning. Taipei is very popular. You will like it. This took ages. Three more phone calls. The young man multiplied into five men of varied ages. They sorted through my passports, papers and sundries with more or less interest.

Once I had my printed ticket in hand and had packed away my paperwork I asked the three younger men remaining if there would be a bus back to Pingtan township so I could get more money, not having taken out enough the day before. Which bank? Any bank? Yes! And all three of the men came out of the office, shut the door behind them and indicated they would take me. I did, for the first time, think about my kidneys as I climbed into the apparently brand-new van (but only briefly) and off we went to town.

First sight of Pingtan township after the ferry people dropped me off
First sight of Pingtan township after the ferry people dropped me off

They dropped me off opposite a bank and we watched astounded as a line of human-sized Pikachus waddled along the road. Later I caught up with them at some kind of film premier.

Glamour in Pingtan
Glamour in Pingtan

Red carpet, pretty ladies and me stepping through mud and rubbish on the other side of the road.

Pingtan township is also under-construction
Pingtan township is also under-construction

Found a mixed goods shop offering a wide selection of fruit and nibbles. Every time I went to the counter to pay, the young lady would wave me off to the senior woman who was presumably her mum and she would weigh and price the item. Not just the fruit but also the little rice cakes and nut bars.

Three common Chinese fruit: Mandarin, passionfruit and hawthorn
Mandarin, passionfruit and cute little hawthorn

Not sure if this link takes you to the correct Chinese hawthorn but the ones Wheet introduced me to varied from yellow to the brown colour pictured and tasted like a mini-apple-pear. As usual I worried about ingredients in the snacks and I asked the young lady at the till if she could assure me there was no milk in my chosen treats. She looked at me in horror and just laughed as she read Wheet’s carefully translated note about being vegan and whathaveyou. She carried on laughing and said to one of her probably regular customers, (I’m paraphrasing here) ‘No fucking way can I deal with this! Did you ever hear the like?’ But the other customer was actually very kind. She bent to read the tiny ingredients and assured me no milk no egg no cheese! Very grateful to her.

You can see the cranes over the construction site next to my hostel
You can see the cranes over the construction site next to my hostel – walking beside 6 lanes of mostly empty road

Walked back to the hostel, a mere snap at 5km and as soon as I’d relieved myself, dropped the whole roll of toilet paper in the squatty potty. You’re not supposed to flush paper down these drains. Instead you put the tissue into a handy receptacle. Which I did. All of it.

Just as I was washing my hands, Wheet knocked on the door to invite me to join the team for a spot of sightseeing and I could also join them for lunch. Really? As a vegan? That would be okay? It was. She served me up some rice before she left, she said she’d already eaten, and introduced me to two woman in their forties and three younger guys. I tucked into some delicious okra and a scrumptious crispy dish of celery, lotus and fungus. They did keep asking if I would like to try this and that meaty thing and I did keep having to refuse. I know. I was rude. But I didn’t feel like getting sick on behalf of Mr Manners. They didn’t seem fussed and we happily organised to meet for the outing.

Wheet also arranged to post the keycard back to the last hostel in Ningbo. (So fond of my keycards now I don’t want to give them back!) The team in the car now consisted of Anina, Devin, Fashion (who drove everywhere) and Jay and Boah who alternated during the afternoon.

The crew of Ka Liu Lan Island International Youth Hostel
The crew of Ka Liu Lan Island International Youth Hostel; Anina, Devin and Jay

Anina, a very impressive young woman of 27 years, was keen to practice her English. She runs four shops near the hostel. Her mother manages the tea-shop for her. Perhaps dad is in the instant noodle shop?

Pointing at Taiwan. Its a long way to swim 170.4 km)
Pointing at Taiwan. Its a long way to swim (170.4 km)

We drove to a lookout to see Taiwan for tomorrow’s journey, another beauty spot at the other end of the island and a traditional village of stone houses now under renovation ready for weathy holiday makers.

Beauty spot on coast of PIngtan Island
Beauty spot on coast of PIngtan Island. You can tell because it’s been framed.
Pingtan with an eye to the future
Pingtan with an eye to the future

Finally, Anina and I were delivered to a museum built around an archeological dig, reputed to have uncovered evidence of habitation from 6,000 years ago. As we entered the grounds of the museum I was startled, and delighted, to encounter these carvings.

Gateway to Austronesian archaeological institute
Gateway to the Austronesian Archaeological Institute Pingtan
Austronesian archaeological institute
Signs at Austronesian Archaeological Institute
Maori carving Pingtan
No mistaking the beautiful Maori carving

What on earth had they to do with Pingtan in China?

Pingtan as gateway to the Pacific
Pingtan as gateway to the Pacific

Turns out the Austronesian Archaeological Institute has been investigating travels from Pingtan to New Zealand over 6,000 years. People had been traced migrating from Pingtan to Taiwan, to the Philippines and Indonesia, Hawaii and thence NZ. How very fitting to connect with my own journey!

Anina and I walked on to another hostel, a few more kilometres under my belt for the day, where we sat in a rocking chair and she showed me her favourite breakfast foods. Beautifully arranged juices and coffee, toast and eggs. She was delighting in healthy food. She had converted her boyfriend, friend and her parents to healthy living. She also ran an hour a night on her treadmill.

When they picked us up they even invited me to join them for dinner but I pleaded exhaustion and went up to my capsule. I suppose it’s got to the stage where I really don’t feel comfortable eating with other people when they’re chomping down on bits of dead animals. Does that mean I’m anti-social? I was happy to hang out with tea and toast, walk in park or game of cards? So, no. I was still a social animal. Like most of the critters people like to barbecue.

I had a new room mate who was gently snoring as I made myself a cuppa and chopped up an apple. I was very happy I had my ongoing ticket sorted. There was only the small matter of the passport to decide when I got to the other side and, bonus, I would see Sue Jollow in Taipei after all!

It was all going to work out very well but perhaps not for the cat or the ridiculously cute dog trapped in cages in the foyer of the hostel. I didn’t take their photos. I wasn’t sure you’d like to hear about them, either. But there’s something very strange about the whole development, the whole island really. Anina mentioned that Pingtan is for Taiwan. Bait. President Xi hoped to bring Taiwan back to China. He had offered young Taiwanese money to live and work in Pingtan. I wondered if the Austronesian Archaeological Institute had shown President Xi their map. There were no arrows flowing back into China. They all went one way.

Most of the team have been working in the hostel for between two and four years. It opened seven years ago. Now the rest of the estate is taking shape around them. They expect it to be finished in another year. LA China Land. On my way back from the township I noted a big derelict shopping centre at the top of the road which had clearly failed to attract the crowds. It was trashed, with rain-stained couches pulled out in conversational ways showing someone found it useful in the quiet hours. I hoped that tourists did find their way merrily to the hostel. They were certainly sure of a great welcome and some considerate helpers!

The main entrance to the theme park of Old China
The main entrance to the theme park of Old China

I was nervous when I woke up on Big Ferry Day. Had a sensible breakfast, supposing that would do for the foreseeable future, really! I went for a walk around the theme park.

Big Drum and Big Screen Pingtan
Big Drum and Big Screen Pingtan
Beautiful details in Old China Theme Park Pingtan
Beautiful details in Old China Theme Park Pingtan

Didn’t see Anina’s shops. Returned to work on the blog and then went down to wait for the taxi. Ate an apple as I waited, refusing their kind invitation to lunch. I had a ship to catch and said thank you to Wheet and I really was grateful for their friendship and support.

I was hoping the real water would be less swirly
I hoped the real water would be less swirly for my ship!

Soft Chinese rock music serenaded the easy (8.9km!) drive up to the terminal entrance. It was open and flooded with people, both staff and passengers. Walked through security and we had, of course, a very long wait. Wandered about aimlessly.

It's right beside the toilets, right? So what do you think it is?
It’s right beside the toilets, right? So what do you think it is?

No, I’m not going to tell you. Put your answers in the comments below.

Ferry from the waiting room
Ferry from the waiting room

You can just make out the walk-through gangplank going from shore on the left to ship on the right. I’m sorry I didn’t take any better photos because I lost my composure.

They called the boarding time (I supposed, as everyone got to their feet and started arranging themselves) and, happily clutching my fresh A4 ticket, I lined up. The queue began going through the next level security. I was almost last in the queue. I saw with interest that everyone else had a blue and white card with the CSF logo for a ticket so out of mild curiosity I wandered up to the ticket desk and showed them my printed page. Was this okay?

The girl behind the desk was chatting merrily to a young man casually leaning on the bench. She nodded and he nodded and I turned to go back to the queue but suddenly he was beside me. Wait. He pulled out the phone. Uh oh.

He talks earnestly then hands it to me. I’m still not sure but it sounded like the same gal from yesterday. ‘Victoria, you need to buy a return ticket. My friend is concerned the Taiwan officials will not let foreigners enter Taiwan without a return ticket. You might not be allowed into the country.’

It hit me like a ton of bricks. Why didn’t anyone mention this yesterday? On and on she explained. Lots and lots more words. Meanwhile, I’ve got the credit card out, all the cash I’ve got, there’s announcements going on, the queue is shrinking, shrinking before my eyes. Okay, let’s go, let’s buy this sucker and get on the ship. The man and the young woman are arguing with the woman on the phone and another official girl comes up beside me with sympathy in her eyes and says, ‘Okay?’ and I say, ‘No.’ And she says, ‘Uh oh.’ And I whole heartedly agree. ‘Right.’ I give her a shaky smile. She stays beside me. Still the arguing goes on between the woman on the phone, the woman at the desk and the young man. Suddenly, I realise I do have a return ticket! I pull out the evidence that Brandy and I had been so careful to print way back in Berlin. I slap it down on the desk and the woman and man pass the papers between them, ah ha, ha ha!

I ask for the phone. Before I can get a single word in she’s off, talking, talking, explaining the situation to me one more time. And then another time for good measure. I’m saying, ‘Excuse me. Wait. Hold on. Stop. Please!’ Sympathetic lady nods as I grimace, grit my teeth and clench my fists in frustration! Will she not stop talking!! ‘One moment … ‘ Finally she takes a breath.

I explain, very clearly and slowly, I have already spent the Taiwan dollars on a return ticket. Can they just change the date of that ticket? Ah, well. There is a pause. And the arguments start again. Another lady appears. The queue has gone through. Clock is ticking. I say, ‘Please. Whatever it takes. I just have to get to Taiwan today.’

And young lady behind the desk finally handed me out the blue and white card. The woman on the phone said she would make sure I was reimbursed for the part of the ticket I did not use. I was shaking trying to get the pack swung up onto my back. And the computer pack on my front. Of course, the second I was through the doorway I had to take them off again to put through the next x-ray scanner! You’d have thought the first one back at the entrance would have sufficed, wouldn’t you?

I desperately looked around for a clue as to where I should go next. Not enjoying myself.

Another lady waved me forwards to fill in the form. I got her to fill in the ‘flight’ number. Ship number. Then I was waved through to border control. I had no sense of humour left. I waited behind a gentleman with big red sandals on his feet. The feet did not move.

A senior, kind looking official man approached me and asked me if I spoke Chinese. I said, ‘No,’ and, smiling encouragingly, he engaged me in English conversation. He asked me about my trip and I was not sure why I was telling him but he wished me a wonderful journey and I was calm once more.

The Chinese Official duo looked at my UK passport and visas with some interest, bordering on concern, but finally waved me through. The rest was a piece of cake and we were onboard the ferry, a similar vibe to one experienced whilst whale watching in Queensland.

There was a guy behind me who brought his bike on and he so reminded me of the philosopher and the goat I met in France. He was only interested in games on his phone so I didn’t think it was him. (Remind me to tell you of the philosopher and the goat sometime.)

Cases on the carpet to prevent sliding
Cases on the carpet to prevent sliding

I found a seat – not our numbered seats – it didn’t matter – everyone piled their luggage up on the carpeted area because it soon became apparent things slid on the smoother surfaces.

Out of Pingtan - possibly oyster farms?
Out of Pingtan – possibly oyster farms?

I looked out the window to see sampans, oyster farms and distant hills. We puttered out of the smooth safe harbour, through some of Pingtans’ many surrounding little islands and I was sailing out of China. I began to relax.

NEWSFLASH TO MY BRAIN – I HAD A TICKET OUT OF TAIWAN!!! IT WAS ON A CARGO SHIP! Oh, for pity’s sake. Now I really could relax. At least, until we got to Taiwan Officials where I’d show them the evidence and all would be well.

There was a pile of grey on that horizon where there’d only been mist before. Ah. The weather. The reason they cancelled the ferry to Taichung.

We are headed directly into the dark clouds
We are headed directly into the dark clouds. Looks flat, doesn’t it? Looks are deceiving.

The ferry began to go up and down. A few fearless older men chuckled and then, as the ship banged down, laughed very hard. Then everything went quiet except for the engine, the rattle of the boat and the sea. No more laughing.

A young staff member came to give me an Arrivals Card. With a pen. Now we were moving in open water and the sky was leaden and the swell was up and down I did not think it possible to fill that form in. This was the Big Moment. I would fill this card in with my NZ passport number. And maybe it would work or maybe they’d need the Chinese Visa in the UK passport and I’d be stuffed. (Well, somewhat inconvenienced.) I nodded, smiled my gratitude and sat up straight and hard by the window. I could not look at the words. I kept my eye on the horizon and the pen and card firmly under my leg. Each seat in the rows in the middle of the cabin had a tempting pink and white plastic bag and I began to hear rustling and coughing. One man groaned.

I could see plastic rubbish in the sea, going up and down but at different angles. Tubs and polystyrene chunks and bottles. I kept my eye on the horizon. At one stage I thought I’d better see outside for some fresh air. I sashayed from side to side of the aisle (the staff member didn’t do much better either!) noticing how wonderful my fellow passengers were that they could just go to sleep in this minor turbulence.

I felt incredibly stressed as I bumped into the wall and flung open the door to the stern deck. I looked up to see the fuming chimney stacks and realised there would be no fresh air at this juncture. The fumes did not improve my composure.

Taiwanese ferry exhaust system
Taiwanese ferry exhaust system

I slammed back along the corridor and bumped into all the chairs along the rows. I decided to try different places to sit to see if that made me feel any better. It didn’t. So I went back to my original place and sat up straight. I leaned against the cool window so I could see the spray come off the bow as the boat thrust down into the water. I could hear a lot of quiet coughing.

There's a lot of ships in the Taiwan Strait
There’s a lot of ships in the Taiwan Strait and none of them were straight

Later, my tour guide in Tainan informed us the Taiwan Strait used to be known, not affectionately, as ‘Dangerous Water’ or ‘Black Ditch’. It was said that six in ten Chinese people attempting the crossing would die. Three would arrive and one would turn back in terror. I knew how they felt.

And then, I realised, I couldn’t see the water any more. It was night. I could no longer see the horizon. Uh oh. Desperately I searched for lights. Surely we were near Taiwan by now. The ship plunged into the heavy water and suddenly I got it. That metallic sting along the teeth …

I scuttled across the aisle to nick a candy striped bag and sat quietly heaving up the remains of my apple. Not much to chuck. I did feel better though.

As soon as we had entered the harbour the heavy lifting and swelling and sinking stopped and I was able to fill out my Arrival Card. Which I did, proudly filling in my NZ numbers and turning Kiwi immediately. Guard Pacific’s triple star …

I was in Taiwan!

Next step. Taiwanese Customs and Border Officials. Gulp.

Bye bye China
Bye bye China! (And what’s with the giant fender thing?)

Stage Eight – Beijing – overland UK 2 NZ

If you’re new to my sustainable (?!) journey across the world, see Stage One. Or you could start way back with Part I of planning. For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

Front door of the Courtyard Hotel
Front door of the 161 Wangfujing Courtyard Hotel

First impressions of Beijing

Sounds. The orchestra of Beijing. Live! Footfalls of people, barking of cute puppies, motors and horns of cars, buses, scooters covered at the front with little sleeve blankies, bike bells, warning officials with their flags or coloured batons; all process with purpose. Going to the supermarket was a bold endeavour.

The guard is in the yellow jacket but I think raelly all she can do is observe and comment
The guard is in the yellow jacket but I think raelly all she can do is observe and comment

There is some regard for others but only as objects to avoid. Face masks, small people, both elderly and children, smoking, more people and more scooters all travelling, going somewhere, curling around, moving away, getting places. I was scared at the traffic lights even though there were supervisors. When little green man lights up the vehicles take their time to stop. And some bikes and scooters just keep going. I was constantly amazed no one got hit!

Just waiting for a good time to go
Just waiting for a good time to go – my back to the supermarket

I stayed in a small hotel in a traditional hutong near DongSi station away from the tourist centre but close enough to the subway to be within easy reach of everything. It was also surprisingly quiet. I had predicted my need some privacy after six days of train life and I was mighty glad to get into a warm shower and get a load of laundry organised. Both May and Zhao, the two girls on reception duty, spoke excellent English and could not have been more helpful.

