Monday, March 29, 2010

The Iron and Silk Road

Several years ago, I took a train from Beijing to Moscow. It took about two weeks, although I did make a few stops along the way. If I’d gone express, it would have taken just about exactly one week.

People always ask me if I found seven days of train travel boring, and the answer is that I really didn’t until the very last day. I’m not sure if that’s because the trip really was one day too long, or if I just didn’t allow myself to get antsy until I was within sight of the finish. In any case, I can safely say that for me, the idea of taking a week to travel from the heart of the Middle Kingdom to the edge of Europe is pretty reasonable.

Which is why I have mixed feelings about this article, announcing China’s plan to build a high-speed train that would cover the distance between London and Beijing in about two days. I can see that this would be an amazing feat of technology, and would really make life easier for people who can’t afford to fly and who don’t have the luxury of two weeks to spend on a round-trip.

But two days? That’s just too fast. Imagine sleeping through all of Siberia, or blinking and missing Poland. You’d get almost all of the disorientation and jet lag of air travel, and little of the scenery gazing and platform pierogi breaks of train travel.

(And if you think I’m indignant, imagine how horrified an actual ancient Silk Road trader would be. They’re probably already upset that the trip can now be done in a week, without even a stop to barter for fresh camels in Samarkand.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

They Loved It, But They’re Not in Love With It

Sometimes when I submit a piece to an editor, I get a nice personal rejection. Sometimes it’s more of a form letter. Sometimes I don’t hear anything. And sometimes, like yesterday, the news is delivered with all the subtlety of an eighth-grader trying to break up with someone.

A couple of weeks ago, I sent an article to the Chronicle about Shanghai. On Sunday, I opened up the travel section, and it was all about Shanghai. I wasn’t in it, though. Probably this is just bad timing on my part. Or maybe they’re just not that into me. Either way—ouch.

Friday, March 05, 2010

One Thing Down

I did get one article sent off. Not the Australian train article, although I did do enough of what I call “un-writing” (and which most people call “cutting hundreds of unnecessary words”) that I think I got that one back on track. So to speak.

No, what I sent away for publication is an updated service piece on Shanghai. I sent it once before to the San Francisco Chronicle, and never heard a peep about it. Normally, no response means “no,” and pressing the issue will only annoy the editor. But there’s been a regime change since I submitted it last, so Shanghai will be new to the current editor. Let’s hope he’s more of a fan of urban travel than the last guy was.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

I Think I Can…

The Broken Hill story would be a good companion piece to a story I’m working on about the Indian Pacific train, but I seem to be stuck on that one. Does this ever happen to any of you? The more I work on the train piece, the more it just gets longer without getting any better.

Sometimes when a project isn’t going anywhere for me, I give it a rest. Usually that helps. That’s what I’ve done here. Having not thought about the train story consciously for a few weeks, I feel ready to sneak up on it and do some real writing (and probably a fair amount of un-writing) on it now. I’ll let you know when I finally get it ready for publication. (I say this mostly for my own benefit—I’ve said I’m going to finish it, so now I have to!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Oh, I Should Have Mentioned…

…That the honorably-mentioned story in question is an essay I wrote about the fading mining town of Broken Hill, Australia. This is a story that started life as a blog post written soon after my visit, which then got cleaned up and polished into something I was happier with. Now I’m emboldened to try to get the essay published.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Finishing Just off the Podium

In this Olympic season, I’m pleased to announce a minor award of my own: I earned an honorable mention in the 2010 Solas Awards travel writing contest.

Certainly it would have been nice to be one of the top three in a category, but we can’t all be Apolo Ono. Somebody has to be Turkish figure skater Tuğba Karademir, happy just to be there and to have not taken a pratfall on the big stage.

And, unlike the Olympics, the Solas Awards happen every year. I’m going to start training now for 2011.