The Greatest Pleasures of Travel

It was unlikely that I would visit this part of Inner Mongolia again, so I wanted to see a few more places before heading home. The problem was buying train tickets. I had discovered on this trip that you can’t just show up and expect to get a ticket for a long distance train. If you don’t want to stand for thirty hours straight, you need to book your tickets online, days or weeks in advance.

Now I would have to improvise my way to my next destination, without any idea of how to get there, or what I might do once I arrived. Ah yes, one of the greatest pleasures of travel…

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The Future of The Facebook

Irish author Catherine Ryan Howard is one of the top authorities on self-publishing today. Her delightfully quirky blog Catherine, Caffeinated is full of great advice. I recently asked Catherine the following:

Two years ago, [...] Facebook was easily the top social network for authors looking to reach new fans. Does that still hold true today? How about two years from now – do you foresee any other social networks taking Facebook’s place?

Her response:

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Moerdaoga: Tracing the Great Khan’s Footsteps

According to legend, early in the thirteenth century a nomadic tribal leader went on a hunting expedition to a mountain at the eastern edge of the Eurasian Steppe. As he stood on the summit, the spectacular view of the surrounding grasslands and forests inspired him. The man suddenly realized his desire to unify all of the tribes in the region. He gazed at the golden sunrise and commanded to his tribesmen, “Moerdaoga!” – “Ride into the battle on your horses!” The man’s name was Genghis Khan, and this land would soon fall under his rule.

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Beijing Hutongs, Part II

Are you planning a trip to Beijing? If so, then make sure you include a visit to a hutong in your itinerary. These shared-housing neighborhoods offer a fantastic real-life glimpse at traditional Chinese culture. Unfortunately, many of Beijing’s hutongs have been leveled in favor of apartment towers, but a few have received historical status, protecting them from demolition. Here are some pictures I took during a recent visit to the hutongs of Beijing’s Lake District.

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Riding the Rails to Moerdaoga

Beijing’s long-distance train station was huge. A massive pavilion was outside, and thousands of people with suitcases and backpacks were milling about. There was barely room to walk. Three men in camouflage uniforms stood guard at the edge of the crowd, assault rifles pointed downward, index fingers resting next to the triggers. Behind them was a van with blackened windows. Troublemakers wouldn’t last long here.

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Wangfujing Critter Market

Wangfujing is a popular shopping district in central Beijing. One day, Katie and I were walking along Wangfujing’s main street with Brendan, a friend from home. We found an alley that turned out to be the famous “critter market.” This place looked like it was designed intentionally to gross people out with its strange foods and beverages for sale.

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No Guts, No Story

The soup came next. It contained several cloves of garlic and a few green beans, but it was mostly filled with shriveled lumps of…something.

“Are those mushrooms?” Katie asked.

“I don’t think so.” The soup had a distinct odor that I couldn’t quite place. I grabbed a “mushroom” with my chopsticks and put it into my mouth. It didn’t have much flavor, but its chewy texture made me want to spit it out. I tried, unsuccessfully, to tear the “mushroom” with my teeth. I took a swig of beer and swallowed it whole.

“Well? What is it?”

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Beijing Hutongs, Part 1

Hutongs are northern China’s traditional back alley neighborhoods. Their houses are small; their bathrooms are shared. They typically have communal central courtyards. Some hutongs date back to the Ming dynasty of the fifteenth century. In recent decades, many hutongs have been demolished to make way for highrise towers and wide avenues. Only a few have been protected from modern development.

One day while walking around central Beijing, I stumbled upon

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Beijing Pollution, Construction and Migration

It’s amazing to think how quickly this city has grown. I met one woman who lived here in 1989. She told me that at the time, the Third Ring was the outskirts. Taxi drivers refused to go beyond it. Wolves were occasionally spotted in the nearby forests. Even Katie’s Beijing guidebook, which was published nine years ago, shows the Fourth Ring as the edge of the city, and it only lists a couple of the central subway lines. Now, the Third Ring is downtown. Thirty-story highrises encompass it, and far beyond. The core of the city ends at the Fifth Ring, but a large population (including Katie and me) has spilled beyond even its reaches.

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Adjusting to Beijing

I was confused. Our plane was only a few thousand feet above one of the world’s largest cities, yet I barely saw any lights. Beijing’s international airport is located far from downtown, but I still was expecting the city to look brighter from above. As we neared the ground, a thick haze blanketed us. Visibility was less than half a mile in all directions.

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