Train 2: Beijing to Ulaanbaatar

26h 38m

It felt like an earthquake. Bottles toppled, cards flipped, passengers shaken.


Luckily, it wasn’t an earthquake and we didn’t spill our drinks either.


We spent a few hours last night in Erlian where they changed the wheels on the train. The fact Mongolia has adopted Russia’s system means you can’t just cruise on in from China.


The tracks widen, perhaps some kind of modern day Great Wall, separating the countries by inconvenience and bureaucracy instead of stone. It might be because Genghis never bothered to apply for a visa back in the day.


So now we are slowly travelling through the Gobi. Dirty yellow grass and grey skies on both sides as far as the eye can see.


There’s a fence, small but made of barbed wire. It’s been running parallel to the track since the last station, it might be the longest fence I’ve seen.


I’ve seen a bird and a hill too. I’ll keep you updated.


Thirty minutes later we spied camels. Double humped. Wild? We may never know; but they were certainly a highlight.



Train 1: Hong Kong to Beijing

23h 58m

I lost my pen, probably in Sydney Airport. I don’t usually lose things, so I’m glad that’s all I couldn’t find as I repacked my bags early yesterday.


As fate would have it Gabi and I stopped past City University’s convenience store on our stroll back from lunch. They stocked pens identical to the one I lost, so I bought two. One for each hand, if the need arose.


It was a hectic week in my second home, there was rarely a dull moment as we jumped from dim sum to dimly lit bar, through the jungles, urban and natural. This, needless to say, excluded our mandatory afternoon naps.


All the events culminated in won ton noodle soup for lunch with Gloria and Robbin in Hung Hom. We chatted and they helped my shop for train essentials, remembering all but one item, chopsticks.


I had intended to write about my first train encounter while eating dinner, but that was impossible, as the instant noodles floating in boiling water infront of me could be retrieved by nothing else but the two pens I purchased yesterday, fashioned like the chopsticks I had forgotten.


If this is the greatest challenge of this trip I’ll be very surprised. I can only hope my resourcefulness will come to my aid once more.


Its the next morning now. The end of this train ride feels very different to the start. It’s as if last week in Hong Kong wasn’t even a trip, I had not fully adopted the travel mindset, it felt very much like I was going home in a few days.


Now, twenty-fours hours away by train it’s seems different, I feel slightly more prepared for this trans-continental train journey further from home than I’ve been before.


no men like snowmen

01:55 15th February 2014

I played in the snow today, like a little kid. Shovelled it like I was uncovering a lost treasure chest filled with many yen. It consumed my ankles then my knees, like quicksand, only to quickly melt and somehow become colder as it did.


We were just in the front yard clearing the air-conditioning unit so that it didn’t pump the white fluffy stuff around the house, or explode.

2014-02-08 15.50.59

I’ve gained some understanding of what my northern hemispherical friends mean now when they talk about winter. Dull, lifeless trees are contrasted with a layer of frosting, streets lined with layers of vanilla icecream.We made a snowman, he had a hat. He’ll be lucky to make it through the night, he has only the courage and brains that we gave him.


In Australia, it’s near the water: pool, beach or otherwise, where grown adults rediscover their childish, uninhibited nature that leads them to dunk a mate or splash or dig a big hole in the sand, just coz.


But here it’s snowballs and snowmen, a whole new world that falls upon your doorstep, sometimes when you least expect it and I don’t care if I never see it again.


bikie lads

00:01 8th February 2014

Broseph and I are making our way, slowly but surely, across the land of the rising sun. A mere 3 full days across Osaka, Nara & Kyoto seems like a week already. The reason?

Let’s see.


I’ve been let down in the past by weary travellers reluctant &/or too lazy to do more than is expected of a tourist. They see past all benefit of taking the slow path, a walk perhaps, over taking a cab. They have no problem seeing a city as it speeds by from a car or train window, oblivious to their presence like it’s always done, I suppose. Ironically, their destination? A place the locals never visit anyway.


But I’ve found a like minded individual. I underestimated, or perhaps forgot, my brother’s walking prowess, afterall, he too is the son of my father. Even at 2 degrees in the snow we’d ditch the train for a stroll down a lane we’d never been & almost certainly never visit again, or maybe we’d hit up a bicycle, it could have two gears or one, dodge the local deer and make our way up a mountain, just to ride down again.


We could sit outside a temple we stumbled upon late one night and enjoy a beer and a cigarette while discussing religion and politics.


All the these adventures combined to create a trip as long as it seems because that was just yesterday.



How ironic. The night before I’m due to depart the city of my youth, again, I fall in love with it.

For a long time I resented this place I had returned to. Returning from overseas was a return to my old ways, some twisted, sub-concious self-loathing that stopped me doing what seemed to come so easily when I was living away from home. New people and new things were seemingly unattainable here. I mostly just stayed at home. I failed to recognise that, while unable to return to those old places I could easily return to the old ‘way’. That approach to living that I had enjoyed overseas was well concealed in this familiar environment, a comfortable bubble that only now has began to melt away.

My dear father’s latest birthday present was the catalyst. A bicycle that, on the late nights I became bored of myself, I could take to the streets without a plan. It was exciting. I’d often comment in the past how I could walk for one hour in any direction from my house and not come close to getting lost; the question now became, could I cycle for an hour?


The city hadn’t changed remarkably between this morning and this evenings revelation, but my perspective did. I discovered what it was like to lose yourself for a little while, the mystery of a new city was alive and well. It was just like discovering a whole new world, in a city I’d lived in most of my life.



Justin read my palms today. Surprisingly, for the natural sceptic that I am, it was enticing, challenging. For as much as I didn’t believe, I wanted to. Some of what he said was off, but the things that were on were moving.

It felt comforting that the thoughts and feelings I’m still trying to reconcile could be empathised with by another person, not matter is the source of their advice is God or the stars or your palms.


This is encouraging for me for more than one reason: I used to be baffled by otherwise perfectly rational people dedication some portion of their life to some divine being, but I think we all do it innately, subconsciously, whether our rational minds like it or not. It’s also encouraged me to make the decisions to which I may have struggled to find a solution.

I’ve never felt a relationship with a higher power of God, but I can relate to other people. So I can relate to the words Justin said and the empathy and sincerity he said them with.


Face and Guanxi



Endless bitching got us out of this place, Chan Wu. It was just the beginning but it gathered enough momentum to relocate us downtown in a reasonable hotel.


Saving face took over next. The potential embarrassment over this cultural debacle and military style coup convinced them some action should be taken. ‘Convinced’ might be a euphemism, saving face after all is seldom a matter of choice, it’s a social trust that measures your integrity. It’s not easily restored once lost.


This leads us full circle to Guanxi. Thinking back to our first class seemingly years ago, we learnt of Guanxi: Chinese relationships. It’s the eastern equivalent of it’s not what you know, it’s who.


This is what got us across the line or border or whatever separates reality from this Kung Fu Kingdom. Some ‘officials’, perhaps government or triads, pulled the necessary strings to make the final preparations for the move.


I’m glad I’ve managed to see and participate in real life scenarios of what we learnt in class. The practical experience, however unplanned it was, has taught be the most about doing business in China.