Monthly archives of “January 2016

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Mongolia – Nights under the nine stars of the Pleiades

Erik von Daniken’s ‘Chariots of the Gods’ came to my town when I was a kid. Alexandra, New Zealand was perhaps a bit information-starved. There was one-channel TV, radio of course, and a couple of newspapers. And then there were the ‘Pictures’ (one a week movie screenings at the cinema). So a well-marketed movie about space-travellers once coming to Earth could get a good turn-out.  There are a few things that stick in my mind from the movie- the Mayan wall image, purported to be a spaceman inside his ship, the Nazca lines, and something about the Pleiades star constellation. As I remember it (may be confused, I did read a couple of his books later) a point was made that some non-technological cultures knew about more stars in the Pleiades cluster than you can see with the naked eye (normally seven). And how could they have known without telescopes…..?  Well, I’ll tell ya.

In Mongolia, whenever I could, I’d sleep under the stars – in an Australian ‘swag’. This is a tough canvas bag, that can take your mattress, sleeping bag, blankets and pillow, and then be rolled up for transport. It makes a big bundle, but just perfect as a seat for when you are eating. You can pretty much un-roll it anywhere, just slide in, and spend the night.


The full moon in a cloudless night, over the car park of one of our Gobi base camps.

Apart from living in the base-camps, where we lived in gers/yurts, or even a container on wheels,  there was only one night where I was happy to be in a tent.

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10:30 on the track, Mongolia. A hot, sunny day.

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3:30 and after shoveling snow to prepare the ground, our tents are up.

I have a photo taken at around 10:30 that day. We were in a Landcruiser making our way towards the Sharga Desert. It’s sunny, and it was hot. The next photo was taken at 3:30 as we arced back towards the Altai. By that time we had needed to shovel snow to clear a patch of ground to pitch a tent. It was bloody cold. Inside the tent we tried to get a meal going with our gas cooker. It was so cold that the fuel in the canisters was frozen up. We managed to get one alight, then there was the somewhat alarming procedure of holding another cylinder over that flame, to thaw it out. The expert cooks in the team produced a soup, and the fat froze around my lips as I drank it.

Some nights it snowed after we had got into our swags. They were fine, because you were set-up. One night I looked up from my swag and thought “No problems tonight”. It was cloudless. Three hours later the bizzard struck. I folded the swag lid over, but no matter what I did, fine snow kept blasting in through any little gaps.

Another evening we crawled into our swags with an electrical storm flashing far-off on the horizon. Now it’s a desert, so it doesn’t rain much, and anyway, what are the chances that that storm will come this way? Of course, that storm had already spotted us, and definitely headed our way. I was already pissed-off as I’d discovered my sacrosanct swag had been ‘modified’ back in the city. A mattress was gone, and my own pillow (the most important thing for me to get sleep) had been replaced with a bean bag. But there was more. Something wasn’t quite right, and I didn’t twig til too late – after these things had been taken, the swag had been rolled up the wrong way. They are a lot less water-proof upside down. The storm hit, and I sequentially curled myself away from wet spot, until I have up, and got soaked through. Everyone got soaked that night, so it likely wouldn’t have mattered what way up the swag was. Rain was so infrequent we realised that the swags had never seen water-proofing in years.


Late afternoon -a typical stop for a Mongolian night under the stars. Our swags are on the ground to the left of the Land-cruiser.


Not long before dark, another cloudless Mongolian night. The dinner box is out and food will be not long off.

But most nights in Mongolia are  clear – utterly clear. The problems aren’t cold, or snow, or rain – but that there is just too much to see.  Forget T.V. – nights under the Mongolian stars are nights you don’t want to close your eyes. Thousands upon thousands of crystal-clear stars. Millions I guess. Planets, and meteors, and satellites (not a single aircraft, ever).  I could stare up into them for hours.

The Great Bear was always up there. I had long heard of this famous constellation, that goes round and round the North Celestial Pole. But as a Southern Hemisphere Pole, I’d never seen it – until, after several trips to the Northern Hemisphere, I was in the right place, with the right person a few years fore – and I thought of it. I was immediately led out the door and had The Great Bear pointed out.

