Friday, June 30, 2006

A Setback

Almost six weeks into the trip, on the eve of John’s heading by himself to France for some R&R, we’ve had our first attitude-changing bummer of a travel experience: John got his camera stolen on the St. Petersburg metro. It was plucked right out of his knapsack while he was busy concentrating on protecting his wallet in a suddenly crowded car. He had been backing up photos on my computer, so he didn’t lose a lot of work, but he did lose a lot of camera. This was no point-and-shoot.

So if you’re in a St. Petersburg street market any time soon, and you see a nice Cannon camera for sale with a big lens (and photos already on the memory card), and the price seems too good to be true….it is.

This is More Like It

Everyone likes St. Petersburg a lot more than Moscow. The people seem friendlier, the subway is less confusing, the hotel is nicer, and, most of all, it’s the first truly beautiful city I’ve seen on my trip. Irkutsk had quirky charm, and Moscow had quite a few beautiful buildings, but in St. Petersburg, virtually every downtown building is a handsome, several-hundred-year-old stone structure. My Mom and I have been walking the soles off our shoes trying to see it all. (John regards himself as on vacation for this leg, although he has been working on a market photo project. Mostly, though, I think he knows he can’t keep up with my Mom when she has a few cups of Nescafe and goes into full sightseeing mode. And frankly, neither can I. I lost four pounds on the trip, and I’m pretty sure I last saw them in St. Petersburg.)

Writing any articles about the city is going to be difficult because it’s going to be hard for me to find the new angle—I’ve never been here before, so I’m still hung up on seeing the obvious sights. I don’t have any secret St. Petersburg-type article ideas, because I’ve been enjoying all the well-known tourist spots so much. The Hermitage was great. (I’ve never seen a museum that leaves the windows open on a hot day, though.) Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral was beautiful, and full of crowds welcoming the Romanovs home. Peterhof was great, once we got past the idea that we needed to tour the main hall, which is shielded from visitors by a baffling and frustrating array of Russian-only entry times and hidden ticket fees. The Nevsky Prospect shopping area was interesting (Shopping? In Russia? Believe it.), full of coffee houses, ice cream shops, and art deco architecture. The churches are beautiful. It’s all beautiful. It’s just not much of a secret. St. Petersburg is one of those dream cities for a visitor, where a guidebook really can lead you to the good stuff. It’s just a little bit of a nightmare for a travel writer when a city wears its beauty on its sleeve like that.

See St. Petersburg!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

In Moscow

Nobody got off on the right foot in Moscow. Not John and I, who spent our first hour in the city stuck in rush hour traffic with a driver who had no idea where our hotel was. And definitely not my mother, who got bumped off her Aeroflot flight in New York and got here a day late.

And don't even get me started with the metro, which is truly the most beautiful system I've ever seen, with art in almost every downtown station, but which is also the most confusing system imaginable.

Yesterday, though, was a great day and I've forgiven the city for the rough start. My Mom and I went to a flea market and spent the morning shopping for trinkets. It was bright and sunny and even the Russians seemed to be in a better mood.

After lunch, the three of us went on an organized tour of the metro system. It was explained to me that Stalin knew he coudn't afford to give every Russian family a car, so he decided to give the people the next best thing: A really beautiful subway system. And it is. There's art everywhere. Some stations are full of absurd propoganda poster-style sculptures showing hale and hearty Russian youth defending the Soviet motherland with all their fuzzy-cheeked might. Some have chandeliers and ornate paintings, and look a little like Versailles. One has stained glass everywhere. My favorite one is kind of art deco, with stainless-steel arches and mosaics telling the (dubious) history of Russian aviation.

After dinner, my mom and I went to Red Square with the idea of watching the lights that illuminate St. Basil's cathedral come on. But because it never really gets completely dark this far north in June, we had to settle for watching the sun set until 10:30, when we got tired and had to go home.

Tonight we all take a night train to St. Petersburg, where we'll be for the longest day of the year. I'm actually looking forward to this city more than I was Moscow because it's supposed to be so beautiful. (Smaller, and less overwhelming, too.) It's also the last stop on my trip, which is both sad and exciting.

Moscow photos here!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Photo galleries are back!

