Life in Beijing: catching the bullet train

Chinese CRH bullet train

You’re woken up by the sound of an old man violently expectorating in the hutong alleyway outside, cringing during the pause while he holds his mouthful of phlegm for a second or two between noisily bringing it up and noisily depositing it on the floor with typically exaggerated sound effects.

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Hospitality and Scorpions in Marble Canyon

We were two weeks into our epic road trip around the US, now driving through the incredible southwestern states of New Mexico and Arizona; we’d just spent two days in Albuquerque for the July 4 Independence Day celebrations (and also one of my companion’s birthdays), and the next point of call was the Grand Canyon.

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Drugs Busted After the 2006 World Cup. Sort of…

“Sir,” she said in a suddenly stern voice, “your bag’s tested positive for amphetamines.”

My jaw hit the floor. My bag? Amphetamines? You what?

I was standing in the customs area of Christchurch Airport, the entire contents of my bags laid out before me on the cold metal counter,

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A Week of Fruit Picking and Verbal Abuse in Bundaberg

“Stop chatting to your girlfriend and get back to work, you Pommie cunt!”

The speaker was my supervisor, and we were in a Queensland tomato field pruning vines. My ‘girlfriend’ was my male coworker who, being a white Australian, couldn’t really be subject to the usual racial or national insults so was instead a ‘blooming pufter’

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Sailing in the Whitsunday Islands: 3 days of vomit and misery

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands, Australia

I looked along the deck at the picture of youthful beauty alongside me, all the long tanned legs and all the long blond hair fluttering in the breeze, and I looked out at all the beauty around us, all these magnificent tropical islands with their perfect white sand beaches;

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Chinese Visa Extensions in Leshan and Kaifeng

If you’re in China on a tourist (L) visa and want to get more time in the country without having to go down to Hong Kong for a new visa, you may be able to extend your existing visa at a Public Security Bureau office.

The extension rules officially require you to have several thousand dollars in a Chinese bank account –

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Overland Adventures: the stinky Filipino fish bus

Naked children leapt from the ramshackle pier in the tropical downpour, laughing and screaming as lightning flickering across the edges of a sky as threatening as any I’ve yet seen.

“That boat?” I asked hopefully, indicating the larger and (slightly) more seaworthy-looking of the two pieces of junk lashed to the pier.

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Whale Shark Snorkelling in Donsol, Philippines

“There, there!” he kept shouting, “go straight, go straight!”

I kicked on through the murky water, peering through my goggles into the plankton-deepened gloom before me but seeing nothing.

“Where, where?” I yelled to the spotter on the boat, surfacing and looking back to shout, “I can’t see it!”

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Life in Beijing: the Street Barber of Shilipu

Pop-up street barber in Beijing

I was just going through some old photos and found this one of a pop-up street barber near my old place in Beijing. There isn’t much of a travel blog post I can write to go with it, but it shows a side of Beijing (and China) quite different from the grandeur of the Forbidden City or the Greatness of The Wall.

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The Best Places to See the Autumn Colours in Tokyo

Autumn colours at Tokyo Imperial Palace East Gardens

Seeing the cherry blossoms in spring probably tops the wishlist for most travellers visiting Tokyo, but an equally awesome time to visit the Japanese capital is during the autumn colours (the Japanese word is koyo, 紅葉, literally ‘red leaves’). The cherry trees are first (and least spectacular),

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The Five Grand Palaces of Seoul: which Seoul palaces should you visit?

Cherry blossoms at Gyeongbokgung palace, Seoul

The Five Grand Seoul Palaces of the Joseon Period, along with Jongmyo Shrine, make up the main traditional sightseeing spots in the Korean capital. Although the sites mostly date back to the 1300s – 1500s, the majority of the buildings standing on them today are actually recent reconstructions,

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The Best Places to See the Autumn Colours in Kyoto

Seeing the spring cherry blossoms in Kyoto is on many a bucket list, but an equally awesome time to visit the city is during the autumn colours (the Japanese word is koyo, 紅葉, lit. red leaves). The cherry trees go first, starting in mid-October, and by November the hillsides are mottled with varying shades and colours;

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Fushimi Inari to Tofukuji Hike

When visiting the incredible Fushimi Inari shrine in southern Kyoto for the first time, there are too many routes to check them all out; most visitors simply follow part or all of the main trail up, and perhaps the loop trail around the summit of the mountain. And if that’s what you do,

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Fushimi Inari: Complete Guide

Torii gates at Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari is hands down my favourite place in Kyoto, and my favourite place in Japan that isn’t a ski resort! When I first lived in Kyoto, my apartment was between Fushimi Inari and Tofukuji Temple, near one of the back routes up Mt Inari – and what a back garden Fushimi Inari makes.

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Tokyo, Blade Runner, and 2049

I first came across this lovely video montage of Tokyo cityscape footage set to the mournful tones of the Blade Runner score while writing this post about Ghost In The Shell; with the Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049, about to be released, the gods of the Youtube algorithm just (perhaps not so) randomly served it up again as part of my morning Youtube spiral (recommend hitting play and listening while you read):

The footage is great,

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Viewing the Disputed Kuril Islands from the Shiretoko Peninsula

Hokkaido’s remote Shiretoko Peninsula in the far northeastern corner of Japan was a place I’d wanted to go ever since I spent a ski season in Sapporo. At the time I’d made a trip out that way to Abashiri (famous for its once-notorious prison) and taken an ice-breaker cruise out on the frozen Sea of Okhotsk,

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Crossing the Great Seto Bridge (Seto Ohashi) from Okayama to Takamatsu

(I wrote this during my last visit to Japan, but only just getting around to sorting the pics and posting it now!)

Today I crossed the Seto Inland Sea from Okuyama to Shikoku via the Seto Ohashi (瀬戸大橋, Great Seto Bridge), for no real purpose other than to do so (ah,

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The JR Pass: is it worth it?

A shinkansen bullet train passing through Maibara Station

So, the JR Pass; man, how I always looked on with envy at all the tourists (including family & friends when they visited) just breezing through the Shinkansen gates, flashing their JR Passes like a wave of a wand, to be whisked away here, there, and everywhere at high speed on Japan’s iconic bullet trains.

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My Failed Tibet Trip: Permits, Solo Travel, Getting Stuck in Xining, and the Amdo Route from Xining To Chengdu

A mosque in Xining

Cold, tired, and hungry, I finally dropped my bags and plonked myself down on the bed; all I had to do now was go out for food and then shower & sleep, before getting up next day to take the world’s highest train across the Tibetan Plateau to Lhasa.

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Life in Beijing: Airpocalypse Now

One night while living in Beijing I coughed and hacked and spluttered all night long, with an itching and burning in my throat that nothing would alleviate.

I didn’t sleep much that night, and when I finally did wake up in the morning, shattered, I awoke to the horrifying sight of blood flecks across my pillow.

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