devi: (railway)
- Out the window you will not see clouds, which are pretty but get old fast. You will see rolling hills, spring buds, gambolling lambs, picturesque canals with colourful boats, interestingly decrepit old factories and rusting industry, daffodils, castles, primroses, ponies and rainbows.
- And the windows are bigger.
- Train food is a hell of a lot nicer and cheaper than plane food. Or you can bring your own yummy food and eat it when you like, when you feel hungry...
- because you have your bag with you for almost the whole journey.
- You know your bag is in the same country as you.
- You can throw your razor, your tweezers, hairspray and a bottle of perfume in it without getting arrested.
- Less than 10 minutes standing in queues, total.
- No one will make you take your shoes off.
- No one will search right down to inside the caps of your markers in your pencil case, while you hold your trousers up with one hand and hold your shoes in the other, because you've been told not to put them back on yet as there's a secondary shoe check up ahead.
- Generally, you will not be treated like a strange hybrid of potential terrorist and cash cow.
- You spend most of the journey actually getting closer to your destination, not rattling round in a consumer Habitrail with nothing to entertain your eyes but ads for stupid aspirational shit you don't need.
- You can bring a musical instrument or other fragile thing without it being taken from you, losing its Fragile sticker as it bumps down the belt, and tumbling out on to the baggage carousel in several pieces at the far end.
- No one is going to make you listen to tinny jingles that go 'let's fly let's fly let's fly Ryanair' over the most mindless stupid-house beat you can imagine, while you sit trapped in a narrow seat with your elbows scrunched in, unable to escape.
- You can listen to music when you want, not just in a twenty-minute window in the middle of the flight while the seatbelt sign is briefly off and you can barely hear it anyway.
- They won't charge you ten quid to check in and twenty for each of your bags.
- You can sprawl in the bigger seats and put your stuff all over the table.
- Tables.
- You get to go on an actual boat! On the actual sea!
- Catamaran go wheeeee! Crosses Irish Sea in two hours!
- Sailing into Dublin Bay on a beautiful cloudy-bright evening is, just, wow.
- You will actually get a sense of the size and the texture of the land you're passing through.
- It doesn't cost £25 just to get to your train.
- Drinks on trains and boats don't come in disturbing let's-patronise-the-poor foil bags with "BUY ONE GET ONE FREE FREE FREE FREE!!!!" written all over them. Also, they are normal size.
- No weird nose-desiccating dry stale air or ear-popping.
- If the airport bus gets snarled up on the M25 and you miss your plane, you have to pay loads of money to change your flight. If you miss your boat, you shrug and get on the next one.
- Counting airport taxes, baggage charges and airport bus, it works out about the same price as if you'd got 1p flights each way. Except it always costs that, no matter when you book. (Edit: this is just for the Oxford-Dublin journey. For some reason the sail/rail price is much less than just rail to Holyhead, and it seems to be fixed at £58.)
- It took me six hours door-to-door to fly home for Christmas, and I was left a frazzled rage-filled sore-eared wreck. Oxford to Dublin over land takes eight to ten hours, not that much of a difference, and I floated off the boat like a blissed-out Buddha.

Seriously, guys, it was awesome. And that's without even going near the greenness of it. I want to go on trains all over Europe now.
devi: (fields)
I am in Iquitos on the banks of the Amazon. I was going to come here on a riverboat, taking three to five days, slowly sailing up the squiggly Rio Ucayali till it turned into the Amazon. But I heard in Pucallpa that the river was so low it was taking nearly a week at the moment, and I´d already lost a couple of days in Lima, so today I caught another little local plane. Iquitos is a cool little city full of grand buildings with dark blue tiling, left over from the rubber boom.

After checking into the Hobo Hideout hostel I walked a couple of blocks down to the riverside. The sky was grey, broken by patches of rusty light, the air was shifting around expectantly as though it was about to storm. Thousands of birds were flocking around a bunch of communications masts in the Plaza de Armas. Then I came out on to a high promenade that looks out across a sweep of lush vegetation and wet fields to the broad silver curve of the river, and the forest beyond it. There was a thick steel-grey curtain of rain coming in from miles away, with distant thunder and lightning. And now the whole sky was swirling with birds, all kinds of birds from sparrows to big scruffy buzzards, some flicking through the air just above my head, some so far up they were just tiny flecks.

