Some distances and times

Total distance travelled:
39,893 km / 24,788 mi

Total distance travelled on land:
14,117 km / 8,772 mi

Total distance travelled by air:
25,776 km / 16,016 mi

Longest train ride by distance:
Yekaterinburg to Krasnoyarsk – 2287 km / 1,421 mi

Longest train ride by time:
Yekaterinburg to Krasnoyarsk – 32:23 for 2287 km

Slowest train ride:
Ulan Ude to Ulan Baatar, 28:25 for 657 km – 23.12 km/hr / 14.37 mi/hr

Fastest train:
Maglev from Shanghai to airport – 431 km/hr / 268 mi/hr

Fastest long-distance train:
Tokyo to Osaka, 2:30 for 556km – 222.56 km/hr / 138.29 mi/hr

Longest flight:
Osaka to San Francisco – 8673 km / 5,389 mi

Things seen along the way

As we’ve moved along over this journey, I’ve taken pictures of things for posting to the blog. Some of them didn’t make it, for one reason or another. But hating to waste good pictures, I thought I’d throw them into a blog posting for all to experience.

The engine of my plane as I fly down to San Francisco:

The engine of my plane as I fly down to San Francisco

Our British Airways 747 to London:

Our British Airways 747 to London

The women who decided to talk us up at the hotel in London (mother and daughter, quite friendly):

The women who decided to talk us up at the hotel in London

Amy and Nick (and me, but I took the picture) sit in a sushi restaurant in St. Petersburg. Russia has surprisingly good sushi for a country that seems to have very few Japanese:

Amy and Nick in a sushi restaurant in St. Petersburg

Siberia doesn’t have a lot of features. It generally looks like either of the following two pictures. Usually more the former than the latter:

Endless stands of birch trees

A small, nameless Siberian village

And periodically, you do see other trains:

Passing a freight train

The forests often get thicker, too:

Endless stands of trees

Another shot of the Museum of Wooden Buildings. Didn’t post this as I took too many pictures there (was unsure of lighting, etc.):

Down Main Street, USSR, er, Russia

This is a far, far better shot of the Mongolian Embassy in Ulan Ude, Russia. I think I chose the other one because it did look better … at least at the time:

Mongolian Embassy in Ulan Ude

Me at the lake in Mongolia. Wouldn’t want to go swimming in that, though. Probably not the “cleanest” of places, with all the waterfowl and horses:

Chillin' at the lake

Amy catches up on journal- and postcard-writing:

Writing in the ger

We caught a sunset at Hustai National Park. This was before I nearly froze to death:

Sunset at Hustai National Park

A line of rail car bogies sit to one side in the bogie-changing shed in Erlian, China:

Bogies waiting for a new train

Most of you are probably wondering what the toilets in the trains looked like. Here’s an example of the “western” toilets. Never did take one of the squat ones, sadly…

Trail toilet

On the road, especially for this length of time, you periodically have to do laundry. Normally, not an issue. But this is what it looks like after washing out all the sand from Mongolia:

Down Main Street, USSR, er, Russia

We hit a great little restaurant in Beijing for lunch one day, and were served a pot of tea. Make with chrysanthemums. Not exactly normal, but quite tasty:

Chrysanthemum tea

Don’t ask me what kind of store this is. With a name like that, who really cares, anyway?

Valued Squirrel

This is the view from our hotel in Shanghai. As you can see, it was quite hazy there. The humidity was murder:

View from our hotel in Shanghai

It rained a lot in Xian on our first day there. Nice, but wet:

Bell Tower in the rain

Who doesn’t want to go to a Yummy Restaurant?

Yummy Restaurant

We walked around part of Xian’s walls one night. They looked pretty nice:

Valued Squirrel

Our last meal in Xian was at a strange hotpot restaurant, where we had to get someone to translate the freaking menu for us because we couldn’t read it at all. It was pretty tasty, though:

Valued Squirrel

We made a mistake of going to the “Entertainers”, a trio who perform in the lounge of the same name at the Hyatt in Xian. They forever butchered many of my favourite songs…

Be afraid ... very afraid

I meant to post about this. I mean, really, who names their water: “WAHAHA?”


At least you can’t miss the sign to get you to Kowloon (Hong Kong):

Get on the train!

Chinglish isn’t escapable, even at the Chinese/Hong Kong SAR border crossing:

No Flowing Back

One of these is the actual border between China and Hong Kong SAR. I have no idea where the heck it is, as it’s no longer marked:

Somewhere around the Hong Kong border

Somewhere around the Hong Kong border

Somewhere around the Hong Kong border

Somewhere around the Hong Kong border

Rogue vendors are so bad in some areas that private property owners try to keep them out with signs like these:

No Hawking

Ferry traffic!

