This is arguably the most interesting sign I have seen in my many travels in China. I found it over a urinal while walking the back streets of Nanjing in search of yet another section of the 700 year old city wall (do not ask me why I was in a urinal with a camera …).

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It all depends on cultural interpretation. This morning, as I was enjoying a walk in a small park under some trees, I felt a spatter of something on my head and shoulders. Is it raining? I wondered. The sky was clear, or as clear as it gets in spring in Beijing. The squawk of a bird above me told me otherwise. It had crapped on me.

Back to my apartment I went, washing my shirt and head, before heading out again. I had arranged to meet some Chinese students on our way to the opening of the Beijing office of the University of Newcastle. They told me that this experience was incredible good luck.

Why? I had received a ‘golden gift from the sky’. When I told them I had experienced, back home, a seagull doing the same thing a couple of months ago, they opined that I am indeed very lucky. I must admit that I am hoping this kind of luck does not become a habit.

Yes, indeed. This is from the train that took me last year from Pyongyang to Beijing. A preparation for a series of photographs on the DPRK (North Korea) – which I have at last finished processing:

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It reads: xian ren zhibu, which would be better translated as ‘no loitering’.

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology has come up with an easy way to measure what they call your fitness age – without having to exhaust yourself on a treadmill (with the same result). They have put the calculator here.

For me, the vital statistics are:


How often do you exercise? Almost every day.

How long is your workout each time? 30 minutes or more.

How hard do your train? I go all out

Age: 52

What does your waistline measure in cm? 80

What is your resting pulse (per minute)? 46

Estimated fitness age: under 20!

In the spirit of Lenin the hiker, I would like to offer the following tips for walking in the mountains hereabouts.

1. Keep your rucksack snug on your back, for otherwise it swings wildly and sends you careening down precipices.

2. Equally, tie your boots firmly, for otherwise the gentle rubbing over 30 km has the curious knack of producing blisters.

3. Harry high-pants! If not, that couple of centimetres between belt and rucksack has a tendency to pinch and rub.

4. Avoid precipitous descents and climbs, with tree roots, fallen logs, mud and leaches … when the sun is setting!

5. Set yourself reasonable targets with a laden rucksack, full of food, water, camping gear and whatnot for a few days. Otherwise, you enter a liminal zone and arrive at your stop in a bewildered state.

6. Speaking of leaches, be generous: give blood for a good cause. They need it. So refrain from using salt, insect repellent or burning cigarette ends on those innocent creatures.

7. Carry enough water. You never know if you will need to pitch camp – yes, a tent is the only way to sleep – in a dry location.

8. Washing? That’s part of conspiracy by manufacturers of soap, shampoo and detergent. Since the vast majority of human beings throughout our history have had two washes in their lives, at birth and death, let the natural colonies of bacteria flourish. Take socks, for instance: you can switch feet and then turn them inside out on each consecutive day. That evens the wear, for at least four days or more. And the seriously powerful aroma of days-old socks is a wonder to behold. The same applies to undies.

On my recent stroll, I can claim to have adhered to only the last three, at least on the first day. It was a hike, in my beloved Watagan Mountains, with three mountain ranges each way, on a track with a devil-may-care attitude to the niceties of gentle inclines and declines. That’s for wimps. Straight up and down is the way to go.

There was the track, idyllic one moment …

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… impossible to discern the next:


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There was the backpack, made by my late father, with food, water, camping gear and clothes for a few days:

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Ah no, this is it:


Note the Harry high-pants:

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There was the tree:

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The camping spot:

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The cooking fire:

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The extraordinary views:

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The glimpse of what I needed to climb to get home:

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And there was the wombat turd. They like a clean slate to do their thing:


Can’t wait for another dose.

Summer is still here, or at least the water is still warm and the sun is shining every day. So I’m off to so some Great North Walking. The whole walk covers 250 km of mostly bushland between Newcastle and Sydney, but I will do a section of it in the Watagan Mountains, camp for a bit and enjoy the company of the leaches. And after much thought, I have decided not to attempt setting a new running record for the whole route. That record stands at a little over 54 hours by these two crazy runners.

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It’s becoming a bit of a tradition: the ‘Radicals’ Walk’, during which we walk out to the north breakwater of the harbour, engage in deep political and philosophical discussion, plot world domination … Usually it’s Tim and I, but we may invite the occasional visiting comrade to join us from time to time. At the tail end of a massive storm, I slipped down for a reconnaissance, just to make sure the ‘coast’ was clear. But this is what I found. The small watchtower marks the end of the northern breakwater:

But just when I thought it might be fine for a stroll tomorrow … the first one hit:

And then another:

Matters became a little more ominous:

Even if you are a radical, a little wisdom never goes astray.

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