Little quilted jackets for your scooter to keep your hands warm and quell the oncoming breeze
Little quilted jackets for your scooter to keep your hands warm
and quell the oncoming breeze

Around the hotel, and the hutongs generally, rose the familiar earthy sewage smell I’d grown accustomed to in Seville. These are old streets and drains and occasionally a burp is to be expected. However, unlike Spain, I couldn’t detect bleach and strong detergents. In fact, although my hotel room was impeccably clean, I did not smell any particular product at all.

Something interesting in the Hutong
Something interesting in the Hutong

As I wandered around the narrow streets of the hutongs I walked past an elderly woman. She was talking with another, a neighbour or sister, both small, bent and white-haired. As I came up the road she looked me up and down in the most blatant, obvious way. She pursed her lips and made a face like my mother would have, perhaps thinking to herself, ‘What is she wearing?’ or, ‘What sort of get-up is that?’ Then she caught my eye and I laughed at her outright, recognising the resemblance to my mother’s attitude and feeling great warmth toward her. She knew she’d been caught out but decided to join in my merriment and we both laughed heartily. What a wonderful moment. A reminder that the best communication needs few words.

Solar hot water on a hutong roof
Solar hot water on a hutong roof

The hutongs comprise narrow roads lined with concrete brick walls, folding back on themselves with twists and turns. Air conditioners hung high on roofs, doorways lead off the main street into further twists and turns into un-see-able interiors.

Hutong featuring flowers in front and tons of snack bars and trinkets behind me
Hutong featuring flowers in front and tons of snack bars and trinkets behind me

Elegant pot plants and ornate doorways decorated the exterior of more settled hutongs while some looked a bit run down. Like blocks of flats, but all low-rise, semi-gated communities. I saw a group of observers gather around some electric workers, moving up and down ladders and retrieving objects from the little truck that was actually a motorbike in disguise. You wouldn’t get away with much in the hutongs.

Gateway to a popular hutong near the river
Gateway to a popular hutong near the river

As usual, my first objective in arriving in a new place was to test my onward travel. Gained expert tuition from reception, jumped on subway and bought my next ticket from Beijing South Railway station. My dry-run complete, also achieved a Transportation Card and hopped back into tourist mode to face Tiananmen Square. I assumed there must be phone shops near there and popped into a fancy hotel to enquire. Three people on the desk, not one with English. Or if they did, relied heavily on the speak-and-translate app. They seemed to fight amongst themselves for who would be the unlucky one to speak with the gweilo. In the end, they all had some input and we managed to work out there was a China mobile shop 300 metres down the road. Off I trotted.

The tiny hole in the wall shop was overseen by a large fellow on a platform reminiscent of a favourite Mediterranean delicatessen in the western suburbs of Melbourne. He towered above me as I negotiated a SIM for China and Taiwan. Using Google translate he managed to find a card, snap out the SIM, insert it into my phone, say, ‘Internet Only’ which wasn’t what I wanted but he’d done it by then and asked for two hundred yuan. We both knew he was ripping me off but the phone now seemed connected to something and I wanted to get out of there. How could I argue when it was clear he didn’t want to communicate? I paid and hightailed it to follow Happy Cow to a vegan café.

Only, Happy Cow is partially affected by the FireWall, in that the maps don’t work, and I couldn’t find where I was wanted to be. (I hadn’t organised a VPN as I was only here for a week and I walked a very long way and the air got thicker and thicker and began to sting my eyes. Saw a sign saying, ‘Herbal Café’ and thought that might work. Up four floors in a department store. Beyond reasonable hunger. No-one had English. Waved my little sign that Kim had written for me back on the train – vegetables only – no meat – said ‘Bu shi’ to egg – dan –  and sat down to a plate of noodles with sprouts and onions. I avoided the heap of egg they’d left hidden in the middle with a sinking heart. My guts felt greasy for hours later. I have become sensitive.

How to get to Tiananamen Square?

Monument to the People's Heroes
Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square

I ate my mandarin in the foyer of the building to degrease. Catching the subway again, I went back two stops to join queues and crowds of people flocking towards Tiananmen Square. Felt inadequate. Felt duty bound to go sightseeing even though I really didn’t want to. I didn’t want to feel the power of that place, so recently marched over by the 70th Anniversary Military Parade.

Happy Anniversary, China
Happy Anniversary, China
A nice fruit basket for the birthday party
A nice fruit basket for the birthday party

I wandered through security, the kind young woman (and the folk behind me) waiting for me to fish out my passport, caught up in the flow of humanity heading towards the famous portrait of Mao.

Portrait of Mao ZeDong
Portrait of Mao ZeDong

Through the gate I went, fully expecting to join those paying respects. But no, we headed towards the Forbidden City.

As we went I could not see a ticket office and we drew closer to signs that said, ‘Ticket Inspection.’ I had missed a vital clue. The harassed guards at the gate waved hands at me and said, ‘Sold out!’ Okay, plan B. To be honest, I didn’t feel I’d missed out on much. Given the amount of tourist work I’ve been doing for the last few years one castle and a millennia of history less in my kit bag wouldn’t hurt. Went around walls, through gates and out to walk toward Jinshang Park where from I knew I could stare down over the fence and into the palace grounds.

I have an amazing knack at taking photos with hardly any tourists visible in them, don't you think?
I have an amazing knack at taking photos with hardly any tourists visible in them, don’t you think?

As I exited, I checked my direction on the phone and looked up to find a perky young woman attentive as a little bird asking if I knew where I was going? Could she help? She’d love to help. She knew lots of history. Let her help! I had done my homework and knew what this friendly lady was up to. I was on to her! Apparently there were scammers operating near the tourist centres. They were full of information and helpful hints and then guide you off to have a nice special Chinese tea ceremony or special beer or whatever takes your fancy while they share all sorts of good Beijing tips. Then the place charges considerable sums and you are sucked dry. So lucky I’d prepared myself for that, especially in the light of Mr SIM. I was polite but firm but, by golly, so was she! She’d be the guide to take me there, for sure. If I needed a guide to walk in a park.

Might have been a couple of other tourists up on Jingshan Lookout
Might have been a couple of other tourists up on Jingshan Lookout – certainly a few down in the Palace Museum

The flood of humans caught me up once more and off I went, marching along the footpath, in the shade of big old trees. The roads seemed to get more crowded with traffic. Possibly school pick-up time?

The smog got thicker as I walked around to the park. Met a middle-aged guard who stood in my path and started to chat. He finished by suggesting, ‘5?’ With his hand outstretched, Five. All of the fingers. Did he expect me to pay him? For what? Letting me walk on the footpath? I smiled and laughed and played dumb, waving both outstretched hands at him. Five? Let me show you Ten! Ten waving fingers! Ha ha! Although he kept smiling he stepped in closer. I shrugged in a friendly manner, said ‘Du bushi, wo bu dong’ (I was sorry, I didn’t understand) and stepped out to go around him. He clapped me on the shoulder, and then kept patting me as I walked, copping a casual feel as he patted. Still smiling like one of the boys in sixth grade. Beat it quick.

Heading up towards the Forbidden City (Palace Museum)
Heading up towards Jingshan Park Lookout

Nice couple let me in at the ticket window – well – I was there first. We all laughed. Marched up to the lookout. The path was quiet. Lovely moment between up and down. Not another person in sight. Noise volume kept down by the trees. Still. Took deep breaths of tree supplied oxygen and turned to my tourist duty once more. Off I went up to the top. Well, that’s where they all were! Must have taken a different path.

Some of my tourist friends look at the centre point of Beijing
Some of my tourist friends point at the centre point of Beijing

Sometimes I felt like I was invisible. A young lady shoved me aside to take a photo of her friend against the smoggy view. I offered in immaculate mime to take a snap of her and her friend together but she ignored me. Her friend noticed though, and after they’d gone a few steps they returned and she offered to take one of me with my camera. Using my mime to great effect once more, I refused, explaining I didn’t want to see my ugly mug! Laughed and made friends 4 eva.

The big point of Beijing
The big point of Beijing

Lovely lookout; if there was no smog. Apparently it may not be all pollution but also dust blown over from the Gobi desert. Not sure I understand how that would work. If Beijing is surrounded by mountains I can see how air particles would get stuck inside but how does it blow in?

Jingshang Park looking from the highest temple to the other
Jingshang Park looking from the highest temple to the other with the lovely city views

Came down from the lovely place and considering that I would be climbing the wall on the morrow thought I could try to level up on Beijing public transport. I would attempt a bus and save my legs for the wall walk. Wonderful lady, fellow passenger, helped me work out which bus would be good; 128 was the one for me. So pleased I had a transit card. I hadn’t even realised it was going past DongSi station so was thrilled to alight just across the street from the road to my hutong.

My friend in the supermarket - why wouldn't you?
My friend in the supermarket – why wouldn’t you?
Can't get away from advertising
At the bottom the sign said, ‘Support The Handrail’. Captive audience for advertising

Wandered around the big supermarket once more and found another lovely lady helping with my museli selection. Lots of smiles and giggles as she told me which one would suit my purposes best. All in dance and mime. After a bit more wandering I discovered another aisle had more options and stood looking at the pix on the packets when yet another helper came to my assistance. Soon we were joined by helper number one and the three of us all weighed in. Got to be the one with the kangaroo on the front. Second lady started pulling stuff out of my bag and exclaiming in wonder, ‘Where did she get this stuff from?’ When I unpacked later I realised each of the things she’d pulled out had contained smaller bags. Perhaps she was commenting on my lack of sustainable shopping? I had bought severe over-packaging in snackpack size.

What’s the best way to see the Great Wall of China?

When I was working in Kings, Brighton, a teacher had pre-prepared a lesson for his absence, about the Great Wall of China. Personal research time! I spent that ninety-minutes reading, listening and searching the internet with around a dozen international students. What did they think the best way would be? The discussions revolved around crowds and touristy trinket shops. I decided I would avoid them. Instead I would go on a private tour with a Trekking Company.

Driving out of Beijing, looking back at the fringe of the city
Driving out of Beijing, looking back at the cloudy fringe of the city

James picked me up bright and early from the hotel – driver Vincent had to go around the block a few times because there’s no standing in the hutongs.

The start of the walk. Both of us fresh and jolly!
The start of the walk. Both of us fresh and jolly!

As we drove out of town I asked James about the air quality in Beijing, being victim to the surrounding mountains restraining the smog. James told me there had been much improvement in recent years. Tree-planting, coal fires had been outlawed … Not so fast, I assured him my own lungs still contained coal particles from the week before! I had to show him the photos to prove it. He was surprised to hear it and assured me the inner city was completely coal free.

Great rocks in the Great Wall
Great rocks in the Great Wall

Mind full of autumn leaves in gold, yellow, brown and cracking vermillion into orange. Lizards flicked away, rocks crumbling, some hewn from larger foundations into rectangles, some shards placed to balance or fill, some sturdy, some loose, sound of shifting as footfalls, clinking as stones replace.

James up ahead on the track - harsh farming land
James up ahead on the track – harsh farming land

Terraced paddocks in far valley between steep rounded mountains, the girl raising the bike into the triumph for a photo on the peak at the three region marker, clean air, joy of concentration on a safe foot position, life, living on the edge, the wall, the drop, the hazards, the surviving. This was great fun.

Cyclists celebrate by carrying one bike to the point of three regions
Cyclists celebrate by carrying one bike to the point of three regions
The prisoners and soldiers building the wall must have had a tough life
The prisoners and soldiers building the wall had a tough life

The wall built by emperors who never saw it. Did it ever stop any Mongolians from marauding? Perhaps as it protected the soldiers who guarded it, the prisoners who built it and the farmers who fed them all.

The Great Wall of China - a cemetery for the prisoners and soldiers who worked to build it four-hundred years ago
The Great Wall of China – a cemetery for the prisoners and soldiers who worked to build it four-hundred years ago

James told me of Emperor Qin, first emperor of China, who heard a scholar examining the moon and as a result of his observations exclaimed that the Emperor must be away from the palace. The Emperor overheard and assumed the declaration was as a result of learning and science. As a result the ruler was scared and ordered all the books to be burned. My Tao 20 for the previous night had been that people would benefit if learning was discarded. There would be no more thieves if skill and profit were banished. Hmm. What does the scholar or sage do if they cannot study? Well, apparently, they get buried alive.

Autumn colour on the Great Wall
Autumn colour on the Great Wall

As I walked on the crest of those bony hills, I tried to work out what made the shapes of these mountains so distinctly Chinese. Obviously they were rocky, I’m no geologist, but even I could tell the folk who built the wall were using resources close at hand.

More autumn tones around the Great Wall environs
More autumn tones around the Great Wall environs

When I tried to remember Spanish mountains I thought Asturian mountains wider at the base but sharper at the top. New Zealand mountains were much sharper. Perhaps someone will tell me my theory is baloney but to my mind a Chinese mountain is a tall thin rounded mountain.

Crumbling ruins. I walked over the cemetery of the broken wall builders.

Unrestored Great Wall crumbles slowly away
Unrestored Great Wall crumbles slowly away
The point where three regions meet: Beijing, Tianjing and HeBei
The point where three regions meet: Beijing, Tianjing and HeBei
Restored Wall snakes into the future
Restored Wall snakes into the future – we did not go there. Instead we head downhill to a guest house and lunch!
The guest house is set back into the quarry
The guest house was set back into the quarry. The Great Wall was a good example of making the most of your resources
Chinese flag flutters over the guest house
Chinese flag flutters over the guest house where we stopped for lunch
Farmhouse feast with vegan inclinations
Farmhouse feast with vegan inclinations. The dish lower left is shredded potatoes cooked in soya sauce. Delicious.

Not sure if the Wall walk or rest had managed to calm my mind but I did feel considerably better on the third day of my stay in Beijing. When I had arrived I felt stirred up. I couldn’t think. Now, I just didn’t want to.

What is 798 Art District?

70 birthday celebrations inserted into 798
70 birthday celebrations inserted into 798

My next outing was to 798, the art district, risen like a phoenix from the industrial remnants of factories closed down to clean Beijing’s air.  The websites described funky warehouses and brutalist buildings. Cool. I was looking forward to some art.

Sui Jianguo’s famous Red Dinosaurs
Sui Jianguo’s famous Red Dinosaurs

It was a change on the subway and nine stops on the bus. I alighted outside an electronics shop and wandered inside to find myself a long overdue mouse. These are the sort of negotiations that take time and patience – not from me! The young woman who attended to me was incredibly helpful, showing me all sorts of mice and obeying my whim to see my selected brand plugged into a similar Mac. When I got it home I struggled with it for a day or two until it tamed me and I believe it has been successful!

Shut when I visited but all those buildings BG are still in the art zone
Shut when I visited but all those buildings BG are still in the art zone

On the train, Maria had asked me of my expectations of Beijing. I said I’d given up having expectations years ago. That said, I must have had expectations of 798 and they were not met.

Street art of 798
Street art of 798

Many galleries charged an entry fee – to my stunned surprise I even got a bonus bottle of water for my five-yuan ticket in one particularly big shiny art gallery – the water was from Tibet.

My bedroom window and water from Tibet
My bedroom window and water from Tibet

Happy Cow gave me no vegan options in the entire area. Any entrepreneurs, start-up businesspeople, here’s a potential market for sure. Did find an NZ café – Cafe Latte – they have two in the area – demonstrating Kiwi prowess with coffee. They even sold me some ground to take away.

Chinese Cafe Latte Cafe in 798 district
Chinese Cafe Latte Cafe in 798 district

I ordered a BLAT – without the pig – focaccia. When was the last time I even saw a focaccia? Couldn’t remember. Hopped in with teeth and smile.

Inside Cafe Latte, a NZ cafe with a kea chewing the streetlight
Inside Cafe Latte, with a kea chewing the streetlight

It had been buttered. Now, to you, that’s nothing. What’s wrong with butter? I’d had the conversation with the waiter about my vegan attitude, shown her the sign Kim from Singapore had organised for me, talked about pig and cheese and, for sure, there was no egg but I’d forgotten to say, ‘None of your rich, creamy NZ butter, thanks’. Why couldn’t it have been a scraping of delicious NZ olive oil? Bare bread? Or just smeared avo?

To you, I’m sure butter is terrific. To me it felt greasy, like I’d eaten an entire yellow lip-gloss. For the next hour or so I could feel it around my teeth and tonsils. I didn’t feel sick. It probably amounted to a teaspoon of cow fat after all but I didn’t like it. It was present in my gut for long enough to remind me to get the hostel staff to write me a clear note for me to carry in the future. Another lesson learned.

Bit unfair. The staff were hurrying to fix everything at CanArt
Bit unfair. The staff were hurrying to fix everything at CanAr. Fascinating show of famous artist Cao Li. Very detailed dream-like work

In only one gallery, a pop-up, was I truly engaged.

Gravitational Tides Rock 'n' Roll, big Universe serpent behind
Gravitational Tides Rock ‘n’ Roll, big Universe serpent behind

‘Gravitational Tides’ showcased a collective of ten cartoon and toy designers based in Beijing showing their creations and selling collectable models.

Lots of cute things - watch out for the exhibition in Japan
Lots of cute things – watch out for the exhibition in Japan

They’d arranged the space so there were a number of photo ops for youngsters hungry for selfies and fun group shots with their favourite characters.