I had trouble uploading photos to Flickr in China, and fell hopelessly behind. I'm starting to catch up. For now, here are some photos of Shanghai that you probably haven't seen yet. And here are some Mongolia photos. I'll try to add some more destinations as soon as I can.

Train Play List

Somebody wanted to know what was on my train play list. Here it is. I know it’s not every train song, not even every great train song. But it does include every great train song that I have- on my ipod.

  • Casey Jones, by the Grateful Dead.
  • Mystery Train, by Elvis Presley.
  • One After 909, by the Beatles.
  • Driver 8, by R.E.M. I’m not actually positive that this is a train song--it’s so hard to tell with R.E.M. But since most train songs are really about something else, I think it works in any case.
  • Crazy Train, by the Waifs.
  • Draw Your Brakes, by an artist named Scotty, off the Harder They Come soundtrack.
  • Folsom Prison Blues, by Johnny Cash.
  • Midnight Train to Georgia, by the Indigo Girls. (I know, I know, but I don’t actually own the Gladys Knight version.)
  • Peace Train, by 10,000 Maniacs. Here’s an example where I do own the original, but I think the record will show that Natalie Merchant was on the right side of history, so I went with her version.
  • Gospel Train, by the Jones Brothers (off a Sun Records collection).
  • She Caught the Train, by UB40.
  • Tied to the Tracks, by Treat Her Right.

Here are my train photos!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Day in the Life….

This morning, John said, “Well, just one more night on the train.” “Yeah,” I found myself saying, “I hope I have enough time for everything.”

I wasn’t entirely joking. Before I left, a lot of people asked me how in the world I planned to survive a weeklong train trip. The idea that I might actually enjoy it rarely entered into the conversation. And it’s true that if you’re the kind of person who likes to do things, this trip may not be for you. If, however, you are the kind of person who believes that doing nothing is something, then you might enjoy yourself as much as I am.

Even I was a little intimidated by a three-day stretch of completely unstructured time, so I set a few tasks for myself. I’ve always found that on long plane or train rides, having an assignment keeps me focused not on how much time I have to fill up, but on how little time is left. Plus, minor things take a long time on a train, and that helps pass the time, too.

Yesterday morning, for example, I woke up around 8am. If that sounds late, well, it is for me, but I’m a little jet-lagged from the constant one-hour time changes, and it’s hard for me to fall asleep when it’s still broad daylight--which it is until about 11pm here. Also, the train operates on Moscow time, so by that reckoning, I was up at 6am. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Washing up, making coffee, and cleaning the caffeine paraphernalia take a long time in a place where you can’t brush your teeth with the tap water and anything washed in the bathroom sink has to be sterilized with boiling water from the samovar to be safe.

After breakfast, it’s reading time. I start by reading a guidebook that obsessively details every cemetery, airfield, factory, czar assassination site, and church you will pass each day, as well as the exact kilometer marker you’ll find these things near. When I think of the work this author put into his train trip, I feel like I’m on a Mexican booze cruise. Next I work on my magazines. I’ve brought a stack with me, one stratum of the tower of back issues I have at home. I don’t get very far before I decide that my time would be better spent reading what my two guidebooks have to say about Moscow. I have somehow neglected to read a word about the city, and I’ll be there in 48 hours, so time is running out.

I guess I should point out here that if you’re not a reader, this maybe isn’t such a great trip either. But I have seen all-day card games in the dining car, so there definitely are non-literary options.

It’s not until late morning that I get a start on my first project for the day: snapping a picture of the train going around a curve in the track. This too is harder than it sounds. Few train windows open, and the ones that do are locked and unlocked at arbitrary times according to the whims of the attendants. Then you have to wait for the perfect stretch of arcing rail, ideally not one with a belching factory in the background and definitely not one with a freight train in the way.

I’m making pretty good time, and I think I may get a jump on my afternoon projects, but the train pulls into Krasnoyarsk and that means a flurry of activity. I need to take a picture of the station water tower (for some reason, these are made with beautiful brickwork) buy piroshkies for lunch from babushkas on the platform, and start my train car census project. It’s too much for one short stop, so I decide to concentrate on finding lunch. There are no babushkas about, so I curse my luck and mourn the 20 minutes of my life that I can never have back.