People were strolling on the promenade or making out or selling sweets. A children´s play was going on in a little amphitheatre. I stood and watched the rain coming closer for a while, then all the birds suddenly vanished and I knew from the smell of the air that I only had seconds before it rained. I ducked into this netcafe and moments later, outside the open door, bringing a smell of hot wet concrete, the sky fell.

a thing for rainforests )

The jungle around Pucallpa was scrubby, just the fringes, not the really old-growth forest with the huge ancient trees. Here, though, or at least 100km or so out of town, it´s the real thing, and I´m going there. In a few days I´m heading down the river on a boat and then hiking into the forest, and if they still have space on that bit of the tour I get to climb high up into the canopy, where a science team have hung a walkway for people to stand and watch birds and animals you can´t see from the ground.

It´ll be a delicious irony if I get eaten by an anaconda or something while I´m out there. But I don´t expect nature to love me back. I´m just glad to be here.
devi: (sunhead)
It´s funny the effect losing my bag has had on me. I´d spent weeks carefully constructing this travel self, prepared for every eventuality. Scoured shops for clothes that would cover me up against the insects and dry quickly if I hand-washed them. Packed universal bath plug, two kinds of adaptor, earplugs, a mini-pharmacy. Hunted for tiny toiletries so I wouldn´t have to haul about big bottles of shampoo etc. The careful packing was proof against all the dire warnings and something I used to reassure all the people who were worried about me. It was a mental security blanket. And then it got lost, and I had the odd experience of having to re-buy everything haphazardly, having a foreign rucksack full of unfamiliar Peruvian products and an odd assortment of clothes, all the best of a bad lot rather than anything I´d have chosen. The security blanket is gone, and... I kind of like it. Only having a small bag is brilliant. I´d packed light but this little bag is even lighter. When I´ve been travelling before, the transitional bits between one place to stay and another have been an ordeal. Haul the big heavy bag to the new place as quickly as you can, dump it, lie and gasp for a bit and then explore. This way you can check out of somewhere in the morning, wander around all day, arrive at the next place in the evening and not even be tired. The line between essential and desirable things to bring has moved.

Then there´s language. I know a bit of phrasebook Spanish. I can book things and ask directions and stuff. Somehow (arrogantly, it seems now) I thought this would get me by. I was picking it up all the time, after all. But obviously it´s not enough to talk to people, to understand them, to express things beyond the sort of "Mrs Lopez works for Rover. She has a good salary" stuff in my Instant Spanish book. I am saying things are very good, with the genders mixed up half the time, and saying thank you a lot. And like I found in China, when a lot of your coping strategies revolve around language it feels pretty naked to be without it. But I´ve discovered something very interesting. If you haven´t got much language you are forced to be open and straightforward. You meet some little village kid who throws a handful of leaves over you to welcome you to her village and instead of trying to think up something sensitive and appropriate to say, you just ask what her name is. If you want to ask for something you just ask for it, just the words you need, without ringing it round with a maze of caveats, circumlocutions and apologies. You just say what you mean.

So I was lying on my mat on the floor of a wooden house deep in the jungle last night, staring up at the dark rafters of the banana-leaf-thatched roof. There was a crack in it where you could see one star. The room was full of zigzags of cricket noise, punctuated by dripping from the trees. And I realised, suddenly, that everyone in this house thought I was Dutch and none of them knew my name.

The guide/interpreter guy who had set it up for me to come here, the son of the painter (thereby hangs a tale), had gone home, as had the nice English-speaking boy who drove the mototaxi. I had heard the others, all exclusively Spanish-speaking but for a tiny Japanese girl with no English either, saying I was from Holland. It was what they heard no matter how many times I said "Irlanda". And when they´d spoken to me earlier they thought my name was Gloria or Ji-dah or Dray-da, and I´d say it again and they´d look puzzled, then shrug. It was just an impossible collision of consonants. So there I was, in the middle of the forest. I´d lost my stuff, I´d lost my language, and now it was as if I´d even lost my nationality and my name.