Then there were those Pleiades, one of the most recognisable ‘objects’ in the sky. Unlike the Bear, they move right across the sky at night – so if you poke your head out in the wee hours, you can get an idea of the time from where they have moved to. People have been looking at the Pleiades for thousands of years – so long that myths around the world have an uncanny resemblance. Typically they are young women, sometimes boys. One of the seven is fainter than the rest, and she/he is a sister/brother who was left behind and trying to catch up. There are many variants.

But out in the Mongolian desert at night, in my swag, I remembered the business about how many you were supposed to be able to see. With a pencil and my notebook, I drew all the Pleiades I could see. I couldn’t see them all at once – it meant a bit of looking from side to side and using some peripheral vision.  But I did this on two occasions and – I could see nine. So the answer Mr von Daniken, is that given clear skies, and reasonably good eyes, and just looking – you can see more than the traditional seven. This is quite possible, though if I could see nine, I should have been able to discern a few more. Perhaps the real mystery is why most societies are happy with seven (it has been suggested that seven is just a cool number).

Mmm, but you know? That Mayan carving really did look like a spaceman in his craft

(Well, OK, see here).

Cedars of Lebanon
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Lebanon – Last Gasp of the Cedar Forests

Europe to Australasia is long-haul, and if you are not into heroics, it’s nice to break the journey somewhere. I wonder how many travellers consider Lebanon? The big draw-card for me were the famous ‘Cedars of Lebanon’.  This is a highly relictual patch of trees that is all that remains of a once much more widespread forest.

Yes, I was a tad nervous heading there, but as it turned out, the only ‘excitement’ was on that flight. Two very large gentlemen took a disliking to each other and a punch-up started somewhere over the Mediterranean. The cabin crew, each about a half of the size of the protagonists, were petrified. But quickly, some sort or honour was settled, and the incident died down. We got to Beirut, and, to avoid the usual fleecing by taxi drivers at an airport, I walked a long way into town before starting my bus rides to the north.

Cedars of Lebanon map

In the Epic of Gilgamesh (one of the earliest works of literature, dating to about 1800 BC), the ‘Cedar Forest’ is a central location. The heroes Gilgamesh and Enkidu travel to the forest, where they kill its guardian, Humbaba. In celebration of getting rid of the guy who looked after the place, they cut down many cedars including one which was said to have been truly massive.

The tale is widely thought to be a memory of regional deforestation. In the several thousands of years since Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s rampage, virtually every empire in the Mediterranean-Middle East has mined the cedar forests for everything from boats, buildings, railway lines, or just incinerated them for charcoal. It’s hardly surprising that there aren’t many forests left.

It’s not clear just where the ‘Cedar Forest’ in the Epic of Gilgamesh was located. The Epic itself apparently says “Lebanon”, but there are opinions that what this referred to may even have been Kashmir. However, the most famous grove of cedars remaining today is in central Lebanon. The tiny forest  lies on the edge of the town of Bsharri, on the western slopes of the Lebanon Mountains. It’s possible to fly into Beirut and get to the trees in the same day.

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These cedars are Cedrus libani, one of about four species that live from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco to the west, to the Himalayas in the east. The trees that remain near Bsharri, in the grove known as the ‘Forest of the Cedars of God’ are huge, reaching 40 m high and with a massive trunk. One of these specimens appears on the national flag of Lebanon. Unfortunately they have been manicured by chain saw cuts within an inch of their lives. The wood of any branches that fall, or need to be lopped, is carefully used as part of the local tourism craft industry.

It’s difficult to photograph through the trees without catching a glimpse of the mostly bare, poor soils that surround the little patch. These soils are what most researchers regard as what remains after deforestation, over-grazing, and erosion (Try, Montgomery: ‘Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations‘).

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However, there is another view (Davis, 2011), where the “presumed widespread destruction of the Lebanese cedar forests” is actually a ‘Western’ story to facilitate “imperial goals”. According to this, “Contemporary research, …  has undermined this deforestation narrative” . To me, something does not read quite right about it. Some references to research were given that apparently support of this view, so I checked them out.

