September 30, 2006


A view across the river, alongside a Proton model.

Panorama across the steppe - this is the view from everywhere.

The Soyuz monument in the town - also a favourite spot for wedding pictures!

The ultimate sadness

One place in Baikonur is for me almost symbolic of this town. And one of the most depressing and sad. I come across this place occasionally when I wander through the streets on a day off work, like today.

Alongside the Syr Darya river is a small attraction park. Well, 'attraction park' is a pretty big word for it. It has a ferris wheel, a mini-mini-roller coaster and a few more of such things. What's more, it's deserted. Completely. The first time I passed it, on my first day back in May, there was music playing from croaky loudspeakers - making the image of a ghost town even stronger.

Baikonur portrays this image in a lot of places. Apart from the main street, the arbat, and the local market, the streets are pretty empty and many buildings are vacated. The fact that I'm writing about it again is also a sign that this impression of a town nearing its end is quite strong.

The stories I hear about the town and the locals reinforce this. It used to have over 100.000 inhabitants. Only a third of that remains. The Russians are getting ready to pull out, the Russian civilians are looking at ways to go back to the 'homeland'. I really do wonder what will be left after that process completes...

{update @ 3/10: just as I thought that my discovery would certainly be the saddest amusement park ever, Gridskipper Tokyo comes up with a competitor}

September 29, 2006


Now that I'm finally using my Flickr-account - one that I've had for ages, but without a digital camera I didn't do much with - I fear yet another on-line addiction.

This thing looks like fun. And it'll give me a good enough reason to experiment with my camera.

Or maybe I should get a life - instead of playing on here? No wait, I need a job that won't give me enough time to play on the 'net, that sounds like a much better plan!

September 28, 2006


Yay, they're here. Don't know why I was getting so impatient, but finally - a modest selection of China pics is now at my new flickr-picture-spot.

Mostly buildings and landscapes though, and as was rightly pointed out - China doesn't look the crowded country that it is. But well, enjoy.

September 27, 2006

Blatantly bragging

As if I haven't seen enough planes from the inside this year, I just received an email from a close friend telling me that our tickets to Krakow in November have been booked. Finally.

This trip has been in the making for years, so very excited.

Life is good.

Can you people remind me of that when it's time for my next jobhunting rant? Ta!

September 26, 2006


Being inside this team, in this location, is turning out to be quite the social experiment. I sometimes feel like an anthropologist in the middle of his participative (sp?) research in the African jungle. Well, something like that in any case.

For me it is only the second time out here, and as I have no commitments at home (think: partner & kids) I'm pretty flexible to be here. For many other people this is very different. Most people seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that it is part of the job (to come out here on and off for weeks) and as such they're making the most of being here. For some, this town seems to have turned into paradise - an escape away from their family, with plenty of entertainment around.

For the schedule in the town there seems to be an unwritten system that no-one stays out here for more than 3-4 weeks in one go. After that one has to go back to Europe. It seems that the town just messes with your head too much and you need to be brought back to 'civilization'.

Some time ago I was having dinner with some male colleagues. This topic came up and I tried to find out what makes this base so different from the other one in Russia - Plesetsk. As far as I know, that town is much more restricted, all of your movements are controlled, much less things to do and so on. But there the crew easily stays for up to three months.

The answer: temptation. Apparently this town offers an unhealthy amount of temptation for the men.

It is quite interesting to observe. And I don't think I quite understand it. But maybe that's because I'm one of the very few girls inside an almost male team. Probably it's a combination of (some of) the local girls seeing the Europeans as a ticket out of here (and doing their best to get their hands on that ticket), and of boredom for the men. Still, it makes me wonder how the guys here explain at home what they do here.

Hmm, I'm trying to write this post without being too judgmental. Because well, you can't really understand other people's relationships and I shouldn't even try to. It's definitely giving me a different view of things though.

Like I said, interesting to observe. 'Tis a different world being out here - both the physical surroundings as well as the social setting. And definitely good stuff for a psychologist!

