World's top translated authors

According to UNESCO's Index Translationum:
1  Christie, Agatha  7135
2  Verne, Jules  4702
3  Shakespeare, William  4159
4  Blyton, Enid  3813
5  Lenin, Vladimir Il'ič  3592
6  Steel, Danielle  3559
7  Cartland, Barbara  3527
8  Andersen, Hans Christian  3394
9  King, Stephen  3220
10  Grimm, Jacob  2873
11  Grimm, Wilhelm  2850
(The numbers, I presume, is the total number of translations of these author's works into other languages since ca. 1979).


Cornell chimes

Looking at the Cornell University campus from the bell tower...
... while a musician plays on the chimes


China's cheapest train ticket

While new high-speed railway lines keep opening throughout China, and cheaper slower trains are replaced with faster and more expensive ones, it is nice to know that you can still go somewhere for just 1.5 yuan (about $0.25). This is the full fare from Shenyang to the nearby (16 km away) station Masanjia (马三家). According to Liao-Shen wan bao (辽沈晚报 a local newspaper in Shenyang), this is the fare class for the train no. 6366 (no letter in the name, which means it's the slowest and cheapest class), and the travel time is 42 minutes.

Admittedly, not everyone may want to travel to that particular travel destination. (Google Search is your friend...).

According to the published schedule, the train makes 3 intermediate stops between Shenyang and Masanjia; inquiring minds may want to know if the fare to some of them is even lower, but, according to Liao-Shen wan bao's fact checkers, the fare to all stations is the same 1.5 yuan.

Incidentally, this kind of local train service - 5 stations on a 10-mile section - is very rarely seen in today's China anymore. From a train, you see lots of small stations like this, with passenger platforms and everything, but when you look up a schedule web site, you see that there is no passenger service to them now. Presumably service existed years ago, but was abolished and replaced with buses. Short-distance, frequent-stop (commuter) train service, of the kind commonly seen in most European and some North American (New York, Chicago, Toronto) metropolitan areas is quite uncommon in China.


First frost, again

Sweet potatoes: in the ground...
This year, the spring in southern Indiana was very early, with shirtsleeves weather by mid-March. The first frost also came a bit earlier (around Oct 9) than the last year. Just a light patchy frost, completely killing only the "subtropical" type plants, such as the silk melon (AKA loofah 丝瓜), bitter melon (苦瓜), winter melon (冬瓜), the vines of sweet potatoes (山芋). This of course is a signal to harvest your

... and out.


Indiana University International Center: "dispersed"?

Leo R. Dowling International Center building, 1955-2012
Ms. Yuriria Rodriguez, a music graduate student from Indiana University Bloomington, raises an important issue for the university community: the "dispersal" of the university's International Center. Not having a Facebook account, I am commenting on the situation here.

Since 1955 and until the summer of 2012, IU's Leo R. Dowling International Center occupied a small, but adequate building in the heart of campus (Jordan Ave, just a block from the IU Auditorium and Herman B. Wells library). It hosted a great variety of events there: not just specialized meetings for IU's international students and faculty, but also events open to the general public, such as Friday lunch concerts, ethnic coffee hours, foreign language conversation groups, etc. I first got to visit the place exactly 20 years ago, when I was a graduate student at IU, and I have been visiting them ever since then, whenever I am in Bloomington.

This summer, the university authorities decided that fix what wasn't broken: the building apparently was needed for some other worthy cause (IU International Programs - that's about arranging a year abroad for IU students; their own building has perhaps become too small for them), and IC had to move. That would not be such a big deal if the center was to move to some other location in one piece. Alas, that was not to be the case. The "administrative" part of the center (i.e., offices for its staff, such as there is) went to Poplars (a former hotel, later turned into office building, a couple blocks west of campus); while events that required actual meeting space or performance space are to take place at a number of locations all over campus, mostly in various dorms, as it seems.

What floor are you at now?

