Tag Archives: China

The Wall (the Great one)

There are many great places I have visited, few are bold enough to describe themselves as such, but ‘the wall’ is one of them (and rightly so). The lakes and barrier reef others. Typing ‘the great’ into a search engine guesses the rest of the search as ‘Gatsby’ ‘Depression’ ‘Escape’ or ‘British Bake Off’! All very grounding cultural references. The Great Wall of China was a significant landmark to reach, not least because it was a true marker of the distance travelled. Crossing Russia and Mongolia marked a significant crossing from anything I had encountered before. I had truly left my known world behind, and it would not look the same again.

I needed to mark this significant place in the only way I could, I left a pebble covered in crochet. Leaving one of the ‘breadcrumbs’ at The Great Wall felt like it could be an easy decision. Of course, any landmark as big as this ‘needed’ to be marked. But I didn’t want it to work in that way, those landmarks are ‘marked’ well enough already. I didn’t want my trail of breadcrumbs to be left in all the obvious places, they couldn’t fight with such icons. I wanted them to be quiet pieces that were seemingly random, left in hidden, unsuspecting places. And, despite its size, the accessible parts of the wall are scrutinised routinely, steps swept, litter picked and few secret spots remain. I ventured to find one though, and am not under too much illusion that it will have inhabited its little space for very long before discovered and discarded.

The Great Wall of China, Louise Kenward (2013)

The Great Wall of China, Louise Kenward (2013)

Bexhill to Bexhill

Trail of Breadcrumbs at Great Wall, Louise Kenward (2013)

Bexhill to Bexhill

View for breadcrumb from wall, Louise Kenward (2013)




Trans Siberian Train, day 2 (or 3)

Wednesday, 9th October – Trans Siberian Train

“8am local time (somewhere between Moscow and Beijing), 6am Moscow time – the train will remain on Moscow time until we reach Beijing. This initially entertains me but is becoming increasingly confusing. I adjust my watch accordingly so as to ease myself in to changing time zones, and to arrive in China at a reasonable time of day. It makes for more complicated station stops though, assuming the train is running to schedule.

I’ve just realised the last entry was probably yesterday, so Tuesday not Monday, or Wednesday, possibly.

Early morning calm and more trees are yellowing or have lost their covering for the winter. A soft pink/peach filled the sky earlier but now it is a purple grey with smatterings of blue and white. The stark trees continue to line the tracks. The ‘bathroom’ is becoming increasingly fragrant. Ingenuity through necessity I’ve had a warm wash from the boiler this morning, taking great care not to drop anything on the floor.

The attendant has returned the creased, yellowed, slightly stiff netting to the lower parts of the windows, serving neither function or aesthetic. It is removed again as soon as she is out of sight, folded unceremoniously and stuffed through the elastic cord suspending it, so we can watch the travelling landscape. 

The gentle swaying of the train and the noise as everything moves with it is vaguely calming. The temperature reads 27ºC above the door at the end of the corridor – it is very hot, we are not allowed to open the windows. We’ve tried, they are quickly closed again. Communication in this respect is clear and facial gestures and hand signals indicate that window opening is not approved of. I don’t know why. Perhaps to add to our discomfort. It feels punishing rather than comforting. Two more time changes are passed through and my watch is duly altered. I think that makes five, or six, and another night is spent on a train. I’ve relinquished myself to the journey and its time frame. The one thing that is certain is that the train will ultimately arrive in China. Everything else is frivolous detail.
For the wilderness, there is great activity on the railway. Lines are busy, long freight trains take forever to pass, blocking light for many minutes at a time.”

….more trains

Realised only after posting that my last post spoke very little about the actual train journey. So much to talk about I am easily distracted at this stage. Aside from saying that travelling by train really is the greatest way to travel, even more so when it is comfortable, which mostly my journey has been. Even throughout South East Asia and Indonesia (aside from one delayed ten hour train journey in a ‘hard seat’ and a very packed carriage to Nanning, and a particularly cold night in Thailand – what is it with hot countries and their air conditioning?) it has not been arduous. Travelling through Canada I am, however, being looked after very well. I have certainly travelled in the right direction. At a time when I am getting a little weary of 8 bed dorm rooms and shared spaces where you have to label absolutely everything you put in the fridge, remembering your room key to go for a pee in the night and being woken up by the ubiquitous plastic bag rustling at various ungodly hours because someone has just arrived or is preparing to leave, or has just decided to look for something in the middle of the night. Hostels have been a great and affordable way of staying in some great places, and places where I have met some great people. There are times when it is nice to have your own space though. So having my own cabin and being well fed on the train is really very nice.

There is, however, something just as wonderful travelling in sleeper carriages where you share with several other strangers. For one, you meet local people who are mostly travelling through necessity rather than pleasure, to visit family or for work. While it hasn’t always been possible to find out very much about many of the people I shared these six foot square spaces with, because I didn’t speak their language and they didn’t speak mine (although usually more than me). But even when that was the case I still have some great memories of meeting people, where we would share food, help out with shuffling cases around so we all fitted in to the allocated spaces, and generally being pleasant company for the duration of the journey.

I have also met many people on this part of my journey. A dining carriage and communal sitting areas with drinks and viewing carriages make for an altogether different experience, and in many ways a more sociable one too. I’ve met many from Canada and the US, some Australian’s and Europeans, including a few from England who, when feeling slightly homesick last week, I nearly rugby tackled to have chance to speak to them and find out where they were from (and just to hear the accent and share common ground).