September 23, 2006

Baikonur - part 2

It is almost scary how this place hasn't changed one bit over the last three months.

- I'm still fighting with my work computer (can't access half the sites I need to entertain me, such as this blog)
- same people, same food, same desert (except for one or two new faces)
- ....

Ah well, as good a time as any to lock myself in my hotel room, stay out of trouble, reflect on life and come up with a strategy for those drastic changes on October 11. Or something like that.

September 19, 2006


Teehee, this week is kind of weird.

Haven't properly unpacked yet, but just got home to complete chaos in the midst of which is an empty suitcase with a stack of clothes next to it.

The two days of work in between were hectic with colleagues alternating between talking me into a guilt trip, and others talking about how I deserved my holiday, and complaining about those same guilt-inducing-people.

Anyway, I have a suitcase to pack, a house to clean, a job application to perfect so I'd better get started.

The next few weeks (or at least the next three days...) will be surreal, should be interesting - but not blog material ;)

But I like this decadent travel thing. See ya from the desert!

September 17, 2006

For the foodies

One thing China is famous for is its food of course. And I've had loads of different good and not-so-good things (although the latter remarkably little luckily).

The highlights:
- 3 types of noodles with lamb at the night market in Dunhuang

- experimenting with Xi'an-ese streetfood

- breakfast in Lanzhou: handmade hot'n'spicy noodles

- seafood-stew in Shanghai, followed by espresso and red wine at a waterfront cafe

China pre-views: Dongyue temple, Beijing

Pudong - as seen from the Bund in Shanghai

View from Sun Yat-sen mausoleum in Nanjing


Gobi desert

Forbidden City

September 15, 2006


Now this is what I call a city.

I was expecting a mix between Tokyo and Hong Kong with a bit of Osaka thrown in and I think that's kind of what it is (although you'd need to spend more time here and know Chinese to discover the Osaka part of it).

After Beijing and the roughness of Gansu it's hard to imagine that I am still in the same country. I'm quite enjoying it, mostly because I love wandering through such vast and huge cities. And with the Bund, the French Concession-area and the old town there're some fascinating places to do so here.

I find myself wondering what it'd be like to live here. In some ways it seems similar to Tokyo, but also very different. More fascinating/exhilirating because it's changing so quickly and you're in the midst of it. More stressful because it seems so much more aimed at making the most money the quickest. For foreigners that might be relatively easy to achieve but I'm not so sure about the rest...

And for me, it might combine two things: offering the excitement of a new city (and a booming one, at that), a new language, a new culture while offering something familiar: the touches of a Tokyo-style city that I recognize and can fall back on.

September 14, 2006

The end of a holiday...

The last few days of this trip seem to be taking me back to the Netherlands much too quickly for my own comfort.

While trying to take in Shanghai I find myself spending a lot of time drinking coffee and trying to sort out what I need to do between Saturday night and Wednesday early morning. The list includes writing a perfect job application; organisational alumni stuff; unpacking, washing, re-packing; catching up with friends and family and oh, work!

Well, suffice it to say that the chaos in my head is back (I had naively hoped it would magically disappear during these few weeks). And it's interfering with enjoying Shanghai. *sigh*

September 11, 2006


I just arrived in a new city (Nanjing, and the computer room is right next to my room, good thing I'm moving somewhere else tomorrow!) and I guess being out in the wild West has made me a bit spoiled.

At the airport today they asked 25Y (a very normal E2,50) for a coffee. Yikes! That's more than what I have spent on a night's accomodation the last few nights. And now I'm paying a full 140Y for the night. Pff, guess the east coast really is a lot more expensive.

Maybe I'm also spoiled this year in another way: am already thinking about future destinations. Of course, the next three are already pretty much set (Krakow, St. Petersburg & *somewhere* in Africa) so this is semi-long-term planning.

I just got back from a Korean restaurant around the corner and it'd been very long since I had good Korean food. Yummm! And now I really really want to go back to see more of Korea once. The couple of days that I spent in Seoul still rank in the top-3 of best solo trips ever.