Gravitational Tides exhibition poster and classroom set for selfies
Gravitational Tides exhibition poster and classroom set for selfies

Because the young guide was happy to practice her English, she showed me around and indulged in some fun portraiture. This at least showed an interest in the audience, vibrant set design and some intriguing design chops.

The serpent that lives across the Universe seems like a fitting seat for someone travelling across the world
The serpent that lives across the Universe seems like a fitting seat for someone travelling across the world

Disappointing art aside, 798 area was worth the visit.

Object d'art in 798 district
Object d’art in 798 district

The remains of big industry soared above the pedestrian, brutal, angular and powerful. Their utility gone, individual artists were beginning to mark various walls and commercial interests used the spaces in a variety of ways. I saw the Beijing Fashion Festival setting up near the big blue tank.

Event centre. I think Beijing Fashion was preparing
Event centre. I think Beijing Fashion was preparing

The atmosphere was like a fun-fair or theme-park. Old factories! Big art! And tons of trinket shops selling tourist stuff. I could see hanging and unpacking going on in preparation for a big art fair so some galleries were closed.

Shut when I visited but all those buildings BG are still in the art zone
Shut when I visited but all those buildings BG are still in the art zone

Plus it was a grey, rainy day so customers had stayed away. It’s perhaps too arrogant of me as a visitor to wish I’d seen more youthful art.

Ex-factory 798 art district Beijing
Ex-factory 798 art district Beijing

The space cried out for art schools and invention. I would love to have seen more fresh street art and less advertising but I’m sure I did not see everything.

One of the exhibitions at UCCA, a big gallery in the centre of 798 district, was a community-based show. The first piece was dramatic, a heap of burnt newspapers supporting glass printed with headlines. The pillars and stacks of blackened news reminded of ancient buildings, ancient happenings, while the roof of glass (glass ceiling?) could also have spoken of fragility as well as impenetrability. Thoughts of ephemeral events, judgement, censorship and biodegradability were provoked as I walked around the shapes. The other community pieces included a photography collection of stories from the hutongs and a fun skeletal walk-through student house.

Sculpture UCCA 798 - Fondation de Berceau
Sculpture UCCA 798 Fondation de Berceau – didnt smell at all
Sculpture tag UCCA
Sculpture tag UCCA

There was also a big American show, Redoubt, by Matthew Barney about myth, hunting and ritual in Alaska. A big space was filled with tree trunks, altered and filled with molten metals. There were a number of electroplates on the walls. The core seemed to be a two-hour long film about Diana hunting with her two Virgin assistants, observed by the Engraver and the Electroplater. It was intercut with footage of wolves and a hoop artist who sculpted herself into creatures with the additional hoops. I liked the part where Diana shot one of the plates. That is hidden away in a back room – a nice burnt bullet hole evident in the metal sheet.

None of those pieces added up to the excitement of walking in a Beijing street or thrills of finding my way in the subway or drama of visiting the supermarket seeking sustenance!

More sincere advertising
More sincere advertising

In Beijing, I found the lovely fresh innocent faces apparent in advertising were stunningly smooth and beautiful, almost entirely devoid of sexuality. Western ads, or what I remembered of them, were generally full of wanton stares and come-hither looks, buttocks and cleavages for male and female alike. Yet in Beijing the sweeties offer friendship, cheerfulness and companionship. You too, could be like me! The first ad I notice in Ningbo, a city over a thousand km south, is a woman in an off-the-shoulder skin-tone ballgown, as risqué as I’ve seen in China, but, still, her gaze is direct, honest and open.

Not sure whats shes advertising but Id trust it
Not sure what’s she’s advertising but I trust it

On the surface, I was not sure what this economic system missed in comparison with Western Life. Very conscious of people stuck to their phones. Their spines curve down like bananas to their laps on the subway. I calculated one in four were NOT on their phones. Saw one paper book and one e-book. Most folk are on their phones as they walk the streets, stop in corners of the subway, at the cafes, everywhere to play games, communicate, catch up with news, who knows …

Moving pictures once the train has picked up speed through tunnels
Moving pictures once the train has picked up speed through tunnels

Struck by tunnel ads flashing past the train after leaving tunnel. Slides? Electronic but presumably static. When train has picked up speed the pix line up and give the impression of movement, selling bright cheerful things. There are also video screens in the carriages, similar to Moscow. When you bring advertising to the people, better make it fancy.

Yonghegong station for Lama Temple
Yonghegong station for Lama Temple

Next attempt at tourist work was to visit the Lama Temple. On arrival I walked around the area until I saw shops and retraced my steps, going around the block until I found an arrow on a police bus pointing me in the other direction. Then I walked, repeating first steps, looking for an entry, until I reached another hutong area well past the Temple. It may have been closed for lunch? Another tourist fail. Luckily, Happy Cow informed me of two vegan options near the Temple and they were easily found without a map. I picked the first which, given the nature of Chinese dining, may have been an error. The woman spoke a little English and seemed to comprehend I was there by myself and wanted a simple lunch. Of course, Chinese dishes are meant to share. And so, I faced my delicious mountain of steamed broccoli, a huge platter of sweet and sour lotus root with potato and a bowl of rice mixed with corn with some trepidation. When I lived in HK as a child we employed an amah called Jean. Her sweet and sour sauce still held highest esteem in my flavour memory. This stuff was not a contender.

Again, I must still be vulnerable to expectations!

I was enjoying reminders of the Chinese aspects of my childhood even though overwhelmed by sights, people and smells, buildings old and new, sounds, those sounds of Beijing. I was living on the edge of another culture once more and I found it comforting.

Tao 22 talked of the way being crooked and then smooth. The paths, particularly when I thought of the Camino, were always shifting. Sometimes straight, sometimes twisty, and yet always the same path. On the TransMongolian, you only had to turn your attention away, read a book for half an hour and the landscape changed utterly. Yet we were still on the same journey.

Beijing Subway Stations have their own style
Beijing Subway Stations have their own style

I was glad to have taken James’s advice and left an hour earlier than I thought necessary. Having done the dry run I thought it would be straightforward. James warned me, ‘You will have to go through security. It will be crowded.’ There was something in his tone. The voice of experience. So I obeyed.

Big brekkie, enjoyable routine of packing, pulling up the little tendril roots I’d set down by rearranging the furniture to suit my odd ways. There was May, asleep in the foyer. I imagine she must hardly ever go home in the winter. She told me she lived a half-hour bike ride away.

Not sure if it was rude or interesting to leave all my small change behind. Euros, zloty, roubles and tögrögs … perhaps the small child can play banks with them if they cannot exchange them.

Many subways around the world are fencing off the trains and I really like the inspirational travel pic for failed tourists
Many subways around the world are fencing off people from the trains. At DongSi station I liked the inspirational travel pic for failed tourists

The air was fresh at 06:20 as I strode off for the last time to DongSi station for the last time. The security guard  was hunched in his jacket like the performers in the skit from Secret Policeman’s Ball waiting for the end of the world. He was a silent, bulky, sleeping mountain as I swung my packs into the x-ray machine to be scanned. I saw another head over the top of the scanners, bent and still. It did not move as I picked my bags up, ready to go.

There was a distinct increase in population after my line change but it wasn’t until I reached my destination until I found myself in an extruder of humanity up the escalators to ticketing floor 1F.

I went to refund my Transport Card. There was a deposit of 20 yuan and I think around another 20 yuan still left. I hadn’t paid much attention once I knew I’d have enough to get myself to Beijing South Station. As I stood in line a spritely woman darted up to me and indicated the sign saying there was no refund at this station. She looked happy, like she’d just landed a big fish. Ah, thought I, as she jammed my card into a machine and finding no number, turned to offer me a crisp 20 yuan note, enterprising. Especially if the note turned out to be fake! (It didn’t.) Apparently scammers, as mentioned before, have included forgery among their daredevil activities. But, I enjoyed the communication and wished her well.  

I made my way to security. Thank you, James, I whispered. For there were all the people. I lined up calmly for I knew I had plenty of time. Sadly James had not been able to advise others for many people were late for their trains. And they pushed and shoved and elbowed to get past blockages in the line, like me. I felt like a boulder in the middle of a river as I watched folk, completely ignoring me, strive to get past as if it were a matter of life and death. Here were human spawning salmon. Some panicked, rolled their eyes and twisted and turned in their efforts to find a weak point to break through. Like water under pressure, the queue moved towards each twist and turn in the path increasing speed. There was a press behind me and people pushed through as fast as they could go.

There were four gates and three diminutive women holding back the flood. The ID cards flipped cursorily against the scanners and there was no waiting for permission to go. I saw one man avoid the card section entirely. A man tried to get an attendant’s attention when he saw I was holding my passport like a butterfly flag over my head. It would not go through the scanner system. I was extruded next to the uniformed girl. Tapped her shoulder and she nodded at the passport as if she hadn’t ten thousand people bearing down on her. Scanned the luggage, took it round the corner away from the crowds. Stared aimlessly into the window where the young man stared at the little pink and green boxes sliding past on his screen. The guard must have felt my observation and turned to frown at me. ‘What are you looking at, punk?’ I melted away but not before wondering about the training they must undergo. To observe pretty pictures of see-thru suitcases for hours on end must take a particular skill set. (Unless asleep like the guy at DongSi!)

Beijing South Railway Station departures and arrivals
Beijing South Railway Station departures and arrivals. My train’s got to be there somewhere!

Then the pressure recommenced as we extruded up the escalators to the waiting area. Further, up, up to waiting room 2F. Now all I had to do was locate my train. I began by time, narrowed it down to train number and found entry 12/13. Off to the squatty potty for my ablutions. Again, the notion of queuing is relaxed, depending on how desperate you are to use the loo, I suppose. The rest was plain sailing.

The guard checking my ticket took his time to look at my passport but a woman with small child in arms disapproved. He was taking too long for her. I think he said, ‘Boil down, Lady,’ and easy down the escalator I went. Check I’m reading my numbers correctly, carriage 4, seat 5D. Lovely staff onhand, interested and smiling. There was a person in my seat who quickly disappeared when I showed my legit ticket.

Chinese Fast Train
Chinese Fast Train

Trains have come a long way since I arrived in Beijing. These days we had fast trains. Not a hint of coal in the air. Averaged around 295 km per hour. It felt a lot like an aircraft cabin, which is why I’ve advocated for airlines to get into the fast train biz. There was a lot of advertising. I saw a trolley going by filled entirely with fruit in plastic boxes. Anther sold drinks and yet a third type featured big orange plastic bags. What was in the bags? Why, roast duck, of course.

There was a screen showing a hero film and I wasn’t sure where the audio was from. I was surrounded by little game noises and people chatting on their phones, their individual phone sounds and songs as their relatives called for a natter. Most people hunched over their phones had ear buds jammed in their ears but many played their videos so other people could share in the delights. There were the sounds of coughing, sweet wrappers and I suppose the roast duck wrappers as well.

Inside the fast train carriage
Inside the fast train carriage

Surprisingly soon we were out of cityscape and back into rural surrounds. Oh. No. Back into city. Not so much rural life in evidence, actually. The city of Nanjing was huge. Row after row of high rise. People have to live somewhere. Lots of mono-culture tree-planting along the lines. If a disease or beetle should fly along many of these trees would be vulnerable, like a line of dominos. Perhaps they spray for that.

Once more my experience of life in a major city, Beijing, had to be merely surface. I had missed most of the tourist ‘must-sees’ (Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven and Big Shorts) and knew nothing of history or dynasties. I was a traveller, moving through the land, observing and interacting as best suited the moment. For who knew if there would be another visit?

On my train to Ningbo there were several recorded messages at first in Chinese followed by clear, concise English. ‘Please to mind the safety.’ One exhorted the passengers to behave well and not stand on things. One of them explained if you did not pay for your ticket correctly, or misbehaved in anyway, the information would be reported to the authorities and recorded on your credit history. How interesting that modern China invokes fear of credit, the traditionally capitalist manner of controlling people, down to the smallest infractions against the transport department.

The lady next to me in a purple tracksuit had been steadily eating an assortment of carefully wrapped snacks for hours. She stared at the instructions on her instant noodles for a very long time before going to fill the container with boiling water. (Most long distance trains offer boiling water for your cuppa.) I could tell they were very tasty but they did not smell like my cup of broth.

Housing on way to Jinan
Housing on way to Jinan

Went past a fun-fair apparently in the middle of no-where. It caught my eye because of the giant Sphinx. There was also the glass pyramid of the Louvre, a huge Greek temple and a giant robot. Perhaps monster mini golf?

As I stared around the carriage I thought the opiate of the masses had become the mobile phone. Generalising from my observations, people around the world do not talk to each other the way they used to. Common areas in hostels are quiet. People’s spins curve down to their machine in a way that looks painful. I’ve watched people looking at sunsets through their phones. But when I walked past, they weren’t taking photos. They were scrolling through Insta. Sitting next to their friends or loved ones, looking down and hunched. I’d seen parents chat on their phone and, when they’d finished, give the phone to the toddler.

We travelled around the satellite towns of Shanghai and down towards Ningbo. For those of you who have been following since the early planning, Ningbo was where I was supposed to catch the cargo cruiser. But I was only going to catch an ongoing train. Onwards, south to Fuzhou, a bus to Pingtan and a ferry to Taiwan. This was were the matter of the passports would be resolved, once and forever. I was headed out of China.

Stage Seven – Trans Siberian/Mongolian – overland UK 2 NZ

How do you catch the train across Russia, Mongolia and China? You just get on the TransSiberian and/or TransMongolian Railway. (Start from Moscow/Mockba or Beijing/Pekin and head to the other one.)

Victoria outside Chinese carriage on the TransSiberian/transMongolian Railway
Outside Chinese carriage on the TransSiberian/TransMongolian Railway

If you’re new to my journey across the world, see Stage One. Or you could start way back with Part I of planning. For my fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

Please note this is a multi-page post. Although my trip took 6 days, one hour and four minutes to complete, it won’t take you that long to read! That said, you might need a cup of tea and a little snack to take with you.

Hope this account inspires you to explore the world by train, too!

Tuesday 15th October 2019 – NIGHT ONE – TransSiberian/Mongolian – boarding the train at Yaroslavsky Train Station, Moscow – 23:55

Moscow to Beijing ticket
Moscow to Beijing ticket with a Golden Seal

Two middle-aged men in uniform greeted me at carriage five with some bemusement. They frowned and flapped my ticket. ‘But, do not fold it,’ I cried out mentally, thinking Lena from Real Russia would be shocked to see their carelessness. They gave the precious paper back to me and one fellow ambled inside. Without anything else to do I followed him and he pointed at my compartment and my lower berth number 9.

I said, ‘Xiexie,’ (‘Thank you’ being the limits of my Chinese so far) and he blinked at me before he left. This was not the same train as my previous shiny new Russian train. This was an antique Chinese train. It felt a bit rickety and there was no fancy screen showing time and temperature on the wall. Could it have been a steam train? I could definitely smell coal. Everything smelt of coal in the carriage.

Obeying train-life rules I quickly jumped into comfy nightwear and then serious man gave me a couple of sheets and a pillowcase. I said, ‘Xiexie,’ some more. I got my sleeping bag out as a base layer against the cold and I had brought a pillowcase of my own. I found the pillow on the top bunk but didn’t like to investigate further.

Between the bunks compartment 5
Fleur-de-Lys between the bunks of compartment 5.
No room for push ups here. (Ref: Compartment 6)

The full moon out the window. It was a wonderful feeling as the tow kicked in and the carriage began to move, pulled in the wake of the engine. We were off. We chuntered and chattered and clunkered on and on. We were going to Beijing. From Russia to China through Belarus and Mongolia. I was in for the trip of my life. At least, it would be the longest train journey of my life! Six days, one hour and four minutes.

The air got in and, boy, was I woken by some extreme industrial pongs in the middle of the night! Petrol, gas, plastics; all sorts of foul stenches came up from the walls. I got really cold too. (Mainly because I was too dumb to work out where the blankets were.)

First look at the dunny at night
First look at the dunny at night

The toilet was European-sit-down, metal and grim. I couldn’t work out how to flush it. I kicked a green lever and opened a tap all over my foot. I kicked it off and then noticed the other foot pedal. Actually, I considered the foot-lever thing a good plan considering Goddess Hygienia. Out in the corridor I could see the antique water boiler at the other end of the carriage. I couldn’t see anywhere else to get water.

Our water boiler; the coal fire behind it
Our water boiler; the coal fire behind it

The coffee from Avocado Cafe kept me alive, alive, oh, so I stared out the window at the big shadows and lights of the station and thought I was lucky. I was safe and well. The door locked with a big chunky metal handle.

During the night we stopped for long periods at a couple of stations where, through a tinny loudspeaker, a kind of clarion trumpet call heralded a woman’s shouting instructions. Still no-one else got in my carriage. I began to hope I might have the place to myself.

