Tag Archives: China

So long China

After two months holed up in Dali we finally set off south yesterday and into Laos. Dali provided a welcome break on our long push to Australia as well as plenty of opportunities to relax, DJ, eat amazing food and not to mention the great people we enjoyed good times with.

So long Dali, thank you. Thank you Vivi for having us. Thank you Scott and Carl and all you Bad Monkey crew for our DJ residency. Thank you Chenli and Charlie for putting up with us. Be careful Andy, no really, be safe. Nice partying with you Peter, get well soon Fabrizio. Good luck with the dancing Saphire. Look after that english lad Hao. Bye bye Juan. Good luck Sam and farewell YoYo, look after each other. A gallery of good times in Dali…

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The Patch – Remote Permaculture Maintenance

Greetings from a far

One of our big concerns once our food forest was planted, and knowing that we would be leaving the country for an unknown amount of years, was how would our little fruit trees and bushes survive the encroaching grass, blackthorn and volunteer plants.

We had no idea at the time. There was no design element that we could think of, other than expensive, non natural sheet mulching techniques. We didn’t give that a second thought. Here’s where I believe design can happen organically, not necessarily at the offset, but when an idea comes to mind due to necessity.

Winter was fast encroaching and so was my 35th birthday. I am in China. I thought everyday about how our mulberry, cherries, apples, pears and sea buckthorn berries needed tucking in for winter. A cosy, thick bed of mulch to keep them roots warm and stave of the early grass growth of 2013.

I plucked up the courage and boldly requested my family to help with the “M” of OBREDIM – Maintenance. “If we can get a farmer to drop off 20 big bales of straw I’m sure it can be done in a half day” I asked squeamishly. Mum was keen and she asked that I email through some detailed instructions…

On my birthday, December 17th, I woke in China to check my emails. Not only had Mum written a great account of their “beautiful day” at the Patch but Clare had attached a whole photo album of the proceedings. We were so happy to see that the food forest had been mulched but more importantly Mum, Dad, Clare, Ethan and Phoebe confessed that they had had a really fun and enjoyable day.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR ENTHUSIASM TOWARDS OUR ONGOING PROJECT AT THE PATCH. PLEASE FILL YOUR BOOTS WITH FRUIT IN 2013

The Family on there way...

The Family on their way…

Clare checking out the walnut

Clare checking out the walnut

Ethan on the pile of bales

Ethan on the pile of bales

Keen niece and nephew

Keen niece and nephew

Greetings from a far

Greetings from a far

Couldn't ask for a better birthday present

Couldn’t ask for a better birthday present

Dad handing out instructions

Dad handing out instructions

Phoebe loads a bales

Phoebe loads a bale

Relaxing in the sun

Relaxing in the sun

They're on it now!

They’re on it now!

Mum shifts the bales around

Mum shifts the bales around

A beautiful day at the Patch

A beautiful day at the Patch

Tea break

Tea break

Hot elderberry cordial

Hot elderberry cordial

Birthday message

Birthday message

Bit of maintenance on the tanks

Bit of maintenance on the tanks

A well earned rest

A well earned rest

Mulch it!!!

Mulch it!!!

Nice and thick!

Nice and thick!

A winter bed...

A winter bed…

Mum mulches the native hedge

Mum mulches the native hedge

In full mucling swing...

In full mulching swing…

Clare looks satisfied

Clare looks satisfied

Spread it about!

Spread it about!

Perfect job

Perfect job

Native hedge mulched

Native hedge mulched

Ethan relaxes (in mulch)

Ethan relaxes (in mulch)

Phoebe joins him

Phoebe joins him

Beauitful

Beauitful

Nearly done..

Nearly done..

Perfect, thank you so so much

Perfect, thank you so so much

China DJs

B2B

B2B

I arrived with Nina in Dali a month ago. It was clear when we did our last budget check-in that we had overspent a bit getting here. We decided that we could only stay in China if there was a way to sustain ourselves. We had also heard that DJs from London get paid pretty well here. The London Underground Tour of China was born.

London Underground Tour

London Underground Tour

I played a couple of paid gigs here in Dali at the Bad Monkey. The days in between have been mostly spent preparing a bio to present to clubs and venues, artwork for flyers and posters, recording mixes and burning CD’s, both for promotion and to sell. Now that Paul has arrived we have contacted many clubs and venues and arranged a bunch of dates over the coming busy period of Christmas and New Year.