And that felt kind of liberating as well, so that I nearly laughed out loud. It was as if all the extraneous nonsense had been stripped off some fundamental thing that was me. But who ´me´ was wasn´t important. I´m Nobody, I thought, so I can be whatever I like.

Unfortunately all I could actually do at that point was go to sleep, but it´s the principle.
devi: (butterfly)
I´d like to tell you properly about the lakeside jungle lodge on stilts, its banana-leaf-thatched buildings linked by narrow wooden walkways like a level of Myst. The jubilation of bursting out into sunshine from the Lima perma-fog, and flying over the Andes and then down over endless forest patched with cloud shadows and threaded with twisty red-brown rivers like question marks. Hummingbirds and butterflies and sliced papaya and talking parrots and hurtling round Pucallpa on rattly, noisy little mototaxis, and this dusty little internet cubby full of rough wooden sculptures of animals and staticky pop radio (everyone round here seems to listen to a station called, I think, ´Romantica´, where every song sounds like it´s from the slushy lovesong pirate radio of my childhood). There´s mad explody mythological art to tell about (I heart Pablo Amaringo) and lucky meetings and exciting stuff afoot. And this feeling of `yes, I´ve arrived, this is it´ which requires a big digression about rainforests and my childhood imaginary world. But I can´t capture anything properly right now because it is TOO HOT TO LIVE (Lima was chilly and somehow damp and arid at the same time; getting off the plane at tiny Pucallpa airport, it was as if the sun was punching me in the bare shoulders).

Also I itch like holy hell after being devoured by mosquitoes last night. It´s murder on my concentration. The `Off!´ bug spray I bought to replace my proper Jungle Formula stuff, gone with my bag, is some sort of cruel joke. It burned when I put it on, but the evil little beggars just sniggered at it and went on biting merrily. Perhaps it is actually human repellent.

Graah. I go find anaesthetic cream. Perhaps I come back later.
devi: (railway)
Hasty post: I´m about to get on a little local plane to Pucallpa, on the far side of the Andes in the beginnings of the rainforest. I´ll be staying in a jungle lodge on an oxbow lake of an Amazon tributary, on stilts over the water. From there it´s a riverboat to Iquitos, which you can´t get to by road, which is awesome. I thought I´d be all YAY YAY YAY SMELL YOU LATER LIMA but actually it´s grown on me a lot in the last day or so. I found my travel legs, I got out of the horrible Manhattan Inn and into the glorious faded-colonial-glamour Gran Hotel Bolivar in the centre of town, which only cost a couple of dollars more. I went to the brutal concrete pile of Museo de la Nacion, which was stuffed with fascinating folk art and the kind of place you can only find in a city. They still haven´t found my bag, but they say they´ll send it on to the next place I´m staying because it´s the airline´s fault, and at this stage I don´t care. I´ve bought a little backpack and a few essential bits and I am out of here.

(Clothes shopping in a supermarket in Lima was a weird experience. Everything was either polyester with shoulder pads, ruffled up-to-the-chin librarian prim, or tiny and made of spandex. So I am wearing a man´s T-shirt which I cut down with a scissors. Get this: on top of a design of tribal suns and bird shapes, it says "Forgive me for my mistakes, I´m still a kid learning the responsibility of being adult." I think this is hilarious.)

Anyway, must fly.

unreal city

Aug. 5th, 2008 08:59 am
devi: (junction night)
I am in Lima. My rucksack isn´t. When I got to the baggage reclaim, late at night local time after being in transit for 27 hours, I was so seeing-stars, sledgehammered-on-the-head tired that I wasn´t even annoyed when my bag failed to appear. I just shrugged and grinned weakly, filled in a load of forms and piloted myself to bed as best I could. Now, though, I´m getting a bit irritated. They said it´d be here last night, it´s now nine in the morning, and I want OUT OF HERE DAMNIT.