And the Silk Road... I've now travelled the (beginning of the) Eastern end of it, and have met a lot of people who are travelling it via various routes. It's definitely replaced the Trans Siberiand as the first leg of my dream trip.

Also just got a text message from Minsk, which is also supposed to be cool. And then there's the rest of the world.

But wait, let's focus on Nanjing and Shanghai first...

September 09, 2006

Uhoh... it's here

Okay, time for serious stuff - I need to start jobapplicationletterwriting again :(

I knew I made a mistake not getting this letter ready before leaving... guess I'll be thinking about that the next week instead of about future blogposts!

Please, cross your fingers that this time I'll actually get a bit further than last...

September 07, 2006

How to blog

During this trip I've been writing much more blog posts than I had intended/expected. And more than I write at home even, I think!

I'm not much of a diary writer. I've tried a few times but always find that my pen can't keep up with the thoughts in my head.

Somehow knowing that I have a blog to post to is now making it work for me to use it as an online travellog. When I'm at home and sit in front of my computer nothing much useful comes up and usually the result is a bunch of random-bullets-of crap-posts.

Now I write two (small) pages in my notepad when I think of something, and post it on here (with appropriate time & date) when I find a few spare internet minutes. And I think it's working rather well.

So, apologies to my readers if you were hoping for just the summary of what sights I've seen on what day. You'll have to wait for the pictures for that!

Maybe I should continue this habit of first writing something on paper and then posting. At least I feel as if I make more sense now! Although it does seem to be a bit contrary to the whole computer-thing...


One thing that has come up a few times when talking to people here is the one-child-policy in China. In my naiveity (sp?) I thought that this was something from the Mao Zedong-era & immediate post-Mao time but to my surprise this is still official policy and it is enforced as such.

However, the horror stories of the second/third/etc child being killed definitely seems to be a thing of the past. Instead, the parents get fined for every additional child. Sometimes pretty hefty amounts, although I get the impression that there isn't really a set regulation for it. As with everything here, the further away from Beijing, the less strict and controlled life is (that's my impression so far at least). Including the height of fines.

Actually, even with this policy China definitely has an abundance of kids! They seem to be everywhere. The future world leaders/consumers?

While waiting for the train, one thing struck me though: what happens when you have twins? Or worse: triplets or quadruplets?

The urban myth

Okay, for a few sentences we're back in Beijing, the Forbidden City to be exact.

Although in the Netherlands Starbucks luckily hasn't surfaced yet, it has in Asia in a big way. A few years ago I was told that it had gotten so bad that there was actually a Starbucks inside the Forbidden City. Almost unimaginable, but knowing Starbucks and having heard all the stories about China's uber-capitalism not completely unlikely either. I had always assumed the story to be true, although no-one had ever confirmed it either.

Walking around the Forbidden Citty this story came to mind again and I was expecting the Starbucks to pop out around any corner now. After a few hours of wandering through the Forbidden City and not having noticed a Starbucks, I happily concluded that this must be another urban myth and that none of it is true.

Leaving the Forbidden City, with my sense of how the world should be newly restored, an announcement came on.

A Korean man had been lost, and if he could please make his way to Starbucks to meet his wife...

September 05, 2006


Apparently, arro is 'hello' in Tibetan street talk.
At first I thought the monk was pulling my leg, until I realized that I do hear Tibetans greeting each other this way. I almost feel bad, here in Xiahe, that I can't even manage a few words of Chinese (ni hao & xie xie is still about the limit), let alone Tibetan! 'Cause that's what they speak here. Quite amazing and pretty unexpected as well. This place definitely doesn't feel like China anymore.
Did I mention before that this trip wasn't relaxing? Well, maybe not all of China, but Xiahe is definitely relaxing. I love it here. In a mountain valley, next to a river, the town consists pretty much of one street to one side of which is a huge Tibetan monastery. It's an amazing place.
I don't know much about Tibetan Buddhism but it's fabulously abundant and colourful compared to Chinese and especially Japanese Buddhism.
It also means that the main inhabitants in town are Buddhist monks, like the one who taught me two words of Tibetan after he had invited me to his house for tea. Actually, the monks have it much better than Chinese students it seems. The few students I met in Xi'an were telling me that they live in dorms with 8 girls or guys to a room, and with only electricity between 5 and 12pm. Although, besides one lonely lightbulb, I didn't see anything that needs electricity either in the monk's room. But at least he gets a private room!

