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It’s a small world after all and some thoughts on China. I’m in Beijing at the moment and on my way to Irkutsk. I have decided to skip Mongolia because ironically I have heard such good things about it on my travels so far that it would ill become me not give it the month it deserves! Thus ever onward!

I completely forgot to mention this in my other post but I saw a most peculiar and welcome apparition in an obscure village in Tibet. On the way to Everest Base Camp we stopped off in this little one horse town to refuel in the restaurant and I walk in, turn to my left and see N., a contractor from my old workplace! How bizarre! And yes we had to take a photo to prove it had happened at all. She was on her way to Mt Kailash for the kora and it was great to see her and share some memories! The world is getting smaller…

The other memory was my last one of Tibet. We descended the plateau to the border town (one of the most appallingly designed towns in the world, unfitting as the major land border between China and effectively India). In any case, when we passed through the customs we were thoroughly searched on the way out by young border guards rifling through our copies of the Lonely Planet to see if the Dalai Lama had put anything naughty in there, also going through the photos on some cameras to see if we’d taken piccies of naughty monks or militaries doing what militaries shouldn’t be caught doing. Bit desperate really and not really a ‘thanks for all the memories and come back soon’ moment.

Thoughts on China. China is a complex country with a complex problem: there are too many Chinese. Simply expressed but what does this mean? It may mean that some think a Communist system is the best that China can hope for in the foreseeable future – anything else would end in famine and civil unrest. Most Chinese seem happy and indeed proud of the economic progress that has been made in such a short time. There are many that remember the pain and suffering of the Cultural Revolution. In my old politics lecturer’s words – the Chinese government is ‘reform mongering’ on a slow and steady basis, that is to say allowing the populace incrementally more liberties to release the pressure valve of increasing demands over time as the country becomes wealthier.

Chinese people are very community conscious – the parks are full of people practicing Tai Chi, learning ball room dancing, mass choirs, weird martial arts, hacky sacking, chatting, drinking tea, playing board games and generally utilising the parks to the max – much greater appreciation of ‘the park’ than in NZ in many ways. Anyway, the state institutions in the form of the security apparatus, Communist Party and other arms of Government are too ingrained and widespread for their to be any effective alternatives in the middle future. Every day the newspaper runs articles about naughty officials being executed and investigated for bribery and/or negligence. Always a scapegoat will be found in China lest the public go unappeased….

Shanghai. Is money. A shiny new city currently being scrubbed and rebuilt to an inch of its life in anticipation of the World Expo being held next year. They are spending more on it that the Olympics in Beijing (~US$45 billion) building new subway lines, refurbishing the old colonial buildings, new boardwalk along the Bund and just general big state spending. Lots of well spoken Chinese trying to scam you into having Y1000 cups of tea with them and accompany them along to an art gallery to purchase cheap, derivative and uninspiring Chinese art. Shanghai Museum is one of the best in China and really covers everything you will see in terms of bronzes, calligraphy, ceramics, furniture, jade and paintings. Other than that, it is a commercial city, bland and, typically, demolishing all that is old to replace it with new stuff – the Expo is on next year starting May 1 and no doubt it will be spectacular. If you have the opportunity, it might be worth a nudge.

Beijing. Capital city of China and its center of gravity in many ways. Its so stuffed full of things to see that’s it pretty overwhelming! Flat as a pancake, boulevards incredibly wide and bikes and electric scooters everywhere (petrol ones are pretty much banned) with great wide bike lanes everywhere. I stayed nearby Tian’anmen Square which was awesome. The Chinese do things on a large scale in Beijing. The main road past the Forbidden City is about 16 lanes wide, the buildings just enormous (but squat) and the public transport is fantastic – a legacy of the Olympic Games.

Visited the Great Wall, a ‘secret’ place away from the crowded, shiny new restored places. Our group were the only ones climbing the wall as far as we could see, really beautiful and such an impressive engineering achievement, built on the bones of millions of worthless peasants.

The Forbidden City. Wow. Massive and fascinating. Spent the best part of a day here and was blown away. Its got lots of nooks and crannies you can chill out in, large displays of stuff (you know, ornate useless things that royal families tend to collect) and lots of tourists.

798. This is the contemporary art district in Beijing. Wickedly cool (‘post-industrial chic’ apparently) with dozens of art galleries and cafes and cool shops selling stuff that is actually cool. As an art buff myself, I am devoting a full day to it on Saturday for their annual art fair. 798 is highly recommended if you like art.