Lima-related blather )

Oh, Matt Brooker´s photos from the comics exhibition are here.
devi: (railway)
I am sitting in the North Terminal at Gatwick, waiting for the check-in desk to open. I am simultaneously a bit weepy, after listening to melancholy folk songs on the bus about leaving your lover behind to go a-wandering, and breathlessly excited the way I used to be on Christmas Eve as a kid.

It's been a hectic but brilliant week. Thank you to everyone who dined and partied with me for my birthday and who came to the exhibition launch. (Myself aside, it all looks fantastic, by the way. Go check it out if you have a chance.) But at last all the sorting has been done - or most of it - and I am off. I haven't slept properly and I'm knackered, but my god do I feel alive.

Typing furiously till the credit runs out: I'll get to Lima in something like 21 hours from now and collapse into the airport hotel, which is called the Manhattan Inn and looks tacky but reasonably undodgy. The next day I have a local flight to Pucallpa, up in the Andes, and some time I don't know what to do with before that because mum has made me promise not to go into Lima itself. She has a friend who lives there and says it's a crime-ridden hellhole. "They'll pull the earrings off your ears," she says. Hmm.

But I'd better check in. And find coffee. And carbs.

Sheds

Feb. 13th, 2006 11:48 am
devi: (bookish)
I flew home late last night from a galvanised iron barn hidden in pitch-black countryside somewhere outside Hamburg. There were potholes in the runway. I want to write about the weekend, with all its being driven around looking at things and going wow, but I haven't processed it all yet. [livejournal.com profile] mr_magicfingers said last night that his head was a shed, and I liked that because so is mine right now - a bit like the airport, in fact, with a huge jumbled pile of newly delivered impressions and sights piled up crazily just behind my eyes as little mental subroutines buzz around with forklifts trying to sort and stack them. More soon.

How are you doing?
devi: (Default)
So I'm randomly in Luxembourg staying at [livejournal.com profile] jezzidue's again. Just like that. I am a great big flighty flake and realise that I have forfeited the right to moan about being broke for at least the next six months. But when someone offers you a lift in their car to a foreign country it's very, very hard to refuse.

I am working. No really shut up I am working. Even though my time is being eaten up by such demanding activities as sitting in cafes drinking tiny little cups of strong coffee, and going to exhibitions. I went to one at the Museum of Art and History called Pictures That Lie, about propaganda and falsification of images and records for both political and ratings-getting goals. There were famous pictures from history that were actually posed rather than just shot in action - you know the Iwo Jima statue of the US marines raising the flag? The picture they based that on was re-posed because the flag they were using at first was too small. Sweat stains under government ministers' arms and bullet holes in the backs of mafiosi magically removed for newspaper publication. Diana and Dodi on a yacht - the original, and the picture that got into the paper with his head flipped over in Photoshop so it looked like they were kissing. Bits of Wag The Dog dubbed in German. A group photo of Stalin and four compatriots, then versions of the same photo from the coming decades where one by one the compatriots were erased (purged or out of favour) until finally only Stalin was left standing.

There was a whole display devoted to a German journalist called Michael Born who had his friends act out fake news stories while he filmed them. Then he'd sell the tapes to TV channels. Animal-lovers might want to look away now: one of his most sensational stories was about the new sport of cat-hunting, popular (so he claimed) in Bavaria. The film showed a bloke in a fake beard sitting in a wooden watchtower with a rifle, watching for cats, and then stalking and shooting one. Sadly, that bit wasn't fake. Born had got a cat from a pet refuge to appear in his film. The cat actually died. Born was put in prison. Serves him right.