Representatives of the affected student organizations wrote a complaining letter to the university president, and got a rather remarkable response. You see, "Despite all of our best efforts, very few domestic students venture into the International Center" (hmm... certainly not my observation), and kicking the center from its beloved building is somehow supposed to "facilitate greater interaction among domestic and international students." This seems a rather self-serving justification: maybe the residents of a particular residence hall would be more tempted to visit an event that takes place in their building, but there are, after all, maybe two dozen dorms on IUB campus; so the overall effect will be probably minuscule. On the other hand, the old (Jordan Ave) location was much more convenient for students, faculty, and staff to visit, as it was much more central. This was particularly important for events such as Friday lunch concerts: a graduate student or an IU staff member could easily enough walk to the center's old location from most major campus buildings during one's lunch break, but it is not so for the Willkie Residence Hall, to which the concerts have relocated now.

Perhaps more importantly, having such a variety of programs at the same location resulted in a certain level of synergy, as someone who came for one event would learn about others as well. If the issue was really the "visibility" to the wider university community, surely it could have been achieved in a lot of other ways - such as placing a big billboard with even announcements next to the IC, or doing more advertising on the university web site.



Dermenino, pop. 0

How do you get to Dermenino? Much of the year, you don't. In winter, the road is often blocked by snow; in the spring and fall, it's too muddy to get through. But this August, it was an easy trip.

The twice-a-day bus from Poshekhonye

The logging road enters the forest

To get to Dermenino (Дерменино), a village in the forests of north-central Russia, about half way between Rybinsk and Vologda, one needs first to get to Poshekhonye, the district capital, and the nearest town (pop. 6,000; distance from the closest train station, about 70 km; riverboat service, cancelled). From there, twice a day, local buses run another 60 km or so to the north to Andryushino. You get off at Vasilyevskoye (about 10 km before Andryushino), which is as far north as the paved road (such as there is) gets in these parts, and then you look for the track that leads farther north - to Dermenino, Menkovo, and Krasny Yar.

Whortleberry shrubs (черника), European dwarf cousins of American blueberry bushes

The track - which seems to begin in the backyard of a disused farm building - is a pretty straight dirt road. The dirt in "dirt road" may be understood quite literally a good part of the year, but this summer was quite dry, and the 5-km walk to Dermenino (you can also drive, if you have a suitable vehicle) was actually pretty good, although boring. There is, however, a more interesting way to get there: you can take a logging road to the northwest, and then hike east across the forest, fording the little river called Kisoma Volnaya (Кисома Вольная). For somebody who's used to hiking in more populated areas, the most remarkable thing here is that, once you're away from the woodlot, there are no visible traces of human presence: no trails, no cans or bottles or other trash, no cut trees... (Very different from, say North Vancouver's Grouse Mountain, where you can find anything, including an engine from a crashed American plane!).

Forest clearings made impassable by raspberry brambles. I happened to be there right at the peak fruiting time

The forest clearings, wherever they can be found, are almost completely occupied by dense raspberry brambles. I had been rather proud of a recent backyard garden project, where over three summer seasons I have expanded raspberry plantings from a two-meter-long row to perhaps the total of 20 meters, which allowed one to harvest maybe a pint or two of berries every day for three weeks. And here I am trying to make my way through something that looks like acres of raspberries, now (early August) all densely covered with ripe fruit. (With hardly a few hundreds of residents within 10-km distance - and probably zero within 3 km - it is no surprise that most raspberry patches never see a human picking the berries. I wonder if there are bears here, and what they are doing - but with this amount of berries, they are probably in a good mood. In some clearings there are also blueberries (more precisely, "whortleberries": fairly similar fruit, but with more intense taste, and growing on much smaller shrubs). There are also some lingonberries - the fruit that I had previously only seen in Lapland - but they are still green, as they should be. (The lingonberry season is usually a month or more later than the one for whortleberries).

The sign tells me where I am, but unfortunately I don't know how to read it. This is what the local lumberjacks must have used to orient themselves before the GPS.

As I am walking to the east, out of the deep forest and toward the Kisoma River and the "main" dirt road, I know that I am approaching the area that's at least theoretically populated, and expect to find some traces of the present (or former) residents' agricultural activities. The residents, however, are apparently long gone. There are clearing that must have been used for grazing, or for growing hay at some point - but by now they have shrubs and small trees growing on them. Obviously, noone has grazed cattle or cut hay here for at least a few years.

A better-preserved house in Dermenino...