Train. Damn trains. Missed my train to Russia after drinking all night and sleeping in. I am now booked on the Trans Manchurian, a clunker that will take 63 hours to reach Irkutsk. Stocking up on Dostoevsky and biscuits.

In a postscript – I decided randomly to go running at 1am around Beijing, we (yes there was another mad marathon runner who wanted some training…) ran alongside the moat of the City, a beautiful experience and something I recommend – the streets are just so smog-laden during the day that its hard to see more than 300m if its bad.

Leaving Nepal now, destination Shanghai – financial engine for the East! 10 days in Kathmandu was too long, wish I’d been able to go on a trek. Insh’Allah!

Sera and Drepung. The Drepung Monastery was once the largest religious monastery in the world with over 10,000 monks in residence. Now it seems sadly quiet with only around 300 and China strictly vets who else may apply for entry. The place is close to Lhasa and houses some nice relics as well as CCTV cameras, even in the chapels. The toilets are rooted firmly in the Middle Ages, simple holes in the ground falling a story and where the monks use it for manure.

The Sera Monastery is famed for its debating monks. It consists of a fascinating hand slapping and gesturing whenever a point is made to the seated recipient and is loud, boisterous and fun. They debate such philosophical questions such as INSERT. Juxtaposed with this charming picture is the zoo of photographing tourists surrounding the novices. The scene made me think of Schrodinger’s Cat or how merely observing a phenomenon changes. Fulfilling Beijing’s wish that every religious institutions is reduced to a tourist destination where Disney actors play in a model monastery.

Namsto Lake. This holy lake is north of Lhasa and on the way we stopped at a local fair/horse and yak riding festival. No horses but I did see quoits being played for prizes, got shot at by a Tibetan boy with a BB gun and saw a riotous display of clothing worn by various Tibetan minorities. Namsto at 4700m altitude is enormous, actually the second largest lake in China and breathtakingly beautiful. It’s a holy lake for Buddhists and there are many prayer flags and scarves draped around some sacred rocks. Pilgrims wander along the lake past photogenic yaks and on the opposite shore a chain of hills underlie the tallest mountain in the region at 7117m. The lake disappears at one end into the horizon and the atmosphere is calm and contemplative. No swimming unfortunately – my dipping of toes was sternly told off. Not so cold through, Lake Tarawera-esque.

Everest Base Camp. Spectacular. A long drive to get here through rugged, arid country dotted with oases of We stayed in the ‘Mont Blanc’ a yak tent hotel with our beds arrayed around a yak dung powered stove, togged up against the cold. The tent city is nestled between the arid valley walls, once the path of a large glacier, and now channeling a small steam gently moseying down from Mount Qomolangma – the local name for Everest. Hot damn! The sight was inspiring and beautiful and to me a personal highlight of my trip so far. I’ll let you into a secret – at this altitude colour appear more vivid, crisper, brighter and somehow  … just more colourful. The pinky orange glow of the sun setting like a scarf around Everest, the blue, blue, blue and white of the cloudy sky, the innumerable shades of brown, burnt russet – remnants of ancient rocks slowly crumbling into the valleys. The drive to Nepal was awesome – amazing how the landscape changes so much. The road was pretty dodgy and the potholes bounding us all over the places with sheer precipices on one side and imminent landslides threatening constantly.

Nepal. Poor, unfortunate and corrupt but with a wealth of resources, chiefly in its abundant water for generating hydro power. Subsequently of course, it’s a pawn in the regional great game between China and India both desirous of possessing it as a client state. Nepal of course happy to stay as a buffer and play them off against each other. Hilarious (but deadly serious) headline in the latest Nepali English-language newspaper – Nepali PM promises Chinese Politburo visitor to crack down on anti-China activities in Nepal e.g. Tibetan activists. Lots to see – Kathmandu is old and has a fascinating history in its own right.

Durbar Square chock-a-block with  Buddhist and Hindu temples, naff souvenir shops and erotic carvings. We were there for Indra Jatra, a Hindu festival, worshipping Lord Indra, the god of rain and the king of heaven. Went to the main event where the PM and all the ambassadors were and a few thousand Nepalis all going spare to snatch a sight of the Kumari – a living goddess who gets carted around for an hour in a golden chariot thing hauled by dozens of people. Oh and she is only 4 years old and only stays priestess until she reaches puberty and then she’s booted out with her family from the palace she lives in.