But mostly the journey is about what is going on outside. I end my journey in almost the same way as I started it, with an epic train ride of several days across the one country. The length of time and immensity of Canada reminds me of the Trans Mongolian train and the vastness of Siberia, in many ways it is just as beautifully bleak and inhospitable (certainly during the winter). The excitement of seeing a break in the landscape for a house with a wisp of smoke as it was in Russia. A break to the endless view of birch trees. While in Canada it is a grain elevator or pool of water, farm or the like. The mountains of Alberta a distant echo of the snow capped mountains through Mongolia, the prairies, of the expanse of Siberia. The same but different. The duration of the landscape remains immense and my captivation with it, constant.

And just as I again set out with particular intentions, my keyboard has run away with me. At this point in my trip I am being reminded of so many other earlier times, an inevitable part of the last stretch I feel. Bear with me, I shall talk trains more…


Happy Valley Races, Hong Kong (Louise Kenward, 2013)

Happy Valley Races, Hong Kong (Louise Kenward, 2013)

A particularly colonial couple of days have been spent treading in Annie’s footsteps and following up a mission from Bexhill Museum. Arriving in Hong Kong the weather and landscape has become more tropical, a balmy 27 degrees and beautiful flowering plants make my time here feel more like I’m on holiday.
Annie does not write very much about her time here, it was only a brief stay of a couple of days, a visit to Government House could not be replicated unfortunately, but she does talk in some detail of her trip to the races:

“We were puzzled to imagine where, on this rocky, hilly island there could possibly be found a piece of ground flat enough for a race-course. But the mystery was solved when we reached a lovely little valley, about two miles from the town, where we found a very fair course, about the size of that at Chester, but not so dangerous. The grand stand is a picturesque object, with its thatched roof, verandahs, and sun-blinds. the interior, too, looks comfortably arranged, and certainly contains the most luxurious basket chairs one could possibly desire. There are a lawn and paddock attached, and very good temporary stables, over many of which are private stands and tiffin rooms…” (from Voyage on the Sunbeam, 1876-77).

A great fire some years ago saw off the thatched roof and the race track has been modernised over the years, but The Happy Valley Racecourse remains a key attraction of Hong Kong Island. Visiting there last night it continues to be a site with great atmosphere (albeit a somewhat altered view since Annie’s arrival) surrounded by tower blocks and skyscrapers, lights flashing and glittering in the night’s sky. Most of that which is flat ground today has in fact been reclaimed from the sea. Annie’s Hong Kong (or Victoria) was entirely mountainous, at least three main roads and streets in between have been built in the last 20 years alone, so Victoria Harbour remains, albeit a bit further out to sea than it was in 1877.
The complex social and political history of Hong Kong has left it with a mixture of British and Chinese characteristics, and many traces of colonialism remain (despite post boxes being painted green). Another link with Bexhill is the statue of Queen Victoria which was made in Pimlico by a founder of the museum, and which I was duly sent to look for on my arrival. She has had quite an eventful time having been relocated from Statue Square, painted red as an act of protest by a local artist, and finally placed at the entrance of Victoria Park, for what I hope is a more restful place to remain. Some time was spent searching the park without success, works were being done along the harbour side and I feared she had again been removed. In a final attempt I eventually resorted to showing people pictures of the statue from ‘google’ on my ipad, in asking if they knew it, and helpfully being pointed in the right direction. Delight at her discovery, this did little to make me feel I was integrating terribly well.

Queen Victoria Statue, Victoria Park, Hong Kong (Louise Kenward, 2013)

Queen Victoria Statue, Victoria Park, Hong Kong (Louise Kenward, 2013)

Hong Kong (Louise Kenward, 2013)

Hong Kong (Louise Kenward, 2013)



Train to Shanghai

Slower than the high speed train, but a more comfortable sleeper from Xi’an, brings the count to 11 nights on board a train. Train travel does seem a very popular way to get around China, the station was again a blur of activity and the waiting room standing room only. I somehow managed to get into the ‘soft seat’ class waiting room by asking where I should be for my train, exasperated attendants let me through after three unsuccessful attempts to understand each other, so a quieter seated area was an easier place to wait for what unusually turned out to be a half hour late train from Lhasa to Shanghai.
Another photograph was requested yesterday from an enthusiastic reflexologist/tour guide who caused some pain to my feet and legs, but they seem that much better for it. I’m still not sure what was the most surprising for him, my travel plans, being from the UK, or travelling alone, but he seemed to howl with excitement at every answer to his questions. Despite the health and education systems he was reassured that yes, there are also poor people in the UK, it is not so different he concluded.

For some moral support in what seems like a carriage full of men, and their various morning routines, I turn to Lillias who quotes Margaret Mead:

“As the traveller who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own” (Cited in Lillias Campbell Davidson, 1889)

She also goes on to say:

“The traveller who insists on living and eating as if she were still in England will find that habits which are best suited to the dull and depressing climate to which she is accustomed will not allow of continuation in the clearer, lighter air abroad, and, if persisted in, will cause general disorganisation to the whole system.” (From ‘Hints to Lady Travellers’).





I am still walking pretty gingerly up and down stairs after the Great Wall climb, being on the top bunk at the hostel is a twice daily challenge. Despite this, I have been able to explore much more of Xi’an than I expected to, the city has proven to be a really great stop off, not only for the incredible Terracotta Warriors, but for the cute courtyards in the hostel (and it’s flower tea) and the fabulous markets in the city centre. A riot of colour, sound and smells, the markets won me over yesterday after a lack of sleep and increasing heat crept up on me. A visit to the Bell and Drum towers and navigation of the metro led to a meandering into a street filled with food stalls of every variety, fabrics and jewellery, souvenirs and puppet shows. The city streets on the outskirts were equally hypnotic, with food being prepared at alarming speed alongside people piling great loads onto unstable looking scooters and cycles, while others looked on, sitting at the roadside in their rocking chairs.