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I arrived back in Australia on Monday.

I had a wonderful vacation.  Eastern Europe is such an interesting place.

I finished my trip with a visit to a friend who is living in Germany.  I almost stayed an extra day in Germany.  My flight from Frankfurt was overbooked and they were looking for volunteers to stay an extra day. They were offering hotel accommodation and 600 euros in compensation.  I was going to volunteer, but somebody else beat me to it.

I’ve got a lot of photos to sort through and will add some more blog entries about places I visited after Belarus.

I didn’t get much writing done while I was away, but I got lots of ideas for stories and I’ve kept sending my earlier stories out.  Have been busy clocking up rejection letters.

Since Clarion I’ve written 3 new short stories and now all of them have been accepted.  So I must have learned something there. :-)
I’ve got a flash fiction piece coming up in Antipodean SF, a short story in the 12th Planet kids’ SF anthology and I just had a second story accepted by Fantasy Magazine.

I’ll be up in northern NSW for a little while, then will have to organise finding a new apartment and a new job in Melbourne.

Have fun,

Originally published at Aidan Doyle. You can comment here or there.

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From Mongolia we took the train to the Russian border.  It often takes a long time to go across the border.
We had to wait for the Mongolian customs and immigration officials to board the train and check people. Then the train travelled a short way to the Russian border and Russian immigration officials checked everyone’s visas.  Then they had to change the trains over.
The whole process lasted more than 9 hours.

In Russia we took the train to Irkutsk.  We stayed at a little town near Lake Baikal, about an hour from Irkutsk.  We did a homestay for a night with families who live near the lake.  Baikal is the deepest lake in the world.  At its deepest point it’s 1637 metres deep and it contains about 20% of the world’s fresh water.

From Irkutsk we got aboard the Trans-Siberian Express.  We joined the line at about the halfway point (it runs all the way to Vladivostok in the east).  The journey from Irkutsk to Ekaterinburg took 51 hours.

The Trans-Siberian trains run on Moscow time, (Irkutsk is five hours ahead of Moscow).  Even the clocks at the train stations are usually set to Moscow time, which can make things confusing.

The trains were comfortable and clean and we shared four person sleeping compartments.
Most of the trains had restaurant cars but the quality and price of the food varied greatly.  On one occasion four of us ordered meals, but only two of us got food.

The trains have a supply of hot water and a lot of people survive on instant noodles they brought with them (us included).  Unfortunately Russian supermarkets generally don’t have the wide selection of flavors that you can expect in China or Japan.


The carriages are usually ruled over by female attendants.  They are notorious for waking people early in the morning and grabbing their bed sheets, so that they will have all the bed sheets packed away by the time the train arrives.


The train makes short stops along the way and a few times a day there’s the chance to get off the train for between 10 and 30 minutes.  There usually isn’t much to see, except for old ladies selling food.
You want to make sure you get back onto the train on time.  On the tour before us, two people hadn’t got onto the train on time and the train attendant chased after them.  All three of them got left behind at a small station and had to wait a few hours for the next train.

The people on the tour with me were good company and we had a really fun time on the trains.  We spent the time talking and playing cards.

We stayed in Ekaterinburg for 2 nights.  Ekaterinburg is where the last Czar and his family were taken after the revolution.  There’s a church built on the site where they were executed.

Once inside Russia, I began my program of Communist indoctrination.


Ekaterinburg had an interesting keyboard sculpture.


I saw wedding groups all over Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.   Newlyweds were visiting scenic places to have their photos taken.


I wouldn’t go too far out of my way to visit either Irkutsk or Ekaterinburg, but they are nice places to break up the long train journey across Russia.
I like travelling by train and the Trans-Siberian is one of the world’s great train journeys.  It was a wonderful experience.

Have fun,

Some number trivia: We were on the train at 12:34 and 56 seconds on 07/08/09.

Originally published at Aidan Doyle. You can comment here or there.

Monkey DOA

Sep. 4th, 2009 04:33 pm
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I saw the weirdest ever message on an ATM in Minsk, Belarus.

I put my card in and just Russian writing came up (or maybe it was in Belarussian, I can’t tell the difference).  So I hit what I hoped was the cancel button and my card was returned.

A different menu appeared which had a button labelled FAQ.

It’s disturbing that these questions would be FREQUENTLY asked (and why in English?  And the answer is in Russian?)

Someone translated the answer to the questions for me and it says in Russian: Because you forgot to give him food.

Monkey DOA

Originally published at Aidan Doyle. You can comment here or there.


Aug. 21st, 2009 02:04 am
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We took the train from Beijing to the Mongolian border. The trains in Mongolia use a different rail gauge from China, so at the border they take the train into a workshop (and with everyone aboard) jack the carriage up and change the undercarriage and wheels.