I got out my test sachet of arnica and dripped the oil over the clean sheet. Not so clean really and definitely made my mark in the pattern of old stains! (My Fisiocream from Spain had finished and, given this interesting twitch in my arms from constantly altering photos somehow uploading upside-down, I needed a new muscle cream. Back in Moscow I’d gone shopping. The cosmetic lady waved me through to the chemist who pondered the ingredients and bought me a couple of options. One had recognisable calendula flowers on the front, and mint, so we were a quarter of the way to the recipe. I pointed to the hypericum on the ingredient list, thinking perhaps pharmacy training might extend to Latin – the old St John’s wort – but with smiles and extensive, ‘Spasibo,’ in action, in the end, made do with her offering. Smelt like toothpaste. On the way out, cosmetic lady pulled me over into a corner. She pointed at the Weleda range. There was arnica. She gave me three sachets – if only she’d gone there first! That’s the stuff I spilled over the sheet. Smelt nice anyway.)

Awoke very cold. Went for a wee and on my return prodded around above me. Piled on the upper bunk I found a long thin blanket to cover the base of the bed and another, wider, to cover me. I was so glad to have these. Not sure who else was in the carriage. All the doors were shut but it felt quiet, empty and cold. Apart from the constant train movement and groan and hum-bumbles of the engine.

Under my bunk in compartment 5
Under my bunk in compartment 5 – the sturdy metal container to the left.

There was, what I took to be, a sizeable air gap over the door. I wasn’t sure who had the key to the door. BUT STOP! I couldn’t be there for almost a week and worry the whole time. I had to give myself over to the power of the moon and my beautiful empty compartment for the foreseeable future. All would be well. My hip sockets existed, firmly pressed against the bunk. Slept, rocked by the irrepressible train.

Stage Six – Moscow – on the way overland UK to NZ

Each metro station is different but all I encountered are quiet and orderly
Each Moscow Metro station is different but all I encountered were quiet and orderly

Find Stage One of this travel saga or, if you’re brand new and want to read about the whys and wherefores in planning this trip, here’s Part I.

The Moscow Metro is similar to other metros in my experience. You buy a ticket. (There’s often an English speaking window at the station.) You wave the ticket at a machine. You find your line. You get on the train. You get off and change to the next line. You get off at your stop. You find your way to the surface, point in the right direction and walk towards your destination.

BUT! Moscow Metro IS different! The stations are the People’s Palaces! They are GORGEOUS!

The history of Russia told in mosaics (and some screen advertising)
The history of Russia as mentioned by Stalin told in mosaics (and some screen advertising)

Advertising came along with the World Cup. The video screens were put into each train so that it would be possible to see every game even if you were commuting. In fact, you could sit in the warm trains and watch if you wanted. Now there are ads. And funny cat videos. And screens are appearing in the middle of the platforms in the People’s Palaces.

Not all metro stations are labelled
Not all metro stations are labelled

The station names were unfamiliar and written in a different alphabet. I was deeply grateful that underneath the Cyrillic the familiar (to me) Latin alphabet spelled out those words or I do not think I could have found my way to my hostel. The streets were quiet as I walked the 10 minute stroll, houses and buildings set back from the road. Little traffic. Autumn leaves clinging on. People in warm coats, scarves and gloves. October. It was nearly winter. Nearly dusk. Mid-afternoon.

Ostentatious signage for Moscow!
Ostentatious signage for Moscow!

Strawberry Duck was a lovely building. Like the city I had experienced so far from the Metro, and the little park on the way, it was quiet and orderly. The interior designers had been given free rein and the flavour was elegant, quirky Prado.

Glimpse of the clean lines of interior Strawberry Duck, Moscow
Glimpse of the clean lines of interior Strawberry Duck, Moscow

Deep blue walls transitioned down the long hallways into mulberry, then into a kind of mustard, giving an impression of opulence and soft dignity. The art pieces scattered around were light-hearted, an origami duck lampshade, a collection of watercolours showing inviting places to sit with your friends perhaps and many prints and paintings featuring ducks in amusing poses.

Strawberry Duck downstairs common room
Strawberry Duck downstairs common room – no Wifi – you had to chat to each other!

Downstairs, the kitchen and common areas were hard-hit-back designer brick inlaid with cool shapes and atmospheric dim lighting.

As well as the deep colours throughout there were wallpapers of bold florals that matched the decorative noveau splashbacks in the bathrooms. You could pay for 45 minutes of private bathroom but the shared spaces were cleaned regularly – in fact there was no time when I didn’t see a cleaner somewhere nearby. The reception staff were very kind to me – the oldest woman they’d seen in Strawberry Duck ever, I imagine! Most of the girls in my shared room were young and, as I went to bed, they fussed over their make-up and outfits preparing for a night on the town. The beds were curtained off with a deep green faux velvet, adding to the quiet style. Everyone had a locker but many of the girls seemed to be between houses, bringing suitcases, hangers and boxes of clothes. There was a lot of packing, repacking and some emotional phone calls going on. But quietly. Real owl and sparrow divide. Definitely in the sparrow tribe, me. Though, solitary. Just an unidentified LBB, then.

Sad dried flowers in hostel. Which girl do they belong to? Can you see him leaving in the background?
Sad dried flowers in hostel. Which girl do they belong to? Can you see him leaving in the background?

Next day dawned. First things first. Get onward travel organised. Find Real Russia. Ah, happy memories of London! Was this going to be straightforward?

Unprepossessing entrance to Real Russia in Moscow!
Unprepossessing entrance to Real Russia in Moscow!

Thought I was lost for a moment. I walked around their block, not making sense of the map and their street not coming up on maps.me. I asked one lady who pointed me off in the wrong direction (we were actually just near the building) and another who steered me correctly with lots of words but we nodded and smiled and I said, ‘Spasibo’ a lot. Another young woman looked at my crumpled piece of map and, fearing I wanted money, I suppose, cut me dead and steered away. Made me think how I have treated people in need in the past.

Lena and the two girls gave me my ticket with a small ceremony. ‘Do not bend the ticket!’ And they let me charge my phone. I would not bend the ticket.

Now to find my way out again!
Now to find my way out again!

Back to a little cafe near my hostel

Moscow: When the staff let you in to use their bathroom
When the staff let you in to use their bathroom

and a walk around the pond.

Chistyye Prudy (Clean Pond) is lit up with different colours at night
Chistyye Prudy (Clean Pond) is lit up with different colours at night.
It’s also the name of the metro station line 1. Turgeneveskaya is line 6 but the same stop. Remember ‘A Month in the Country’?
Who made the air vent?
Metro air-vent
Resurrection Gate and Chapel
Resurrection Gate and Chapel featuring the double headed eagle

There were beggars, people with their hands out in the shopping strip and in the tourist area, just by Resurrection Gate. This is modern Russia. I gave some coins to a man with no feet and there was a strange circular place like a coin fountain, where if you threw money over yourself, presumably depending on where it landed, you would get the wish of your dreams. A random man picked up some of the coins with a collecting stick. He wore no badge of accreditation. Could just have been his turn.

On our walking tour we heard the story of a young woman who did just that, and as she stood and contemplated her wish, a young man, bearing an armload of long-stemmed red roses raced to kneel before her and propose. ‘Of course,’ said the guide. ‘We can only hope she knew him beforehand.’

Irena fires up her tour over looked by Cyril and Methodius, inventors of the cyrillic alphabet
Irena fires up her tour over-looked by Cyril and Methodius, inventors of the cyrillic alphabet

Our lovely Free Tour of Moscow guide, Iryna, happened to be late. I spotted her preparation at the bus stop in front of the meeting place, the sculpture of the two fellows who invented the Cyrillic alphabet. She put on her red scarf and microphone and bouncy stage presence. Then made an entrance as she swept up the steps and called us all together into a group with such merriment she sounded like she was twelve, giving an Eisteddfod speech. She was well into it by the time her assistants arrived with the red umbrella. Perhaps she was on edge because everyone had chosen to be late that day?

I found it difficult to engage for some reason. It might have been my state of mind, the tone of her voice or even the subject. Russian history in a nutshell was incredibly hard to digest; overwhelming and unsatisfying. I guess it was me. We went up to see a beautiful swirl of green, white and red old church that is usually unavailable for tourist viewing. But today the street was open.

Holy Trinity Church in Kitay-Gorod (China Town - but not)
Holy Trinity Church in Kitay-Gorod (translates as China Town – but not – could have meant built by the city walls.)

Then over to Saint George which stands proudly at the entrance of the new Zaryadye Park.

Old St George's church by the new Zaryadye park
Old St George’s church by the new Zaryadye park (for my nephew)

This site has been haggled over ever since Stalin wanted to build the Eighth Sister there. (Guess he settled for Warsaw?) Now, after years of debate, it is a place for the people, entertainment, museums and cafes.

Zaryadye Park and tour group looking towards Kremlin
Zaryadye Park and tour group looking towards Kremlin

We walked through the roof garden to the observation bridge that is not a bridge. It is a lookout, a hang out, a stretch over the River Moscow that does not go to the other side.

One of Stalin's Seven Sisters in Moscow
One of Stalin’s Seven Sisters in Moscow

We looked at one of the Seven Sisters that looks exactly like the Palace of Culture in Warsaw and then we turned to look at the Kremlin and St Basil (which is a clump of nine chapels squashed into one).

The Kremlin from the overhanging almost-bridge
The Kremlin from the overhanging almost-bridge and suitable tourists
St Basil's Cathedral is nine churches in one
St Basil’s Cathedral is nine chapels

Irena told us of the Romanoff Museum and the Moscow History Museum side by side in the little valley and assured us a visit to either of these small places would be very rewarding. Next time. There is a LOT to see in Moscow.

Red Square, showing Kremlin wall and remains of Gastronomic Fair
Red Square, showing Kremlin wall and fencing remaining from Gastronomic Fair

Once in Red Square, the tourist area felt unreal and arranged so conveniently it was difficult to take seriously. I began to feel I was in a theme park or a film set. It’s possible I have been a tourist too long.

Kazan Cathedral next to sparkly decorations for GUM department store
Kazan Cathedral next to sparkly decorations for GUM department store

St Basil, of course, the speakers’ platform, the Kremlin walls and tops of buildings therein, the State History Museum and the massive GUM shopping centre. I am sure it would be possible to spend a week just seeing museums. I was looking for the post office …

The square itself was packing up what had been a gastronomic festival, many little stalls and bright pot plants were folded with a bang and pushed away towards trucks. Beside the super shopping centre full of high level labels is a street already decked with sparkling Christmas twinkles, getting ready for the winter markets I suppose.

Facade of State Historical Museum, Moscow
Facade of State Historical Museum, Moscow

Stalin was removed from Lenin’s mausoleum. There’s now a bust nearby. Our guide made a couple of daring remarks about Stalin that would have had her arrested for making them and us arrested for hearing them. She showed us the unbalanced front of the Four Season’s Hotel, the architect apparently too frightened to check which design Stalin had signed off on. Now either side of the building is noticeably different. (But you can’t really tell from the photo below!)

If you're feeling hungry while visiting Kremlin surrounds ...
If you’re feeling hungry while visiting Kremlin surrounds at least you’ve got a choice.
That’s the Four Seasons BG to the right.

She added the tale that when the Metro Engineers met with Stalin to discuss the different options the lines would take he left a coffee stain on the map. Which is why there is a brown circular line.

Moscow metro map
Moscow metro map – is the circular brown line a stain from Stalin’s coffee cup?

It may be a joke but the terror he inculcated was certainly real. They say not to speak about Stalin to a Russian for you do not know what their family stories may be. That sounds like Franco in Spain. At least there has been a reckoning with Stalin – Moscow has been de-Stalinised.

Red Square is surrounded by history and story and I found it really is overwhelming to be there.

Monument to Marshal Zhukov - Victory Day 1945
Monument to Marshal Zhukov – Victory Day 1945 – the horse is treading on the swastika
Federal Assembly - the Duma - or Russian Parliament seen through Aleksandrovskly Gardens
Federal Assembly – the Duma – or Russian Parliament seen through Aleksandrovskly Gardens
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by Kremlin Wall - Aleksandrovskly Gardens
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by Kremlin Wall – Aleksandrovskly Gardens – see any tourists?
Sponsorship alive and well at the Moscow Manege
Sponsorship alive and well at the Moscow Manege – we met near here for the Metro tour

I was keen to join the Metro tour. As a train afficionada – or at least a fan of tågskryt – I felt my journey onward should be my focus rather than history. We all had receivers with ear pieces which meant our guide could speak quietly and keep us all connected without having to wave flags or chickens on a stick. Of we went, down into the metro system to hop on and hop off the trains.

Alex showed us photos of some of the murals that used to include Stalin. The big Mother Russia with a plea for peace around the world is impossible to imagine with Stalin up in the middle of that, where the big MUP is now, don’t you agree?

Mother Russia at Novoslobodskaya station
Mother Russia at Novoslobodskaya station – has been de-Stalinised – he was in profile where now there are MUP standing for world peace for everyone.

The Moscow Metro was one of the last to be built in a major city. Mainly, according to Alex, because the people were religious and superstitious. Why would you choose to dig down closer to the devil? Finally, there was a dramatic day of gridlock in the city. No horse, tram or car could move so it was decided to build the People’s Palaces. Read this excellent blog post for more information.

The tunnels were built just in time for WWII. Each station was used as a bunker and each had a different purpose. The first one Alex showed us, Bibliotecka Lenina, was used as a library. He showed us pictures of people sitting at desks, studying or attempting to continue with their work while the bombing raged overhead. The economy does not stop with war.

Family sculptures in Revolution Square Station Moscow
Family sculptures in Revolution Square Station Moscow
Rubbing the shiny pup's nose will bring you good luck in your studies
Rubbing the shiny pup’s nose will bring you good luck in your studies – better if you get off your train, run to each of the four dogs on the platform, and run onto the train returning. That way you are sure to pass.

Revolution Square Station features sculptures notable for their shiny patches. Each group of sculpture was repeated four times across the platforms. There was the family, the sports people, the man with the dog – and each one had a part to rub to bring good luck – the dog particularly. Before I heard this I carefully patted the mother’s shiny shoe. This would bring either love or heal a broken heart. Perfect.

The shoe to mend a broken heart!
Mother!

Apparently when sitting exams, students must exit their train, pat each of the four dogs over the platforms and enter the train going the other way and they will pass their exams. For sure. As we admired and rubbed our bits, the commuters definitely did reach out and pat the dog or rub the golden rooster, everyone smiling as they did so. It was not that they were superstitious! They did it for fun, for habit and maybe … Alex pointed out it paid to be careful which bits you rub. Some might bring you bad luck. Not superstitious at all, then.

Monument at Revolution Square Station
Monument at Revolution Square Station
Novoslobodskaya Station is known as the Cathedral Station
Novoslobodskaya Station is known as the Cathedral Station – you can see the self-portrait of the architect who designed this one in the circle.

I am sure these magnificent spaces must influence regular commuters. I loved the peace and tranquility there. Apparently buskers have to undergo a strict audition process. Once granted space, they have that time to themselves. There is no competition setting up amplifiers nearby and they are unmolested in their performance. Is that the best way for cut-and-thrust, the best will rise above, life-hurry-scurry and bustle? Or does it show respect for the artist’s value?

Art Deco at Mayakovskaya Station
Art Deco at Mayakovskaya Station – sometimes used for orchestral concerts – after the last train has run – for the fine acoustics

We finished the tour near the theatre district. Unmissable. The Bolshoi.

The Bolshoi with flying horses
The Bolshoi complete with flying horses

I found it hard to believe I was in Moscow! And next, on to Beijing. Wow. That idea felt fabulous and awe-inspiring. It felt like I’d entered the portal of hard-drug travel. Went through the gate in Warsaw, I reckon. Comfort zone got a bit smaller. Went back to hostel. Time to get organised.

Cleaning up the Strawberry Duck - performance face!
Cleaning up at the Strawberry Duck – performance face!

Tatiana, my Warsaw-Moscow train companion, WhatsApped me to ask what else I intended to see in Moscow. I told her I’d done the walking tour and the Metro looksee and added I didn’t really feel the urge to run around and see everything. She asked, then what was the point of my visit? I said, ‘To get to the other side’. My main aim was to stay calm, make everything as easy as possible for myself and get to the train on time. Moscow was the first place where I hadn’t managed to find a post office, nor post cards. Signage outside shops was indistinct. I think it would probably be worth a few language and cyrillic lessons before visiting next time. But for two days sight-seeing? I made do.

Moscow street art?
Moscow street art?

I did a load of washing, fed myself and aimed to finish two blog posts before I left the land of wifi. Poor young lady from Korea, just arrived and bleary lonely and tired, wanted to chat. Turned out she had recently been to Taichung, one of my impending destinations. She showed me her photos where she looked happy and alert. She did not seem happy now. I said I was very sorry but I really had to push on with my work. She listlessly turned away but kept drifting around. I typed, uploaded and corrected as fast as I could. Sorry for the mistakes that got by!

Ladies bathroom in a modern restaurant - I let the ladies wash their hands before I snapped!
Ladies bathroom in a modern restaurant – I am on the street. I let the ladies wash their hands before I snapped!

I managed to extend my hostel stay by half a day. My train left at 23:55. I could stay in my room, have the use of all the facilities (shower, wifi) until 21:00 at which point I packed up and went to reception. I took some time to observe the beautiful full moon. How auspicious was that? Dasha remembered to give me the all-important form to show the police where I had been staying. And I remembered to get her to print me the little hand-drawn map of my hotel in Beijing. She then wrote out her phone number and email and invited me to visit her and her family in Saint Petersburg! What a darling. We exchanged Instagrams so I hope to see her in that platform. Once I leave China, of course.