Former Royal Palace in Kathmandu. For those of you unfamiliar with Nepali politics – the king is dead, long live republicanism! The former king’s palace in central Kathmandu is now a museum. The previous king being somewhat unpopular. The lawn is uncut, the ground unkempt and the building itself slowly moldering away under a Government keen to expunge royal from all participation in today’s chaotic modern Nepal and establish its post-monarchist credentials. Fashionably dated décor and a razed dining outhouse where the royal family were massacred in 2001 thronged with school kids completing their assignments by noting where Prince X and King Y’s bodies where found. Opulent and sad – the family photos of the King and Queen were still at their bedside, the collected works of H.G. Wells and George Orwell in the library (yay!), group photos with Tito,  Ceauşescu and the President of the Maldives line the corridors. All in a good political student’s day!

For those of you in some doubt as to where I am or what the Roof of the World refers to, it’s Tibet, or in official Chinese parlance, the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). Surprising to me, Tibet is a huge province and it was at one point far larger – twice the size it is today! I did a quick back of the envelope calculation and today’s Tibet province is five times the size of NZ. I have just finished an 10 day tour and am recuperating in Kathmandu, Nepal. In short, if you ever get the chance to go to Tibet, take it.

Qinghai to Lhasa. This is soon becoming one the great train trips. Contrary to previous advice the trip (from Chengdu)  is actually 43 hours (left Chengdu 9pm and arrived in Lhasa at 4pm two days hence). It is also controversial with this stretch costing ~US$4 billion to construct over five years and having to battle three main adversaries, the high altitude affecting the workforce, the delicate environment through which the tracks thread and lastly the ground, part of which is permafrost so they need to artificially cool it to prevent the tracks from buckling. Some facts: 675 bridges, dozens of tunnels, and 1956km of track. We didn’t stop at the highest train station in the world at 5,068m, only stopping at Na Qu which is at 4,513m . For contrast, the height of Aoraki/Mt Cook is only 3,754 m! The train was great fun and the scenery was incredibly spectacular including watching the sun rise over the Tibetan plateau, the vast grasslands which in summer are free of snow, the nomadic herders with their flocks of sheep and yaks and the distant mountain ranges and nearer rolling hills with craggy old escarpments punching through the grasslands.

Altitude. This is something that I had anticipated (but not the extent!) as it affects all low landers who climb to this height. Above 3,000m the body starts to feel the effects. Lhasa is at 3,490m and some of the places we visited are far higher. I first started to feel the effects on the train as much of it traverses the Tibetan plateau which is higher than Lhasa (over 960km of the journey was at over 4,000m!). You start to feel tired, maybe a little headachy, your energy is zip and walking to and from the toilet exhausted me. Sleeping is especially difficult and the air dries you out as they pump in extra oxygen into the special carriages to assist people to acclimatise. Over the trip we were like arthritic geriatrics: no running, no jumping and nothing more vigorous than a slow walk! By the end of the trip we’d acclimatised fairly well and so long as we did not do anything too athletic, I felt ok.

The Tibetan Issue. The presence of the Chinese military in Tibet is heavy, obvious and unwanted by the ethnic Tibetans. Seriously the main street in Lhasa has over a dozen barracks and other military buildings, every street corner has CCTV cameras, many key crossroads and street corners have serious looking detachments of soldiers (usually in groups of five) in military fatigues with body armour and riot shields with armed soldiers. There are camouflaged Land Cruisers, trucks and armoured vehicles driving around town. Effectively Lhasa is one large garrison town. The Tibetans seem to deal with this by ignoring them. It is not hard to get the impression that the soldiers are not comfortable as it is strangely bizarre to contrast the martial law impression of the huge number of soldiers and police with the blase attitude Tibetans have whilst buying food and making their pilgrimages! My current thinking is that even a negotiated position such as allowing Tibetans control over their religion and language will not happen soon. Sadly, China is there to stay and will continue to attempt to replace Tibetan culture with Han culture.