All this stuff about the power of pictures seems especially relevant right now. I have some vague and self-absorbed things to say about the Mohammed cartoons, my crackpot religious childhood, novenas against the Maastricht treaty and (oddly but sort of relevantly) Guns N' Roses's Appetite For Destruction, but they're not coming out right so for now I'll leave you with this wonderful thing:

All the flights I've taken

(as seen on [livejournal.com profile] how_i_lie)

It's a pain to fill in, but worth it, I think.
devi: (orange)
Yesterday evening I was in the travel trance, in a soft leather seat at the front of a shiny brand-new coach between Luton and Oxford, teary-eyed from the random songs my iPod kept handing me like small gifts, looking at the sparkly lights of the English motorway system as we swung round a roundabout with a funny, jovial driver at the helm (when he got a straight, empty stretch of road he went "Wheeee!"), and a local bus pulled in in front of us with a sign on the back saying "Stuck in traffic? You could be shopping in Hemel Hempstead!" Wise bus. It's nice to be reminded to count your blessings once in a while.

*

6-7 October

Kyoto was one cool or pretty or awe-inspiring thing after another, most of it hard to put into words, so I didn't at the time.

off-top-of-head Kyoto infodump: shrines, schoolgirls, spirits, spices and sake from a saucer )

If this all sounds stereotypical, that's the amazing thing about Japan: I wasn't expecting this, because I come from a country where the tourists I met as a kid seemed to be expecting pots of gold at the ends of rainbows, everyone wearing green and saying "Wisha" and not knowing what a computer was, but Japan is exactly what people say it is.

As we were walking to the station to catch the train to Tokyo, in the rain, we saw a man sitting cross-legged in a doorway. He had an umbrella which he wasn't holding over himself, but over the ginger cat sleeping on his lap.

Pictures are here.
devi: (railway)
I'm in a cosy living-room in Dublin with [livejournal.com profile] inannajones, thesis-typing, and a cat, sleeping. And an open fire. And it is good. Would that it could stay that way. But it's back to the UK and the Real World (ie work-hunting) soon. Bah. I have no idea about anything and am waiting for the Heavens to Send Me a Sign or something.

Writing is going okay-ish; I'm about 6000 words behind, but I'll make it up (I will, I will). I am now thinking of Angels' Prey as Fish In The Sky until I think of something better, because it makes me laugh and think of Eddie Izzard trying to sing the US national anthem.

Last night we went to see Neil Gaiman being interviewed for RTE Radio. Now I'm not the swooning fangirl I was ten years ago when I started reading Sandman (= started reading comics) but I enjoyed it hugely all the same. He has great anecdotes, well told, and does a hilarious impression of Alan Moore, and there was something distinctly eldritch about him intoning a description of Destiny under a full moon. And his advice for aspiring writers has sent me into a frenzy of enthusiasm.

But back to the trip. Kyoto pictures will be next, but first I have to tell you about The Bit on the Boat between China and Japan...

*

4th-6th October

My brother and I are the only ones on the deck of the Su Zhou Hao, the ferry that runs between Shanghai and Osaka. We have the ship almost to ourselves. For hours now Japan has been creeping up on us and reaching out its islands to embrace us. The ship is sailing past the top of Kyushu, the southernmost island. We’ve been up here watching the scenery roll by, muffled up against the warm but damp and insistent wind. We can see mountains, with drifting threads of fog in their valleys, and the occasional house with its own little sea pier and a plume of smoke rising. Now the boat enters a narrow, wooded strait. Far away we can see a string of blinking red lights in the dusk. It grows gradually into a huge, graceful suspension bridge, hundreds of feet high, connecting two islands. We sail beneath it as traffic twinkles past above. “Well, hello, Japan,” Ivan says.

The voyage takes two days... )

In which we encounter heavy seas )

In which we partake of luncheon, sake and beer )

Being an account of the on-board entertainments )

Of the Particulars and Peculiarities of the Inland Sea )
devi: (bluehair)
I am in the bosom of my family and my mother is stealing my clothes. She likes a red paisley-ish top of mine and has asked me for it before. I pointed out that at the moment I live out of a bag and have maybe five tops total. Yesterday she took in my laundry and spirited the top away to her room. Now, my mum hates ironing and only the other day she was announcing that she doesn't iron anything if she can possibly help it. Today I caught her ironing my top while packing for her ballroom-dancing week in Kerry. "Oh, I often give things a little rub when they're dry. I was doing it for you," she said.

