Monday, 14 May 2012


So, I've been home for 10 days now and it's bloody cold. Strangely cold because it's now the middle of May, with plenty of lush growth and flowers, and yet the temperature struggles to reach double figures. I reassembled the bike and took it into my usual shop for a once-over, where the mechanics were more interested in how the bike had held up, rather than my experiences. I didn't have the heart to tell Neil his three hour cleaning session had been for nought, as the bicycle hadn't been inspected. This weekend I rode to Edinburgh and got soaked, frozen and buffeted by a chilly wind in both directions. Still, it was good to be back on Scottish roads, with courteous drivers and amongst familiar sensations (notably birdsong and the smell of rain). So, I cycled 3,097 miles in Australia, changed the chain twice, suffered the same number of punctures and lost 11 lbs in the process. I only lost one pound when crossing the States. I think that says something about the better quality and/or larger portions there. Don't know what country to tour next and I'm open to suggestions. Possibly Europe, Japan or New Zealand. The photos I took can be viewed at Go to "my account", put in "" and "golden" as the password and you can see all 374 of them as a slideshow. Thanks for reading, thanks for all the comments and I'll let you know about future plans.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Shanghai to Glasgow

Finally able to post on here - several pages at once. Will update in about a week. As you can tell from the title, I did make it home eventually. Very long day. Although the flight wasn't until 12.30, I was up at 6 because they had told me to be at the airport at 8. No available seats on the metro - do people live on the metro? You have to be assertive here when leaving a train, due to people surging forward in this ill-mannered environment. I could never live here what with all the cultural differences especially rudeness, population density and flat-chested women. Hadn't actually been given a new ticket and worried I didn't really have a seat. Although I didn't have to pay for a new flight I did have to pay 1000 Yuan to immigration. Led into a small room by a police woman, where I had to wait for ages (good thing I arrived so early) and sign lots of forms in Mandarin. Breakfast in the airport cost £9! Made sure to queue up in plenty of time at departures. Old Chinese man next to me fidgeted like crazy - digging elbows, commandeering the arm rest, farts, musical yawns and lip smacks after every mouthful. If squeamish, ignore this next sentence. The toilet floor became wetter and wetter, but forgot to put my shoes on each time I used it. I had a window seat not over the wing! Not much to see out the window - thousands of miles of brown nothingness, like this part of the world hasn't been finished. Watched The Reader, Trust and The Perfect Host, all of which were very good. Having seen virtually no wildlife in China, fascinated by a bird of prey hovering over a tiny strip of green between tarmac at Heathrow. Exiting a tube in London (transferring between terminals) a woman on the platform barred my exit. She said "sorry" and moved aside. Back to pleasantries! Couldn't wangle a transfer to Glasgow and had to pay through the nose (£200). Lovely Laura greeted me at Glasgow airport and whisked me and my trusty steed back to my flat. Finally crashed at 1am having been up for 26 hours.