The critical work is Hajar et al. (2010), who studied the fossil pollen and archaeological record in two places in the Beqaa Valley. One was in the foothills of the Lebanon Mountains and the other was on the opposite side of the valley at the foot of the ‘Anti-Lebanon Mountains’. The conclusions were:  From 8,000 – 3,500 years before the present “major deforestation events on Mount Lebanon are recorded” in the first location. From about 3,500 – 2,000 years ago there was “reduced” deforestation on Mt Lebanon, but forest expansion at the other site. However, from 2,000-1,000 years ago, “on both sites, deforestation and grazing practices are inferred“, following which, into the modern period, there were “increasing human perturbations“.  Their summary diagram (their fig. 5) shows “Cedar forests affected” from earlier times” and then  “Deforestation over Mount Lebanon and Ant-Lebanon Mountain” from 2,000 years ago.

Some expected complexity, but the end result – deforestation. So much for an “undermined” deforestation ‘narrative’ .

From Bsharri a taxi took me over the mountains and down to the Beqaa Valley. It’s only when you start rising above Bsharri and can look back down that you can see have small – how insanely small, the remaining patch of cedars is. It is truly horrifying to think that this vulnerable patch, just a few hundred meters across, is all that remains of a forest that once stretched hundreds of kilometres.

The tiny patch of the 'Cedars of Lebanon', viewed from the road going over the Lebanon Mountains.

The tiny patch of the ‘Cedars of Lebanon’, viewed from the road going over the Lebanon Mountains.

One small catastrophe; a fire, disease, even break-down in social order with a massive influx of refugees needing wood, and this could go in an instant. And then there would just be disbelief, and perhaps people arguing whether there had been trees here at all.


Davis, D.K. 2011. Introduction: Imperialism, Orientalism and the Environment in the Middle East,” pp. 12-40  in: Environmental Imaginaries of the Middle East and North Africa, Diana K. Davis and Edmund Burke III, Eds.  Ohio University Press.

Hajar, L., dar-Boustani, M.H., Khater, C., Cheddadi, R., 2009. Environmental changes in Lebanon during the Holocene: Man vs. climate impacts. Journal of Arid Environments 74, 746-755.

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Cheap Eats Nanjing 12 – Sticky Rice Cake and other nibblies

I spotted this little take-away cake shop one evening after getting a cheese fix opposite. Pleasant woman in charge and bunch of nice looking things for sale. I settled on two muffins and a sort of cake. It was very dense, but I had no idea what it was til I cut into it next day. Its a very flaky pastry shell around a solid ‘sticky rice’ core (see featured image). Sticky rice is a kind of glutinous, slightly sweet stuff. The pastry gets everywhere when you eat it, but the sticky rice is quite nice. Good for a once-in-a-while treat.


The lot

The cake and the muffins came to 27 RMB, so I spread them out over a about three lunches.

The place is called Gao Lao Zhuang and is at the intersection of Dudaiying Alley and Hongwu Nth rd ( which is southward continuation of Jinxianghe Rd).

Nanjing Street map

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Estonia – the Swamp and the language tree

Estonia was my first-ever experience of driving, by myself, on the right hand side of the road. I tried to keep it simple. All I needed to do was pull-out  from the car hire place (small town, Viljandi linn), negotiate a round-about at the edge of town, then I would be onto a rural road where I could take things quietly. I hate round-abouts anywhere, they just give me a brain-short. I registered two things happened as I entered that round-about – one was another car, that despite all the mental planning, was coming at me from Completely the Wrong Direction. The other was a Police car, parked on the edge of the round-about. Wild evasive maneuver, panicked look in the mirror to check the cop hadn’t noticed, then I was out of town.

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The destination that drew me enough to risk my life (and others) was Sooma National Park. Disclosure: I once went to one of New Zealand’s leading real estate agencies and mentioned that I like swamps. A couple of days later they called me back and said something like “So you … like … swamps? We may have something for you”. And I bought it. Sooma in the Estonian language, is said to mean “Land of Bogs”. There are technical differences between swamps and bogs, but whatever – Sooma has both.

