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Archives for December, 2015


December 31st, 2015

On Monday it finally stopped raining, in the South at least, and I spontaneously decided to go exploring westwards along the coast to Eastbourne. The sunshine didn’t last however and the final ten miles or so were a somewhat bleak trudge along a featureless beach.

Before the sun disappeared I took this photo of Bottle Alley, a unique-to-Hastings two layer promenade built by the “Concrete King” Sidney Little in the 1930s. As well as copious amounts of concrete, Little pioneered recycling by using glass from discarded bottles to provide the distinctive facing on the walls (hence the name). Sadly, like much of the rest of the town, it fell into disrepair. When I was younger it was notorious as a haunt of drug users and other miscreants and no self respecting person would be seen on the lower deck. But now, thanks in part to the recent rebuilding of the pier, there are plans afoot to restore it.


Like Hastings, Eastbourne’s pier also suffered a fire recently, although a much less devastating one. And they got funding from central government to rebuild it.


Beeches Way

December 30th, 2015

I always end up walking this route north of Slough around this time of year. It’s a really nice winter walk with lots of woodland and parks, like here at Burnham Beeches:


I managed to finish in record time this year – it was still light when I got home! Mostly because I didn’t stop to take pictures as it was raining all afternoon.

Near the end the official route goes over a bridge that appears to have been demolished sometime ago. Maybe I should complain to someone…


Hong Kong Again

December 28th, 2015

On the weekend I left Asia my friend Winni happened to be in Hong Kong for a wedding so instead of flying straight home I flew from Shanghai to Hong Kong and spent a few days exploring some more.

I’d been to Hong Kong just a few months ago and really enjoyed it but this time as the temperature was a bit cooler I wanted to get out to the countryside. As Winni was busy Sunday morning I went for a hike along a section of the Hong Kong Trail between Tai Tam reservoir and the Dragon’s Back Ridge.

Not a lot of people realise that Hong Kong is mostly countryside. Not through choice, I think, but because the terrain is too mountainous to build on. I love the way you can just hop on a bus from the centre of town and be somewhere like this in less than 15 minutes:


Near the end of my route there’s an impressive ridge called “Dragon’s Back Ridge”. I was running out of time so I rather than take the meandering route up I decided to proceed directly up the side. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake as I nearly collapsed from exhaustion at the top. You would get very fit hiking in Hong Kong every weekend.


For the remaining day and a half I did some exploring with Winni, which was fun as she actually knows where is good to go. Unfortunately the weather got a bit hazy so the photos aren’t as good as last time.


December 24th, 2015

Suzhou, about 100km west of Shanghai, was where I was working for a week. I liked it a lot better than Shanghai, but unfortunately I only had one afternoon and one morning to explore as I was stuck doing work things during the weekday evenings.

Suzhou is apparently called the “Venice of the East” because it has so many canals. A lot of the city is very modern but some of the old Suzhou has been preserved and I went for a wander around one of these bits after arriving Sunday afternoon.


As well as canals, Suzhou is also famous for its gardens. On the following Saturday before I left I went to look around the most well known, the “Humble Administrator’s Garden”. I’m not by any means knowledgeable about traditional Chinese gardens, but the autumn colours were nice and the water features and little houses were quite impressive. Also the weather finally cleared up for the first time since I reached China!


Lots more pictures below, including a few from Shanghai.


December 18th, 2015

What good things can I say about Shanghai? Hm. Well it has a really nice museum full of ancient pottery and paintings and writings. Very similar to the British Museum, but with only Chinese exhibits. I spent a rainy Saturday afternoon there.


