Wednesday, 12 September 2012


Beijing acts as a good bookend to my trip, a 20 Million person bookend. In comparison to the tales of China's mega-cities, Beijing appears to be relatively sedate and low-rise with surprisingly little smog. Along with the colossal Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, the narrow winding alleys known as Hutongs make Beijing a fascinating city to explore. However, this also serves as a reminder that despite the advanced infrastructure projects, China is still a country with many people living in poverty, these Hutongs are cramped and have no working toilets or running water.
Along with these popular tourist attractions, I also set out to try and find some of the more unusual or surreal constructions that are the inevitable unconscious products of a city the size of Beijing. This included "Wonderland", a disney-style amusement park on the outskirts of the city. Construction was halted for various reasons in the late 90s and now all that remains are a few fantasy castles scattered across a field. On the way to Wonderland I passed row after row of concrete apartment buildings under construction allowing me to wonder around a deserted city with 4 lane boulevards leading nowhere.

Sunday, 9 September 2012


At first glance Novosibirsk would appear to have little to offer to tourists, on closer inspection it is revealed that this is indeed true. The third largest city in Russia, Novosibirsk does provide an idea of what life is like in most typical cities in the country. Young, well-dressed people eating in sushi restaurants mixed with soviet legacy infrastructure and tenement buildings. There are still a few surviving wooden houses and churches spread around the outskirts but for the most-part the city is void of travellers. 

So when the Trans-Mongolian pulled up in the deserted Novosibirsk Station at 11pm it was a pleasant surprise to see my carriage was full of mostly British backpackers all drinking Chinese beer as the train tore across the wastes of Siberia. This surreal experience grew deeper as everyone developed an indifference to time and space. Stretching my legs on a platform during a quick stop I realised I didn't really care which time-zone I was in or what the name of the city was. This continued for 4 nights, watching the landscape subtly change from forest to fields to the edge of the Gobi desert. 

I had always expected this journey would provide me with an overwhelming respect for the scale of the earth. However, it isn't long before we're passing through the suburbs of Beijing, I've travelled to the other side of the planet and from here the world seems small.

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