Mapping by heart…

…and by hand. In a world where every last inch and yard is navigable with Google Maps, mobile GPS and sultry-voiced Tom Toms, we can begin to forget that maps are actually subjective, creative, and selective things. We’re only reminded of it, perhaps, whenever Mrs. Tom Tom whispers in our ear to “turn left – turn left, darling – turn left” directly into the honking, screaming roar of oncoming traffic. Ms. Tom Tom might sound strangely attractive, but her purpose is darkly sinister.

Continue reading

On writing milestones: Escape Velocity at 30K!

There are few better feelings in this world than bashing down milestones. Bashing them into absolute gravel, then tossing the gravel high up in to the air and then, as it rains gravel all over your head, you laugh. Like a certifiable maniac.

Just to be clear, that was me Tuesday night at about 2.

The source of this madness? Excitement at having finally cleared the magical 30,000 word mark on A Eurasian Diary, which felt like a long time coming, but, woo hoo, it’s here!

30K is a magical milestone, I think, as, whether writing a novel or a travelogue, that’s the point where it often feels you’ve achieved real escape velocity. You’re no longer weighed down with doubts in the enterprise itself, you’ve found your tone and have (hopefully) got your word economy sorted out, and the momentum is very much with you. Meaning, of course, that tonight I have incredibly unrealistic expectations, and somehow assume I will just bang off 2,000 words of infallible gospel before the pizza even has time to burn…. Continue reading

Come into my office…

Come into my office...

Head to Erdaoqiao Market in the south of Urumqi, and you’ll find a whole assortment of friendly shopkeepers welcoming you to their stalls with… well, enormous growling wolves.

Erdaoqiao is at the epicentre of Urumqi’s Uyghur community – you can sip Turkish tea while sitting on Afghan rugs, with menus in Arabic and Chinese script alike – and even Russian. As remote as the city might appear on the map, it threads together trade routes both ancient and modern, stewing together far-flung cultures, and, in the process, creating an entirely new one of its own.

Hot-dog, shrimp and mayonnaise pizza, anyone?

For foodies, eating out in China can be an unrelenting roller coaster of surprises. Surreal as often as sumptuous, getting what you expect can be a remarkably rare occurrence – that’s, of course, half the thrill of travelling in the country, though when it goes wrong, it can often leave you a bit hungry.

When chicken’s feet in chilli oil begins to feel a bit exhausting, though, there are often Western fast food chains about, beckoning poor foreigners with the siren call of predictable, ordinary comfort foods to reset your taste buds and help refresh your courage. Pizza Hut, for example.

As this outstanding little series of Instragrams from photojournalist John Lehmann shows, though, not even Pizza Hut can deliver the goods when it comes to, well, pizza. 

 

Is this strictly necessary? A hot dog encrusted pie laden with cheese, shrimp tempura and glow-in-the-dark mayonnaise? What deliciously fresh hell is this?

This is the only snap of the lot to feature such freak-fusion cuisine, but the photo series overall is packed with gems – street scenes, train stations, and little days in the life make up a beautiful sidelong glance at travelling in China.

Makes me want to return to China again – and to give this unholy pizza pie a go while I’m there.

Interconnections: Space, Time, and Magical Pagan-God-Rocks

Though the big Eurasian rail trip finished a few months ago, and I’ve long traded the backalleys of Bukhara for the familiar backroads of Brixton, there’s one enduring sensation that’s really stuck with me from those fancy-free travellin’ days: interconnectedness.

My submission to the Londonist's "Time Travel London" series. What if you layered the Saxon meeting point of "Beorhtsige's Stone" with modern day Brixton? Would ancient Saxon lords queue up for a pepperoni pizza at Franco Manca? (oh yes they would)

My submission to the Londonist’s “Time Travel London” series. What if you layered the Saxon meeting point of “Beorhtsige’s Stone” with modern day Brixton? Would ancient Saxon lords queue up for a pepperoni pizza at Franco Manca? (oh yes they would)

Space!

Before I took the trip, Brixton was Brixton. The centre of Lambeth, south of the river, fond of reggae, and famous for both its checkered past and its nice vegan cupcakes. This identity, however colourful and complex, seemed relatively determined and well-bounded.

Now, though, it’s laced into everything, everywhere. The train from Brixton to Victoria has become more than a little fifteen-minute commute – it’s a tiny branch on a continent-traversing mega-web of railways that can take you seamlessly to Tashkent, Chengdu, even Singapore if you wanted. You could board a train at Brixton and, without even once leaving a train station or metro system, end up on the opposite edge of the world.

As far as I’m concerned, it should even be doable on Oyster Card. If Amersham is Zone 6, then sure, Hong Kong might have to be Zone 72, but at least we’d recognise that all of it, everywhere, is connected.

It’s fun talking about the interconnectedness of space. What about interconnectedness of time? Continue reading