The last time I was in Wangfujingdajie (see BBC link), the most exciting thing that happened to me was being propositioned by a prostitute (see post dated August 2010). Looks like this Sunday just gone was much more interesting. I might be in Beijing next weekend…
A great tool for the aspiring 21stC cybertramp. When you’re down to your last few free minutes on the library’s half hour internet access, simply save a bunch of URLs to Instapaper and have it send all the text to your Kindle account, to be downloaded and read at your leisure. Very handy.
I like my cooking, and intend changing my diet when I get back to the Highlands.
I was entirely too reliant on processed food last year (an easy habit to get
into when you’re shopping in a Scottish setting…), so I’m drawing up a list of
vegetarian alternatives, storing recipes on the Kindle that make the most of
what fresh ingredients I’ll be able to find. The convenience of processed food
is insidious, and some of the stuff you can get in supermarkets now is perfectly
edible (in an outdoors setting). However, supermarkets aren’t stocking this kind
of processed junk in case an itinerant outdoors enthusiast happens to be
passing. There must be many, many people who actually buy this crap and live off
it at home. And that is worrying…
I’d always lived a fairly spartan lifestyle, steering clear of shit I didn’t need. No fancy car, no big TV, saving up rather than borrowing if I wanted to buy something. In early 2007, seeing what was obviously going to happen, I sold my flat. Free of my last debt, a small mortgage, I should’ve been able to live off the funds for a long time. Who could’ve guessed that the response to an economic crisis based on debt, borrowing and overconsumption would be….to reduce interest rates to zero, trying to promote a recovery by encouraging more borrowing and overconsumption (and, in the meantime, borrowing yet more money to prop up a failed and discredited system)?
This whole sorry mess is going to resolve itself much quicker than people think - and not in a good way. Unfortunately, the destruction of my interest income and the international value of Sterling mean my money probably won’t last even that long. No point bitching about it, one just has to adapt. Having now set up some training courses I’ll be returning to the UK in a few weeks. Longer term, I need to look at a career that will be relevant given the changes in society that I think are coming. A blacksmith’s apprenticeship might be the way to go…
I’m warming to the Kindle’s web browsing capability. It’s still a bit slow and clunky, but there are a few things you can do to streamline the process. The mobile phone versions of websites, e.g. the BBC or Met Office, are less cluttered, load faster and suit the screen better. You can cut down on screen chatter even more by selecting the ‘Article’ option from the menu, which cuts out the main writing and presents it as a single chunk of clear text using the Instapage format.
I started contemplating a return to the bike back in October. I’d been suffering persistent knee troubles for two months, and letting the bike take the strain seemed a good way of giving them recovery time. In the event I was able to walk through the pain and come out the other side, but the experience got me thinking.
Scotland is BIG, deceptively so. I’ve used the bike in the past to access remote areas, turning a three day expedition on foot into a one day hit-and-run. There are many places that lie a long way from the road, where a bike considerably eases the logistics of transport and re-supply. Rather than having to walk out of such areas with a full pack, I can nip out on the bike, returning later the same day with enough food, fuel and booze to explore the vicinity properly. Some of this offroad riding is inspirational in itself, some isn’t.
I now have a good enough working knowledge of the Highlands to be able to string together the offroad riding, quiet singletrack roads and (if necessary) railway bypasses to the kind of roads I no longer want to ride. I can use the bike to get to places that are too remote and difficult for most people to access, staying long enough to do them justice. Which has kind of been the point of the whole exercise this last 12 months. The minimum road riding I’ll have to do…well, I’ll just tolerate the car driving assholes with as much grace as I can muster.
I considered (then discounted) panniers or a trailer for luggage duties. A load of rattling crap hanging off the bike, spoiling the way it rides….nah, I’ve left all that behind me. After some deliberation I’m going to split my walking load half-and-half. The lighter half will be staying on my back, the heavier stuff going in a waterproof stuffsac strapped to the top of the rack. When the going gets rough, or I need the rack capacity for something like firewood, I can transfer all the bike mounted kit easily into my pack (a modified Crux AK70). When I dump the bike in the heather and walk away from it for a few days, I can leave surplus kit with it, cached in the stuffsac. It’s essentially a 50:50 split, 30 litres in each half.
The tracksterman persona started as a result of the cycling I used to do. I haven’t turned the pedals once in almost a year and a half. I was enjoying the walking too much to stop, and it enabled me to get to places you just can’t get to on a bike. The rare bit of road walking I did, perhaps to get to a train station or hitch a lift, confirmed my suspicions about how unpleasant roads are: the litter, the Doppler drone of passing traffic, the smell of exhausts, the lack of human contact with people passing close by. I have no wish to tour on roads ever again. I don’t see the point. I’d rather walk off into the hills with a week’s worth of food and get away from all that crap. Which, paradoxically, is where the bike comes in…
Bailing out of a flight to Kashgar that was running 14 hours late, I walked out of ‘Urumqi International Airport’…and into a scene of complete chaos. The taxi rank system, which functions only marginally at the best of times, had broken down. People were standing round in clusters, ankle deep in black slush, while taxi drivers circled like sharks in a feeding frenzy, trying to cram in as many suckers as they could.
The meter rate going to the airport had been 27Y. Despite big price increases due to inflation, the regulated taxi fares have remained stable. Now, trying to return to town, the best deal I could get was 50Y - and that was sharing the taxi with two other mugs, each also paying 50Y. So, 27Y vs 150Y - not a bad markup. The driver was still cruising back and forth through the black snow for other punters until we all started complaining and told him to get going. Completely illegal, of course, but the police had no intention of getting out of their cars to intervene in that weather. If enough people complain to the right party officials there are periodic crack-downs on this kind of sharking, but the traffic police generally have better things to do with their time (like skimming motorists for bribes).
Air pollution has decreased, it’s true, due to the bus and taxi fleets converting to LPG, but there simply aren’t enough vehicles to go round. The airport bus is a joke, city buses are packed to bursting, and it’s impossible to get a taxi at busier times. The resulting growth in the number of ‘black’ taxis (unlicensed, uninsured and charging exorbitant fees) was generating enough public discontent that the authorities have taken the decision to legitimise them. There’s now a murky situation where you can flag down any vehicle willing to stop, and they’re permitted to take you for a reasonable, negotiated fee. What would happen in the event of an accident is anybody’s guess.
The transport system in Urumqi is approaching some kind of crisis point, although the appalling congestion is due more to incompetent and inconsiderate driving than it is to sheer volume of traffic. What do you do when the roads get too busy? Why, rip out the city’s few remaining cycle lanes, of course, so you can cram more cars in…
Playing around with my Kindle in ‘Urumqi International Airport’ while waiting on a delayed flight (on which more later). It seems Whispernet enables users to bypass the Great Firewall of China, allowing one to access normally blocked sites (such as this one…)! Another point in the Kindle’s favour, along with the fact that its USB plug adapter outputs 850mA. This means you can use it to recharge any device taking less than 850mA which (based on an unscientific survey of my phone and MP3 player) means all of ‘em. Carry the USB cables, leave the plugs at home. Nice.