The rest of the city is not worth bothering with. Where to start? The worst thing in Shanghai is the constant stream of hawkers and scammers who come up to you offering fake watches and “massages”. They are everywhere and they do not leave you alone, especially if you are male and by yourself. Maybe I was paranoid because I’d been reading up on the huge number of scams. The best advice seems to be to ignore anyone who approaches you on the street speaking English, which leads to the second problem…

If you are learning Chinese, Shanghai is the worst place you can go to practice. Want to try ordering some bubble tea in 普通话? Don’t bother, no one cares, everyone speaks English and you are wasting their very precious time. This is actually the complete reverse of my experience in Taiwan (and other nearby parts of China later) where people seem genuinely happy if you manage to stumble out even a few words. The best example was when I was trying to buy a train ticket to leave. The ticket office for foreigners is in a different building on another street, because reasons. When I finally found it and queued up I proudly said “我要一张票去苏州!” and the guy just shouted “PASSPORT!” and pointed to the price on the screen. Typical.


Shanghai has a nice enough skyline, which is quite impressive considering it was all built in the last few decades. Do you know what’s under that TV tower? An Apple store.

Around Sunday lunchtime I decided to cut my losses and move on to Suzhou where I was going to spend the week at a contract manufacturer and finally meet up with some of my colleagues. I wish I’d done this sooner as rather than the drab Slough-esque industrial wasteland I’d been led to believe, Suzhou turned out to be surprisingly pleasant.

Train Valley

December 16th, 2015

I’ve been playing this game Train Valley a lot recently. It’s a train puzzle game where you build tracks between stations and then madly switch the points around to route trains to their destinations while avoiding crashes.


I think it really captures the aesthetic I was going for with my somewhat moribund Train Game. The puzzle mechanics are really fun though – wish I’d come up with it!


December 16th, 2015

Caution! Crabs crossing here!


They are like International Rescue but less ambitious.


Civilisation should always be cautious.


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Taitung and Ludao

December 13th, 2015

I was doing really well updating my blog with my adventures in Taiwan but ground to a halt once I got to China. :-( Anyway, for the final bit of my week off in Taiwan I headed further south to the city of Taitung. There’s not an awful lot to do here and the main attraction is getting on the boat to Ludao off the coast. Still there’s sufficient touristy activities to fill a day, including a temple with an oversized pagoda and geriatric karaoke, some pleasant parks, and a “national prehistory” museum.


Taitung is another place in Taiwan with an odd romanisation: it’s written 台東 which is pronounced more like “tai-dong”. On a related note, it’s also an example of the total lack of imagination the original settlers of Taiwan had in naming cities. 台 is short for Taiwan and 東 means east. In the name of the capital 台北, Taipei, 北 means north. There’s also 台南, and 台中 with similar meanings.

History lesson time! On the train from Hualien I saw some farmers burning the grain chaff in their fields just like in the character 秋 “autumn” which is made of 禾 “grain” and 火 “fire”. Taiwan can be very traditional in some ways.

For my last full day I took the boat to 绿岛 Ludao “green island”. The harbour itself is quite a fun place to visit, with a lively fish market:


The crossing is notoriously rough. Everyone I talked to and everything I read mentioned this. It’s possibly a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy: the one thing you don’t want to think about on a rough crossing is other people throwing up. The day was calm but the boat did bob up and down a lot. I think it would be fine for a short period but the journey is 50 minutes after which even I was feeling a little queasy. The boat was well prepared however, with plenty of sick bags stuffed in every seat pocket and dotted around the cabin. You could go outside for some bracing sea air, which was better in some ways and worse in others. Shortly after I took this photo the guy next to me vomited into a bin.


November on Ludao seems to be the off season, and there wasn’t a whole lot going on. The thing to do there is apparently to bomb around on a scooter, but you need an “international” drivers license for that, so I couldn’t, which is probably for the best. I wandered around a bit, had a look at the lighthouse, and then ate some fish.


The ferry only sails once a day so I was a bit paranoid about missing it on the way back. Being stranded on a desert island in the pacific sounds fun, but in practice would be very annoying.

To get back to Taipei I took an exciting internal flight on this little propeller plane! After not raining since Sunday, Taiwan’s weather finally reverted to form.