This post should have been entitled "Shanghai to Glasgow" and the reason it is not will soon become apparent. Den den den... The breakfast buffet mostly consisted of hot, Chinese fare and while my co-diners wolfed down three course meals, I plumped for the only 'white food' on offer - toast and croissants. The service was awful, but I suppose one just has to accept different levels of courtesy, eye contact and facial movements when in foreign lands. I was seated at a table occupied by a young woman who didn't look at me once, which I found uncomfortable considering we were the only two diners at that table and sitting directly opposite each other. I decided never to return to this heathen land. I thought there was plenty of time before my flight and paid no heed to the word "London" in the PA announcement. I've missed several flights before and will, in all probability, miss several more in the future. I loathe queues and love dreaming; a catastrophic combination. When I rolled up at the gate, it was closed. I woke up then alright. My protestations fell on deaf ears and were met with impassive expressions. A woman motioned to the plane, which sat there the other side of a pane of glass, and explained the doors were closed. I pleaded and pleaded. Nothing doing. "My wife's aving a baby!" Nothing. They wouldn't put me on the plane, but they got my bike OFF the plane though! Maybe they thought it contained a bomb and I'd missed the flight on purpose. So, I returned to this heathen land... The next flight to London was not for two days. Two whole days. My mind played back the fateful dreamtime saga over and over. Maybe I was an aboriginie in a previous life and this also explains my penchance for going 'cycleabout'. The security people told me I would have to stump up 1,000 Yuan for the privilege of staying in the People's Republic for a further two nights, paybale on departure. I had no idea how much this amounted to. However, somehow no extra fee was required for another plane seat. The only other things to sort out were to (a) email Laura and tell her not to pick me up at the airport tonight and (b) sort out accommodation. To do this I needed wi fi and this is not an easy task in a huge, busy Chinese airport. Eventually I found the business centre, where I could borrow an ethernet cable to enable a good connection. Phew! The email was easily dealt with, but the accommodation... I didn't want to pay for a hotel... Would I be able to access the Couchsurfing website? Den den den. It worked! Phew phew phew! By placing a couch request, I knew the welcoming words of the lovely, generous folks on there would soon give me the warm fuzzies - and so they did. Max was the first to reply, just a few minutes later, and I took him up on the offer straight away. He supplied his address and the business centre staff gave me a street map. First of all I took the bike to left luggage, where it only cost 100 Yuan for 48 hours (conveniently 1 quid = 10 Yuan). Especially coming from Oz, everything seems dirt cheap here - and the maximum subway fare is 70p. I didn't see a single Westerner on any of the three trains. It took two hours to get from airport to suburb and they looked close on the map. According to Wikipedia, as I found out later, Shanghai is the most populous city on earth. At 23 million, give or take a couple, there are more people here than in the whole of Australia. A local helped me to find my way and accompanied me on the journey, which was much like the London Tube and just as packed. The man's name of course was unpronouncable, but he said everyone who learns English is given a pseudoymn (like the Taiwanese in Cairns) and his was Fred. Fred worked on an oil rig 28 days on, 28 days off, and he was presently en route to his wife in Beijing, a 13 hour overnight train journey. He was crazy about Britain, its history and language; and untypically friendly. Surfaced at the subway station to be greeted to my first proper view of Shanghai : highrises in every direction, noise, people everywhere, rubbish, dirt, fog and drizzle. Luckily the street signs were in English as well as Chinese characters and I was able to follow the map to Max's apartment on the 15th floor (only halfway up) of one of the highrises. Many people travel by bicycle and moped, none of whom have lights or obey traffic lights. Drivers honk their horns repeatedly, pedestrians shout back, but somehow it seems to work; although saying that, Max told me later he had witnessed many accidents. Max's address included a room number and, although bludgers can't be choosers, I was worried it might literally be a room in a student flat or something and I would be sleeping on the floor. It was actually a nice flat and I had my own room. Max told me another surfer had just vacated the bed that morning, but "He didn't seem too ugly" and he had no clean duvet covers. Like I care about stuff like that. Max is a German urban design student (hence his misuse of the word ugly) and is currently writing his thesis as part of an exchange between Berlin and Shahghai universities. He told me how emails are rigorously checked for dissent by the state and that another student who criticized Chinese architectural plaguarism was paid a visit by the police. He whisked me off to a Chinese supermarket (I say Chinese, because there are many other nation's food stores here) and my camera was kept busy with the alien foodstuffs, such as vast arrays of seaweed, mushrooms, beef jerky, dried fruits and tofu. I couldn't find any sweets that were familiar and there was literally only one brand of chocolate! Max delighted my senses with a spicy vegetarian feast, a medley of weird plants and nuts, followed by even weirder lychees. In the bathroom the toilet roll had no roll (ie it only consisted of paper and had no hole) and what it is it with the peeing mirrors in this country? One last look at the view from my window, which, at night, was straight out of Bladerunner, and then a much-needed sleep.

Melbourne to Shanghai

Being such a dutiful boyfriend, although he didn't need to rise early, Howard breakfasted with Sandra, who had to be out by 7. Flax seed porridge with bluberries, raw cocoa and bee pollen was that breakfast! I do hope it was as good for me as they said, because it certainly didn't taste it. On departing, Sandra said she would probably see me in another 20 years time, as I estimated that was how long ago we'd last met, and I thanked her for the mental image of myself as an OAP that her charming thought had evoked. Howard took my precious cargo and I to the airport and during the journey he put forward his anti-government stance and annarchistic leanings. I forget exactly how he put it, but it was something along the lines of by voting for any of the world's major political parties, we are agreeing to being raped if we are put in prison for whatever reason; ie no one is to be trusted and every system fails. Thanks for another unpleasant image - I'll never look at a ballot paper again in quite the same light. Bizarrely, he not only works for a government body, he is an American who lives in Australia and is employed by the British Department of Transport. Something to do with overseeing the production of Asian cars, so they are compatible with British laws. I told him about my manifesto : not bothering anyone, riding my bicycle and burying my head in the sand when it comes to the world's attrocities. Howard might be cynical and jaded when it comes to human beings, but I've never met such a doting pet owner. He had never had much contact with cats before and always saw himself as a 'dog person', yet when a stray black cat came a knocking a few years ago, he and Sandra didn't know who his owners were and decided to let him stay. Now Badda Bing is the centre of their universe, they pander to his every whim and coo over him like a baby. The iconic Jaws image caught my eye on a poster in the airport toilet, with the words "Some things aren't meant to fly" - underneath some wit had scrawled "Like toothpaste and soap" - and then went on to talk about checking one's luggage for dangerous items. So then, a window seat over the wing again on another interminable China Eastern flight, with its slapstick action films, bland airline food; and in-flight magazines only in Mandarin, although hardly surprising with 99% Chinese passengers. To help pass the time I finally got some use out of the huge Rough Guide to Australia that I've been lugging around with me. There was a condensed history and I also learned some new slang words, such as : Banana bender - Queenslander Beyond the black stump - Outback Budgie smugglers - Speedos Warm fuzzies - feeling of contentment It was when reunited with the Pudong terminal building disappearing in each direction as far as the eye could see, that Orwell came into my mind. The Chinese remind me of the pigs in Animal Farm, who want to be like capitalist Westerners, but their corrupt communism and cultural differences hold them back. Whereas the few white faces (the non-pig farm animals) you see in this country stare back at you with the look of frightened rabbits. China is after all Australia's employer. Funny watching the pushing and shoving in the airport. In between the endless series of moving walkways they hustle and bustle past each other on SLIM, spindly frames and centres of gravities at shoulder level. At Customs a man queue-jumped and I protested, to which he held up his hand as if to say "Get back, foreign infidel!" Had to collect my bike as I had a stop-over here, but fortunately my hotel was right in the airport, so I could take the box on a trolley all the way to my room. This is how the conversation went at reception : "Passport". "Please." "Passport." "Please." "Passport." "Please." Then she smiled. However, it wasn't the swanky hotel that I had been allocated, but the motel opposite. It was pretty nice though and not a pictureless brick wall in site. The lady at the desk here (who had a number badge not a name badge) was none too friendly either (I guess it's just a cultural difference) and when she gave me a card with a four digit number on it and I asked if this was the room number, she looked at me like I was an idiot. The first number referred to the establishment and the other three pertained to the room. Her non-verbal language seemed to be saying, "You must be really stupid not to realise that". For liquid refreshment, two tea bags were all the room offered. I couldn't be bothered to go all the way back to reception to ask for coffee and milk. There was a full-length mirror behind the toilet, so I could watch myself urinating and this is how the wording ran on a sign stuck to a small, glass table : "Friendship prompt : utslightly carefully, please not heavy pressure" Although there was internet access, the blog was unattainable (I learned later that all blogs are blocked by the State) and out of curiosity I tried to access Facebook. Social networking sites are verboten as well; Laura couldn't survive here!