Anyway, some more travel journal.

*

I never knew how it felt not to be able to read until I came to China.

Russia was relatively okay. There’s a pretty close correspondence between Cyrillic letters and our alphabet, I is backwards N, N is H, R is P, V is B, etc, fine, sorted. I could never remember what the one that looked like ‘bI’ sounded like, but even that would have sunk in given a few more days. But Chinese... whoa. I was helpless. I wished I’d done a course or something before I went. It refused to go into my head. After a week and a half I had two or three phrases and recognised maybe ten characters. I'd look at a street name and seconds later all I could remember was that it began with J. I felt guilty that I was there and [livejournal.com profile] robot_mel, Chinese scholar extraordinaire, wasn't.

I have often been snooty and withering about coddled package-tourists in the past, but because of the language barrier, trying to organise things in China was enough to make me cry. All my life-admin, coping and sorting-things-out skills were useless. Intensive bursts of telephoning, Google-fu, looking things up, navigation, persuasion: they’re all based on language. I felt so overwhelmed by it all one day in Shanghai that I wanted to hide in the hotel room and not come out. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn’t dream of discouraging anyone from experiencing it themselves. It’s... an experience. But it’s hard.

Now see how hard.

Adventures in medicine-buying! )

Weeks of fun with boat tickets! )
devi: (Default)
Hello! I am back and not dead. I'm in Dublin and I feel dislocated from everything. I keep almost saying 'arigato gozaimasu' to people in restaurants and shops, and falling suddenly asleep at 9pm as though I've been hit on the head with a cartoon hammer. I'm going to keep up the travel journal all the same, even though it's like those times when you write postcards, can't find a post office, accidentally bring them home and then post them from your home town with your own country's stamps on. Or is that just me?

Thank you very much, o kind person who bought me two more months of paid account time. I'd like to buy you a drink but you're anonymous. Maybe I'll pay it forward by doing something for some randomly chosen person instead, and who knows, by some weird coincidence it might turn out to be you?

Since Friday I've helped Ivan move house (he came home to a voicemail saying he had to be out by Saturday noon!) and been to Gaelcon, but thereby hangs another post. From tomorrow I'm doing Nanowrimo, but I'm cheating - most of the words will go to finish the current book-thing of which there's already 37,000 words written, and I'm counting anything fictional or potentially floggable/submittable towards the total. Good luck, anyway, to all you other frantic scribblers, who I'm sure are doing it properly.

It's probably all a distraction from sorting the next bit of life out, which is difficult because Japan has kidnapped my brain. But I hadn't even got to Japan in the journal yet, had I? We'd only just arrived in Shanghai...

Read more... )

Pictures are here. (There’s more on the Great Wall gallery as well, if you’re interested.)

Oh, and happy Samhain, happy new year.
devi: (Default)
Beijing is a city with a very strong will. It likes to impose that will on you. If you have the cheek to walk out into it with a plan, it will take that as a challenge and proceed to thwart your plan in every way it can. But if you give in to it and agree to accept whatever it gives you, it becomes kind and opens its bag of tricks for you to marvel at. One day we set out on rented bikes to go and see the Summer Palace, on the outskirts of the city. It was supposed to be very pretty. I don’t know; we never got there.

The cycling was an odyssey of terror and fascination, but mostly terror.

Cycling in Beijing is like this... )
devi: (orange)
Or there should be. I want to buy a piece of land, somewhere in England or Ireland, and declare it a Chinese park. Or just rent a house with a garden and declare it to be a Chinese park for a single night. Chinese parks are the new best thing ever.