The road was dry and my little car was enveloped in dust from a couple of large trucks coming towards me. Then there was rain, and the next trucks to pass covered the car in mud (OK, road not as quiet as I had hoped). But the rain stopped as I got to Sooma, parked, and started to walk the system of well-marked trails (Check out here, and search on Viljandi County).

Estonia was completely covered by an ice sheet during the last glacial period, only starting to emerge from the melt around 13,000-12,000 years ago.  Carbon-dating of the thick peat in Sooma shows it started to grow around 7,000-6,000 years ago (Pajula, 2000). Periodically flooded forests grew up along the rivers, these are ‘swamps’. In some areas, moss accumulation domed upwards above flood level to form nearly treeless ‘bogs’. This complex system of low-lying rivers, swamps and bogs is typical of what developed all around the Baltic. And as the ice went – people moved in. Cultures developed that called this kind of ecosystem their home – and adapted to it, no doubt involving a variety of watercraft.

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If languages can be thought of in terms of a tree, there are two main branches of the language tree in Europe today (a third is Basque, which is restricted to the Pyrennees in Spain) –  one is  ‘Indo -European’, and includes not just English and German, but also languages that seem (to a novice)  very different, like Irish. The second is  ‘Finno-Ugric’, including the very different languages spoken by people around the cold, northern rim of Eurasia (Hungarian is an outlier). It includes Estonian, and the national border, less than 40 km from where I was walking – is therefore a major language frontier.

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And this is where things get …. dangerous. Talk about a Million Ways to Die in the West? How about the middle of a scrap between linguists, archaeologists and nationalists? I’m just the piano-player, but here-goes.  There has long been a swing among the less politically-minded protagonsists to emphasise that language, archaeology and peoples are not the same. Reality is messier. But in a broad sense, ‘Finno-Ugric’ tends to be linked with ‘hunter-gatherer’ cultures, while ‘Indo-European’ is associated with an invasive (into Europe) farming culture. Now, recent DNA evidence is suggesting that in at least this case – the movement into Europe of Indo-European really did mean an actual migration (Allentoft et al. 2015). Original people, speaking another language, were ‘replaced’, whatever that means. So what were the hunter-gatherers speaking in Europe before then? Was it something like Basque? A kind of Finno-Ugric perhaps?  ‘Conventional’ linguistics  would have Finno-Ugric spreading from an original core somewhere in the Urals. Alternatively, the controversial ideas of Kalevi Wiik promote ancestral English-German being a kind of creole. It basically developed from Finno-Ugric hunters doing their best to speak Indo-European (and doing it with a distinctive accent). Then there are the ideas of Andres Pääbo, that there was a boat-centered culture of Finno-Ugrics, once wide-spread over northern Europe.  I like the basic imagery there, though the linguistic part I can’t comment on. It seems that many of these trains of thought simply lack enough evidence to nail it one way or the other.

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My day at Sooma walking the trails – The Riisa Bog Trail, the Ingatsi Hiking Trail, the Kuresoo Peat-bog, was hands-down the best time in Estonia. It was a perfect time to ponder ecology and deep history. Tallinn is wonderful (if you can avoid the drunken tourists), but in Sooma I could get a feel for what some of my ancestors would have lived in (be they speaking Indo-European or Finno-Ugric) somewhere along the norther European Plain. I never saw a soul all day (do other people not feel the same about swamps as I do?), but it’s likely that had it been a few thousand years ago, it would have been more lively. Perhaps an arrow in the back, whistling out of the trees at the Indo-Euro interloper.

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I managed to get the little car back to the hire company in Viljandi linn before they closed. It was in one-piece and I was rather proud of that. It was, however, almost invisible under the mud. I pulled up in front of their shop and saw three faces lift in my direction.

“I, uh, got a bit of mud on the car….”

“We noticed”, in perfect Baltic droll.

Now does that come from Finno-Ugric or Indo-European?