John and I go to the dining car and chat with a new friend, a woman from Philadelphia named Yael. We all left from Beijing on the same day and have been running into each other all over central Asia ever since. We probably only talk an hour, but when you think about it, it can take a lifetime to really get to know someone, and seen in that light, an hour-long conversation isn’t just passing the time; it’s really more of a frantic race against the clock.

Towards the end of the meal, we are joined by two other travelers we first met in Irkutsk, Spanish students named Paulo and Josep. They inform us that they’ve just woken up. I don’t have the heart to tell them what I’m thinking: With this late of a start, they must be hopelessly behind schedule.

After lunch, I work on my second project for the day: a thorough census of the cars on the train. This involves not just counting the cars, but also recording how many cars are devoted to each class of service. Like everything, this too has hidden pitfalls. I plan to walk through each car noting the configuration, but eastbound, I encounter an inexplicably locked door, and westbound, I come to a third-class car, full of impoverished Russians lounging on three tiers of bunks with no doors between the carriages. I feel disrespectful parading through with my notebook, and so finishing this project will have to wait until I come up with a better survey method. I decide to peek into each car’s windows from the outside at the next stop. Much better.

I make a train play list on my ipod.

I listen to my play list.

I get a mug full of boiling water from the samovar at the end of the car.

I watch it cool to drinking temperature.

I watch Siberia go by, changing slowly from impassibly thick birch forest to swampy flat land with lots of sky and isolated clusters of trees.

Later in the afternoon, against my better judgment, I start a new task: Determining what the story is with the TV above our compartment door. When we first got on the train, a History Channel documentary about the building of the trans-Siberian railroad was playing. Then the station went blue and I’ve been too busy for TV since then. This afternoon, though, I drive John to distraction constantly jumping up and cycling through the channels. (He has no appreciation for the fact that this is something I’m doing purely for the sake of journalistic thoroughness, and that it is in fact, a fairly humiliating exercise for me because there’s no remote and I’m barely tall enough to reach the channel buttons.) My verdict: Beyond the occasional snowy soccer game broadcast in Russian, and wavery Ukrainian soap operas, there’s nothing on.

In the evening the train stops again and I complete my census by discretely poking my head into each car. I feel a great pang of accomplishment knowing my day’s work is nearly done.

John and I have platform snacks for dinner, because who’s got time for the dining car twice a day? I finish reading a two-month-old Via magazine, and then, although it’s not dark yet, it’s time for bed.

I still haven’t finished my Moscow reading. I never got a good water tower picture. I haven’t even begun my next project, which is finding and figuring out how to use the mythical shower said to exist on this train. Luckily, I’ve got one more full day on the train.

And lucky for me, it stays light very late here.

Here are my train photos!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Rue St. Denis, the Paris of Monmartre

It seems like every city likes to describe itself as the Paris of someplace, Havana is the Paris of the Caribbean. Buenos Aires is the Paris of South America. Shanghai is the Paris of Asia. Now I find myself in Irkutsk, the so-called Paris of Siberia. That may sound like exaggerating, or damning with faint praise, or both, but in fact, there’s something to that. Irkutsk is sort of like the city that Socialism forgot. It has a minimum of depressing Soviet-era cinderblock apartment towers. What it does have is a lot of European style stone buildings. It really does look a little like Paris, or at least a European city in general.

Irkutsk also has a lot of cute wooden cabins. These are a throwback to the city’s early days as the wild east of Russia, when it was a place exiled political prisoners got to live after they were done with their sentences of forced labor in the mines, Wood was the one thing Siberia had a lot of (well, that and mosquitoes, but they’re not a cost-effective building material), so most residences were made of wood. Some of the old ones are pretty dilapidated by now, but it does give the city a sort of pioneer feeling. One minute you think you’re in an administrative arrondissement of Paris, and the next you think you’re in Juneau, Alaska.

(My Lonely Planet guidebook, by the way, says that Alaska used to be known as “The American district of Irkutsk,” so it’s not a coincidence that they resemble each other.)

Truth be told, there isn’t a lot to seen in Irkutsk besides the architecture, but I’ve seen a few sights today. There is a nice church, dating from the 1700s, with those great Russian onion domes and everything. And there are museums devoted to two prominent political exile families, all rich St, Petersburg socialites who led a failed plot to overturn the czar and had to live in Siberia for (in some cases) the rest of their lives. This is such a pleasant looking city that it’s hard to imagine that being such a terrible fate, but the museum shows what it was like to go from living among social x-rays to rubbing elbows with country bumpkins, It was a little like The Beverly Hillbillies in reverse. Or maybe something like The Simple Life for Russian aristocracy,

In other news: It stopped raining. Thanks for asking!