I have one-and-a-half more days here, in which I hope to make it out to some grasslands nearby and just chill with the local monks. After that it's further northwest again: into the Gobi desert for the Western end of the Great Wall, sand dunes and caves.
P.S. This country *almost* beats Japan in the weird-brand-names-contest: currently I'm drinking WAHAHA purified water!
P.S.2. After seeing Xiahe, a visit to Lhasa - and especially Lhasa's surroundings - is now hight on the wish list. If only to find out what the eight treasures are in Tibetan tea, very yummy!

September 03, 2006

More train thoughts

Sunday night, and I'm at the end of my first week. I've started thinking about why exactly I'm doing this (yes, I'm overanalyzing). Why am I travelling through a country that I don't understand, where they don't understand me, while holidays are supposed to be relaxing?

Is this trip relaxing?

I'm writing again from a train. This seems to give me the best opportunity for actually chilling and sort of reflecting on what I'm doing. And that while I'm stuck in a hard seater carriage and have at least eight more hours through the night ahead of me (heading towards Lanzhou).

Before I got on, I was determined to fix an upgrade to a sleeper compartment. Hard seat seemed too much to comfortably handle. I haven't even bothered. This carriage is total chaos, and just for one night I think I can stick it out and just take in whatever's happening around me.

It's already had one good side-effect: I've gotten help figuring out the next train on Wednesday night. But still, is this trip relaxing?

It's an escape, it's overwhelming, it's forcing me to step out of my comfort zone, it's intense, but am not sure if it's relaxing.

Then again, I don't really think I was looking for that. If anything I needed to get out - even if only temporarily - and the more I think about it, maybe I needed some reassurance or a self-esteem boost. And if I pull off this trip (and really, three weeks is nothing!) I might just have that confidence back again to make all those long-awaited changes happen when I get back.

Xi'an impressions

The city needs a new station and a subway system. If those two things could be fixed a lot of the traffic problems would disappear and that would make the city very livable.

Because besides the crappy traffic it seems to have much of everything else: big city facilities, culture, history, good shopping (not in my European size, obviously), diverse population, a not-too-weird approach to tall blonde foreigners and an interesting countryside.

Supposedly the city is hot and dry in summer. The three days that I was there it was wet and sticky. Unfortunate, because the grey skies are kind of starting to get to me.

Besides the world famous terra cotta warriors, I was positively surprised to find that there's much more to see in the town. The city has restored its city walls, so I rode a bicycle across them. The drum tower in the middle of the city center has lots and lots of drums on display, so again I was pretty happy. The touts at the warriors aren't half as agressive as in Beijing, although the Muslim quarter makes up for that. But! The Muslim quarter has great streetfood. And in hindsight, I would have liked to do another trip out of the city to see some of the other tombs as well.

All in all, good weekend. Much nicer city than Beijing in my opinion.

Getting away from work

Even for me (in a dead-end job) that doesn't seem to be possible.

When I took up the plan of coming here for my holiday, reactions varied from 'wow, great!' to 'omg, how could you even consider going there by yourself?! You're crazy!'. The first one is the right one of course.

However, I got the second one much much more than I expected. Especially at the office. Everyone there was shocked and couldn't believe I was actually really going to go off holidaying by myself. Surprising, I thought, because my colleagues are all foreigners who've left their own country in pursuit of a career somewhere else. Admittedly, moving to the Netherlands doesn't score very high on the adventure-ranking.

Anyway, a lot of people have been suitably impressed but have also urged me to give some sign of life while on the road to let them know I'm doing okay.

So, me being the good girl that I am, I just sent out a long email to a group of people there telling them what I've been up to (because giving them my blog-url is taking things a step too far!).