Reception desk at Moscow Strawberry Duck
Reception desk at Moscow Strawberry Duck – Dasha’s behind the computer
Avocado Cafe, 9 mins from metro, open til 11pm
Avocado Cafe, 7 mins from hostel, 9 mins from metro, open til 11pm

Luckily, the Avocado Café, just around the corner, was open to 23:00. Back I went for poppy seed rolls and mango coco icecream with a double espresso to keep me on my toes. I gazed happily at the pretty coloured lights changing over the flat Clean Pond before heaving up the packs and strolling ten minutes up to the number one metro line, Chistye Prudy, three stops to Komsomolskaya, the nearest to Yaraslavsky Train Station.

detail ceramic exiting metro Komsomlskaya nearest Yaroslavsky Station
Detail ceramic exiting metro Komsomlskaya nearest Yaroslavsky Station

It was almost too easy. I congratulated myself on clever hostel booking.

Waiting by Yaraslavskiy Station
Waiting by Yaraslavskiy Station. You can’t see the full moon

Quite a few folk in the waiting area. I surreptitiously interviewed them in my mind. Was she going to China? Would I have to share a compartment with him? Did she look like an intrepid traveller?  As soon as my platform number was announced, I left the stinky banana on a chair and whisked off to platform three and Pekin!

Waiting room - getting excited
Waiting room – getting excited
Platform 3 Moscow to Beijing
Platform 3 Moscow to Beijing train is waiting – bleary-eyed – nearly midnight – that’s it!

First impressions. Cold. Coal dust. I’m the first one in my carriage. The beginning of six days, one hour and four minutes on the train.

Chinese compartment number 5, train 004
Chinese compartment number 5, train 004, berth 9 – lower to the left.
That’s me for the next week sorted. Wonder who will come next?

There was no keycard.

Stage Four – Warsaw – on the way overland and sea UK to NZ

If you’re new to my journey across the world, see Stage One. Or you could start way back with Part I of planning.

The first thing you see when you get out of Warsaw Central train station
What is the first thing you see when you get out of Warsaw Central train station?

On the train (Tågskryt!) from Berlin into Warsaw I sat next to Simon. He lived in Berlin and was not a DJ. Proof that not everyone in Berlin is a DJ. (See previous post or if you’re brand new and want to read about planning this trip, here’s Part I ) He was editing music on his laptop, working on songs to play with his new band, the Soft Boyz, chill electro-jazz, so watch out for them in the future. Simon comes from Warsaw and loves to spend time with his family – he speaks to his mother EVERY DAY. He is saving up to travel through South America next year. He told me the best things to do in Warsaw are to visit the Polin Museum and to take a walk through Praga (no, not the city, silly) the artist’s side of Warsaw.

Kind Simon actually walked me out of the underground maze and pointed me in the right direction. It doesn’t take long to get familiar with a place but those initial first few minutes … Do you remember those 3D hidden picture puzzles? That’s how I feel when I stare at a map of a new city until it comes into focus. Takes a day, normally. I was very grateful to the first citizen of Warsaw, Simon. I hope his travels in South America find him many kind and helpful people in return.

When I asked my Airbnb host, Alicja, she said, ‘Oh, no, don’t go to Praga, it’s dirty and violent.’ So I didn’t. (Actually I ran out of time!)

View from Airbnb kitchen Warsaw
View from Airbnb kitchen Warsaw
View from Airbnb bedroom Warsaw
View from Airbnb bedroom Warsaw
view inside my Warsaw Airbnb
View inside my Warsaw Airbnb

But, Alicja could name three vegan restaurants within five minutes walking. Cake for dinner!

The next morning I trekked in to the Central station to see if I could catch my Moscow train from there rather than out in the suburbs.

Beautiful aromatic walk through a block and a half of flower stalls next to the market.

the flower walk outside the market
The flower walk outside the market
More than one market in this market
This market goes back three buildings and offers a fancy food hall at the rear
Modern Warsaw
Modern Warsaw on a beautiful day
Central train station
That’s me on the right – striding out – not really

As I marched up to the station a man appeared at my elbow and said, ‘Passport?’ He kept saying ‘Passport? Passport?’ and then added, ‘Australian?’ and I said ‘Yes’, but even as I pulled my passport wallet out to show him (regular readers will know I’m not holding an Australian passport but I am a citizen) he indicated I should follow him and I did because he also added, ‘Police’. I would follow this man to the end of the earth. This is Warsaw. Round the station and out the back and into a twisty office section and he flung open the door and announced to the ladies inside, ‘Passport! Australian!’ One of the ladies rose to her feet with a sympathetic and worried look. She found a small handbag, fished out a passport, opened it to reveal a wad of cash, and the police officer grabbed it and thrust it towards me. I felt, one, relief, I wasn’t in trouble and two, tremendous pity for the poor woman who had lost her passport. I spent the rest of the day looking for her. My friend Nadine lost her passport in Canada. When she reported to the police, they opened a drawer full of other passports, so it must be common. Keep a hold of your identity, people.

High on this feeling of relief, I went to Information and, with minimal mime and clowning, managed to extract the information my train could be easily caught from platform two the following day.

On to the next thing, a walking tour, a mere short walk away. Only, the map of Warsaw is a bit bigger than it looks! The walk went through parks and streets and took a long time.

One of those ubiquitious scooters and cool park bench
One of those ubiquitious scooters and cool park bench
Autumn colour in the Saxony Gardens
Autumn colour in the Saxon Gardens

Just made it to the Palace and the Sigismund memorial to hear that Warsaw had been obliterated by Nazi bombing, particularly the centre, up to 84% of the city was laid waste. Poland was invaded from two sides. The Allies refused to help Poland. They were on their own and after the Warsaw Uprising the Nazis stamped on them hard for trying to resist. But the citizens of Warsaw were determined to rebuild and the old town in the centre is now finished. With such an devastating history, Warsaw is filled with monuments.

Marie Curie memorial for her first science lecture
Marie Curie memorial for her first science lecture attended as a teen

The Polish White House
The Polish White House where round-table negotiations
brought a peaceful revolution and Solidarity.

No sign of Extinction Rebellion. Regular debates and free speakers gather outside the White House to express their thoughts. This is where they would be. Should be.

The poets you didnt know you didnt know
Known as Poland’s greatest poet, Adama Mickiewicza certainly has the biggest memorial
Not repairing bullet damage is a memorial too
Not repairing bullet damage is a memorial too
Changing of the guard at tomb of unknown soldier
Changing of the guard at Tomb of Unknown Soldier – with another memorial offering of flowers BG

Behind the square you can just see the Opera House – the third biggest stage in the world after Moscow and Beijing.

Tomb of the unknown soldier Warsaw
Tomb of the unknown soldier Warsaw – the remaining columns of the grand Saxony Palace

Warsaw citizens still debate what to do with the site of the Saxony Palace. Many wish it to be left open, with the Tomb a sombre reminder of the waste of war. Some, including a local lady in our group, suggested that it could be rebuilt and used to house the Polish National Museum. It turned out almost half of our group, with that opinionated lady, was from a business that supports International Workers arriving in Poland with their visas and guide them through the myriad legal requirements. They were out for a team building exercise which was fun for them but meant our guide was often tested and gently reminded of her facts. Sometimes they offered the punchline of her story without waiting for her build up. She remained admirably calm in the face of this intense scrutiny from the senior female cohort and they had a good time, looking at their city from a different perspective. Sometimes.

Musical chairs play different Chopin pieces along the Royal Walk
Musical chairs (benches) play different Chopin pieces along the Royal Walk
Copernicus guards a museum
Copernicus guards the Polish Academy of Sciences
Not repairing bullet damage is a memorial too
Not repairing bullet damage is a memorial too
The rebuilt Prudential building, now a fancy hotel
The rebuilt Prudential building, now a fancy hotel – pretty sure that’s not Napoleon – was blown up by the Nazis. Because it held pride of place in their hearts as once the tallest building, Warsaw residents insisted it be rebuilt and revered.
Beautiful mural in back streets of Warsaw
Beautiful mural in back streets of Warsaw. Risk seemed to be a dress shop
Warsaws growth flanks memorial mural
Warsaws growth flanks another Memorial mural
The Palace of and Culture and Science, Warsaw
The Palace of and Culture and Science, Warsaw – Remind you of anything?

The building in the photo at the top of this post and here, the Palace of Culture and Science was given to the people of Warsaw by Stalin. It is a copy of one of his Seven Sisters of Moscow. Apparently most older people in Warsaw hate it. They wish it had been destroyed along with other Russian edifices in the ’90s. But the younger generation are more practical. They believe as it’s made its mark on the city, it’s iconic and there’s a couple of cool bars inside.

And the walking tour finished directly opposite a cool vegan restaurant, Nancy Lee! Truly delicious soup.

Finding strength for more exploration I went in search of the Museum of Modern Art’s Architectual Exhibition at the Zodiac Gallery. It was called Pomnikomania – Monumentomania – Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. There was a lot of art-speak but as Warsaw contains so many monuments the young artists’ responses varied from absurd to offensive. I liked a video piece I didn’t understand but it was a ritual performed next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Monument to monuments from Pomniko Mania at Museum of Modern Art
Monument to monuments from Pomniko Mania at Museum of Modern Art
Sculpt from Pomniko Mania at Museum of Modern Art
Selected words from Pomniko Mania at Museum of Modern Art

The next day dawned bright and early. After washing and organisation, Alicja let me leave my luggage for the day. I would seek the Copernicus museum down at the river’s edge. It’s right by the Modern Art Museum. Glorious day. Off I marched once more to discover that map really is too small. I walked FOR AGES to get to the river.

Thought Id made it to the river. False bridge
Thought I had made it to the river. False bridge.

When I passed the underground I relaxed, I’d certainly be able to get back in time for Alicja. Continued to walk under the bridge, passing enterprising stallholders displaying freshly picked mushrooms, great grey platters of sunflower seedheads, homemade pickles and jams. Finally reached the shores of the great Vistula. Across the river is the enormous sports arena.

Korean food on one side, Polish sport heaven on the other
Korean food on one side, Polish sport heaven on the other

I was reminded of my visit to Merida, in Spain, and the remains of Roman civilisation visible there. What will citizens of the future find here?

Take me to the Vistula
Take me to the Vistula, drop me in the water …

Amazing how fast I calmed down as I walked by the river, looking out at the wilderness preserved opposite. This side is for smooth paths, museums and cafes. The other is the famed and ‘dangerous’ arty Praha. There are bicycle paths that run through wild areas left for animals and even eagles have been spotted there. Our guide lived there and spoke rapturously of her interesting environment. Alicja, you have to make a visit. In the daytime, you’ll be safe. Certainly, the Warsaw I visited so very briefly was clean and under development. It is a modern city like most, however, it is in Poland!

The Warsaw Mermaid on the Vistula River
The Warsaw Mermaid on the Vistula River. Do you think she looks like she is about to cut through the net of that bridge?

I couldn’t find a good vantage point to photograph either the Copernicus or Modern Art buildings so I turned away and found this lookout. Oooooh.

University of Warsaw Library
University of Warsaw Library lookout point. I had to get up there!

It’s not easy to work out, two innocent bystanders pointing up, over and around things for me, and finally I walked through a gate and then up into a wonderfully peaceful garden over the roof of the University. Given the proximity of Copernicus and Modern Art, this garden is surely worth a visit should you have a day to spare in Warsaw. Leave time, though. It’s all a lot closer on the map!

University of Warsaw Library dome
University of Warsaw Library dome
University of Warsaw Library dome and roof
University of Warsaw Library dome and roof garden

The metro from Kopernicus was clean, fast and easy to work out. Once I’d worked it out. I had minutes to spare before my Airbnb deadline so I raced back through the supermarket, bought some mandarins and a bread roll for the trip. Back at Alicja’s, made sandwich from leftover dinner, left most of the fruit for weight, got act together and went to one of her recommendations, Cafe Miasto, for lunch. So busy! But, as I waited, I saw the library of exchange books and decided to ditch the one I’d been carrying around recently. Sped through last three chapters and plonked it on the shelf. This made up for the newly added weight of mini shampoo and biodegradeable baby wipes. Had to speed through my meal as well but it was extremely tasty.

cool ad
Not sure how advanced Lidl is into Polish territory.
I didn’t see this ad in UK, Spain or Germany where there are many Lidl
but, as far as ads go, I like it!

That was it. I jumped on the tram straight down the line back to the station. I was ready for the big train journey ahead. My first overnight experience. What would it be like? How would I cope? Locked in a compartment for nineteen hours with three others? On to Mother Russia!

Stage Three – Berlin – on the way overland and sea UK to NZ

Memorials – how to remember? Or how not to forget? Writing this blog? To remember? If you’ve forgotten or you haven’t been there, see Stage One and Stage Two. Or you could start way back with planning, Part I

It was 10:30 am on the train from Hamburg to Berlin when a young chirpy woman’s voice presumably welcomes us to our journey in German, before adding, clearly, ‘Good afternoon’. A loud laugh from the man near me gave notice there were not too many English speakers on the train. She said no more.

There was no ticket inspecting, as compared to Spain, where any intercity train journey is accompanied by a security check and close analysis of tickets at every opportunity. No-one ever checked tix in Hamburg. Does anyone even buy tickets apart from tourists?

As for my carefully reserved seat, there weren’t even any numbers on the walls or the chairs. The man, so kind and genuine, selling me the tic in his comfortable uniform and urging me to make that extra payment of four euros fifty to reserve a seat, said, ‘Hamburg to Berlin is our busiest route. It’s normally full. But, you must wake up in time. If you miss it you must pay again.’ All so jovial and such a big, fat lie!

I didn’t miss the train. Walking to the train station was a joy. It was a beautiful sunny morning in my leafy suburb and the fallen leaves, crisp and crunchy the day before, had already turned to sludge in the soft rain. The glowing autumn colours shone through. Those old trees spoke eloquently of change and time passing. The grey mist enhanced the mystery.

On the train I found my Jess-made sewing kit and fixed my pockets and zips, particularly the wallet pocket zip. Definitely a case of a stitch in time. Could not afford a uniform malfunction in the wallet area.

The renowned Trabant outside hostel
The renowned Trabant outside hostel

Arrived safely in my cheerful Happy Bed Hostel in Berlin and thought to seek delicious German fare.

Main dining room Unami
Main dining room Umami, Kreuzberg

All the world’s cusines are in Berlin!

Buddha Rolls and Rose Tea @ Unami, Kreutzberg
When in Berlin try the Buddha Rolls and Rose Tea @ Umami, Kreuzberg

Wednesday began in Kreuzberg, with the simple idea of getting my ticket printed and doing a tour of Berlin, taking in the Spree Gallery in the afternoon. I figured the ticket might take half an hour. I began at the U station, Hallesches Tor, near my efficient hostel.

I bought a daily ticket which no-one asked to see, ever. I put it in the machine to get it stamped. Who buys tickets in Germany?

From there I caught the train to Warschauer Strasse station. Then I had to change to the S-train. I asked the only staff member I could find who was hiding in a booth and didn’t want to come out. He didn’t speak any English and the jutting of his whiskery chin made it plain he didn’t like the idea of English. After I indicated my desired destination by jabbing at my map, he pointed to the exit. I came out of the U and looked around the streets for the S. Where was S? I started to feel I was in an ep of Sesame Street. There was considerable building, scaffolding and blocked pathways around me. I was about to cross the street to find a café with a human who might know something when I looked up. A sign!

Where is the S? Or the U? The answers reign on high
The answers reign on high

When I got to the S I could not find a train that went to my station. It only went to Nölderplatz. You might think this is petty but when you are trying to organise ongoing travel arrangements these things can get stressful. If I had made this trip the next day when I wanted to catch the train to Warsaw, I would have missed it. So the dry run was turning into a sweaty run. But I took deep breaths. Planning ahead is good.

Back in the corridors of train world, I asked a couple of men in orange high viz and they shrugged. I figured it was better to get close to where I wanted to be and caught the train to Nölderplatz. There seemed to be no ongoing to Lichtenberg. I asked a couple of charming smiling women in high viz orange and they pointed across the suburb and waved and danced the information that I could catch a bus two streets over. Schliststrasse? Schillerstrass? So I wandered out of the station, into a nice park, saw a bus stop that did not list Lichtenberg and wandered two more streets, past a skateboard park with no graffiti and a man in his fifties practicing his skate moves in his dark blue raincoat. The yellow leaves made sharp contrast with the grey concrete curves.

I saw a promising orange bus. It did not list my name so I went to the other side, just missing another. Then I returned to ask a oncoming driver of the first side. He pointed at the other side. Why did I cross the road? To make sure I was facing the right direction. Finally a bus arrived. I asked for my station. He shook his head, staring ahead. Oh, dear. But then, in the nick of time, he remembered! Yes! Get on, get on, so I did.