This will be my last post for a bit, I think. Tomorrow John and I get on the train and go all the way to Moscow, which takes three nights and most of the next day. See you in a few days!

Irkutsk photos

But it’s a Wet Cold

I’m trying to resist the idea that it always rains in Russia, and only in Russia, but it’s hard. On the way from Ulan Batar, the train stopped for about 20 minutes on the Russian border. There, three hundred yards into the former Soviet Union, it began to rain. It has now rained for two days straight. It’s weather that invites brooding. It’s wet. It’s gloomy. It’s Siberia. I’m beginning to understand why Russians look so dour all the time,

Siberia itself is actually quite attractive. I’m staying in a private home in a village of 600 people on the shore of Lake Baikal. The lake, of course, is dramatic, and the mountains are beautiful. The village is cute, too, with lots of weathered wood houses, some of which are painted bright colors and decorated with fancy wooden carvings that look a little like lace. Adding to the interest factor is the fact that half of the population is Buryat. Buryats are the native inhabitants of Siberia. They are mostly assimilated now, and speak Russian and live in houses, but they’re closely related to Mongolian nomads. In fact, an American woman I met who had somehow gotten invited to a Buryat home said all the wooden pieces were numbered, just in case the family ever got the urge to disassemble the dwelling and put it back together somewhere else.

The village I’m in just got 24-hour electricity six years ago, and still doesn’t have telephone service of any kind (I am posting this from the city of Irkutsk, about 100 kilometers away). Also no running water. The house I’m staying in does have its own sauna, though, so it’s not all bad. They’ve rigged up an interesting washbasin bath/bake dry procedure for bathing that works surprisingly well.

Our host is named Galena, and she’s a very sweet, stout babushka who is determined to feed us into docility. So far we’ve been stuffed full of sausage, cheese, bread, and cake. And that’s just breakfast. Other meals have included meat dumplings on rice and hearty vegetable soup. It’s all really good, and I’m beginning to understand why Russians look so well fed all the time.

Today we took a hike in the rain along the shore of the lake. The mist made it very atmospheric. I’d packed a poncho so I was pretty comfortable. The lake was stunningly dramatic in the changing light, going from looking like a deep green ocean to looking like gray pavement in minutes.

It’s been nice to have a little down time here. I’ve emptied my brain of all my Japanese and Mongolian pleasantries, and I’ve been learning a little Russian. I can’t say much yet but I have been teaching myself Cyrillic lettering. Our guide has been quizzing me, pointing out street signs and candy wrappers and making me read them out loud to her. It’s a little like being a child again, barely able to communicate.

Siberia photos!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Nomads, Idiots, and Saints

John and I and two other North Americans from our train were met in Ulan Bator by a woman named Bagah who piled us into a van and drove us about an hour outside the city to a ger (nomad tent) camp. But first there was a short tour of U.B, just enough to give us a taste of this quirky city. Most of it is very Soviet looking, with ugly square apartment blocks and ponderously sprawling government buildings. There’s a huge Tiananmen/Red Square sort of central plaza, tailor made for revolutionary rallies. There are men falling-down drunk at 2 in the afternoon. But there are also pretty, brightly colored gingerbread buildings, some deco facades, and lots of eccentric statues—the one outside the main bank looks like it could have been designed by Gaudi, one of my favorite architects.

The ger camp consisted of about 30 canvas and felt tents pitched in the middle of an enormous valley surrounded on all sides by low, rolling, completely treeless green hills. They had electricity, and I’d been told that these gers stayed in one place all year round, so I was starting to feel like I was getting a little bit of a Disnyfied experience. But the next morning, our guide took the four of us campers on a mile long trek across the valley floor to drop in on a nomadic family that had set up their tent there about a week before. To my surprise, their ger looked exactly like mine, with the same framework, felt covering, metal stove, and even furniture. Except that theirs didn’t have electricity, it was really the same. Well, of course mine didn’t have a baby goat living in it, but otherwise, I think I got a little taste of rural Mongolian life.

