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Monday, November 25, 2002

In Irkutsk. Spent three days in village next to lake Bakal. Lots of vodka. Train for Moscow leaves tomorrow.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2002

In Ulaan Baator. Very cold and a bit bleak. Spent two nights at a Ger camp. Very cold but just beautiful. Warm inside tents. Fell off a horse and got dragged along by the stirrup for one minute. Train for Siberia leaves tomorrow evening.

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Thursday, November 14, 2002

This weblog was called 'Personal' simply because at I was setting up two blogs at the time.. one for work and one for family and friends. I called one 'Work' and the other 'Personal'. I've now been told that this name falls foul of some net-nanny type software. I would change it, but I'm scared something will get broke.

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Off on the train early Saturday, so probably no diary for a few days.

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Beijing couldn’t be more different to Shanghai. Shanghai is clutter and scrummage, Beijing is wide and scattered. Beijing has mountains from Southern California. Shanghai has grids of sky scrapers that confine pavements to shadow and funnel the wind.
Beijing is crisp and fresh (well it was when we arrived, now it’s biting, chapping and ice-cream headache); Shanghai humid or wet.
Shanghai is neon, Beijing tinsel in comparison. Shanghai is construction and the demolition of the old and crumbly that precedes it.
Both challenge the most determined walker, Shanghai with the sheer mass of people and traffic negotiation and Beijing with the sheer distances involved and the monotonous highways to walk beside (in Shanghai you will walk through many people’s lives on any given journey – it’s far more interesting). Beijing is ten-lane parading boulevards with a smattering of traffic and eight-lane ring roads in gridlock. Beijing has huge parks and beautiful restored buildings; temples and city gates. It’s just more chilled. Shanghai has coins for small denomination money, while Beijing only notes. I have a wallet with notes that are worth 1.5pence. Shanghai has Bok Choi, haven’t come across it in Beijing yet. Beijing has ex-pats and the paraphernalia (Irish bars) that surrounds them.
As far as talent spotting goes Shanghai wins hands down. (although to be fair we existed in the domain of the pretty people – the fashionable shopping streets). Faces smooth and subtle where the application of makeup would only serve to add coarseness. Waitresses in restaurants would smile sweetly and giggly and leave you staring puppy-faced back into their eyes (in preference to de-ciphering the menu). We christened one such attendant 'Marble Girl', for a blemish we could not find upon her visible skin (the only inaccuracy of this description manifesting itself as a sexy flush at the top-center of her pale cheeks). She wore inner beauty raditing from a face on which the most expensive cosmetics in the world would be wasted. Her looks only surpassed by her ability to understand our request for beers to be served cold, and not warm with an accompanying glass of ice.

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Went to an acrobatic show last evening. Very entertaining. Could have done with there being more grown women performing so you could have had an aprechation for thier suppleness. Also could have done without the magic act at the start of the second half. One of my pet hates is magicians who produce doves from thin air. Unfortunately this was the entire act; ten minutes of dove production.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2002

TV in the hotel room is dire. I kinda wish we didn't have one so that it would force me to do some reading or writing. Watched the England vs New Zeland match though - superb game - shame about the result. Some of the films sat through while waiting to fall asleep, here was yesterday's schedule for the film channel:
01:00 POSSESSED
03:00 SOFT KILL
05:00 ATOMIC TWISTER
07:00 A GLIMPSE OF HELL
08:45 LIVING IN PERIL
10:30 HONEY, I BLEW UP THE KID
12:15 BAJA
14:00 STAY TUNED
15:45 SILENT FALL
17:30 LAST OF THE MOHICANS, THE
19:15 WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER
21:00 WORKING GIRL
23:00 ANOTHER STAKEOUT
Watched 'Working Girl' and fell asleep somewhere into 'Another Stakeout' (presumably there was an original 'Stakeout' movie)

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Tiananmen square at night:
A, B, C, D, E

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Is kinda weird getting up in the morning and getting ready to go to work in Beijing. The taxi driver from the hotel to the office this morning was the same guy I'd had yesterday! (don't know what the odds on that are, but I guess they're significantly reduced as I started from the same hotel). The office is about 30 mins drive away (mainly traffic). It has a 'Starbucks' in the lobby, evilly expensive but at least it’s real coffee. Will work four days this week and save the other for the ‘Forbidden City’ and preparing for the train trip (mainly buying loads of super-noodles). Even if I didn’t have to work I would have to do sightseeing on my own as Matt’s ankle is in a bad shape. Got over my first real infliction (a mini cold) since I left the UK back in September. I’ll write about later, but I think I like Beijing. Would be nice if it didn’t have quite so many ‘art’s students’ though.