Picture this: It’s just after dark. You’re walking along a winding, shadowy, leafy path with funny metal sculptures like huge bubbles of mercury sitting on the grass on either side. Off in one direction, someone’s voice is rising and falling in operatic scales. From another, faintly, comes the sound of someone else’s flute practice. A barefoot woman is doing t’ai chi in a clearing. Further on, an elderly man in pyjamas is standing absolutely motionless, staring at a tree. Young couples kiss on benches, old couples walk their tiny dogs. Kids play badminton in the path...

night kites and other fun stuff )

Say I did have a nice big garden to do it in. Would you come to a Chinese park evening? And what would you do? ('Stroll' is a perfectly acceptable answer, of course, and so is 'absolutely nothing').
devi: (stomp)
Hello everybody. It's weird how since getting to Japan we've actually had much less net access than before. (In fact, the best net connection of the whole trip was in Mongolia!) We've been staying in old-fashioned inns and minshuku (which are basically B&Bs, only nicer, I think), and in Japan there aren't netcafes all over the place because everyone has a computer. The ones they have rock my socks off - they've got comfy sofas, DVD and manga libraries, free sweets and all manner of fun stuff - but they're correspondingly expensive. I am speaking to you now in another stolen wifi moment, in a coffee shop in Karatsu. Karatsu is a wee town near Fukuoka on the south island of Japan and isn't even mentioned in the Rough Guide. We're staying with Ivan's friend Leah, an English teacher who's been driving us around at breakneck speed in the little car she calls 'the hairdryer'. Tonight we go to the bathhouse and do karaoke. (Not simultaneously, though that would be... interesting.) Home next week. It's a very, very strange thought.

I'm way behind with this, but I'm going to carry on telling you about China, and the day we went to the Great Wall...

Though for a while that morning it looked like we mightn’t get to the Great Wall at all. The bus to Jinshanling coughed its way along the motorway for a few minutes at a time, then the coughing would turn into shuddering and the driver would pull over, and he and his friend would tinker with the engine. Once another tourist bus pulled in alongside us and its driver got out to help, while its passengers made puzzled faces at us and we did the same back. The driver would get back in with some huge soot-encrusted engine part and put it by his seat – a cylinder of many layers of wire mesh was first, then a bucket-shaped thing with hooks sticking out of it. He’d set off again and then the shuddering would start up and he’d cluck his tongue and pull over. There was a pile of engine parts in the front after a while. I wondered how there was any bus left. An Italian man with spectacularly bushy armpits was sitting beside me, tutting and making fun of the drivers’ accents. Finally they pulled into a garage, where mechanics were swarming over a rust-covered lorry chassis. The driver said it’d be twenty minutes. "'Clen-ee min-oo’ – that means an hour, you know,” said the Italian, unfunnily. Meanwhile Ivan was sitting with the Italian’s friend, who was reading inspirational Christian literature in between telling Ivan stories about his time as a professional card cheat and con man. I heard stories of scams from a Colombian – the “I’m a Chinese tourist, come for an exorbitant dinner so I can practice my English” one, the art student one (“come and see my exhibition for my final exams, it's free to look… oh, now that you're here, I forgot to mention that I’ll fail unless you buy something”). But it actually did take twenty minutes, and finally, five hours after we’d left Beijing, we were there.

stomp, pant, stomp, pant )

The first few pictures - the ones I've managed to squeeze through the one-bar connection - are here.
devi: (Default)
red lanterns, green water, sooty black smoke. China was blaring horns and bicycle bells and the chugging of a million consumptive engines. With the exception of two five-year-olds, China was on the make. (Hello hello hello? Do you like Chinese art? Looka looka, yes, I mean you, look! No way to make eye contact, much less stop to talk, because people would chase you down the street prodding you in the arm.) China was humid, treacly air cleaned suddenly by fat, windless rain. Smells of smoke and spice and sewers, and the impossibility of communication. China was celebrating its national holiday for nearly a week and a half. China was all going somewhere on trains, so we never made it to Xi'an. China was a thousand faces at every street crossing, all marching about their own determined business. It was puppies for sale on the street and a dozen people gathered around a TV on the back of a bike. It was more delicious food than you could possibly eat for pennies, and Fired Frog Wigh Wild Chili, Tiger beer and six-year-old Great Wall wine. It was everyone hawking and spitting all the time. It was faraway voices practicing operatic scales in parks at dusk. It was overwhelming and frustrating and thrilling and ugly and beautiful all at the same time.