The nomad family invited all of us in, and gave us cookies that tasted like pie crust served with a thick, custardy cream on top (yummy), and milky, salted tea (not so much). They didn’t speak a word of English, and the one word we all knew, bayar-lalaa (“Thank you”) only went so far. But our bilingual guide translated. The family wanted to know where we were from, whether or not we were married, and how old we were. They probably thought our questions were a little wide-eyed, too (“Um, why is there a baby goat living here?”), but they displayed the kindness of saints. It turned out we were the first group of foreigners they’d ever entertained at home, so it was a learning experience for everyone.

(We were hardly the first foreigners they’d seen though; it turns out that the answer to the baby goat question is that the family raises cashmere goats for their fur--the harvesting process is non-lethal--and several times a year they travel to Ulan Bator to sell it.)

Having tea with real-life nomads was exciting enough, but as we were leaving, we realized that a new family had just parked their yak next door and were preparing to put up their tent. We watched, and got to help a little bit, although we were probably more in the way than helpful. The tents go together ingeniously, and it only takes a group (even a group including North American city folk) about half an hour to erect a large ger, including several layers of felt, a roof, stove, smoke hole, and wooden door. Afterward, we hiked back to our camp realizing we’d participated in something none of us had expected to participate in: a Mongolian barn-raising.

Here's my Mongolia photo gallery.

All Aboard

Yesterday at 7:40am train #23 pulled out of the Beijing rail station bound for Ulan Bator, Mongolia. It seemed that the train was about half full of Chinese and Mongolian travelers and traders, and about half Wai guo ren of various degrees of shabbiness. One of the train attendants took a photo of me in front of the carriage, and when I saw it I noticed that I didn’t look as happy as someone who’s getting something she’s wanted for almost 15 years ought to look. I knew that I was excited; I think Beijing just really took it out of me. I had a great time seeing friends and revisiting my past, but I think John and I are both really ready for the next phase of the adventure.

The two of us have a private compartment to ourselves. It’s a little cozy, but it’s fine. It has two beds, which double as seats during the day. It could be cozier still; many compartments have two sets of bunk beds, but we at least have a high ceiling. There’s lots of luggage space, and a small table with a thermos we can fill any time with boiling water from a samovar at the end of the carriage.

Everyone on the train seemed to deal with the excitement and the anxiety of departure differently. The child down the hall, known to us only as “Screech,” shrieked like someone had run over his puppy for about 100 kilometers. The two young techno guys next door (John dubbed them Dot and Com) yammered non-stop about the L.A. geek world with such maniac energy we wanted to bludgeon one of them to death with his own blackberry. John slept 11 hours (plus 12 at night), and I, happy to be off my feet for a whole day, made a little nest of reading material and caught up on my scribbling.

The scenery went from sooty gray urban fringes to mountainous countryside remarkably fast. On the way out of town, parts of the Great Wall (at Badaling, a part I had never been to) were spectacularly visible not far from the train. Mountains went to rolling farmland, and crops changed from rice to hardier plants that can survive the progressively flatter and drier land we passed through in northern China.

At about 8:30pm, we arrived at the Mongolian border, but we might as well have been 200 miles away. Customs officials came on the train and had us show our passports two separate times, and fill out multiple customs and health questionnaires. (One form seemed to be dealing with both, as it asked in one section if we were suffering from any mental illness, and in another if we were carrying any human tissue. John and I had a good giggle fit wondering about the possible connection between the two questions.) Then the train had to be taken to a giant shed where each car was raised up on a jack, with the passengers still in it, and the wheels were changed. I had no idea train wheels (called bogies) even were removable, but they have to be changed at the border because Mongolia Russia both use tracks a slightly different width from the rest of the world.

I wish I could tell you more about the train jack, but in fact, I slept through a lot of it. It was getting late at this point, and it was almost midnight when it was done. And we were only half through. We chugged about 20 minutes into Mongolia on our brand new wheels and stopped again, this time for Mongolian customs. There were more forms, and more questions, and even a half-hearted search. The upside of being the kind of person who looks like an easy mark for scam artists is that customs inspectors also seem to think I’m harmless, but even I got a quick rummage through my bag. John had to show the Japanese yen he said he had on him but we both agreed the woman really just seemed to want to know what Japanese yen looked like. It was hard to get annoyed about being kept up late going through my dirty clothes because they were so nice about it. The baby-faced Mongolian man who did our final passport check thanked us profusely, and as he was leaving, entreated us to “sleep now,” putting his hands under his cheek in the international gesture for slumber, just in case we hadn’t understood. John and I have decided that Mongolians are a little quirky and very friendly and without even having gotten off the train, we like the place already.

