From May 2007

Three Months in China

…would be the name of my book if I ever got round to writing it. Looking back three months doesn’t sound like an awfully long time but for a 22 year old who’s never been out of his home country for more than two weeks before, let alone to a vastly different culture, it felt like a lot longer. Dropping your life on a weeks notice to fly to the other side of the world isn’t something I’d recommend to everyone but there’s nothing like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire to wake you up!

DSC_2813

I’m not sure that I ever experienced so called “Culture Shock” as I had a pretty good idea what to expect – for sure there were high and low points but luckily the positives outweighed the negatives. About the only time I got close to loosing it was when I was jammed into a Beijing subway train and people point blank refused to move to let people on/off at each stop meaning you had to physically push your way through (10x worse than on the Tube). I don’t believe people were being malicious about it, just that what we would usually take for granted and good manners are not a part of Chinese social culture (yet). The same went for spitting, dropping litter, and queuing!

DSC_4180

When it comes to exploring the wonders that China has to offer I’ve only just scratched the surface and barely that even. Every region of China’s vast geography is bristling with fascinating places to visit that I doubt any one person could ever do them justice. With this in mind it’s hard not to imagine a sequel to this story and I certainly intend to write one (in time!). Next on my hit list of places to visit would be Hong Kong, Shanghai, Xi’an, Guangzhou, Tibet, and the Bamboo Sea in South Sichuan. I’d love to get out of the mega-cities and also see some of rural China which I’m sure will present a huge dichotomy in comparison.

DSC_3095

Having been back in London for nearly a month now I can truly say that I am missing being in China. Even though London is a great city it seems somewhat tame now – not much challenge living here for me! In many ways perhaps this reflects western attitudes of supposed superiority – we have become so accustomed to the standards of living we enjoy that perhaps younger generations have become complacent and lost some of the drive to continue the innovation which put us here (ignoring the exploitation side of it for a moment!). Be in no doubt that China is going to dominate the next century in a big way – like it or not.

DSC_3205

If anyone is thinking about going to China go now. In a few years time China is going to be completely different, as the vestiges of yesterday are rapidly swept away to make way for a new form of modernity. Whether the Olympic games next year give China the positive exposure they are hoping for is yet to be determined however I doubt even London can beat the scale of what Beijing has planned. It should be quite a spectacle if they can pull it off!

Google 2.0

Today the realisation of The Matrix got another step closer with Google releasing its largest update to its search engine yet, coined “Universal Search“. Whereas Google’s various search indexes were, for the most part, separate the new system blends results from from its news, video, images, local/maps, book, and blog search engines along with those gathered in the traditional way. Along with a new navigation menu and some other subtle UI changes it’s all pretty cool.

For many Google has become the start of the internet from where we begin the majority of our journeys through it’s vast maze-like structures. Is there no end in sight to Google’s technological onslaught? I often wonder where this will all end up and, having watched way too many sci-fi films over the years, the answers are not always a positive one!

[ More here, here, and here. ]

28 Weeks Later

28 Weeks Later

Watching zombies terrorize your local neighborhood is all to common these today but it’s not every day you get to see your home and work place destroyed by US-led NATO forces, unless you live in Iraq perhaps. In an even scarcer coincidence that’s exactly what I got to observe tonight (with a touch of glee I might add) in the newly released film “28 Weeks Later“, the prequel to the 2002 cult hit “28 Days Later“. Those living on the Isle of Dogs may want to take shelter till this one’s blown over!

28 Weeks Later
A shot from the film – scarily similar to one of mine!

I used to have a poster of the first film on my wall at university so it’s rather cool to see this one come full circle five years later 🙂 Amazingly for a sequel it’s also actually a pretty good film in it’s own right. Whilst none of the origional cast are included (their fate is unclear, depending on which theatrical/dvd version you saw) the premise of the new story is pretty good – Twenty-eight weeks after the infection originally broke out, an operation begins to re-populate the country, which has been declared free of infection. Of course it’s not really gone and after one person gets infected things rapidly go down hill… all set to the backdrop of an eerily deserted London.