And because I care about your immortal souls, here's A Lost Parable of the Buddha )

I'm at a loss to write about the Forbidden City, when we made it there the next day. It was amazing, yes, but it feels as if its patch in idea-space has already been picked clean of all possible words by all the other people who've written about it, so I'm just going to show it to you, along with lots of other Beijing pictures. Till I get wifi again, the first lot are here.
devi: (Default)
I can`t seem to put the second day in Mongolia into words either, and you`ve already seen the pictures, so I give up. The travel journal is now in China, okay? Our hostel in Beijing was gorgeous, more like a swish hotel than a hostel, made entirely of shiny marble with a funky lobby where you could sit on leather sofas under red lanterns and drink beer while watching comedy kung fu on TV. In the magazine rack we found this:





The line-up for this festival included Azerbaijan Dancing Band, Russian Mumiy Troll Band, Johnson Super Boy From Finland, Girls Band from St Mary’s College of New Zealand, the Beijing International Standard Dancing Institute, and, bizarrely, The Urinals ("funded in 1978 when punk prevails in America").

I felt kind of guilty laughing at all the Engrish in China, though it was everywhere and it was hilarious (one of the doors of the hostel had a sign over it saying "Stuff Channels", and the fire safety notice in the room said "leave the fired spot with wet tower over mouth and nose"), considering how hard I found it to pick up any Chinese at all, of which more later. But I have to share these write-ups with you:

Cuban Babisi Band
Their music is wild, delight, sonorous, with fluctuating rhythm.

Hua Shaoli
His voice gives you a sense of hierarchy. He can sing various kinds of songs.

Mingmeng Pai
As a new boy-girl band, Mingmeng Pai has his own gloom musician atmosphere in which your numb neurotic cells will tear up gradually.

Billows Fairy Tale Band
Billows Fairy Tale Band is one of few British rock bands in Beijing, which belongs to grunge, another type of British rock with strong baroque style. After keyboard player joined the band, it will show more style of aesthetism.

Viewfinder Band
It has sighed up the New Bee Music Company.

Wang Feng
Wang Feng will use his voice to tear up your adamancy under disguises and hurt your heart when you are fragile.

Poland Pantomime Master
When light shines directly on him, Claunis in black, who stands at the center of stage, makes audience feel mysterious and seductive.

Canadian BLOU Pop Band
The band’s superior expressive force and power of control can always moves its thousands of audience and bring climaxes one after another to concerts that leave fans unforgettable memory.

Camel Band
From Oak, to Happy Park to Great Fortune, the band sings camels’ sorrowful rhythm that they hum while staggering in their hard trip.

(More about the hard trip later.)
devi: (Default)
I'm going to be brief for once, in a stolen moment of wifi access, just to say I'm about to board the Shinkansen and I bought tickets in Japanese and that distant ringing in your ears is me going squee on the far side of the world. Talk to you in Tokyo...
devi: (Default)
(or, a crash course in modern Mongolian poetry)

Before I go on, thank you all for telling me about your sibling-relationships. I'll be posting more about Mongolia soon, but for now...

I found this wonderful thing at Buyant-Ukhaa airport in Ulan Bator, just before getting on the plane, in a souvenir shop otherwise full of tat. It’s fascinating.





It was published in 1985, when communism was still in force, and there’s a lot of terrible poems about the greatness of Lenin and the glory of the October Revolution in it. The foreword also declares that the modern poetry movement in Mongolia began with two Communist revolutionary songs written in the 1920s. I take this claim with a large sack of salt. But many of the non-political ones are quite beautiful. (There seems to be an inverse correspondence between whether they’re about Communism and whether they’re any cop.) The translation is a bit clunky, it’s full of typos and I can’t see through the haze of my infatuation with Mongolia if the poetry is actually any good or not, but I’m charmed by it anyway.

Look inside...

(I didn't manage to write down the authors' names before posting the book back to Ireland in a large box of souvenirs. I'll add them later. And ignore the last picture, its purpose will become clear in the fullness of time.)

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