October 23, 2006



In Shanghai, after a somewhat Kafkaesque flight from Lhasa via Xi'an.

Shanghai is busy and bustling and neon and huge. The forest of skyscrapers I saw being sown ten years ago in Pudong has since grown into their towering, glittering adolescence, and the rivers of bicycles have dried into mere streams, replaced by mopeds and cars. The Bund is still cool. Expats are everywhere and practically everyone under thirty seems to speak a little English. Nanjing Road is a pedestrian mall thronging with stores and crowds, and if you're a Westerner, also full of hawkers offering knockoff watches and bags, and "students" eager for you to visit their "art galleries," and if you're a Western man past dusk, pimps and hookers galore.

I haven't seen a single Internet cafe; there's been a government crackdown (can't remember if the pretext is "fire safety" or "they are depraving our young!") but the place I'm staying has a couple free terminals.

Tomorrow I ride the world's fastest, coolest train (magnetic levitation! 430 km/h aka 260 mph!) to Pudong International Airport, from whence I shall fly to L.A. and K., hurrah. I am meant to depart at 12:45PM and arrive at 12:23PM on the same day. Look for me in the noon sky.

Books read:
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky Crime and Punishment (re-read; incandescent genius)
  • Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina (while I accept this is a great novel, I found every character except Anna herself odious and repellent, and by the end she too was starting to grate)
  • Ewan MacGregor and Charley Boorman, Long Way Round (quick fun read; our routes hardly intersected; my friend Wendy makes a brief and amusing appearance)
  • Qiu Xiaolong Death of a Red Heroine (fascinating murder mystery set in 1990 Shanghai)
  • Jack Weatherford Genghis Khan and the Invention of the Modern World (great stuff, especially if read in Mongolia)
  • Barry Hughart Bridge of Birds (re-read; if there's a better book to read on a train into China, I can't imagine what)
  • Robert Hughes The Fatal Shore (fascinating if often dry)
  • Stephen King Wolves of the Calla (like most of the Dark Tower books, hate the main plot, love the substories)
  • Heinrich Herrer Seven Years in Tibet (the incredible story shines through the pedestrian writing)
  • Richard Stark née Donald Westlake Lemons Never Lie (purchased, believe it or not, from the airside information desk in Lhasa Airport; they also had Pohl's Gateway which I pondered but I've read it and it's great but I decided to leave it for the next English-language reader low on material. Oh, yeah, and the Stark is really short and really cool.)
  • Books for tomorrow's flight: JK Rowling Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Rudyard Kipling Captains Courageous, Ian Rankin Fleshmarket Close.

Hours spent on trains:
  • 168 (a whole week!)

Runs: 4
  • The Summer Gardens, St. Petersburg
  • trail along the Irtysh River, Omsk
  • beach northwest of Khuzhir, Olkhon Island
  • two laps around Tiananmen Square, Beijing
  • Wanted to run in Ulaan Baatar but smog and lack of good route defeated me; worked out twice at the local allegedly-five-star hotel instead. Kinda wanted to run in Lhasa but am insufficiently crazy. Would run along the Bund if I was staying here longer.

Cigarettes smoked:
  • 5
  • but adjusting for air quality in Moscow, UB, Beijing, Lhasa, and Shanghai, probably more like 722

Finally, I want you to know that in pondering the many experiences of and lessons learned from this trip, I have come to a daring and illuminating conclusion:

Asia: quite big.

Th-th-th-th-that's all folks. See y'all back in civilization. Well, in California, anyways.


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