Allentoft et al. 2015 Population genomics of Bronze Age Eurasia. Nature 522, 167–172

Pajula , R. 2000. Spatio-temporal development of the Soomaa mire system in SW Estonia.Proceedings of the Estonian Academy of Sciences , Biology and Ecology , 49 , 194–208.

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Cheap Eats Nanjing 11 – Fried Dumplings

I’ve been making eyes at this place for ages – the dumplings get cooked in an guaranteed eye-catching arrangement on a hot plate on the street by the front door (see Featured image) and inside it’s usually chocka-block with customers.  Eventually I gave them a go for a quick lunch in the weekend. No sitting room so it had to be take-away. The dumplings are just 1 RMB each. Probably as fattening and unhealthy as any fried food, but – taste sooo good!

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5 RMB of fried dumplings.

It’s another place on Chenxiang Road. Easy to spot with the dumplings being fried outside.

Nanjing Street map

Fried dumplings at the red dot….

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Mongolia – “Armour-piercing, mate”

“I’ll have to show these to my colleague”. The security guard at Brisbane’s International Airport took the two objects from my bum-bag and walked off.

Oh shit…

A few weeks before I had been travelling south through Mongolia’s  South Gobi region. It’s basically a gravelly, rolling desert. In the middle of all this wide-open country, one of my colleagues said we were about to visit a shop. A shop?  There didn’t seem to be much of anything out here.  And then – a row of rough tables, lined up along the dirt track, with no-one in sight. We pulled up in our Land Cruiser and got out to have a look. The tables were covered in all manner of collectibles – fossils, minerals, that sort of thing. In a few minutes, people materialised. They seemed to simply appear from no-where: men, women, kids. Some came on motor-bikes, others seemed to have walked. Pretty happy people too, having someone to stop and look at their rather lonely desert shop. What grabbed my attention were a couple of little greenish objects, about 20 mm or an inch long, and with three sides. They were old bronze arrow-heads. I bought them, dropped them in my bum-bag, and when the others had done their business, we kept heading south.

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Finally, late afternoon – the dunes. We pulled up for a pee – and this is so often the case – you drive for hours over rough roads, but when you pull up on some sand, you get a puncture. With a long hiss, one of the tires went flat. But there was a routine procedure – driver gets up on roof to unfasten spare, passes it down to two of us standing below. Except this time I fumbled and the thing caught me just above the eye. Result, split forehead and blood trickling down my face. Great view though.


But I digress. We did our work, days later headed back to Ulaan Baatar, and I headed out of the country for a break. Back to the Southern Hemisphere. After a couple of weeks, back to the airport to come north again. X-ray machine, back-pack through, bum-bag off and into X-ray.  Security guard – big, obviously ex-military type – asks to look inside the bum-bag. Finds arrow-heads. I had forgotten all about them, and now, about to board an aircraft, I was about to lose them. Stupid, stupid….

I could see the guard with a group of others in the distance, all looking at them closely. By and by he came back, and put them down on the bench in front of me.

“Armour-piercing mate! They’d need a shaft to be dangerous – you’re ok”

Phew……  (:



Mausoleum of Khwaja Ahmad Yasavi, Turkistan, Kazakhstan
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Turkistan, Kazakhstan, not Tukmenistan

I’m not at all sure I remembered when all those ‘stans’ appeared on my radar. Did I know about them before the Soviet Union fell apart, or did they just appear in the news so gradually it seemed like they were always there? There’s Uzbekistan, Kirghistan, Afghanistan (yes, I did know about that one) – the ‘-stan’ bit  makes sense when you think of the English word “stand”. These countries are where their people, the Uzbeks, the Kirghiz, the Afghans, ‘stand’.  The ‘-an’ part of it is even more widespread. There’s Iran, and inside Iran there are the cities of Tehran, and Isfahan. This ‘an’ sound is probably also about ‘place’. The word ‘han’ or ‘khan’ can have the meeting of an ‘inn’, where one hopes visitors did not stand, but got to lie down for the night.