The couple in front of me looked worried and turned back to examine me. Lichtenberg, they muttered to each other and shook their heads. I had no-where else to be but time was ticking on. I would get somewhere. I looked out of the window at the grey day. The blocks of flats were either grey or cream or off-white or taupe or beige and the paint was flaking but the parks were always present with their glowing gold and orange tints growing bolder through the greenery. People in the streets wore olive green, brown, black and navy coats.

We arrived at a large carpark with a small bike-stand array (why are there so many cars in Berlin?) and there was Lichtenberg station.

My ticket out of there
My ticket out of there

It was quiet. Shops were shut. Informative signs in German guarded the stairwell. I found my ticket machine, chose the Union Jack and looked for a pre-paid ticket option. I patted and tapped all around the choices open to me. I couldn’t find it. Luckily, I was standing right next to the information desk. I went to stand in the queue stretching out into the hallway. There seemed to be an invisible forcefield around the workers’ counter. Only one person could fit into the shop in this queue. At least two metres separated our first contender from the desk. Purposeful German chatter filled the air as the two assistants organised tickets and directed people. I took deep breaths.

I got the old guy with a white beard. I apologised for speaking only English and he stood up, as if to go, and on second thoughts towered over the printed information I offered him. English? What is English? Reluctantly, quickly, he read my journey details and told me to go to platform 16. I indicated no, not now, tomorrow. And tried to explain I needed to print the ticket. He shouted, ‘Machine! Machine!’ and pointed with vigour at the place from whence I’d come. I said, ‘But I can’t … ‘ He said, ‘Machine!’ and turned to go.

He swung back to look at the next person in the queue. You can bet I was saying Bitte and Danke all I could but, really, this guy was working in the information desk? In Berlin? In an international station? Are all their patrons German? I went to look at platform 16. At least there were no barriers across it. I took deep breaths and headed to the WC for extra calming. A little queue in front of the shut doors looked worried and held money and one guy at the front had even managed to print a ticket. But it was closed. A large woman wearing a floral scarf around her neck and a taupe jacket stretched across her front marched to the machine and talked to the young man commandingly. Perhaps he had broken it? No? That was that. She had enough and left. The WC, the entire station, was not functional today.

Considering my options I thought the best thing to do was return to a place where I had once found kindness so I returned to the air and went to find U. Finally, worked out how to get to Alexanderplatz on my path to return to Berlin Hbf (of which I had fond memories). Alexanderplatz is where that big tall landmark tower is.

On my way to find the S I saw an information booth and stood in a queue there. After a while the lovely smiling woman showed me a photo-card of the correct options in the machine. You have to choose ‘All Offers’ and ‘Bahnof tickets’ and then you are given a choice to put in your number or voucher. Job done. It had taken me nearly two and a half hours to print my ticket.

There were a lot of people sleeping rough, especially around the train stations.

I won’t go into the struggle to find a café, although there was one, my decision to head towards the Brandenburg Gate to take a tour regardless of lagging vim and joyfully, on the way, by chance, finding a brand new café called ‘Beets and Roots’ where they really do treat you like a rock star (my name was Bradley Cooper) and the food is delicious. I sat outside in the silvery sun and had an ongoing discussion with three kamikaze wasps. I believe all three survived in the end. Greedy things.

Beets&Roots on the way to the Brandenburg Gate fresh tasty fare beside a park
Beets&Roots on the way to the Brandenburg Gate fresh tasty fare beside a park

How much of Berlin’s landmarks were blasted by allied bombs? 80% of the city.

First glimpse of Brandenburg Gate
First glimpse of Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate was familiar from much film and tv. The lady with the chariot and prancing steeds was apparently once called ‘Peace’ but after Napoleon stole her away to the Louvre and the Prussian return, she is now known as ‘Victory’ and carries the German Eagle to show her people fresh resolve. (How did Napoleon and indeed, the Prussian victors, get her on and off the gate? Were there cranes?) It memorialises war, victory and ownership.

My guide was called Susan Grouchy. She had a masters in archaeology and had returned to uni to study memorials. Berlin is the obvious place for such an endeavour. She was not originally from Berlin but urged us to find not only physical memorials but people who lived here. They would be sure to have some interesting stories. What do they remember?

The Mourners @ Brandenburg Gate
The Mourners @ Brandenburg Gate

As well as the roads steeped in history, from 1250 onwards, there was a group of vibrant red Extinction Rebellion protestors gathering, silently swaying, palms skywards, flags fluttering, white faces grim, making a bold statement against the grey imposing structures around them.

XR info point Brandenburg - good flag
XR info point Brandenburg – good flag

Can such a people-based movement rise up once more in this city of peaceful protest? When the Berlin Wall came down thirty years before hundreds of thousands of suppressed people took to the streets to come and see for themselves if the travel restrictions had been lifted? And the guards did not open fire. There were not enough bullets to shoot everyone and the time had come for the German people to come together again. The walls came down.

The climate crisis is here
The climate crisis is here

Now the fight is not so tangible. You cannot see climate change. You cannot smash it or break rocks from it. You cannot paint it with colourful visual poetry. Is the time right for people to see a change in how corporations use fossil fuels? Can we shoot the typhoon headed for Japan?

Directly under the Brandenburg Gate
Directly under the Brandenburg Gate

In this German, Berlin, backdrop, the Rebellion took on a resonance that it had not had in Brighton. I did not see cheery dance classes or breast-feeding women blocking streets here.

Memorial to Jewish victims of Nazis
Memorial to Jewish victims of Nazis

Susan took us to the great and sombre grey block Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. There are other memorials to different minority groups singled out for extinction elsewhere but this Jewish memorial is imposing, belittling, awe-inspiring. I can see how politicians might feel when they take a break from the nearby Reichstag, with its glass dome to symbolise transparency, and visit this neighbour. You must interact with it. You must consider the shapes and individuals and be overwhelmed by the height of it. Lost cities. Lost dreams.

Who was just there?
Who was just there?

Our guide, as student of memorials, encouraged us to consider these effects. She explained what the artist Peter Eisenman stated; that it was designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and not stated; that any numbers or shapes were symbolic in any way, in his presentation to the city.

Ghost City
Ghost City

In the end each individual’s response is personal and how I wish everyone in the world in power had to come to this place to consider their responsibilities. People making, negotiating and dealing in missiles, arms of any kind and tanks with a view to harm and destruction should come to this place. The humans on the UN Security Council, they should come here.

The Berlin wall seems so flimsy now
The Berlin wall seems so flimsy now

Marching along the remains of the wall, so weak and thin, she told us of Amplemann and obeying the pedestrian signs, or else.

Berlin green person - the Amplemann
Berlin green person – the Amplemann
Red Amplelmann - no doubt this is a stop sign
Red Amplelmann – no doubt this is a stop sign

She took us to the car park over the bunker where Hitler ended his life. She showed us the work-places of Goebbels and Himmler. The great grey sideways skyscraper where the Lufftwaffe was based, now the taxation office. She took us to the cheery tourist ridden Checkpoint Charlie, overlooked by KFC and Macdonalds and other brazen honeypots. She showed us the cobbled reminder of the wall but she did not point out the small brass squares, brightly (recently) polished that we walked past.

KFC and Macdonalds Checkpoint
KFC and Macdonalds Checkpoint

The German and French Cathedrals (copies rebuilt by the East Germans to show what Berlin used to look like) stand on opposite sides of the Konzerthaus. Nice they are brought together by music.

Koncerthaus red carpet
Koncerthaus red carpet

And the Konzerthaus had a red carpet pleated up the tall stairs to the grand entry. Exciting events during the 30th anniversary of the Wall coming down.

Luther looking at Berlin pointy things
Luther looking at Berlin pointy things

All is building, barriers, perhaps in preparation for a thirty-years party – or the Festival of Lights – but many buildings under construction or renovation and of course, the S-train is to be improved. About time. There is surely room to improve the signage! Many police officers and cars in evidence – if it was for the Extinction Rebellion they were over-prepared. The people had not come to the streets in any great number. Why not?

Berlin pointy things, traffic and barriers
Berlin pointy things, traffic and barriers

We ended up in the Bebelplatz facing the Humbolt University Law Faculty which used to be the library. This is where an angry mob burnt 20,000 books. Books written by Jews, homosexuals, non-Aryan … The memorial was a deep bunker of empty white bookshelves in the middle of the plaza. Then Susan led us to a corner to sit and told us the story of how the wall came down. She managed it with aplomb and shivers went through my spine as she described those Berliners watching Gunter on tv turning to each other in disbelief. What did he say? And the walls came down.

Berlin wall remains art gallery
Berlin wall remains art gallery
A sense of the death strip between the walls
A sense of the death strip between the walls – and some of the ongoing building projects in the background

She told us the quote, ‘History may not repeat, but sometimes it rhymes.’ Could be Mark Twain.

Dancing to freedom painting on the wall
Dancing to freedom painting on the wall

Never made it to Spree but my taxi driver in the morning was a Berliner. He spoke English extremely well, having grown up in the West. He’d visited Australia when he was a kid. He said he feared he was a rare oddity in this international city. I assured him there were plenty of old white German men who did not wish to be part of the tourist flood, most of them working for train stations.

He remembered when the wall came down. He was twenty and ready to party. He hated David Hasselhof for stealing the moment. He thought Paul Weller should have come. He was still waiting for Paul Weller.

Walls come tumbling down

You don’t have to take this crap
You don’t have to sit back and relax
You can actually try changing it
I know we’ve always been taught to rely

Upon those in authority
But you never know until you try
How things just might be
If we came together so strongly

Are you gonna try to make this work
Or spend your days down in the dirt
You see things can change
Yes, an’ walls can come tumbling down

Governments crack and systems fall
‘Cause unity is powerful
Lights go out walls come tumbling down

The competition is a color TV
We’re on still pause with the video machine
That keep you slave to the H.P.

Until the unity is threatened by
Those who have and who have not
Those who are with and those who are without
And dangle jobs like a donkey’s carrot
Until you don’t know where you are

Are you gonna realize
The class war’s real and not mythologized
And like Jericho you see walls can come tumbling down

Are you gonna be threatened by
The public enemies number ten
Those who play the power game
They take the profits you take the blame
When they tell you there’s no rise in pay

Are you gonna try an’ make this work
Or spend your days down in the dirt
You see things can change
Yes, an’ walls can come tumbling down

Paul Weller

Speaking to another young Berliner, she said, ‘It is a city to make memories in.’

Another of the questions Susan asked us to consider was, ‘Why are so many Berliners DJs?’

I was sitting next to a young fellow on the train on my way to Warsaw. He was editing some music on his computer – listening intently to his headphones. Maybe I’ll ask him.

I’m heading to Poland!

I’ll read this on the way.

Stage One – The jump – Harwich to Hoek of Holland – (travelling from UK to NZ overland and sea)

(‘Arrich to ‘Oek of ‘Olland)

Walking beside the beach (?) looking over to Harwich Port
Walking beside the beach (?) looking to Harwich Port

The planning over (there’s six parts to planning – begin with Part I if you like) the travelling has begun. To mark the change, the journey will be named in Stages.

After arriving by train to Harwich International (at the port) I found my quaint Bnb five minutes away. Don’s dining room featured, amongst other treasures: Gainsborough-esque prints hung in golden curlicue frames from the wooden-panelling walls, an Australian-shaped clock on the mantlepiece, different-sized elephants trumpeting, a metal swan, a large wooden African mask, a teddy bear in velveteen dungarees eating from a felt honey pot (I could tell because of the little bees), a Greek vase, countless other vases from other lands, all topped by a little, old, framed photo of a curly, haired terrier, solitary and plucky on top of the shelf.

Beach huts surrounding the playing fields at Harwich
Fringe of beach huts containing the playing fields at Harwich

Harwich might be a bit bleak in cold weather but I was lucky enough to be there on a cheerful sunny day.

Harwich takes their beach boxes seriously
Harwich takes their beach huts seriously – not sure when they get to use the beach?
Nice walk beside the Harwich beach
Got to check your tides in Harwich!

I managed to get my goods in order so I could be ready and waiting at the departure point for my ferry bright and early in the morning.

Ticket in hand, I'm departing Harwich
Ticket in hand, I’m departing Harwich

When is the start of the journey? Boarding the ship? Casting off? Half-way across?

Boarding ferry in Harwich
Boarding ferry in Harwich

Can you see the ropes? I watched them go.

Trucks rolling in the containers on board the ferry
The little truck cabins clip on and off pretty fast. The containers have wheels, the drivers so skilled they can zoom up the gangway, turn 360 on the spot, swing the cabin out to the side, spin their chair so it faces the rear and drive the container quickly into position before snapping off their truck and leaving the ship to collect another.

Stayed outside until the ropes loosened, the blokes lifted them over the bollards and the engines kicked into gear, pushing the ship out into the stream and I began to cough.

You can find Stena Line’s sustainability policy here.

Is your emission really necessary?
Is your emission really necessary?

The gentle to and fro, the engines thrumming, strong and driving, dependable.

Pulling away from England
Pulling away from England

We had clear sky, growing some smooth flat clouds for the first couple of hours as we moved steadily towards darker-hued cauliflower fields. After an hour or two, the water began to fade to grey and there was a bit more movement to the ship. The strip of sea by the horizon took on a deep blue.

Big view out of the big front windows of the ferry
Big view from the big ferry front windows

On a number of occasions we drove towards rows of wind turbines in the middle of the sea, which given the lack of movement, looked more like grass flowers, thin stalks on the horizon. The first clump we passed were surrounded by cargo ships, perhaps queued for port or perhaps involved in building or installing the turbines.

Outside there was sky and sea. Inside the Monkees, Bee Gees and Maggie May, Rocket Man, Lighter Shade of Pale and the Bump. The sound of my old people’s home.

I wasn't sure if it was a sur-charge?
Sur-charge? Surf charge? Surf LARGE? This is for two hours of a seven hour crossing.

Where are you going? To NZ.

I think I will travel to NZ in a similar sized ship
Look! Freighter! I think I will be travelling in a similar sized ship from Taiwan

Via Holland? Yes, indeed. Well, that’s a long trip. Yes, it is.

Ahoy! Hoek of Holland on the horizon!
Land ahoy! Hoek of Holland on the horizon

Foot passengers waited until after truckies, bikies and sundry drivers got away, then we were directed to the gangway and land. It was very straightforward and easy. The tram was waiting outside the ferry terminal and REMEMBER you must BUY A TICKET at the machine. THEN TOUCH ON!! When you get out at your stop you much TOUCH OFF! There were interactions with tram staff, all very polite and friendly, but firm. TOUCH ON! Ambassadors for travel.

The tram took half an hour or so to arrive in Rotterdam. I had been given clear instructions by my Airbnb host and it proved an easy walk around the corner to my abode.

Not sure what it tests? But at least we know where we are ...
Not sure what was being tested but at least I knew where I was …

I arrived tired and flustered to find my host Olivier Scheffer sharing long distance walking experiences with a guest. Olivier recently completed a 2,000 km longitude walk from Helsinki to Thessaloniki (not only because he liked the sound of the names!) His guest, a fellow peregrino, recently walked to Santiago de Compostela, Galicia. Some discussion of footfall, footstrike and RSI followed. These guys were experts.

Olivier's map - the scissors mark the spot
Olivier’s 2,000 km walk map – the scissors mark the spot

Olivier is an artist who prides himself on his Triangular Art House in inner city Rotterdam.

Walls decorated with pieces different tapes designed for particular purposes
Olivier’s dunny walls decorated with offcuts of different tapes
designed for particular purposes
Bathroom ceiling - not quite the cistern chapel
Bathroom ceiling – not quite the cistern chapel

Like the Airbnb, Rotterdam proved a fun and inspirational place to visit. Once the largest harbour in the world, Rotterdam still rules Europe but other cities in Asia have overtaken her. Popped in to the triangular Central Station to buy my next train ticket. Took me a little while to focus on the dates I needed. Because I’ve been planning this trip so far ahead there was a fictional quality to the time. I couldn’t quite believe that it was now. Time had more than crept up on me. Time had ambushed me. Mind you, there is nothing like being on an unknown tram or trainline with names you don’t know or understand going somewhere you don’t know to keep you focussed on the here and now!

Central Rail Station points at a huge building
The angular (controversial) railway station points at an engineering marvel. Rotterdam is essentially a swamp. Underneath that tall, shiny building is a massive underpinning
and presumably a gigantic budget.
Memorial in front of the Rotterdam Town Hall
Memorial to fallen during 1940 bombardment in front of the Rotterdam Town Hall. The woman represents grief, looking down and to the past, but still connected to the child of the future. The outward-looking man on the right, holding a spade, represents rebuilding and vision.
stronger through struggle
Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands said Rotterdam was ‘stronger through struggle’
and insisted they could rebuild

Because of the devastating German bombardment in 1940, Rotterdam has been rebuilt with an enthusiasm for adventure and experimentation. And some controversy. Unlike Amsterdam, where original canals and buildings force restrictions, architects are encouraged to make their mark and the inhabitants tend to make their opinions felt by protesting ticket barriers at the train station or not using the Markthal for its original purpose.

The pencil sits beside the cube houses
The pencil sits beside the cube houses
Markthal, known as the pencil sharpener, is opposite the pencil
Markthal, known as the pencil sharpener, is opposite the pencil
Building connected to the closed art gallery complex of Rotterdam
The Rotterdam art gallery is closed for the next seven years
but with impressive designs like this one,
looks like it will be worth the wait.