Norbulingka Park and the Sho Dun Festival. I was lucky enough to be in Tibet during one of their major festivals. This is the so-called yoghurt festival where there is copious amounts of yoghurt and Tibetan opera on offer. Also Budweiser for some reason, corporate sponsor this year yay! *sob*

Potala Palace and the Johkang Temple. Spectacular! This is the former winter residence of the Dalai Lama before he fled to India in 1959. It’s stuck up on the hill above Lhasa and is massive and an ever present reminder to everyone that the Dalai Lama should really be there. Unfortunately you can’t photograph anything inside without paying a huge fee so I’ll just have to relate that the treasures in there are amazing! The funerary stupas of late Dalai Lamas are all made out of gold and covered in precious and semi-precious stones. The Fifth DL who built the Potala has one that is  covered in 3,727 kg of solid gold and studded with 18,680 pearls and other stones… It’s an amazing structure and truly a treasure of the world. Johkang Temple is the holiest temple for Tibetan Buddhist and located in the middle of Lhasa. Incredible to see the devotion shown by pilgrims. Saw one that had this massive weeping callus on his head where he had banged it so many times on the stone ground when completing a full prostration, that is lying full length on the ground. The pilgrims circle the Johkang clockwise and then go into the temple to add yak butter to the butter lamps (which are continuously emptied by monks to prevent them from overflowing) and sticking small money notes in front of various statues. Awesome!

More updates on Tibet when I get a chance. Everest Base Camp, yak butter tea, monasteries and madcap bus drivers!

Chengdu. Though many of you will never have heard of this city (5 million inhabitants!), it is located in Sichuan province, north of Yunnan and east of Tibet. Sichuan is a remote province and the site of the deadly earthquakes last year which caused widespread damage and killed around 68,000 people. The epicentre was 80km north of Chengdu. I did not see any sign of the devastation, though I did spot a new subway system under construction and an enormous statue of a waving Mao.

Chengdu is famous for its laidback nature and its spicy food including the Sichuan hotpot which I braved recently, two nights in a row. The phrase burning at both ends comes to mind. In any case, it was delicious and the first time, somewhat sacrilegiously, we ate it vegetarian style, two of our party being sometime vegetarians. This despite the delicious sounding cock kidney, edible fungus, thousand pieces of stomach, white gourd, beef throat, bean moodles (you know it!), swamp cabbage and green cow stomach on offer. In fact the only meat I was actually familiar with was plain beef. The various ingredients are unceremoniously dumped into an enormous pot of red chillies which is placed in the middle of the table over a gas burner and brought to the boil. The bubbling broth looked fairly ominous, resembling a Faustian pit of hell from whence devil chunks of food emerge to wreak havoc with poor Western stomachs. In actual fact the tofu, potato, noodle, lotus root and bamboo shoots are dipped into some oil, garlic and oyster sauce tincture and then consumed; rather less deadly than I had feared. Warm peanut milk was on hand to assuage our throats in case. The second night I thought I’d branch out and chose walnut milk.

Sanxingdui. This is one wicked museum. Actually the best I have seen by far, worth even the usurious Y80 entrance fee (NZ$16). It is a hassle to get to, amazing that I had to take three buses to get there given the importance of the museum, all up about 2 hours in travel time there! Harumph. It’s all in ode to this ancient civilisation, one unknown previous to the discovery of its art and not mentioned in any Chinese literature or referenced in art developed afterward. It dates back over 3,000 years and the most impressive displays were the massive bronze artifacts they found, truly eerie when you stand in front of one and look into its protruding, alien-looking eyes. The artworks uncovered are of a very high quality and reminded me of some sort of 1930s art deco derivative. Highly recommended if you’re in the area.

Destination: roof of the world! Okay so I caved in and decided to splurge outrageously on a trip to Tibet. It has blown my budget but you know, sometimes you just need to take the opportunity when it knocks, in this case gently sidling up to me and suggesting, nay commanding me to go! Eight days plus two on the train all the while generously accompanied by a compulsory guide and driver, our intrepid group of seven (2 Germans, an Austrian, 2 Dutch, one Englishman and a Kiwi) will trek to Lhasa, Namtso Lake, some other places that I can’t recall and finally the border to leave to Nepal. As my confidant Paul Theroux writes, “you have to come to Tibet to understand China. And anyone apologetic or sentimental about Chinese reform has to reckon with Tibet as a reminder of how harsh, how tenacious and materialistic, how insensitive the Chinese can be.” This written in the context of Tibet in 1987, only gradually being rebuilt after the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. I will no doubt have an opinion myself once I return.

I will be praying for all you sinners out there while I have the chance, and perhaps attempt to save my immortal atheist soul. Kieran notes that you go there for the yak butter-covered women as well as the opportunity for infinite contemplation and tasty lentils. I shall see, 45 hours on the train sounds like heaven!

Huggable subscribers, I have been indulging in some ‘sublime landscapes’ to reference my last post. In fact, I have been gorging on one of the most spectacular, easily accessible* sights in China, the Tiger Leaping Gorge located in Northwest Yunnan province.