...And one not so well preserved

Nice woodwork.

Once I reached the village itself, I expected to see some abandoned houses and some populated once, but, judging from the pattern of vegetation (as in, waist-high or chest-high weeds with not even a trail anywhere among them), it seemed that noone lives here anymore. I hope, of course, that I am wrong on this...

There are no actual trees growing on the streets and in the houses yet - just weeds, so far - which means that the last residents have left fairly recently.

The place even used to have street lamps at some point...

... but now wires are all gone

According to a posting on sobory.ru, Dermenino must have been a fairly important village for over a century, as it had its own church. According to that article, Dermenino's Church of the Epiphany, with additional altars in honor of the Nativity of Our Lady and of St. Philip Metropolitan of Moscow, was built ca. 1812-1814, and converted to the village school in 1934. The poster there, Maxim Leonidovich, actually has a photo of the building, but I did not happen to see it.

Some of the perennial flowers keep blooming among the weeds in front of houses whose residents are long gone

Empty bottles from a "bath elixir" in an abandoned house. Although the house most likely did not have a bathtub even in its better days, the residents must have found some creative way to use the product. According to labels on the empty 250 ml bottles, it is 88% alcohol, the rest being water and various herbal extracts.

A twig of a black currant bush, with absolutely delicious fruit, which tries to grow through the doorway (the door itself is gone) and into an abandoned house

The area is quite lovely, and although the latitude is 59 degrees north, they obviously have a decent growing season here. You sort of imagine how a few farming families could live here, keeping a herd of cows, making cheese, picking chanterelles in the forest, and filling the cellar with currant and raspberry jam for the winter. But I guess it just did not work out for anyone, what with the nearest paved road 5 km away, and, probably lots of other lots available for the taking, with similar conditions, but closer to civilization. Will people come back? Ten years from now? A hundred? Who knows...

This may have been one of the last letters received by anyone in Dermenino. As the address indicates, the village was served out of the post office in the nearby Menkovo, which is now closed.


Nizhny Novgorod Airport

On my previous trips to Russia, I traveled either by rail or via Moscow's airports (SVO, DME). I have always wanted to try flying via Nizhny Novgorod Strigino (GOJ), because most of my destinations are in the area, but never had a chance, as there are fairly few direct international flights to GOJ, and booking a desirable itinerary often is a lot more expensive than flying to Moscow and then taking a train.

Fortunately, United Airlines Mileage Plus miles can be used to book tickets including segments on Lufthansa, and this time I managed to book a through ticket from North America to Nizhny Nvgorod (IND-FRA-GOJ). The experience of flying into and out of GOJ turned out to be surprisingly agreeable. The least pleasant part of flying to Nizhny from FRankfurt was that both the departure to, and arrival from, GOJ are in the middle of the night: GOJ is truly a "peripheral" destination for Lufthansa, and they have only one plane a day going there... and not every day, either. The Lufthansa plane leaves FRA in the evening, spends just over an hour on the ground in GOJ around 3-4 am, and is back in Frankfurt early the next morning. I guess they use the same plane for some European flight(s) during the day. While the obvious disadvantage of such a schedule is that you won't get normal sleep on either of the nights of arrival or departure, the advantage is that you have enough time to make any of the day's connections in FRA - and may even have some time left for city sightseeing.

Nizhny Novgorod's Strigino Airport itself is pleasant enough. It's quite small (just one terminal - about the size of a train station in a middle-sized European or Chinese city), much smaller than you'd expect for a city of this size. But I guess Nizhny Novgorod residents don't fly out of their hometown airport all that much: as Moscow's airports, with much larger selection of destinations are only a night away by train. But seating is adequate, and there is even free Wi-Fi (most of the time.. throughout most of the terminal). There are several ATMs, and even an agent selling train tickets round the clock (at a 200 RUR commission).