We stayed for a couple of days in Ulan Baator and also stayed for a night at a ger (traditional Mongolian tent) camp. The camp was in a really beautiful location and the gers are tourist ones and very comfortable. I was expecting to see lots of desert in Mongolia, but the camp site was in a location that could have been in a European Alpine area.








We also got to see a traditional Mongolian wrestling competition that was being held out in the countryside.



We visited a memorial to Soviet soldiers who died during the war.


We also ran across a Mongolian wedding party.


Ulan Baator has some really nice Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.


And surprisingly Ulan Baator is also home to the International Intellectual Museum (they have lots of puzzles). But their standards aren’t too high because as well as me, they let George W. Bush in when he visited.


Traditional Mongolian Greeting:

Mal sureg targan tavtaiyuu

(I hope your animals are fattening up nicely).

Originally published at Aidan Doyle. You can comment here or there.

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In Beijing I joined up with a small group tour.  The tour lasted 3 weeks and took us from Beijing to St. Petersburg.  There were 14 other people on the tour, plus the tour leader.  It was a really fun group and I had a great time.  There were lot of well-travelled people on the tour and a few had been to a lot more countries than I have.
Beijing is an interesting city to visit.  There is a lot to see and do.  The pollution in Beijing is really bad,  though.  There was a lot of smog around.

Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven


Forbidden City

Forbidden City

Forbidden City Dragon Mural


The weather was bad when we went to the Great Wall, so we couldn’t see that much of it.

Great Wall

Great Wall


I also went to a tourist kung fu acrobatics show.  That was fun to watch.

Red Theatre

Kung Fu Kid



Chinese Trivia of the Day: The Great Wall is simply called the long wall in Chinese.

Have fun,


Originally published at Aidan Doyle. You can comment here or there.

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After Huang Shan, I visited Chengdu in Sichuan Province. On July 22 there was an eclipse in some parts of the world.
I saw a partial eclipse in Turkey and basically there was nothing to see, so I wasn’t holding out too much hope, especially since the skies are so grey in many parts of China.
Chengdu had a total eclipse though. The total eclipse was scheduled for 9:10. At 8:30 there was no difference. Then at about 9:10, the sun appeared from behind the clouds and you could see part of it disappearing. Then it went really dark suddenly, like it was the middle of the night. And in a few minutes it was light again.




Chengdu also has a panda sanctuary. The panda sanctuary was ok, but a bit disappointing compared to some of the photos I’ve seen. The pandas have nice outdoor play areas, but when I was there, all of the pandas were in their small, dark indoor enclosures. It was fun to watch them playing around, but it was too dark to take any good photos. I got to see a 3-day old baby panda, which was cool. It looked like a little mouse (but we weren’t allowed to take photos).




Then I went to Xi’an, one of the old capitals of China. The first Chinese emperor was buried here along with thousands of statues – the terracotta warriors. The terracotta warriors are displayed in three big pits. The main pit has thousands of stone warriors. Each of them have different faces.
The warriors were discovered in March 1974, an auspicious time for revealing world treasures.




Have fun,


Chinese Language Factoid of the Day
Panda is not a Chinese word. In Mandarin they’re called da xiong mao (big bear cat).

Disaster Aftermath Action Tips:
If you are dramatically rescued from the scene of a disaster, make sure you mention the name of a popular company in your first words.

There was a big earthquake in Sichuan province last year. One boy was pulled from the rubble after being trapped for 80 hours. His first words were that he wanted a cold Coke. He became a local celebrity known as Coke Boy and Coke have agreed to pay for his university education.

Originally published at Aidan Doyle. You can comment here or there.

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Hi Everyone,

While the Chinese authorities have been busy dealing with earthquakes, repressing minority groups, censoring the Internet (Facebook was recently added to the long list of web sites banned in China) and detaining Australian business leaders for political reasons, I’ve been visiting lakes, climbing mountains and going on long train rides.

After Shanghai I took a night train to Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) a city near one of China’s most famous tourist mountains.  I took a cable car up the mountain and then went walking along the trails.  Huang Shan is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
The only downside was how crowded it was, there were tens of thousands of Chinese tourists on the mountain trails.
The various rock formations have been given plenty of grandiose sounding names (although I suspect some of them are a bit lost in translation).

Some of the places marked on the map of the mountains:
Stone Monkey Gazing Over a Sea of Clouds
Nine Dragons Peak
Bookcase Peak
Watching Fairy Peak
The Flower Grown Out of a Writing Brush Rock
Immortal Solarize Boots
Zhubajie Eating the Watermelon
Heavenly Dog Watching the Moon
Beginning to Believe Peak
Immortal Overturns the Desk
Wusong Catching the Tiger
Immortal Walking on Stilts
Former Dissident Submitting to the Will of the People
(Okay, I made the last one up).