Dali. Dali is an ‘ancient’ new town. This is what I consider a uniquely Chinese interpretation on providing historical tourist sights for its population. Back to that later. Dali is about 5 hours bus ride from Kunming and nestled beside Erhai Lake and below the Cangshan mountain range. The history of the area is pretty interesting with Yunnan province actually being independent (i.e. host to various kingdoms) from central Chinese authority for much of the past two thousand years.

It’s consider isolated from the rest of China and rightly so. Wedged up between Tibet on one side, the southeast asian countries on the other and rugged Sichuan on the northeast, it was able to maintain this distance, as well as play host to numerous ethnic minorities who are still very prevalent, trudging around town all rugged up in ‘ethnic’ dress. The old town contains many souvenir shops, old ladies who continuously ask you whether you want ganja (it is not far off Phnom Penh for prevalence!), bus loads of Han Chinese tourists who ramble along the souvenir streets buying horrendous knick knacks and while I was here, host to the 8th Annual Chinese Photography Art Festival which was cool. Also the YHA where I stayed inflicted on me the thinnest mattress I have ever slept on. A sheet on a wooden board would have been an improvement.

The big local attraction is a rebuilt Buddhist temple complex which is pretty frickin massive. This on a scale that would handle many hundreds of thousands of tourists per year (the Buddhist monks would never have thought of building that many toilets and conveniently located roads for electric carts for lazy tourists).

Lijiang and Tiger Leaping Gorge. Lijiang is about 3 hours north of Dali and is like a honey pot to hordes of tourists getting themselves lost in cobble stoned lanes and alongside gently noodling streams through the town. Kind of reminded me of Venice in some respects. The word that springs to mind is kitsch. Nonetheless I managed to find an Irish bar with a bar tender baking a hash cake. This is the historic centre of the former local Naxi kingdom and there is a palace that is a replica (getting familiar?) of the original palace. The other big attraction is Tiger Leaping Gorge which is north 2 hours by bus. This is the deepest gorge in the world apparently. I walked most of the length in a day and a half and it was spectacular. Roasting hot, but the looming sharp mountains on the opposite side of the gorge made an impression, with misty clouds occluding the higher reaches. Again, strategically located mules are offered to those not able to hack the terrain. Again, offered bags of ganja halfway up. I swear it is not going to make me go any faster! Luckily it was fine both days, I would not want to be walking it in the rain – just plain dangerous with that loose shale and sheer cliffs…

Chinese tourism. It’s strange to say this, but the tourism market in China is indisputably and heavily domestic. The foreign tourist, unlike every other country I have visited so far, is a distinct super-minority. The buses and trains book out far in advance and if you want to travel efficiently (rules me out) you need to book early. The other thing is that the sights are all rebuilt replicas. The reason is shockingly obvious, the scale of the destruction which occurred during the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese effectively destroyed thousands of years of architectural. literary, art and religious history. Only now has the Government realised that increasingly prosperous Chinese wanting to spend money on travel, need stuff to see. Ergo, wholesale rebuilding of ancient temples and towns and artwork. Of course from a Western perspective it is all terribly fake and kitsch. Nonetheless they flock.

The travelling infrastructure is angled towards satisfying domestic requirements which are different to western ones. One: the domestic tourist tends to travel in cosseted tour groups, and independent or adventure travel is virtually unknown, two: although for most Chinese price matters (in fact time and quality are not valued nearly to the same degree as plain price), there are a huge number of rich Chinese tourists willing to pay close to Western prices for things like entry fees, food and accommodation, three: the Chinese tourist goes to Government-identified tourist destinations and off-the-beaten track does not exist. Three types of destination are either combinations of or specifically: historical (Terracotta Warriors), ethnic (Dali – proof all peoples live happily between the heaving Communist bosom) or modernist and showcase China’s growth (Shanghai’s skyscrapers). Taglines like: ‘Dali, a place you cannot but go to at least once in your lifetime’ (the Chinese Hajj?) and ‘Charming Dali: a World of Wind, Flowers, Snow and Moon’ pull the punters like mad.

I’m in Chengdu at the moment, provincial capital of Sichuan. Am intending to sample the local spicy cuisine. No pandas. Too damn cute.

*Relatively speaking. Most of the truly amazing places require heroic sacrifices like Tibet, or some discomforts like hiking for days through rough terrain.

“There was always more in the world than men could see, walked they ever so slowly they will see it no better for going fast. The really precious things are thought and sight, not pace” – John Ruskin

I’m in Yunnan Province in China, operating through a proxy server to try and get around the Great Firewall of China, therefore excuse the formatting.