The transportation connections to the city is fairly decent... lots better than in, say, Halifax. Several bus (or marshrutka, maybe... I don't know how to tell the difference anymore) lines run to the city starting some time before 6 am. The fare is 20 RUR, and, theoretically speaking, if you board the right bus and stay on the bus long enough, you can get to a variety of destination throughout the city. (In particular, no. 46 runs all the way to Kuznechikha, on the opposite side of the city - a 1.5 hr trip, I was told). In practice, it may be easier to get off as soon as the bus gets to a subway station (they all seem to stop at Park Kultury, which is Nizhny Novgorod Metro's southernmost station; about 20 m ), and go from there to anywhere the subway goes. (Now, at present the subway in Nizhny does not go too many places, but they are going to finally open a station in Gorky Square in November 2012, and this will somewhat change the situation).

Going back, the buses run until pretty late as well. The last airport-bound trip of the same no. 46 passes at Park Kultury quite a bit after 11 pm. I turned out to be the only passenger on that bus actually going all the way to the airport, and as the conductor said, if not for me, the driver probably would have just terminated the trip at Monchegorskaya St and go home to sleep. In any event, taking a taxi from Park Kultury to the airport probably would have been much cheaper than doing a similar thing in Moscow or most any major cities, as it is only a few kilometers.

The Lufthansa FRA-GOJ and GOJ-FRA flights were both fairly full, and there seemed to be a lot of activity in the airport, even throughout the night. They have direct flights not only to major Russian cities (as well as charters to some foreign resort destinations), but also to places like Turkey, Armenia, Uzbekistan, and Tadjikistan - some space for further travel adventures, I guess. So I certainly will try to book another ticket to GOJ if/when I need to go that way.


Nanjing to Nanjing in 12 hours

Ming Xiaoling, Nanjing City, Jiangsu Hekeng Village, Nanjing County, Fujian

Until recently, China's southeastern Fujian Province had much less of railway network than the country's other coastal provinces. This may have been partly due to the province's mountainous topography, partly due to strategic considerations (too close to Taiwan?). A few rail lines that existed in the province mostly followed zigzagging river valleys, connecting Fujian's coastal cities (Fuzhou, Quanzhou, Xiamen) with the nation's heartland.

In the 21st century the situation started to change. In April 2010, the coastal Fuxia (Fuzhou-Xiamen) Railway opened, connecting all major coastal cities of Fujian to each other and to the coastal cities further north (via Wenzhou, Ningbo, Hangzhou, and Shanghai). This coastal line is scheduled to be soon extended further southwest, all the way to Guangzhou.

In the mean time work started on high speed rail lines into the province's interior, cutting across mountains and valleys from the coastal cities to the inland centers. The first of them, the Longxia (Longyan-Xiamen) Railway opened on June 29, 2012. It may potentially become a convenient way of accessing Fujian's tulou country, as it will actually have a so-called Nanjing Station (南靖站), halfway between Zhangzhou and Longyan.

Now, this Nanjing is Nanjing County, Fujian (南靖), not to be confused with the better known Nanjing City, Jiangsu (南京)。The way maps show the new line, it actually runs through the eastern part of the county, so the station will be probably quite a ways to the east of Nanjing County's county seat (Shancheng Town), while most of the well-known tulou sites are some 30+ km to the west of Shancheng. Still, the new Nanjing Station is just 50 min from the centrally located Xiamen station, while getting to Nanjing County from Xiamen by bus may easily take close to 2 hours; so I have no doubts that some local transportation services between Nanjing Station and the touristy tulou area in the west of the county will become available soon.

Xiamen Railway Station now offers service both to Nanjing, Fujian (南靖) and to Nanjing, Jiangsu (南京). Make sure to get tickets to the right station!

Looking at the schedules, the new Longxia line will mostly have trains circulating between Longyan and Xiamen, as well as those continuing beyond Xiamen along the coastal line all the way to Fuzhou. Interestingly, there is actually one train coming to Fujian all the way from Nanjing, Jiangsu! It follows the newly built high-speed lines in a rather intricate pattern, tracing China's south-east coast: from Nanjing (Jiangsu) south-east to Shanghai, then southwest to Hangzhou, east to Ningbo, southwest to Wenzhou, Fuzhou, and Xiamen, and finally north-west to Nanjing (Fujian) and Longyan. According to the posted schedule, it takes 12 hours 15 minutes from Nanjing (Jiangsu) to Nanjing (Fujian), with 3 provincial-capital-level cities in between (Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Fuzhou). (For comparison, a "traditional" Nanjing-Xiamen train, taking an inland route, takes over 30 hours.)