Huang Shan
Huang Shan
Huang Shan

Huang Shan

Stone Monkey Gazing Over a Sea of Clouds

Stone Monkey Gazing Over a Sea of Clouds (It Wasn't Cloudy When I Was There)

Lots of people on the trail

Lots of people on the trail


Enjoying a rest

Huang Shan

Huang Shan

Huang Shan

Huang Shan

Huang Shan

Huang Shan

The Easy Way to Climb the Mountain

The Easy Way to Climb the Mountain

How To Make Yourself Very Tired (And Smelly)

05:30: Get up and have a shower.  Pack and check out of hostel.
06:15: Take minibus to bus transfer station.
07:30: Take bus to mountain cable car.
08:00: Battle hordes to buy cable car ticket (no one wants to wait in line) only to find out that I’m required to buy mountain park entrance park as well.
Mercilessly trample Chinese tourists underfoot to regain my place in the queue.
08:30: Take cable car up mountain.
09:00: Walk up and down mountain trails for 7 hours.
16:00: Line up for cable car down the mountain.
17:00: Get on cable car.
17:30: Get bus back to transfer station.
18:00: Find out that the minibuses back to city seemed to have stopped running.  Share taxi with other tourists.
19:30: Back in city.  Time to eat.
21:30: Take taxi to railway station.
22:30: Get on cheap-ass night train ($5 for 7 hour trip).  There are no separate seats, just bench seats.  People are getting on and off all night, which makes it hard to get much sleep.

06:00: Arrive in Hefei.
06:30: Put luggage in left luggage area and curse woman at the train station who sold me tickets with such bad connecting times.
08:00: Have breakfast and then wander around train station.
Fulfil prophecy of the coming of the white man.  At least I assume that is what I must have done given the amount of people that stared at me.
Since Hefei is not renowned as a tourist city and I didn’t I see any other foreigners in the city, I’m guessing that a white man walking down the streets wearing a t-shirt with Japanese writing on it, is not a common occurence.
All within thirty minutes of wandering around the train station:
Grandmothers pointed me out to their grandchildren, mothers introduced their children to me, several people asked me if I was Japanese, people took photos of me, beggars showed me their wounds, people wanted to practice their English with me, ladies of ill repute invited me to sample their wares, and a gang of pickpockets followed me. (Fortunately I spotted them straight away and they went in search of easier prey.  Then they fled when the police arrived).
Spend rest of the day hanging around the waiting lounge and various restaurants.
22:30: Get on night train.  This is a more expensive train and has separate cabins with beds.

Still on the train.  Share cabin with Chinese doctor that speaks barely any English.  He is reading a book in Chinese about Rommel (the German World War II general) and is very excited because despite my attempts to convince him otherwise he thinks that I am German.

08:00: Arrive in Chengdu.
08:30: Take taxi to hostel.  Time for a shower!

Originally published at Aidan Doyle. You can comment here or there.

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New Scientist magazine reported on a study of remote areas.

It’s official, the world’s most remote place is on the Tibetan plateau (34.7°N, 85.7°E).

From here, says Andy Nelson, a former researcher at the European Commission, it is a three-week trip to the cities of Lhasa or Korla – one day by car and the remaining 20 on foot.

Rough terrain and an altitude of 5200 metres also lend it a perfect air of "Do Not Disturb".

Where’s the Remotest Place on Earth?

Originally published at Aidan Doyle. You can comment here or there.

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On Friday I’m flying to Osaka to visit friends.

I’m staying in Osaka for a week and then taking a ferry to Shanghai.  The ferry takes 2 days to get there.

One of my friends from Australia is staying in Shanghai at the moment, so I’m going to visit him.

I have two weeks in China and then I’m joining up with a tour that leaves from Beijing.

It’s a 3-week tour and goes from Beijing to St. Petersburg.  We take the Trans-Mongolian train to Mongolia and stay in Ulan Bator for a couple of days and then take the train into Russia.  We join up with the Trans-Siberian railway at Irkustk.  The tour stops at a couple places on the way to Moscow and St. Petersburg.

I fly back to Australia from Frankfurt on October 10.

There are some maps at:

Originally published at Aidan Doyle. You can comment here or there.

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Nick Cobbing, a British photographer has taken lots of great photos of Greenland.

Greenland Photos

Originally published at Aidan Doyle. You can comment here or there.

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Last week I went to NatCon (the Australian national science fiction convention) in Adelaide.  The convention itself was a bit disorganised, but I had a fun time meeting up with my friends from the Clarion workshop.