Rotterdam’s greatest son is Desiderius Erasmus, who urged everyone to get out and travel. He travelled out of Rotterdam at the age of twenty and never returned. That’s why the UN called their study exchange program Erasmus.

Can you see Erasmus turn the page?
Can you see Erasmus turn the page?
Hope springs from a crane in Rotterdam
Hope springs from a crane in Rotterdam

There is a lot of building going on in Rotterdam, together with art, cycling and smoking weed. The famous street of bars, galleries and ‘coffee shops’ is called Witte de Withstraat.

Witty translates to English just the same
Let’s hope so

Not far away is the Kunsthal – an art gallery that aims to make art popular

Solitaire by Joana Vasconcelos
Solitaire by Joana Vasconcelos outside the Kunsthal – look at that ‘diamond’ catching the sun!
Spirit is a beautiful vego restaurant in de Groene Passage
Spirit is a beautiful vego restaurant in de Groene Passage

But for me, my happy place was in De Groene Passage with a delicious vegan buffet lunch at Spirit followed by some fantastic ethical window-shopping. I wished sincerely I could live there, in that restaurant, forever. Bliss. BTW, if anyone in Christchurch knows Alexa, could you please let her know Spirit says, ‘Hi.’

Rotterdam harbour reminds me of Hong Kong
Rotterdam harbour reminded me of Hong Kong

My next train stage takes me to another harbour in another of the great European cities. Here’s Stage Two! I hope you can join me!

Part VI – UK to NZ overland … The gathering

Contrails over Brighton Beach UK
Contrails over Brighton Beach UK

If you haven’t heard of the planning for this trip, see Part I here, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V. Quick update: I have been granted an electronic NZ Endorsement, which I don’t need to print out. I trust the server will keep those records safe. Thanks, NZ Immigration!

Finishing up my summer teaching with Kings Education Brighton (I don’t know how I could have attempted this journey without Stephen’s support, thanks Boss DOS!) I moved to London for a couple of days to gather myself together.

A few chores and little shopping things: I wanted to get some currency, euros, roubles etc, just small change, so that if I needed a taxi or something on arrival in a country I wouldn’t have to panic looking for a bank. I found a cache of Money Changers nested close together around the Leicester Square Tube, near Covent Garden. It was raining. I went from window to window to compare rates and was informed that, yes, it was a good idea but I should have organised it three or four days earlier. They have to order in the different currencies. I could call back in the afternoon when they would have enough euros and possibly some yuan but unlikely roubles or zlotys. Every morning they start afresh.

Here is the lesson. If you want to go overland start thinking ahead. Minimum three months to get the ship and the visas and now, three days for the currencies!

Time for a quiet walk in a London park …

Regents Park
Regents Park

and an orange fog

fog from Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life at The Tate Modern
In this installation from Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, at The Tate Modern, I could not see more than a couple of metres in front of me. It tasted sweet.
What would be ahead of me in my journey across the world?
Check out his https://littlesun.com/

and Hampstead Heath

Hampstead Heath with a British magpie
See the magpie?

to see a seminar in the How the Light Gets in Festival called Modern Crises and Ancient Gods. The speakers were Baroness Natalie Bennett and Roger Hallam (absent due to arrest), Sir David King and Sister Jayanti with moderator, David Malone.

King proposes to repair climate change by refreezing the poles.

Baroness calls out for system change and sustainable development goals.

Sister reminds us each and every one of us is part of our family.

(Note: the arrested one is silenced.)

King and Malone, Baroness and Sister on stage at the arena.
From left; King and Malone, Baroness and Sister

It was Saturday Sept 21 13:15, grounds of Kenwood, Hampstead Heath

Kenwood estate
Kenwood estate in Hampstead Heath, London

My great-aunt Winifred (Min) was a charismatic dowager who took great delight in teasing status. She arrived at our house one day thrilled she’d caught a lift in a vehicle bearing the Royal Coat of Arms. She’d hitched a ride in the post-office truck, while wearing her fur coat, of course.

British Royal Mail Box at Harwich Port
Not sure if the NZ Royal Mail Box has exactly the same coat of arms but there it was in Harwich, UK!

She taught me the value of persistence.

Quiet tents at How the Light Gets In at lunchtime
Beautiful day on the Heath (not so many people visible at the festival).

When I arrived at the glamorous tent city that housed the UK’s answer to TED, I discovered that I had not purchased a daily ticket for eighty-four pounds online. (Eighty-four pounds!) Instead, I had two months previously, merely bought a ‘fast-pass’ for this one ‘Crises’ seminar for five pounds. I arrived half an hour early and the bag search people let me in as far as the ticket desk, shaking their heads, muttering to each other, how could it have happened? At the desk where I was told I could not enter without a daily ticket, I explained I could not stay for more than a couple of hours. Could they let me buy an afternoon ticket? Nope. All or nothing. (NOTE: This is how ideas are spread. By money.)

George Orwell lived here - next to Hampstead Heath
On the way to the festival I passed George Orwell’s old home – not a museum – I don’t think he would have been impressed with 84 pounds for a day of chattering, do you? Ironic?

I asked to speak to a superior. Finally, Daisy the manager let me in just for the session, bless her. I did remember Min’s charming, cajoling ways. She would have been proud of me.

I explored the surroundings before my seminar began. No water refill station. No compost toilets. (The reason I’ve linked to UK companies here is when I asked organisers they said they couldn’t find any. Took me all of three seconds each, if you’re reading this for next year… ) What was I in for?

Lovely atmosphere on sunny day in Hampstead Heath
Music, comfortable convivial conversation and comestibles for the people who could pay eighty-four pounds for the day

King’s opening remarks began with the sad observation it took twenty-seven years to get the Paris accord and nothing has changed since then. Making a valient effort to speak to the topic, he noted Greek, Judeo/Christian philosophy has changed the original meaning of ‘physis’. No longer the universe we’re thrown into, where the Gods of the seas must be appeased with sacrifices to prevent them rising up and swallowing the sailors, but ‘physics’. He also referred to the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of nature as being separate from humans:

nature /ˈneɪtʃə  /
▸ noun
1 [mass noun] the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations: the breathtaking beauty of nature.

Oxford English Dictionary phone app

King, also a Knight and a Scientist (Chemistry), believes humans are both part of and separate to nature. He thinks we have treated the world like a dustbin and run the risk of losing the earth. He asked how did we lose the sense of the essence of the Earth?

As you know, I think humans are very much part of nature. What do you think?

The Baroness, also a Politican, agreed that we have used the planet as a mine and a dumping ground. She believes arrogant science attempts to offer solutions to problems without fully understanding the consequences. When she studied soil science, at Uni in Australia, fertiliser was all the rage for farming’s woes but now new science recognises fertiliser kills off micro-organisms, causing long-term damage. ‘Fertiliser is good for the father but bad for the son.’ She called for system thinking – bringing together knowledge from many different sources to develop sustainable goals.

I wondered if she recognised she was in a perfect position, seated between a representative for science and one for religion. How could this politician work with her neighbours to create a sustainable goal right then and there?

The Sister, also a Director, explained that not just one part of humanity is to blame. Each and everyone is part of our family.

We could compare that with the brother’s speech in the recent film Farewell, as he exhorted the granddaughter to follow the family tradition of working together to assume the emotional weight of the elder. The revered grandmother must not be allowed to suffer. Her children and grandchildren should take the emotional weight for her. The family worked to keep her happy. If the granddaughter had told her of her cancer it would only have been to assuage her guilt at not being honest. Not telling the truth? The truth so valiant and important? But who would that benefit? Only the granddaughter.

The-Farewell-2019-movie-poster
The family look after the weakest link

The Sister quietly reminded us that all human beings have values. It’s not science that’s lost values. It’s humans. She said, ‘Come back to knowing who you are’.

David Malone asked King if it was true that 80% of all nuclear power stations were within the projected sea level rise zone. The King (who has a past in nuclear matters) stated it was of greater concern that places like Calcutta and most of Bangladesh were currently in direct peril, with the probable consequence of unimaginable amount of refugees.

The Baroness suggested that science must become more critical of itself. That it was important to recognise all creatures have a need for quality of life. Wellbeing? What does that mean? If all are depressed and stressed, how can that result in a healthy planet? She thinks we need to think about our own existence as a natural organism. What is necessary for survival?

The Sister pointed out that if minds are in a state of chaos, if individuals are struggling  within themselves, that is reflected in the world outside. Everything starts from human consciousness. We have to shift our thinking, not just our own spiritual consciousness but our relationships with each other. We need to evolve to a state of harmony and from there to a harmonious relationship with nature.

The King feels now is a dangerous time. It’s not 1932, but similar, a slippery slope. He asked who controls the media? Big money. Not just to sell copy. They are influencing people. We have allowed a small percentage of people to acquire enormous wealth while there are people living on the streets. Consider Europe in the 1930s. Something is wrong. Polarisation does not always end in the right place.

The Baroness said that change has already started. People can see the system is broken. She believes centrist politics is dead. She said, ‘Chose, either Right or Green. We’re not going to stay the way we are. That’s profoundly unstable.’

The Sister wants us to change from within and work together as a family.

Come on, everyone. We can do that!!

Cheshunt Lake in the Lee Valley is home to ducks, herons and moorhens and other birds I didn't see!
After constant English class preparation and worry about planning a trip halfway around the world, a walk around Cheshunt Lake in the Lee Valley was the perfect antidote.

I spent a couple of nights in YHA Lee Valley, London. This hostel is set in a park full of lakes and canals although strictly speaking, it’s still in London.

Lee Valley White Water Centre
Lee Valley White Water Centre is apparently one of the best in the world according to the athletes who were assembling for a big competition that weekend

There’s water activities everywhere.

Cheshunt Lake 7:30 am light reflecting off the water into the shadowy trees
There is an angler just getting out of his tent in the middle of that light. I can just make out the top of his head but you probably can’t. He stood up right in the centre of the pic milliseconds after I took the shot as I backed away quietly.

Birdwatching hides and a dragon fly sanctuary, the young mariners club and a white water centre were all part of the once London Olympic complex. It was a great place to admire bird life and sculptures and it even had a proper dog playground with brilliant climbing frames and hoops.

Waltham Abbey
Waltham Abbey, Essex partially built by King Harold himself

I farewelled England with a quick visit to King Harold’s memorial in Waltham Abbey.

Memorial to King Harold 1066
Memorial to King Harold (1066 and all that)

Then I caught the train (forty-three pounds this time) from Cheshunt to Stratford to Dedham Vale to Harwich International. I would be delivered right into the port!

Dedham Vale for Manningtree and visa versa
My ticket said Dedham Vale. The duty person had never heard of it. That’s because the station is called Manningtree. The walk is called Dedham Vale.

One of my favourite poems is by ee cummings

r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r

E. E. Cummings – 1894-1962

                                     r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r
                           who
  a)s w(e loo)k
  upnowgath
                       PPEGORHRASS
                                                       eringint(o-
  aThe):l
               eA
                    !p:
S                                                                        a
                                      (r
  rIvInG                              .gRrEaPsPhOs)
                                                                         to
  rea(be)rran(com)gi(e)ngly
  ,grasshopper;

From Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1923, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1976, 1978, 1979 by George James Firmage.

Stag beetle sculpture in Lee Valley
Stag beetle sculpture in Lee Valley – not quite a grasshopper

The gathering is over. Now, we leap …

the fool from the Tarot a young man, with his little dog beside him, is looking up and about to step off a cliff
http://www.sacred-texts.com/tarot/tcc/tcc01.htm What will happen next?

What the flight?!! UK to NZ Part V

An English woman, a New Zealander and an Australian walked into a bar.

Wait!

They were all ME!

Augra, Dark Crystal, The Resistance @ BFI, London
Oooops. That’s Aughra.
Victoria Osborne
This is me. Blocking really cool street art in Brighton

And, it being a Brighton bar, I had a delicious vegan roast lunch.

Seven Stars Sunday Roast Brighton
Perfectly cooked greens at Seven Stars. Sunday Roast Brighton

Back to planning epic trip. Are you new? See Part I here, Part II, Part III and Part IV. On we go …

Whenever I saw ‘Contact’ on an email I felt sick. It would be from my shipping company. I would not open it until I was in a safe place and able to deal with their harsh reality. I felt like a moth fluttering against a window; unseen and incomprehensible barrier. Why did their company take such an unreasonable line?

Alexandra and Oceane, my two shipping company women, were brusque. No, there was no way to review the rules. The regulations were not available. I must travel from China to NZ on the British passport.

This put me in a bad position. I needed to enter Australia and NZ on the NZ passport. You would swap midair if you travelled by plane. Passports are only of interest at borders. If I were to arrive in Australia or NZ on my GB passport with no visa I would not be allowed to set foot on either land of my parents. I had no time to organise a visa.

The company’s flat, oft-repeated, position was that as the Captain sent the passenger’s passports forward to the next ports (all of which; on my itinerary, Taiwan, Australia and NZ, would accept an NZ passport without need for visa) their computer said ‘Captain only able to send one passport per passenger’. I had to leave China on the same passport, the one with the visa, that I had used on entry, the British. Why was this so unusual? I couldn’t believe I was the only dual-citizen seafarer, passenger or crew, in the lifetime of sea voyages.

The final straw was the email stating I had two options. Either travel on the GB passport or don’t go. Luckily, I was able to humbly correct them. There was a third way. I could join the ship at Taiwan.

My simple, elegant, time-saving plan was busted. Instead of a quick train from Beijing to catching the ship straight out of China, cleverly designed by me to improve on the Man in Seat 61 journey through all of South-East Asia, I would be seeing a bit more of the world.

All I had to do was organise train from Ningbo to Fuzhou, bus to Pingtan, ferry to Taichung, and train to Kaohsiung. Plus accommodation. I began to lose sleep. I tried to up my salad quota. Another yoga class. I lost things. Disarray.

I contacted Christine at Real Russia! So far she has organised my tickets from Warsaw to Ningbo where I was originally going to catch the CC Coral. Real Russia was the group to help! Could she help get me to Taiwan?

Christine from Real Russia
The lovely and helpful Christine Stadnik from Real Russia
organised most of my tickets.
I personally could not have got this far without Real Russia.

Nope. With the help of their Chinese agents, Real Russia could get me as far as Fuzhou but I would have to get across the water by myself.

I found differing information online. Man in Seat 61 provided link and suggested manipulating timetable to find out which dates the ferry ran from Pingtan to Taiwan (three times a week). Took me ages to work out he meant to check availability of  a return journey. Der. Two of my preferred dates were sold out. It looked like I needed Taiwanese ID to purchase tickets.

Found a travel agent who offered completely different dates. From completely different places.

Sue, fellow mum, met through my son’s school in years past, lived in Taipei. I messaged her with my ferry tribulations. On opposite sides of the Facebook world we looked at the same website and could not make much sense of it. She, having Chinese, was a lovely support as I struggled to understand through the Google translated site, where I was going. Having her there made the trip seem plausible at least.

Back in London again, I stayed in Earl’s Court YHA the night before I visited the Chinese Visa Centre. I liked to imagine all the Australians and Kiwis hanging around there in the fifties and sixties. London adventure time! I was excited to visit the Royal Court Theatre but not so impressed with the play. Accidentally bumped into a very pleasant vegan restaurant called Wulf and Lamb. ‘Run with the wolves, eat with the lambs.’ I ran with their delicious carrot cake – best vegan cake ever.

Outside the Chinese Visa Centre, London
Outside the Chinese Visa Centre, London

There was something exciting, even clandestine, about organising to meet a courier carrying my passport outside the Chinese Application Centre in a street called ‘Old Jewry’. Right next to the Bank of China the red flag fluttered high above the long queue … wait on … very, very extensive queue right around the corner … how long was all this going to take?

The young man gathered the three of us Real Russian customers – the other two were expecting to travel in a couple of days so were even more rushed than me. We waited, poised for China, while the queue disappeared into the building. As soon as the clock struck 9:30, our courier guided us inside, found a bench and handed out our passports. He waited for our number, found us a desk to sit while our paperwork was checked, led us to the next place to be fingerprinted (an electronic plexiglass system like Russia) and we were done. (When I was nine having my fingerprints taken in Hong Kong for the ID card I remember the black ink didn’t come off for days.) The charming young woman wound an elastic band around my two passports without raising a hair. I noted other people in the queues snaking around the room looked exasperated, tired and confused as I sauntered past on my way to the exit.

We were done and dusted, signed, sealed and delivered and it was 9:40 am. Thanks again, Real Russia!

I thought it best to seek culture. Noting ridiculous queues outside British Museum chose instead the London Review of Books shop wherein to drink a delicious Chinese tea called Sichuan Dew from Jing Tea. It did taste as described, grass meadow with flowers. Chef from Frankston. Told her about my Frankstonite barber in Brighton. What were the odds?

Deet, Dark Crystal, The Resistance, @ BFI, London
Deet, Dark Crystal, The Resistance, @ BFI, London

Went to see the World of Thra exhibition at BFI and got into a free Empire magazine showing of the making of the Dark Crystal Resistance. Very happy to watch some keen young puppet captains demonstrating their craft.