Victor, I’ve figured out how I can work in a reference to M.G. Don’t think I’ve forgotten about you, you’ll just have to wait a little longer.

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Monday, November 11, 2002

The Great Wall (got a 'bit' steep in places, you may notice Matt gingerly crawling down the steps on his arse in one of the pics):
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H

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Lack of quality of some of the recent the pictures has been reduced a bit as I took them at a high resolution then realised they were to big to be practical for this site. I'll try and remember to take them at the smaller resulotion in the future.

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A rare specimen from the 'Ming' dynasty.

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The Summer Palace (including us out on a peddle-boat, where I did all of the work):
A, B, C, D, E, F, G

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Temple of Heaven
A, B, C, D, E, F, G

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We have a 'three star' room in a 'four star' hotel. This basically means that we get a cheap room, but cannot use any of the hotel facilities as they are stupidly expensive. One of the 'features' of a cheap room is that you get no window. This is not strictly true in our case as we do have a window, it just happens to be overlooking the bar!! Here is how to get some sleep in such an environment.

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Sorry for the lack of posting.. It's kinda difficult to access the internet here. I'm going to put some pictures up.. then fill in the gaps later.

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Thursday, November 07, 2002

Train was pretty cool. Cost 499RMB (£38) for the first class journey of 14 hours. There were 4 beds in a room, each with it's own TV. Very comfortable. Played some cards and drank some beers, were unable to make much headway with the local guys we were sharing with.
They provided some plastic slippers, I wore mine to the bar carriage (got a few stares). Sat at the bar in the same seat as Jiang Zemin had previously (there was a pic of him sitting at the bar behind the bar and being served by the same girl who served me)
Arrived in Beijing at 8am.

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Monday, November 04, 2002

Last day in Shanghai today. We leave at 6pm on the overnight train to Beijing. As you may have noticed, I've given Matt authoring rights to this diary. We have worked out an informal partitioning of the commentary; he'll probably be concentrating on bartering exchanges and snack-food.

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Sunday, November 03, 2002

Visited the antiques market on Dongtai Lu, which is very close to the apartment. Some nice stuff for sale although there must be some doubt as to whether the age of the items allows them to be described as antiques. The “Hello” men around this area scuttle up beside you and utter the words “Hello! Antique?” shoving a postcard bought at the Shanghai museum of Art under your nose. I felt like teaching them the phrase “Hello! Blatant Reproduction?”

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Have never felt as safe taking money out of an ATM as I did today. We managed to get mixed up in the security team who were removing money from the bank’s vault and transferring it to an armour plated van. After seeing what was going on I decided that my withdrawal could wait until another day, but was gestured towards the machine by a guy in camouflage gear, a tin helmet and holding what can only me described as a sawn-off bazooka (it was actually the bazooka that he used to do the gesturing). There was another similarly armed guy on the other side of the door. Took the opportunity to wave my newly dispensed wad of money around with reckless abandon.

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Have just discovered that company responsible for booking our trip are mentioned in the guide book. They are described as “patronising, jaded ex-travellers”. Matt and I have been desensitising ourselves to the patronising part. We often leave the apartment with jibes such as "Are you sure you’re going to be warm enough in that?" or "Did you go to the toilet? You know what your bladder’s like".

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Had a Shanghai clubbing experience yesterday. One of the guys I was with went over to ask one of the local girls to dance. Chivalrous man that I am, I quickly followed to save her recently stranded friend. I’ve never exactly felt comfortable in my disco - dancing ability, never believing that suffering me un-co-ordinately twitch and finger-click would form a basis for a long-term relationship. Add to this the fact that the instigator of this whole exercise had already left the dance floor, and I was left praying for the break in the song which would allow me make a timely and polite exit back to the safety of my table. Of course, the music was provided by a DJ who insisted in seamlessly mixing one song into the next, refusing to give me the clean break I was desperately waiting for. Eventually I got what I wanted and I thanked the girl (who was kind’a sweet) and said goodbye. Asking the guy why his liaison was so brief, he tells me that his partner had been more than happy to continue dancing with him but “only if you pay”. I avoided the girl I’d danced with for the rest of the night for fear of being presented with an invoice.

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Trying to work out if Wales is more recognised by the Chinese than the Americans. The last response I had from a group of young Chinese was “Wales, yes Gill-eggs, player from United of Manchester, Gill-eggs”.