28 Weeks Later

This is not to be missed, especially if you live in London, but probably not for those with a weak stomach! The NY Times has a good review here.

Gyeongbokgung

If you’re not Korean and can pronounce “Gyeongbokgung” (without hesitation) then you deserve an award! Constructed in 1394 and subsequently reconstructed multiple times after Japanese invasions, Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul is one of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. Although only about a dozen buildings survive, at one point the site housed several hundred structures.

DSC_4720

If you’ve been reading my blog over the past few months then you’ll notice a number similarities between the architecture here and that found in China. It’s interesting to see how the variations in style and their historical evolution is reflect in both cultures which have both strikingly modern and old sides to the urban environment. Whilst architects have always looked to the past for inspiration this isn’t always a necessarily a good idea (Beijing has some of the most ugly newish buildings I’ve ever seen) … but I digress!

DSC_4715

DSC_4759

Even though it was another hazy day it was nice to visit a historic site that wasn’t overrun by hordes of American tourists or streams of tours all with megaphones! There was something of a relaxing beauty about Gyeongbokgung which, although heavily restored, endeared it to me where some other more stark sites had not.

DSC_4769

Also situated in the grounds of the palace is the National Folk Museum of Korea which gives an interesting overview of the history of Korea and its people – worth a visit, all displays also have English explanations.

DMZ

“The Korean Demilitarized Zone is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula that serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. The DMZ cuts the Korean Peninsula roughly in half, crossing the 38th parallel on an acute angle, with the west end of the DMZ lying south of the parallel and the east end lying north of it. It is 248km/155 miles long and approximately 4km/2.5 miles wide, and is the most heavily armed border in the world.”

DSC_4586

It’s also one of South Korea’s biggest tourist attractions, or as our guide put it “a gift from the North” when talking about the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel we were about to visit! The tour I was on was fairly well orchestrated with plenty of reunification propaganda and troops with scarily real weapons. There are reportedly over 1 million troops on either side of the divide and South Korean men must do at least 2 years military service when they finish school.

DSC_4619

I’ve been in trouble before for taking photos in places I perhaps shouldn’t but this time things went a step further when I was ordered to delete photos taken from edge of the observation platform (see above). For some reason it was fine to take photos 10 feet back behind a line but not directly where people were looking through magnified telescopes! Still, considering the possible consequences I complied without argument this time and those photos of a fairly featureless mountain range are no more…

DSC_4637

One of the rather absurd stops on the tour was Dorasan Station – an almost new railway station located just before the boarder on a recently repaired rail link between north & south… only no trains ever pass through it. This would be my definition of optimism! Eventually trains from here will travel all the way to Pyeongyang (the capital of North Korea) but I wouldn’t hang around for a train any time soon!

Update (18/05): Well, I can eat my words on this one – yesterday two trains, one from the north and one from the south, crossed the boarder each carrying 150 invited guests. However, it was a largely symbolic event and probably a one-off for the time being.

I’d throughly recommend taking a tour to the DMZ if you’re ever in Korea, it was fascinating to see the conflict stalemate up-close and all it’s associated propaganda (on both sides). If you take a morning tour be prepared for an early start though – the bus leaves at 8am!

Seoul

Seoul (the capital of South Korea), from what I saw of it last week, is a very efficient, modern, and technologically advanced city. In addition it has one of the largest metropolitan populations with over 23 million inhabitants as well as being considered one of the top 20 “world-class cities“. Quite a place!

DSC_4656
View from the 1500ft N-Seoul Tower on a hazy evening.

After being almost totally destroyed in the Korean War (1950-53) the city underwent rapid re-development in the 1960’s and 70’s and now boasts the greatest number of skyscrapers in Asia which makes for a pretty amazing cityscape. Although four days is probably not enough to fully appreciate a city I can say for certain I left pretty impressed.

DSC_4640

Of course no visit to Seoul would be complete without a visit to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) between the north and the south as well as Gyeongbokgung Palace. Check back soon for more!