3 to choose from

3 to choose from

Unfortunately there are only two of the crew here but it feels nice to spread the Slackbanta vibe into the Middle Kingdom and hopefully onto South East Asia. Here’s the dates so far;

24/12 PRIVATE PARTY, DALI
24/12 BAD MONKEY, DALI
25/12 BAD MONKEY, DALI
28/12 THE MASK, KUNMING
29/12 TBC. KUNMING
31/12 DRAGONFLY, CAICUN
01/01 DRAGONFLY, CAICUN
02/01 THE CLUB (TBC), KUNMING
04/01 THE SHELTER (TBC), KUNMING
12/01 THE CAMEL, KUNMING

And here’s one of my more chilled out mixes…

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Chengdu to Dali in Pictures

Funky new circle thing – click on one of them to see a slideshow…

The Redeye Express

Another stop

We’d crossed the border into the north west of China after a 22 hour overnight sleeper bus which was quite pleasant. However all we wanted now was a train ride, you get a bit more space and it’s generally a more comfortable ride than the buses. I stared up at the display board in the main train station. It didn’t take much deciphering to realise there were no seats or beds on any train heading south. It was a muslim holiday and everything was booked for 5 days ahead.

Another sleeper bus seemed the only other option for the 2900km journey south. We scouted around for a bus and after trying a couple of different stations in opposite sides of the city we were finally sold a ticket for a sleeper bus and told the journey would take 26 hours. We went for some food, pumped water through our filter and boarded the bus a few hours later. There were no beds on the bus and there was no way to take back our tickets. We wanted to head south and this was our only option. A translation from another passenger hinted at 38 hours and after sitting for 2 hours in the station we hit the road, bitter that we’d been lied to, bouncing in our unfixed seats above the back axle of a very ropey looking bus!

The most arduous, weirdest, smokiest, longest and coldest journey of our overland trip was underway. Within a few hours we were driving across the desert in a sand storm. Everyone looked a little scared as the bus was thrown around, creeping forward when visibility allowed. We soon had to pull over and for some reason once the passengers got out the driver locked the door leaving us all to avoid the sheets of metal being blown around outside, covering our faces and huddling together. We still don’t know why he wouldn’t let us back on the bus???

No sooner had we got going again we were stopped. This time for 5 or 6 hours. Next came the snow storm and the frozen highway. It was becoming clear that however long this journey was supposed to take, we should double it and add on an extra few hundred hours. The no smoking rules had been chucked out the window, and outside it was too cold to open them to let the smog clear, Nina’s feet were swelling as we’d been sitting so long. One ten hour delay seemed to melt into another…

We started counting the hours between broken sleep.

“Hey guys we’re coming up to our 48 hour mark”

It was Sam’s birthday and we spent the whole day and night in a traffic jam watching the local’s eat chickens feet whilst we went hungary, hoping we would soon get going again and stop somewhere for food. The spitting continued all around us, a quick go on the ipod every few hours helped to forget where we were. If only there was something interesting to look at out of the window, but it was bleak.

On day three we started to enter into landscape with people and houses and later that day we were driving through Sichuan with high pastures, tibetan cowboys on horseback, yaks and traditional houses. We were delirious by now and kind of settled into the journey.

We arrived in Chengdu on the forth day morning, 83 hours after boarding the bus in Urumqi. It was hard to feel anything but delirious. Sleep was slim pickings since the first night but we’d made it and we can probably thank the other passengers for their contentment. It must have rubbed off on us.

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Read more about the journey on Nina’s blog – proverbial chicken’s foot: a bus ride from Urumqi to Chengdu

Georgia to Kazakhstan

I write from our carriage of the number 47 train heading north east from Atyrau to Astana, Kazakhstan. It’s our forth night on the rails and I might just have enough battery in the laptop to recount the weird but wonderful experience we have encountered since leaving Tbilisi, Georgia with our Russian and Kazakh visa’s in hand.

Nina, Sam and I woke in no hurry last Thursday, grabbed the Metro to the Didube station where we picked up a minibus for the 2 hour ride to Kazbegi, home of 5047m mount Kazbek and the last town in Georgia along the military highway into Russia. We had a night there in a home-stay, attempted to climb up to the church at 2200 metres but turned back when drizzled out. Sam made it to the top in his waterproof jacket. Nina and I wished we hadn’t given away our warm clothes 5 months ago and wondered how cold it will be in Russia.

On Friday Morning we rose early, a few Georgian Lari left in hand but determined to spend it on a coffee if we could only hitch the 8km to the Russian border. We gave it 40 minutes or so in the light rain before giving up and presenting our last “pennies” to a 4×4 Lada taxi driver, conscious that if we didn’t make it to Vladikavkaz in Russia by 16:33 we would miss our onward train. We’d heard the Russian border can take a while as it’s still a delicate area, only opened to foreigners since July 2012 and brushing past sensitive regions like Chechnya and Dagestan. It was now 10:30.