Boat traffic in Hong Kong Harbour

Our hotel in Kowloon was next to the Avenue of Stars, sort of like the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I found a few names I know:

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Jackie Chan apparently heavily sponsors California Fitness. He’s probably an owner.

Jackie Chan plugs Hollywood Fitness

Inside our favourite dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong:

Mmmm... dim sum

We had this at a sushi restaurant in Chiba. We thought it was some weird pickled eel. It was eggplant:

It was still tasty

The Last

Yesterday was a day of lasts.

The last train (finally, even if it was just an airport tram; I was thwarted from taking the airport express train by a completely bulletproof argument put forth by Amy that the bus was faster).

Amy crowds a corner on our last train

The last flight.

The last airport.

Kansai Airport

The last country.

We left through Kansai Airport (the sinking island — I wonder if it still is sinking?), not nearly as impressive as I’d hoped it would be. Chek Lap Kok is much nicer, I think. Amy flew in Business, with me back in Galley Slave. The food was horrific on a level I can’t even begin to describe.

San Francisco was a rush of English. Ouch. But nothing was more painful than trying to get through United States Immigration.

Okay, rant…

We’ve been to a number of countries, now. Why is it that, even with countries that need a visa to enter, getting in and out is generally trivial? Amy’s got an American passport, I’ve got a Canadian one. Not a single issue. Ever.

Except in the United States. Amy gets to go through the Resident line. Quick, effective. Me? “Visitor”. Never mind the fact that Canadians are effectively treated like Americans, especially when in transit through the United States to home, and especially when not there on business. I was one of only two Canucks in the line of about 300. The rest were mostly Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino, with a couple of Aussies thrown in for good measure. Time for me to get through? An hour.

Really, does the United States need to be this paranoid? Fair enough, there’s been a terrorist attack. Do you really think that anyone determined enough is going to let you inspect them at the border? Scans of index fingers and digital photographs probably aren’t going to do anything useful, except make people wonder why they’re being treated like criminals. As a Canadian, I’ve been lucky to avoid that crap, but I’m waiting for the day we have to do that, too. Grr.

The delays meant no early flight home. So we spent a few hours wandering around San Francisco. Probably the smartest thing to do, since we needed the time to realize that yes, Toto, we are back in Kansas. It’s weird having to relearn to listen and read a language you’ve known your entire life.

San Francisco Cable Car

Ode to Hong Kong Trolleys

Trolley headlight burning bright,
cart me through this stormy night,
Away to the curious city sights
And let me view the highest heights!

Trolley, tram, whatever they say
You run ’round the city every day
100 years and one you tramp away
So darn cute, promise me you’ll stay?

Hong Kong trolleys

On the train to Hong Kong


Our last overnight train.

27 hours in soft sleeper. This time, without cabinmates. And the others in our train car were so quiet. The journey was peaceful. Almost perfect. (Don’t remind me about that slop they have the nerve to call “beer”!!!!! Next time, I will run in the other direction instead of forking down nearly $1CAD for the can.)

We left Xian around 9am, so we had all day to appreciate the Chinese countryside. This isn’t the most thrilling photo, but I can assure you, the views were more picturesque than Siberia! (Go figure!) Lack of birch trees aside, I did enjoy seeing the countryside slowly shift from wheat fields to rice terraces and banana trees.

Chinese countryside

The interior of a Chinese train is much the same as a Russian one, except lighter. The walls are light “wood” or white instead of dark, and the floors are lighter as well. This train was also quite a bit roomier than all of our previous trips. I swear we had an additional 18 inches in the aisle between the two sets of bunks!

One habit I’ve gotten into is clipping my iPod onto the little mesh shelf above my bunk. It’s the perfect place for it while I’m lying in my bunk reading or writing or knitting. It’s handy but never lost. I think Apple should sell the iPod with this caribener clip instead of the dorky neck strap. It’s much more useful. And it sort of looks like an IV drip hanging like that.

My ipod

As a side note, I have about 240 songs on there. And I’m just now getting to the point of being fed up with half of them. Not bad.

My only real complaint about the Chinese trains is that instead of providing a little step ladder to the upper bunks, they give you one 3 inch square step. It’s not enough. It’s useless. Look how far down it is!!!!

Dangling feet

Last night’s train

Man, do I ever have more to say about last night…

This was the second long distance train we’ve taken in China (I’m not counting the train that brought us from UB to Beijing, by the way). The first train, Z1 (which runs Beijing to Shanghai), was exceedingly nice. Very comfortable, although the air conditioning kept cutting out, making the inside a bit sticky.

