Across Continents

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Ear wigging

February 23rd, 2012

Small cafe. Bright and cheerful on an otherwise dreary wet street. Very quiet. A motherly lady behind the counter and two young women sat engrossed in discussion. One was Polish. The other was explaining her rights to her. Mostly in English. They’d need to visit the Embassy.

I’d taken a lunch time train out of London. Sat quietly in the front carriage tapping quietly into my netbook. Writing little pieces for the blog. The cycling was over but not yet the journey. Still to conclude the transition back from roads less travelled. Finding my jottings cathartic.

I’d been sent a teasing note a few days earlier. From a good friend. It started with Mr Roberts. Observing that for all my protestations that the blog’d be drawing to a close, there was scant evidence to support this. On the contrary, my efforts suggested I was smitten with the writing bug. And I probably was.

Fascinating what people will openly discuss in railway carriages. Especially if they think someone’s engrossed elsewhere. Not listening. Two people explaining the finer points of revenue generation, future risks, for what they described as prestigious waterfront shopping development. I knew the place but didn’t quite recognise it. Their audience was an investor. Some shrewd questions. They stumbled frequently.

Waiting to disembark at the end of the line, I listened intently to another group. They really should have known better. I smirked knowingly. And deliberately. It was now raining. I headed off to find a decent cafe. They went off towards a small passenger ferry. As I thought they would.

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Cafe convenience

November 4th, 2010

Food is plentiful. Small eateries everywhere. And cheap. A substantive main course no more than a few pounds. Often considerably less. I’d normally choose a cafe with a reasonable number of customers. Not crowded. Just enough to get around my inability to read the menu. Obliged to have whatever someone else is having. True, I’ve got people to jot down the characters for my favourite dishes, but the cuisine does vary between the provinces.

Late evening in Juining. Dark. Gentle rain. Glad to be off the road. Finding a small cafe close to my lodgings, I wander in. A couple of young men inside, feverishly devouring large bowls of pasta. A woman appears from the kitchen, seems startled by my presence and quickly disappears. A few moments later the chef emerges. I indicate I’d like the pasta. He nods.

A short while later a fearsomely hot bowl of pasta. Smooth squares, fiendishly difficult to grip with chopsticks. And spicy peppers, burning my palate. My eyes and nose streaming. Strips of meat, unrecognisable but delicious. Curious. Not dog. Told it’s no longer allowed in China. Still a delicacy in South Korea. And survival in the North.

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Around Dunhuang

October 12th, 2010

Dunhuang. A small city, an oasis in the Gobi. Popular with Westerners travelling the Silk Roads. But not now it seemed. The season was drawing to a close. The Friendship Cafe was undergoing refurbishment. Even John’s Information Cafe, who’s Turpan outpost I’d tracked down a while back, was quiet. Barely visible behind a tall, overgrown hedge.

Friendship cafe - web

Charley Johng’s cafe, a short walk from rival John’s, was similarly quiet. Little custom to vie for. Just one solitary Westerner tapping away on an internet terminal in the corner. And Charley, it seemed, as elusive as John. Next door, even the tat shop had wrapped up its camels for the winter.

Camel - wrapped up - web

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Around Urumqi

August 22nd, 2010

Around Urumqi from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Ken explores the city of Urumqi

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