Lada man took us through yet more staggering scenery lined with snow-capped mountains and dropped us right at Border Control. Excited that we were finally at the frontier with our Russian visa’s, we would hitch from the other side once we were cleared. Little did we know that there is 5km of no man’s land between the Georgian exit and Russian entry. The guard stopped us and politely told us that we were not allowed to cross by foot, we needed to be in a vehicle. He pointed to an area where we should stand to try and communicate with passing vehicles, explaining that we were forbidden to loiter in the vehicle waiting zone.

Hitching already seemed hard enough with the three of us, now we were at a border crossing and presumed any passing traffic would think we were a hassle to take – extra time to process them foreign visas. We were feeling a touch unlucky when a Ukrainian couple showed up with the same problem. Now we were five, surely nobody will stop. I hailed an Armenian truck who seemed to give us an “ok” signal. As I followed the truck down to the no-go zone the same guard stopped me and a passing car simultaneously, somehow agreeing one space with the stranger. We shouted for Sam and we agreed to split, meeting at the train station in Vladikavkaz. With no local currency left between us we gave Sam 20 dollars in case of an emergency and he disappeared into the family estate. Nina and I looked at each other worryingly, hoping he’ll be ok but knowing we had little other choice.

Next we got lucky. The Ukrainian couple stopped an old guy in a Lada. He was alone. Before Nina and I could grumble at them for stealing our ride, they signalled us over, shoved us in the back and off we went. Our driver had a military hat on and flashed an army ID card at passport control, we were safe and on our way. We bounced through no-mans land admiring more mountains, trying to take pictures from the broken Lada window, feeling like we would make our train on time. The tunes were blazing – an english 90’s CD – Gangsters Paradise, 2unlimited, Barbie Girl, Ace of Base and Short Dick Man – quality! We arrived at the Russian Border entry only to spot Sam a few vehicles ahead explaining why the biometric chip on his passport was smashed – dodgy!

Lada man number two kindly dropped us right outside the Vladikavkaz train station. It was 14:00 and we had plenty of time to grab some lunch, get the tickets and board our 16.33 train – but no sign of Sam. I used the time to explore how much a Russian Rouble was worth before extracting too many thousands from the Bankomat machine. Nina waited with the bags. By 15.30 we were getting a bit worried. At 15.45 Sam marched in with a new friend. He’d been dumped out of town with no Russian money and whilst asking for directions Dimitri offered to pay for his tram, escorted him to the station and then generously interpreted our needs to the ticket officer in the station. He managed to get hold of our 3rd class, 5 hour journey ticket to Mineralnie Wodi and our onward ticket, where we would quickly swap to the 22:00 overnighter to Volgograd, arriving at 14:53 on Saturday.

3rd class train travel in Russia is cheap, it’s comfortable and it’s interesting. A 24 hour train ride is less than 20 quid. You receive blankets and pillows for the bed and a towel for a morning scrub up. There’s a conductor in each carriage who will wake you if your stop is in the early hours. There’s electricity sockets to charge ipods or laptops (essential if you want to watch a late night movie). There’s a hot water tank for endless cups of tea or instant noodles and you are sure to meet Russians eager to share their home made vodka, wine or smoked fish. We were even handed a strangely shaped citrus fruit by Vadim to wash with – maybe a hint? The scenery was bleak to say the least. The occasional 1965 soviet style cement factory dotted the otherwise flat and desolate landscape. We’d left the Caucasus mountains behind and were heading into the plains, north of the Caspian Sea.

We arrived in Volgograd, famous for the battle of Stalingrad, the bloodiest and most fatal massacre site of WWII, bang on time. The Russian trains leave plenty of time for arrival and if they’re early they rest a few kilometres from the station in order to slink in on the dot. It was cold. We had five hours to fix our next nights sleeper train. Previous research pointed towards making it over the border to Makat in Kazakhstan but every ticket saleswoman screeched “Nyet” at the slightest glimpse of the word Makat. It seemed obvious after trying for a while that there were either no trains to Makat or that they were full. I’d previously found an alternative itinerary on the bahn.de website that gave a border town train change at Aksaraiskaia. We tried for a ticket by writing down the train number and were duly rewarded with three “platskartny” (3rd class) tickets. Leaving at 19.19, it gave us a few hours to explore the city, collect some rations and eat a late lunch. We boarded the train, had a beer and tucked ourselves in ready for our second night on the trains and a 4am rise at the border.