Here are my train photos!

The Great, or at Least Pretty Good Wall

When I was a first-year Chinese student I used to have class every morning at 9 in a room containing an enormous, grainy photo of the Great Wall of China. Someone must have turned one of their semester abroad photos into wallpaper and blown it up to about 8x10 feet. I don’t know how they did it but the engineering feat required to make a snapshot that big paled in comparison to the amount of work it was going to take to get me to China. Students who completed first-year Chinese with good enough grades were invited to study in Beijing for the summer on a foreign-study program Dartmouth had set up with Beijing Normal University. I remember that I needed an A- for the spring quarter to make the cut, and for a while there it looked like storming the wall on horseback with several thousand Mongol archers was going to be my only hope of getting into the county. I used to sit in the back corner where I could get a good look at that wall photo and say to myself “If I can just get through this, I get to go see the wall for myself.” And somehow, it worked.

(Well, except I didn’t get to go to China until 1992, but that wasn’t my fault.)

For this reason I’m really glad my experience at the Great Wall on this trip wasn’t my first time there. Because it was a really strange experience.

John and I hired a guide (a driver, really, since foreign visitors aren’t allowed to drive here) to take us three hours outside Beijing to the Simatai section of the wall. That went well: Mr. Johnny was nice, knew a lot about the wall, spoke good English, and seemed to be toning down his creative Beijing driving techniques for his American audience. The setting was beautiful. Simatai is about twice as far from Beijing than the other two developed tourist areas of the wall, and so it gets less traffic and looks a little more unspoiled and touristy than the areas tourist hordes visit. The parking lot was nearly empty except for a few vendors and we congratulated ourselves on spending a few extra bucks to get away from the tourists. We took a gondola nearly to the base of the wall, which here is on top of a steep ridge. A funicular took us further still, and left us with about 15 minutes of walking up steep stairs to get to the towers themselves.

On the way up a friendly couple attached themselves to us. Well, to me, really. John can look really grouchy when he needs to but I seem to have a sweet, slow-moving vibe that people here pick up on. At first, the woman made small talk with me, expressing admiration that I’d come all the way from California, and buttering me up by praising my Chinese. (Proof that flattery will get you everywhere with me, I guess.) But then it got awkward. She told me in Chinese that she and her man had no jobs, and something about kids to put through school. I warned John in English that we were being hustled, but there wasn’t much that could be done. There we were, stuck on a narrow path with no one else around, facing a choice of trudging upward for the next 15 minutes being subjected to a mobile guilt trip or turning back. We continued, trying to ignore the woman and her silent husband, but she persisted in trying fan us and take my arm whenever I stumbled on the oddly tiny steps.

At the top, there were a few other people on the wall, but this lady was our new friend, and we couldn’t shake her, even by refusing to answer direct questions, and even when I once abruptly turned away from her and walked the opposite direction. The unspoken request for money seemed to be hanging over the whole wall like a fogbank, and I literally couldn’t face her.

Finally she pulled out a package of Great Wall postcards asked us directly if we would by some. This overt request finally gave me the chance to say a direct no. She persisted, and I saw John and the man exchange a glance that I couldn’t read—John later said he thought the guy felt sorry for us. It was then that the man spoke up for the first time. I didn’t understand what he said, but the two of them had a ferocious argument about it and finally left us alone. We took the opportunity to scuttle away and barely made the last gondola down the mountain.

On the gondola, it was quiet, and I could hear the cool breeze blowing through the tress. Birds swooped overhead. The motor hummed soothingly, and the view was spectacular. I could look back and see a stretch of the Great Wall that went on for miles, disappearing into the haze. It looked timeless and serene, and suddenly the wretched beggar family seemed very far away. I realized that being on the wall had been a big letdown, but I appreciated the calm moments heading up and down when I was able to take in the view from afar.

Which just goes to show that maybe it really is the journey that counts, not the destination.

Here's my Beijing photo gallery.