Mausoleum of Khwaja Ahmad Yasavi, Turkistan, Kazakhstan Mausoleum of Khwaja Ahmad Yasavi, Turkistan, Kazakhstan

Turkistan is a city in Kazakhstan. It’s a city and always confused me – Turkestan was a state (the ‘place of the Turks’), or perhaps I was thinking of Tukmenistan, which is a modern-day country. The jewel of Turkistan is the Mausoleum of Khwaja Ahmad Yasavi. This amazing building celebrates a man who was a poet, and died here in 1166. He was still so famous more than 200 years later, that Tamerlane, the Mongol ruler, ordered that this building be made over whatever was marking Khwaja Ahmad Yasavi’s grave. Unfortunately tamerlane died in 1405 – and construction promptly stopped. You can still see bit of wood sticking out of the half-finished facades from that time.

Mausoleum of Khwaja Ahmad Yasavi, Turkistan, Kazakhstan

Pieces of wood dating back to 1405 still project from the walls when construction stopped.

Mausoleum of Khwaja Ahmad Yasavi, Turkistan, Kazakhstan

The place is a mass of turquoise-blue enameled tiles. And while it already looks amazing from a distance – it’s almost fractal, as the details keep there the closer you look.

The site is regarded by some Muslims as worthy of pilgrimage. Though there is nothing ‘official’ about this – it’s just nice that people regard tombs of poets as worthy of travelling to. It;s much easier to do nowadays – just an overnight train ride from Almaty.

Mausoleum of Khwaja Ahmad Yasavi, Turkistan, Kazakhstan

Close up details of enamel work.

Mausoleum of Khwaja Ahmad Yasavi, Turkistan, Kazakhstan Mausoleum of Khwaja Ahmad Yasavi, Turkistan, Kazakhstan Mausoleum of Khwaja Ahmad Yasavi, Turkistan, Kazakhstan


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Cheap Eats Nanjing 10 – Cat in the Kitchen

I thought I had this place sussed. Nice small spot, friendly staff, and a nice noodle dish that the staff kept pointing out to me on the menu before I could find it. And a cat called Wang-Cai. The name got some giggles when I asked for a translation from a colleague – it implies that it is going to make its owner rich. Wang Cai is a slightly greasy (well, he does live in a kitchen) tabby, who, if he is in the right mood, doesn’t need much encouragement to jump up and sit on your lap.  Blissfully unaware that he is in-between a bowl of noodles and a foreigner trying to maneuver said noddles to his mouth with chop sticks.

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Wang-Cai the Cat.

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Wang-Cai the Cat and his owner.

And then one evening I went to go – and the place had vanished. I was sure I knew where it was, but eventually gave up. A few weeks later I had another go, finally locating it  – next door. Same management, and Wang-Cai was produced to prove it. But now it’s an entirely different style of place – another sort of ‘make your own soup’. Except this time you chose from a rack of all sorts of things that are shrink-wrapped. I have a bit of a downer on all the waste this produces, but …. ):

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The bubble-wrapped stuff you can select from.

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My selection before cooking. You can see the result in the Featured Image.

I chose a bunch of things (you collect them in a basket) then they get tallied up. My lot came to 23 RMB. Then they ask which base you want (there are pictures on the wall), they cook it up and then bring it out 10 minutes later. It was really nice – although much bigger meal than I needed.

Wang Cai and his kitchen are on Taiping Nth Rad – on the corner of the little alley opposite Wengchangqiao Rd.

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The view from outside.

Nanjing Street map

The street map.




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Mongolia – The Ghost of Moron

It was on the flight back to UIaan Baatar that I remembered the ghost.

My field partner, Nyambayar, and I had been working in an area near the Mongolian town of Moron (pronounced ‘muh-roon’). Moron lies in the far north of Mongolia and is the gateway to Lake Khovsgul.  This is the largest body of water in Mongolia, and is part of the same system as Lake Baikal in Siberia.  Being so close (c. 100 km) to Lake Khovsgol, it seemed a shame not to pop up for a quick look.

Yours truly by Lake Khovsgol, Mongolia.

Yours truly by Lake Khovsgol.