I had a bit of a wander around Adelaide as well.  There are some fun pig sculptures in Rundle St. Mall.  I also went down to Glenelg, which is nice.


(A warning that any and all statements may greatly diverge from the established body of lore commonly referred to as "reality.")

What I Learned At NatCon

Various definitions of steampunk –
    * Retrofuturism.
    * Victorian-era cyberpunk.
    * A way to safely indulge nostalgia for a time when decent, white men ruled the world and everybody else knew their place.
    * Loving the machine, but hating the factory.
    * A fashion style for people who are too old to be goths.
    * A poor substitute for monkpunk.

We were promised bases on Mars and got the Internet instead.

The mathematical credentials of men who wear cloaks is open to speculation (see below).

All numbers great than 12 should be abolished.

It’s a good idea to tell people in advance if you want to give them to give a presentation.

Even if you have interesting speakers, panels that consist of people arguing about genre definitions are not interesting.

My own cultural and gender biases have led me to conclude that the people in costume at Australian SF conventions (bearded individuals in faux Victoriana) are not nearly as attractive as the people in costume at Japanese SF conventions (Japanese girls dressed as anime characters).

All about the differing adhesive qualities of blood and vomit.  (Fortunately this information was gleaned secondhand).

Most computer illustration programs do not yet have a "Draw Everything" button.

It’s time to throw off the shackles of feminist-controlled science fiction and finally write the kind of stories that men want to read.

Publishers may not necessarily be overwhelmed with joy when they receive a book about a teenaged vampire wizard codebreaking detective. (But you are not allowed to steal my idea for The Dracula Merlin Code Files).

Quantum Writing Secrets! (By applying the inverse of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle it is possible to derive a mathematically optimum plot for your novel).

I can remember when guests of honor used to be arrogant curmudgeons that demanded an extra room for their stationery and an endless supply of pan-galactic gargle blasters.  Julie Czerneda was far too friendly, enthusiastic and encouraging to be a proper guest of honor.

I don’t want to read any more fiction with "Schrodinger" in the title.  (Well, maybe I could be tempted to look at a Schrodingerpunk anthology).

Even if the planet is doomed, we may still have the chance to build some funky-looking buildings before global disaster strikes.

The philosophical underpinnings behind Prince of Tennis erotic fan fiction (One Racket!  One Destiny!)

Originally published at Aidan Doyle. You can comment here or there.

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From July I’m going on a 3-month vacation.  I’m flying to Japan and visiting friends in Osaka.

Then I’m taking the ferry to Shanghai.  (It takes 2 days by ferry) and visiting a friend there.

Then I’m doing some sightseeing around China (pandas and terracotta warriors).

I’m joining up with a small group tour that starts in Beijing and goes for 3 weeks.  We take the train to Mongolia and stop in Ulan Baatar for a couple of days.  Then onto the Russia and the Trans-Siberian Express.  A couple of stops along the way to Moscow and St. Petersburg.

After that I’ll be exploring by myself, travelling through Eastern Europe – the Baltics, Romania, Bulgaria and lots of other countries.

It’s a while since I’ve gone on a long trip, so I’m really looking forward to doing some more travelling.

Originally published at Aidan Doyle. You can comment here or there.

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Last month I flew to Perth in Western Australia.  It was the first time I’d been to Perth in 22 years.

It had changed a lot since I was there.  Apparently it had even moved states.


Perth is a really nice city.  It’s the most isolated capital city in the world (the nearest capital city is over 3000 km away).  I met up with one of my Clarion friends and we went to Wave Rock, a giant rock formation shaped like a wave.


I also visited Rottnest Island, a beautiful island off the coast of Perth.  I rented a bicycle and rode around the island.  The weather was great and I stopped at a few beaches along the way.


Then I took the Indian Pacific - the train that runs from Perth to Sydney.  It’s a 4352 km trip and takes 65 hours.  There are different travelling options, including cabins.  I took the cheapest option, which is a reclining seat.  There are showers and a dining carriage aboard the train.  Such a long trip isn’t for everyone, but I really enjoy travelling by train and I was happy talking to other backpackers, admiring the scenery and reading.

The train stops for a couple of hours in Kalgoorlie, Adelaide and Broken Hill and you have the chance to get off the train.  In Broken Hill I visited an art gallery that has one of the largest paintings in the world.  A single artist painted a circular painting that wraps around the room and is over 100 metres long.  It depicts the landscape near Broken Hill and is very impressive.

In Sydney I visited some more Clarion friends.  It was great catching up with people from Clarion again.  We went and had a look at the Powerhouse museum’s Star Wars exhibition, as well as an exhibition by a Japanese artist.


Originally published at Aidan Doyle. You can comment here or there.

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