Last night’s train, T138, was at least steady with temperature, but a decidedly different experience. For some reason, we’ve been running into all sorts of people from Xian vacationing in both Beijing and Shanghai. Assumedly, for that reason, last night’s train was packed full. In our compartment was a business man who spent most of his waking time in another compartment with friends, and a young woman above me (I was on the bottom bunk) whose father (‘cuz I hope it wasn’t her husband … *shudders*) seemed to treat our compartment like it was part of his personal closet!

If I only knew enough Chinese to tell someone to p*ss off so I can sleep!

It also didn’t help that last night, we seemed to get a freight train engineer behing the wheel. The train lurched so often that I thought I might actually feel the urge to strangle the guy! I mean, really, this is a PASSENGER train, not a martini James Bond-style.

I have high expectations after all the Russian trains we took. Given all that we’ve seen of China thus far, I would expect their rail operations to be a tad slicker.

But we’re down to only one more long-distance train, as Amy wrote about. In a way, it’s sad, but believe it or not, I’m looking forward to not having to ride trains much anymore. I’m actually (almost) trained out. It’s a great way to travel, but a lousy way to live.

Riding Trains Backwards

The world is already past
by the time I see it
Just a glimpse and it’s gone

Life is like that
We can only ever look back at yesterday
at this morning
at the last words we spoke

And so I watch the scenery fade
moving 70 km/h down a bumpy rail

You aren’t here
and I can’t yet see you
waiting at the end of the line

But I close my eyes and see you still
at the place I began
this long journey back to


The Shanghai MagLev Train

A few years back, someone got the idea that China really needed to showcase its technical know-how, and put forth the idea of building one of the most technically-complex things for commercial use: a MagLev train. Magnetic levitation, while not a new idea, is an expensive proposition. Few countries have even attempted it (the major attempts have been primarily Germany and Japan, with smaller ones in England, the United States, and France), and only China has created a commercial system. At a cost estimated at $1.2 billion (US, I presume). This is for a 30km link that runs from Pudong airport to Shanghai’s state-of-the-art subway line, but not even close to the downtown core.

The technology was bought from the Germans, who were instrumental in getting the line up and running. To be sure, the Germans got a lot out of creating an actual, operating MagLev line. The line was officially opened 31 December 2002, and went into operation in early 2003.

We were told by Noah and Justin that we had to check this puppy out. With it being so close to our hotel, how could we resist?

The train at Longyang Rd. Station

The station is on two levels — the track is elevated (for a variety of reasons). A return ticket is 80RMB, which is only about US$10. For the trip, this is quite reasonable. Naturally, the line runs at a loss, but in the communist economy, that’s not really a concern.

The train is about 100 metres long, and all the cars are permanently linked — you can see from one end of the train to the other on the inside. Unlike some other types of MagLevs, the Shanghai system does not have wheels for lower speeds — it’s either suspended or rests on skids. You know when the train is about to leave when you start feeling like floating.

Cockpit of the train

There’s not a lot of noise — important, since there are no moving parts (at least as far as the drive system is concerned). Noise is generally from vibration, assumedly coming from the changing in polarity that drives the train forward. Acceleration is smooth and very fast — you’re going over 200 km/h before you know it. But that’s not even half the upper speed — the train tops out at 431 km/h. The blur outside your window is almost frightening.

Going this fast is almost scary

The total 30 km trip to the airport takes only 7 minutes.

The train arrives at Pudong Airport station

If only someone had the wherewithal to build one of these puppies between Calgary and Edmonton. But I doubt anyone would ever make money from it.

Ah, chinglish... how do I love thee, let me count the ways...

Crossing Russia in 18 hours

This morning we took the Shanghai Maglev train from Pudong to the International airport. This thing goes up to 431 km/hour and takes only 7 minutes to make the trip. I took some video out the window, so hopefully it turns out.

However, this got me thinking. If we had one of these between Calgary and Edmonton, it would be about a 40 minute trip, more or less.

And if one ran between Moscow and Beijing, well, you could do the entire trip non-stop in about 18 hours.


Behind in Beijing!

Hi folks! I’m back online, finally! While Geoff was able to fire off a quick post our last night in Ulaan Baatar, I decided I was too fed up with the slower-than-dialup connection and cruddy keyboard.

I’m going to work on covering the past week and a half with back posts, so you may have to scroll down to read them all. But the new stuff should be fairly obvious.

Me and Mao

I’m in China!!!!!

Can you believe it? I am pinching myself. I am overjoyed. I love Asia, at least what I’ve seen of it. And this might be sacrilige, but Beijing reminds me of Japan. I know, I know it’s really very little like Japan, but it has neon, cool buildings, a weird juxtaposition of modern and traditional, cool soft drinks and amazing food. What more do you need?