Mongolia's only large boats, on a still mostly frozen Lake Khovsgol in late May.

Mongolia’s only large boats, on a still mostly frozen Lake Khovsgol in late May.

The lake is totally frozen in winter.  In fact, it was late May when we were there, and it was still mostly ice. Khovsgol is surrounded by forest, and not too far past the end of the lake is the border of Russian Siberia. We had lunch at a tourist camp, but there were no other visitors. There was a friendly woman who ran it, and several equally friendly cats.

Friendly cats at the camp by Lake Khovsgol, Mongolia.

Friendly cats at the camp by Lake Khovsgol.

Back in Moron, we checked into the usual basic hotel for the night. Our shared room was upstairs, with a couple of single beds.  At some point it was lights-out and time for sleep. It must have been within twenty minutes or so. I was lying on my back, in the otherwise now dark room. Suddenly – a man was standing beside my bed (in between my bed and Nyambayar’s) and, as I turned to face him, looking me straight in the eyes. He was wearing what I would say were 1950s style clothes – a sort of grey suit and a short -brimmed hat (a fedora perhaps). The style is still worn by men of the older generation there.  The other impression that flashed through my mind, was, weirdly, that he was not a Mongol. Central Asian, yes, but not a Mongol. I’m not good enough to tell the faces, but perhaps he was Buriat, or Kazakh.

Those two impressions were made in the half-second before I sat bolt-upright to confront him. People appearing in your room in small-towns of Mongolia is something to take seriously (I’ve only once barricaded a hotel room door, but that was responding to one heck of a row going on outside). And he vanished. In the murk I could see my partner – no signs from him. At least I hadn’t yelled. Satisfied it was an apparition, I settled back down to what passed for sleep on a mattress like a brick with a sheet wrapped around it.

Flying from Moron back to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia - after seeing the ghost.

Flying from Moron back to Ulaan Baatar.

Next day we headed for the airport, and boarded a half-empty twin-prop SAAB for the haul back to Ulaan Baatar. After a while, to break the monotony, I said to Nyambayar “Hey, I saw a ghost in our room last night!”.  Something of a cloud passed over his face. Nyambayar, who is a straight-forward kind of guy, replied that, while trying to ignore it under the sheets, he had heard someone walking around the room and breathing. He was well-aware that there was something uncanny in our room that night.

I’ve had quite a few strange encounters now – but this was the only time there was some kind of ‘back-up’. Some kind of ‘shared-experience’.

Who was that guy?


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Cheap Eats Nanjing 9 – make your own soup

I was a bit dark on this place to start with – only because my favourite place suddenly closed just along the street, more or less as this place opened. I was suspicious…. But the owner is keen to attract clientele and I relented and gave it a go. It is only a couple of weeks old, and once inside there is a constant stream of locals also having the deal explained to them.

Everyone sits on either side of a common central structure – around which there is a never-ending chain of ingredients on skewers. There’s veges, meats, noodles, mushrooms and so-on. In front of you is your own induction-hotplate and you get a pot of soup base. In a corner of the shop is a rack with bowls of sauce ingredients. You take a little bowl and fill it up with whatever mixture takes your fancy. Then back at your spot, you simply choose what you want as is passes by, slide the bits off the skewer, pop the skewer in a cup, drop the lid on, and wait for it to cook.

Sauces DSC_9446 The Line DSC_9431

When it’s time to leave, they will tally up the number and types of skewer (wood, metal, thick, thin, etc). I tossed in five ingreds (see the featured image – the sauce bowl is at bottom right, and the cup with the used skewers is at top right), steeled myself for the price – and came to just 13 RMB.

The skewers DSC_9445

Tallying-up the skewers.

There is a main menu on the wall, and as far as I can tell with Google Translate, there may be different types of soup base to start with. I am guessing that what Google translates as ‘sign’ may be ‘skewer’.

Menu DSC_9439

The main menu.

Definitely good value. Not sure of its name yet, but it’s on the north end of Danfeng St, just next to a fruit and vege seller.

Nanjing Street map Outside DSC_9447