We were woken and unceremoniously hurried off the train at 04:32. It was dark. It was cold. There seemed no obvious place to collect an onward train ticket – no sign of life whatsoever. We were on the cusp of Kazakhstan but it still seemed so far away. There was one security officer and on the other side of the gates a few taxi’s waiting to take people to god knows where. One of the taxi drivers pointed us to a building, a dim light shone from the inside and there were certainly people there. We entered and a stroppy looking lady sat behind a 12 by 4 inch hatch.

“Makat?” I asked.

“Nyet” blah blah blah. “Nyet” something something.

“I don’t think we can get a ticket for Makat guys”.

“Kazakhstan?”

“Nyet” blah blah blah, something something.

We looked around to the half dozen or so Asian looking guys in the small building.

“Kazakhstan?”

One man shouted “Aytrau”. We took some paper and deciphered a map.

It soon became apparent that we could take a train to Atyrau and then change to the Almaty train, our destination in Kazakhstan. The guy came to the ticket hatch, chatted in Russian for a bit, asked for our passports, got refused something, marched us to an office, presented our passports, looked disappointed at the guard shaking his head, noticed our Kazakhstan visa’s, marched us back to the ticket office, discussed more info with the lady and then gave us the thumbs up. We were heading to Kazakhstan! By this time we had some intrigued onlookers, the same train would head on to Uzbekistan, which seemed to make up the remaining passengers.

Our fixer disappeared, the lady began typing and a few minutes later had our tickets in hand. She gestured for some money. We knew we had none. Same as at the last border. We didn’t want to leave the country with useless local currency and so were waiting to find out the cost of the tickets before extracting the exact money from the ATM. There was no ATM. It was a border train junction and nothing else. I gave her a visa card. She shook her head. I asked for money exchange. She shouted “Nyet” at me. I went in search of some kind of solution. We had dollars. I opened the door and Mr Fixer appeared. Using a pen and paper as communication, drawing numbers, crossing out things that weren’t possible to show what was, he took our dollars. We had 90, our tickets were the equivalent of 80. Another saviour, this time an Uzbek guy agreed to take our dollars in exchange for the Roubles we needed to purchase the ticket – a total relief (and now the opportunity to get some sleep). Our train would leave at 16.57. We had 9 hours to wait in the clinical ticket room. Luckily we made lots of Uzbek friends and the day flew by exchanging family photos and friendly smiles. Russian officials seemed hard but the folk friendly and we all agreed that we would like to visit Uzbekistan.

We walked to the platform an hour or so before departure. The friendly Russian Border control would release us there ready for our trip through another no-mans land and up to the Kazakhstan frontier. It was to be our third consecutive night on board the trains, this time in a Kazakh wagon. As we bumbled down the steps onto the platform the crowd immediately took to us, we chucked our bags down, sat on them to wait and Sam began to make a cigarette. The Uzbek crowd honed in on us in what Sam called the “circle of bewilderment” (see photo). I am still surprised by how many people I see smoking and for all the smokers in the circle it was clear that none of them had seen Golden Virginia being hand rolled before. Sam made a couple extra and handed them out, hesitant Uzbek’s asking “Narcotic?” We waited to be called through the passport control, plenty of new friends waved us ahead of them. The Russian guard was nice and said it was very strange to see English or Australian people on the train platform. It left exactly on time. Next stop Atyrau, Kazakhstan.

The evening was a pleasant one, more family photo sharing by Nina with her new Kazakh lady friends and a few language lessons here and there. We were stamped into Kazakhstan by an official who boarded the train with a “welcome to Kazakhstan”. We passed some desert and tucked ourselves in for the night. As morning broke we woke to desert. More desert, some flat dry grassland, a bit more desert and then Atyrau. There was no train to Almaty. Some misinformation, so we decided to head to the capital. We had heard the illusive China visa could be obtained there and another 30 hour overnight train left 2 hours later. We took the plunge, collected some Kazakh Tenge from the Bankomat and booked our onward journey.

On route to Astana, the world’s coldest capital city, only 300km from the Siberian border, we’ve passed desert, grassland, a few villages and more desert. As I write this blog we are day 5 of train transit after 4 consecutive nights on the rails and I’m beginning to feel at home in the carriages. The world feels very big today. Since our first train in Vladikavkaz we will have made 3815km when we arrive in Astana this afternoon, it will be double that distance to Yunnan in China and more than triple the whole lot to reach Australia. We will rest in China – let’s just hope we get that visa tomorrow!

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