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Setting sun from the balcony.

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There exists a permanent and relentless background noise in Shanghai. It’s the noise of sixteen million people ‘getting on with it’. After an hour’s walking through the instruments of such noise which frequently re-offend as the producers of the grime, dust and fumes that soil your skin and clothes, the oasis of calm which was the incense dusted Buddhist temple we finally arrived at was very much appreciated. I was tired before we started the walk and tired, dirty and hassled by the time we arrived. After paying the 10 yuan entrance fee I sat on a wall inside the compound, next to the temple and closed my eyes for a while. The highlight of the temple are two Jade Buddhas which are pretty impressive in size (over two meters tall) along with various other brass and wooden Buddahs (all in all a good Buddha selection). Some chanting and drum beating monks complete the picture. PICS: A, B, C, D, E. LINKS: a.

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One of the guys here is becoming a deft hand at ‘blind ordering’ in places that have no English menu and no English speakers. We devised a scoring system for the resulting spread of dishes based on such criteria as:
a) variety
b) novelty value (loose one point for every dish containing Bok Choi*)
c) level of chopstick technicality required
d) absence of dog
e) persistence in ordering items that bring a frown, giggles or worried glances to be exchanged between waitresses (double points awarded for having the guts to upgrade the order to include double portion of the item provoking such a response).

*a vegetable, probably a member of the cabbage family. Is used in pretty much every dish served here esp. soup and noodles. It even seems to have sneaked into the "seasonal vegetable" slot (a euphemism for a dish of delicious steamed broccoli when I arrived). I'm thoroughly sick of the stuff, it certainly won't be taking my vote for Auxiliary Xmas dinner vegatable this year (think I'll stick to swede).

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I had checked on Wednesday if my plane ticket (from Moscow to Shanghai) had arrived. I needed it to enter Russia and possibly to obtain my visa. They seem to want proof that I intend to leave and am not planning to start a new life as Grozny-based IT consultant.
It wasn’t in my pigeon hole and the front desk didn’t know anything about it. I sent an email to the US to confirm it’s status – they email me back a day later telling me that the package arrived on Monday and was signed for by ‘U.O.’. Nobody here by that name apparently. What follows is one and a half days of Sino-Cymru dialog and general arsing around.
I eventually manage to get delivery list from the local courier company faxed through to the front desk here where the guy tells me that the delivery address listed in Chinese is somewhere else entirely. He insists I take a cab take a cab to the place where it’s been delivered as it’s too far to walk. We get in a taxi and show him the address, he drives around the corner and stops at a hotel. It’s there alright, it has my name, the address of the place I’m staying, the telephone number of the place I’m staying. They signed for it on Monday and have had it all week without informing me so I, the company who sent it, and the guy behind the desk here (who gets confused sometimes and starts talking Japanese to me) have all been arsing around for two days trying to sort the mess out.

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Worked out how much money I could get by on per day in Shanghai. I spend an average of 13yuan (£1) per day on a taxi journeys back and forward to work (based upon three people sharing). 8yuan (61p) for noodle soup plus 4yuan (31p) for a coke (lunch). Then need about 50yuan (£3-80) for a good evening meal with some beers. Add a couple of large bottles of beers at 3yuan (23p) each.. works out around 75yuan per day (£5-80).

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Discovered today that I was born in the Chinese year of the rabbit.

THE RABBIT

Characteristics:
Peace-loving; sociable by quiet; devoted to family and friends; timid but can be good at business; needs reassurance and affection to avoid being upset; can be vain; long-lived.
Partners:
Best suited to pig, dog and goat; not friendly with tiger and rooster.
Famous rabbits:
Fidel Castro
Martin Luther King
Josef Stalin
Queen Victoria
Albert Einstein

Matt was upset to learn that he was not a monkey as he’d previously believed, but a goat.

THE GOAT

Characteristics:
A charmer and a lucky person who likes money; unpunctual and hesitant; too fond of complaining; interested in the supernatural.

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I always find it useful to have the taxi ride protocol available for reference from the back seat. The execution of step D typically proceeds as follows:
We get out of the cab onto the pavement; I turn to the driver one last time and say "guess it’s difficult to keep in shape when you spend all day behind the wheel, you fat bastard. Goodbye!" (I sometimes do the goodbye in Chinese). We then walk away.

The rules and regulations on the back of the other seat contains such gems as: “Passengers should refrain from smoking, spitting and dumping.” and “Drunkards and Psychos without a guardian are not permitted to ride in the taxi”

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