Badda Bing, Sandra and Howard's neurotic black cat, meowed me to wakefulness, demanding affection, and then the human contingent repaired to a French cafe for croissants. Talking of cafes, later on in Subway (during a typical hunt for wi fi) while waiting to be attended to, a delivery man asked me, "Foot long or six inch?" A bit of a personal question I thought and replied, "Coffee". What a beautiful, crisp, still, autumnal morning! And how refreshing, after northern Queensland's 30 degree/75% humidity. Left the couple to their coupley Sunday activities, to stroll into the CBD, taking in the urban scenery, which again, invigorated the senses compared to boondock blandness. So many young, SLIM locals engaged in sport, from stretching exercises to Australian Rules Football - and many people seem to 'go for a walk', at least if their jogging outfits are anything to go by. I had more sedate pastimes in mind, such as typing and art appreciation, and most of the afternoon was gobbled up in the confusingly named National Gallery of Victoria. White Australian, Indigenous, Polynesian and International heritages, both and new were represented here, and all beautifully laid out. Perhaps sensing my need for social interaction, it was then that I met The Crazy Lady. The Crazy Lady befriended me outside the art gallery, where I had sat down on a wall wondering what to do next. I had wanted to see the penguin parade at Philip Island, but Sandra had told me to see the little critters returning from a day's fishing at sunset, required an expensive ticket. Failing that, I had thought about taking in the sights at the supposedly trendy neighbourhood of St Kilda. However, it was nearly 5 pm, quite cold and overcast, and The Crazy Lady persuaded me to join her for sushi. Exhausted by keyboard-tapping and culturally sated, yet still in need of calorific nourishment (and not wishing Sandra to feel obligated in full-on feast production again) I spent my remaining dollars in a restaurant called Chocolate Buddha. En route my guide stopped wheeling her bottle green bicycle to hug a tree. "Was that your special tree?" I ventured. "No, I had a sudden impulse," she answered, with a crazy look in her crazy, green eyes. The Crazy Lady illuminated the mouthwatering morcels with tales from her crazy life. Unusual in that she lived in her native city; but it was not ever so. She had worked illegally in the US as a building site labourer. This was how she became interested in architecture, and now has her own practice. She had designed and renovated structures in many countries, and was currently supervising a team "beautiful" local men in Vanuatu to construct homes of hr deign with tadpole-shape windows (she showed me pictures on her phone). When I told her about the feline character behind my cartoon and greetings card business, she declared her aversion to the species. However, it was when I explained the finer points of Couchsurfing that she became suspicious of me. The naturists in Cairns were too much for her and her crazy eyes took on a whole new crazed expression. She rose from the table, stated, "You're freaking me out!" and left me to pay the substantial bill. Full in every sense, I returned to Brunswick on the excellent tram sys tem. My hosts and I drunk a little of the peach wine The Crazy Lady had suggested we drink with our meal; but pretty soon we all turned in, as early Monday mornings lay before each of us.