Met a woman in a library who planned to fly to Melbourne next month. Suggested she plant some trees to offset her carbon. Perhaps I was judgy. But how else do we change? Flygskam!

Accept I’m going to Taiwan. Here’s an article about the ferry between China and Taiwan.

On return to Brighton, my comfy little student’s den at Kings Education, I watch ten eps of Dark Crystal, The Resistance. (Not all at once!) Beautiful pictures but I couldn’t help wishing for a script editor – someone who could bring some poetry and delete the explanations. But the story was great.

Kings Education Brighton English Teachers Office
My office (well, empty staff room at weekend!)
Signage in Kings Education
Going up

Delightful Sue in Taipei helped me realise I could not book ferry tix from China. More research required. Here’s some Trip Advisor unanswered questions. Attempted to fill out an online form for the ferry to Taiwan. Looks like I have some options. Have made email contact with csf but no promise of ticket as yet.

Begin to worry about different currencies. Should I carry roubles and yuan? Hang on, Chinese money … renmimbi?  More research coming up!

Then, I had the realisation.

I would still be leaving China on the GB passport. I must leave China on the same document, with visa, that I arrived on. For this plan to work, I needed to arrive in Taiwan on my NZ passport. On one voyage. On one ship. Does this sound familiar?

Was? I? Stuffed?

Would the ferry be the same as the cargo ship in not allowing me to swap passports midstream?

Snookered. I realised I might be pinging backwards and forwards between Aust and NZ until someone saw my citizenship extended past the Captain’s say so and rescued me.

More emails and research informed me of the existance of an NZ Endorsment. I could get this sticker in my GB passport. It would alert officials that I was a New Zealander travelling on a different passport. I would not, however, be able to land in Australia.

Remembering Chinese wisdom I sought I Ching. Reading about leaving Danger and Unknown and, finding strong steed, moving to action, success and light. Main message? Keep going. I take it a strong steed is a train or cargo ship? Authentic, wouldn’t you agree?

symbol of hexagons and yin and yang to illustrate I ching
https://astrology.com.au/psychic-readings/oracles/i-ching

Strain beginning to show in right eyeball. Philip Pullman’s first book in Dark Materials, La Belle Sauvage has his character Malcom experience a rainbow shimmering crack in vision. So did I. It did shimmer like a thin new moon to start with and grew larger and more open, shifting to the side. It did not hurt. It was quite wondrous. An internal kaleidoscope. But I took an aspirin in case it became migrane. Tired. Slow. I managed to get through my classes.

Booked massage with expert Charlotte Softly. (If you’re ever in Brighton!)

I was not getting clear messages from NZ as to where to get the NZ Endorsement stuck in my passport. My passports still with China so there was not much point panicking yet but …

There had to be a way through this section. I kept trying. I Ching told me so.

I discovered I could get an NZ Endorsement over the counter. I found an address.

Discovered NZ Endorsement is also known on the website as ‘Endorsement’ and as ‘First Endorsement’ which explains why I couldn’t find it in the drop-down menu.

Lunched with fellow teacher Karolina to pick her brain about Warsaw (Chopin museum?) and record her saying ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘I only eat plants’ in Polish. It is always nice to eat with a friend. Dziękuję Ci.

A working lunch for Karolina

After school, Nurse Ruth gave me the two-injection-NHS-travel-combo of Hep A and Typhoid, Diptheria, Tetanus and Polio. Given I would be travelling on a working cargo ship I could probably expect rough edges and rusty metal.

Travel vaccine card
Thanks, Nurse Ruth! (Don’t worry, I filled it in.)

She was as gentle as a mosquito and, as a bonus, provided me with surprising admiration for my feat. I felt quite chuffed as she exclaimed over my itinerary and even told a passing colleague of my plans. I thought I’d better get some more business cards printed so I can get folk to read this blog! Hi, Nurse Ruth if you’re reading this!

On the train from Brighton to London to pick up passports, threw lukewarm coffee all over my front, marched up and down train to find working toilet with cold tap to rinse, sat with wet (clean) front, raced to Real Russia, picked up one passport – hang on there, young fellow (who is covering for Bill cowering out the back who does not want his photo taken) – where is the other one? In a separate different place. Got it. The GB is now weighty with four glistening new visas. Wonderful.

Raced over to NZ. It was quicker to walk. Not NZ House where my grandfather’s name marks the entry, but a scummy office building, looking like it was built to store archives, somewhere in the back roads with other archive-type buildings. Immigration has been outsourced. NZ shares a floor with Italy which covers an extensive office of waiting rooms and computer screens, board room and long customer counter. NZ is in a cupboard. The NZ nook.

The young woman there, with whom I had a prior email relationship, was alone and unwell. She coughed and sputtered unhappily and called me Madame even though I insisted on calling her by her first name. I handed over form and two passports. I had eighty pounds in cash ready. She examined the form and asked for my visa photo. I pointed out the form stated I merely needed to show her the NZ passport. She had to ring someone to verify. She asked if I intended to travel within 26 days. I said yes, I was leaving the UK within ten days. She asked for ninety-nine pounds. When questioned she said the service fee of nineteen pounds is listed on the internet. I offered the cash. She explained she could only use the card. I pointed out the tick on the form saying I chose to pay in cash. She said that was not possible. I paid by card.

She said the Endorsement would be emailed to me within 26 days.

I pointed to the tick in the form where I had chosen the option of a sticker.

She said I could not have a sticker. No one could ever have a sticker. The NZ immigration office was closed. I could only have an Electronic Endorsement. I would have to print it out and carry it with my GB passport.

I asked if I could get it in a hurry.

She said she could try. She tapped at her computer. She looked up doubtfully and said, ‘Madame, you could write a letter to explain your circumstances.’

I said, ‘Right-oh,’ and dashed off a note, on paper, pleading for haste and mercy to the Immigration Office (presumably not the one that has closed).

All things considered, it would be better for me to be allowed to enter NZ on arrival.

BUT

No sign of it so far. Nor of ticket for little ferry from China to Taiwan.

BUT

Sue forwarded a link to the typhoon warning system!

Travelling overland from the UK to NZ should not be this tricky. Nor this expensive. Flying is too cheap. One of the students in Kings Brighton flew to Cophenhagen for twenty pounds last weekend. Rail is too expensive. It cost me forty-two pounds to travel from Brighton to the YHA Lee Valley.

Contrail above Brighton Pavilion
Bye bye Brighton and thank you!

Next stop, Harwich! I’m on my way!

AND

UPDATE FROM MARCEA IN TOTNES!

Hi again – well it’s the final week before the global climate October Rebellion. Our area is assigned the theme of food and scarcity – and will be a multi faith platform of speakers. I have been told to pay £105 costs for obstructing the highway last April and not to get arrested again for 6 months. I will be looking after arrestees this time as they leave police cells. I’m making skeleton costumes about hunger and to go to fossil fuel conferences in London with placards etc – we have weekly meetings and 3 times more folk have signed up than April – we don’t know how it’ll go but it’ll be a big impact around the world so let’s hope it’ll nudge the politicians in the right direction!

Marcea made patch
Marcea made my patch so I can nail my colours to the mast

AND

Need help?

Do you feel the Earth move? Here’s who was Rebelling last Friday. Where will you be on 7th October?

https://twitter.com/sallymcmanus/status/1178082679020904448?s=20

Part VI continues here.

Real Russia – the real support system for a trip OVERLAND from UK to the Antipodes! Part IV

Central contrail cuts the blue sky over the roof of a passing train
Contrail splits the sky over a passing train

Welcome to my flygskam overland journey! If you are just starting, here are the first bits: Part I, Part II and Part III

I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have found Real Russia, or rather, to have the Man in Seat 61 tell me about them. After only a quick enquiry, Anastasia took charge of my visas while Christine became my ticket gurini, setting me up with a tracking page so I could see at a glance where I was up to. (If I could find the link.) Both were based in Russia, in the south, in Volgograd (former Stalingrad) so I wouldn’t be able to meet them this trip. But I am so grateful to them.

Anastasia gave me a good talking to about filling in the required visa forms (Belarus, Mongolia, Russia and China) ASAP. They’re all arranged via the Real Russia website. I spent two late nights in the school office, sweating over details like next of kin and employers, the dates of my parents’ deaths, my income and if I should be including my darling son’s passport number when he’s a grown man and nowhere near this expedition!

Also required in the forms were my accommodation. Aaaaargh! I quickly searched through Booking.com and found The Strawberry Duck Hostel (!) in Moscow and the Beijing 161 Wangfujing Courtyard Hotel – blearily looking at maps, negotiating dates and trying to understand different currencies. (As a result, both bookings contained errors which took a week or so to sort out later.) But I completed the forms, hit submit, and dragged myself out of the office and into my comfy little student room upstairs.

Phew. Made the deadline. The next step was a date with destiny (actually Bill) at Real Russia London to deliver my passport. I had to negotiate time off with my work which I was reluctant to do. I felt so grateful to Kings Education, Brighton, not only for giving me the opportunity to teach such a wide range of people, ages and cultures but also to live within the establishment. I had to work in reception once a fortnight or so but what a marvellous opportunity to save money for this epic journey!

I caught the train the afternoon before, walking up and down the main street of Brighton to find a photographer who could do the visa photos. Der. When I got to Victoria Station there was a machine. Just like the one in the Brighton Railway Station. But I sat up straight and finally achieved useful snaps.

(Stayed in the St Pauls YHA (you can hear the bells beautifully) and enjoyed Notorious with Cary Grant and Ingmar Bergman at the BFI.)

The next morning I woke with the bells and was glad I had extra time to travel the short distance from Tower Hill tube station to Real Russia so I could worry if I had the correct paper work, passports and photos, worry if the photos, suitable for American and Indian visas, would suffice for Russia and China and worry … worry … where the heck was the office?

The Tower of London and London Wall
The ancient city walls and the Tower of London

Real Russia is a little bit difficult to find.

Corner of the Minories
London is building everywhere

The address is 122 Minories, London.

Minories to the right. 122 Minories around the bend to the left!

The door is not on the Minories. It’s around the corner.

Real Russia's address is Minories
Real Russia is just around the bend
Real Russia sandwich board
I do not think this was outside the door the first time I came to visit. I thought I had better capture it when I could

I could not work out the twisty corridors, choosing (why?) to head downstairs to an abandoned stairwell that looked as if it had suffered a midnight flit or a sudden search with fallen lost things and pamphlet failure. Real Russia is just on the first floor, that’s all. If you’re clever and take the lift it’s easy.

The front door of Real Russia
The London Office of Real Russia is upstairs, behind a quiet, unassuming door.

Once inside, I met Bill Watkins, cheery Englishman with gold neck chain, who examined the electronic forms, corrected my mistakes and had to call in Irene, who knew he loved her, to explain why there was such a strange pop-up in my page.

Everything had to be done in the correct order. We had to go to Mongolia first and we had to expedite Russia, then apply to China and finally Belarus. I had left it way too long and I had let my finances get away from me. I would need to return to London once more to deliver my passport to Russia (for the biometrics). Bill looked as if he’d clipped many photos to size and attached more than a thousand forms to their passports. He admitted he could do them in his sleep. I surrendered my passport to him. (Duel citizens must carry the Chinese visa in their British passport.)

Bill was not there
Where in the world is Bill?
(That’s Lenin on his desk. Remember Arthur Ransome’s pal?)

We had a nice talk about identity theft. His sister is extremely paranoid about it. Bill, who works for a Russian travel agency, thinks that if anyone wants his identity, they’re welcome to it. To put up defences against any kind of theft is enormously difficult. Better not to have too much stuff, really. I told him I’d been really nervous four years ago when I had to copy and email my passport for the Spanish government via an insecure network. The NZ passport. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve copied them since then. Both passports, that is. That’s right. I’ve got two passports.

I am incredibly lucky in this world. Because I was born in London, I’m British. Because my mother was a New Zealander, I travel between Australia and NZ on an NZ passport. And, because my father was Australian, I am also eligible for an Australian passport as a citizen. Whilst in Europe (hah bloody hah Brexit) I’ve been able to freely move around with my British passport. However, I was employed by the Spanish Government as a NZ citizen, so they were able to utilise both passports.

Real Russia had everything under control.

Back on the road again, I found I could attend the matinee of Peter Gynt at the National Theatre, written by David Hare and Ibsen, an energetic romp through modern madness. My London outing was complete and I returned to Brighton refreshed and ready to prep for more classes.

And, after hours, fix up my mistakes. As it turned out, I’d mistaken the accommodation dates because I had no idea it took nineteen hours and twenty seven minutes to train from Warsaw to Moscow.

Clocks over Bill
Ulan Bator, London, Beijing and Moscow

You mean all that distance takes time?

That’s the best thing about overland travel. There’s a sense of time and distance that’s completely lost in a plane. Especially if you can’t see land from the window. You appear to be drifting in fluffy clouds – a sort of living heaven – where sun beams bless your face intermittently and flight attendants bring you assorted plastics smeared with some kind of indistinguishable food stuffs.

I do like flying – I’m quite good at it. But now I am a proponent of flygskam – a Swedish word meaning “flight shame” – favour eco-friendly transport such as trains over planes. 

I was through the worst of the planning. Real Russia was handling all the visa application processes. All I had to do was deliver the passports to the Visa Centres when required and get finger printed. The next trip to London would be to visit Russia.

Costs of visas as at August 2019   
£98.46 Mongolian Single Entry Mongolian Transit Visa application (Standard service consular processing)   
£134.03 Russian Tourist Visa application   
£101.18 for Fast Track Russian Tourist Visa application   
£89.56 Single Entry Belarusian Transit Visa application   
£193.80 Chinese Tourist Visa application   

I negotiated time off on a Monday thinking I could get back in time for my afternoon class but as it happened I did not have such a thing so I had time to play in London. I picked up my passport from Real Russia, walked past the Barbican Centre and the London Museum, to the Russian Visa Application Centre in Gee Street. The centre has a wonderful photographic wall of Moscow, whetting my appetite for my visit to the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral. I could see concerned people thumbing through papers, attending to payments, having to sit down again and wait for their number to be called, attend to another thing, then back to wait again while I, friend of Real Russia, leapt at once to my feet with my number, presented, signed, held four fingers on a yellow disco perspex place then the other fingers then two thumbs close together, dah, better. And biometrics over, back into the London sunshine again.

I went to visit Mary Quant at the V&A. I had such a delightful hour or so there, wandering past my youth frozen in glass cases, the stylised daisy logo, the tights, frocks and short hair …

Back in Brighton, back at school, searching for scissors or holepunch or some textbook or other, I opened a drawer in a classroom and came upon a DVD. There were no DVDs in Kings Education. Everything on the IWDs was online or on desktops. I’d never seen one before. But this DVD was Joanna Lumley’s TransSiberian Adventure.

You may or may not be able to view all three episodes online.

She began her trip in Hong Kong, where she used to live as a child. SO DID I, Joanna Lumley! Wow! Only I was there a bit later, from the ages of 8 to 10 years old. So on my return I was able to remember a bit and walked around our old neighbourhood with the mental map returning to mind.

Cicada in foreground overlooking buildings in HK
A cicada-eye view of the ever encroaching buildings of HK. My birthday treat in 2016 was a visit to our old home in Bowen Road, now a fitness trail. There used to be wildlife here, monkeys and birds. There are still insects.

It’s a bit of a stretch, but it could be said my entire journey started in April 2016, in Hong Kong, so there is another similarity. Ms Lumley, though, got on and off the train, met people and did adventurous things. I’m just going to sit on my bum and stare out the window for seven days. Also, she went the other way, ending in Moscow. I’m going to start from the UK (where I was born – another kind of beginning) and head out across the Channel to Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Russia and China.

One of the teachers said to me on a Friday afternoon, ‘Who will you talk to on the weekend?’ Well, I spoke to Abdullah and Ned and Simka and a Chinese lady who is staying in Brighton for four days with just a few words of English. I realised I’m going to China with NO Chinese. Quick! XieXie. And Russia with NO Russian. Spasibo. Learning starts at home.

I was getting excited. Had my undercut sharpened up at ‘Hello Sailor’s Barber Shop’. Suitable, I thought, for someone about to sail from China to New Zealand. The barber came from Frankston in Melbourne.

BUT

NEWS from the shipping company.

Alexandra and Oceane want me to chose ONE passport. They have to send it to the Captain who will then send it on with the list of passengers to all the ports.

Gulp.

By return email, I explained that, because the Chinese visa will be in the Great British passport, I have to exit China as a British citizen. But I must enter Australia and New Zealand on my NZ passport as that is how I exited Australia. Could they please help me?

Alexandra and Oceane say, ‘Pick one’.

More emails. I fight back with the NZ regulations:  https://www.immigration.govt.nz/knowledgebase/kb-question/kb-question-1170 pointing out the international waters don’t care about my passport. It’s only relevant when I enter and exit a territory.

Their reply:

“It’s the rules – we can’t do nothing. If you want to cancel the trip – please let me know.”

Part V coming soon!

Marcea at the Global Climate Strike in Totnes
Update from Marcea. She’s on the left, Friday 20th Sept 2019, supporting children striking for their future