Macau. Despite the strange start to Macau, I was stuck in a wonderful place considering. Macau is expensive relatively speaking so met up with Damien and Bert and went on a massive trek around the museums of Macau – wine , Grand Prix, art museum, handover gifts (all provinces gave gaudy sculptures and similar to celebrate the homecoming of the prodigal province) and then decided to gap it to the south. Macau is made up of the Macau peninsula which is part of the mainland, and the islands of Coloane and Taipa to the south which are linked by bridges. The islands are now one, having been joined by massive land reclamation on which the new Las Vegas strip is being built including the largest casino on the world by floor area The Venetian which is spectacular inside. The shopping area has a canal through the middle where you an hire a gondola! We went to the beach on Coloane which left something to be desired, the brown water impossible to see through, luckily there was a public pool. Afterward we hit a Portuguese restaurant. The islands are far more quiet than Macau proper. Macau is strongly Portuguese influenced with street signs in Portuguese as well as Chinese and ethnically almost 95% Chinese. The food is great especially the cakes and egg tarts, yum!

Hong Kong. Bert and I took the hour ferry to HK which was very smooth and directed ourselves to Hong Kong Island. Not knowing anything about the layout of the place, we ended up in Causeway Bay which is where there are lots of shopping malls. Not a hell of a lot of use for us really. We paid HKD$300 for a double which is on the cheap side for HK. Met up with Kira from school to get the down low on the island – in a tequila bar on Lan Kwai Fong which is a den of iniquity for rich expats. HK is far larger and greener than I imagined with many islands and also the New Territories which is huge! We went swimming on one island (Lantau) where we passed on Disneyland, hit Kowloon and checked out the hideous Chungking Mansion which is where many backpackers head to. A deathtrap with Indian curry houses. Saw the harbour all lit up with the highrises opposite on HK Island competing with each other. The Peak is the mountain rising in the middle of HK which we cleverly elected for the tram. Nice sights from there but misty when we went up. Finally we hit the clubs in Wan Chai and danced to the early hours at the beat of the Hendrixesque fingers of a guitarist playing covers in a bar called Dusk till Dawn. I shot through to Guangzhou via train. Very easy connection and super easy from a customs point of view.

Guangzhou and Kunming. Guangzhou was a day-long stop, its the major business hub of Guangdong province which is next to Hong Kong and therefore fairly wealthy. I stayed on Shaiman Island which is where the foreign colony was located so lots of nice architecture and lack of cars. Guangdong/HK also is the home of Yum Cha/Dim Sum food with which I am pretty familiar with (thanks Cynthia!). Kunming is located in Yunnan province which is one of the most beautiful provinces in China with some amazing natural sights. Kunming (~6 million pop.) is the provincial capital and is home to many universities so its pretty laid back compared to most larger cities. I couchsurfed for a few days with Seco and Dan – awesome experience as Seco has been here for 4 years so really got some interesting insights into Chinese culture. Checked out the local market and gorged on pastries!

Travel insights. I’ve been reading Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel which is a fantastic book with some really relevant insights for me at this stage in my trip. Some choice tidbits for you:

“It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves … the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, but who may not be who we truly are.”

“[He gave] the charm of novelty to things of everyday, and to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the minds attention from the lethargy of custom and directing it to the loneliness and wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which, in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.” Coleridge on Wordsworth.

“Sublime landscapes, through their grandeur and power, retain a symbolic role bringing us to accept without bitterness or lamentation the obstacles we cannot overcome and events we cannot make sense of … if we spend time in [sublime landscapes], they may help us to accept more graciously the great unfathomable events that molest our lives and will inevitably return us to dust.”

“Rather than using photography as a supplement to active, conscious seeing, they used it as an alternative, paying less attention to the world than they had done previously from a faith that photography automatically assured them possession of it.”

“We find explanations for our tastes, we develop an ‘aesthetic’, a capacity to assert judgment about beauty and ugliness.”

“The pleasure we derive from journeys perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.”

“It seemed an advantage to be travelling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially molded by whom we are with, we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others. The may have a particular vision of who we are and hence subtly prevent certain sides of us from emerging … Being closely observed by a companion can inhibit us from observing others, we become taken up with adjusting ourselves to the companions questions and remarks, we have to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity.’

This last one I am coming up against. There are definitely pros and cons to travelling alone. Trick is not to let it slide over into loneliness – never eat alone!