With the travel time like this, it probably would have been a lot more practical if it were an overnight train, but, alas, very few high-speed (D-series) trains (and none of the fastest, G-series ones) in China operate at night, presumably because the authorities want to reserve the night time for safety inspection, maintenance, etc.


China Medical Technologies: the end of the story?

On June 27, an analyst suggested that CMEDY (former CMED) shareholders should take profits as the stock had soared to $10 (from, essentially, the penny-stock region). They sure should have - except that many probably did not have a chance to, as the next day SEC suspended trading in this stock (which had been delisted from NASDAQ's main board in February, and has been traded on the pink sheets since then). Supposedly, the suspension is just for two weeks - but I somehow I am guessing that even if trading indeed resumes after July 13, there won't be much "profits" to take anymore...


China Medical (CMEDY)

Curious things are happening in the stock market. The stock price of China Medical (CMEDY on Pink Sheets, formerly CMED on NASDAQ) has gone up 10-fold over the last several months (from the low of US $0.60 to over $9 on June 26, 2012), just as the company bondholders are about to drive CMEDY into bankruptcy. In Cayman Islands, no less - this is where China Medical (and, apparently, quite a few other Chinese companies whose stock is traded on international securities markets) is registered.

There apparently have been no news from the company's management for a long time - it is politely described as "non-communicative" by commentators. The company website is frozen in time, quoting CMED's stock price at the moment when the stock was delisted (March 31, 2012), with the last news item dated December 2011. So there are only speculations as to who/what drives up the company's stock price. Some say it's a "short squeeze" situation. Well, it's certainly a possibility. One can get some idea of the availability of the company's stock for short-selling by looking at the fees short-sellers have to pay to borrow CMEDY shares to short. Typically such fees range within a few percents, more often fraction of a percent, in annual terms; for CMEDY, the rate at present is at the incredible 32.5%. So even if you can borrow shares, and your position is not forcibly closed at an inopportune time, it is expensive to short CMEDY: even if you are lucky and buy at the the top, the stock price has to decline at least by 1/3 over a year in order for you to break even. And of course if somebody - perfectly rationally - chose to short that stock when it was at $4 a couple months ago, he may be simply wiped by the stock price increase, even not thinking about the interest.

On the opposite side of the equation, this also means that an investor who has a long position in CMEDY, and lends his shares to short-sellers, can get some fraction of that money, if his broker is of the kind that passes on some this fee to the lender. At Interactive Brokers, they called it the "yield enhancement" program, and the "net fee" that the (long) investor get is one half of the gross rate paid by the borrower (the short-seller), i.e. 16% p.a. But I would not recommend to anyone the strategy of buying this stock with the intent to lend it to short-sellers and to collect one's interest: the rate may amount to 16% per year, but how much of the principal will you have left after a year if you buy this stock at at the present price (or perhaps at any price)?

No disclosure: I don't have a CMEDY position, long or short, anymore :-)

P.S. The Chinese "face" of the company known in the Cayman Islands and the USA is apparently called "Beijing Yuande Bio-Medical Engineering Co., Ltd." (北京源德生物医学工程有限公司). They have a website, but it does not even have a "News" section.


Head and shoulders above the rest... well, one shoulder anyway

(This is an expanded version of a review for a Fujian road atlas and other atlases from the same series on Amazon.cn)

If you travel, you need maps. Even more so, if you travel "off the beaten track", bicycling or hiking. If you like maps in general, traveling also gives you pretext to shop for maps, and to learn what kind of maps are published in each country you visit.

China travelers are actually supplied with maps pretty well. Every big book store (what they'd call a 书城, "Book City" - there are at least a couple in every provincial capital) would have a fairly well-stocked map department; smaller versions are found in local book stores (mostly, the Xinhua chain) in prefectural and most county-level cities. Besides the city maps, of which I am not talking now, what you need for the countryside travel are provincial atlases. A typical atlas, selling for about CNY10 (less than $2), would have perhaps 30 pages, with one map (a two-page spread) per a prefecture-level unit (there are about a dozen or more in each province). The scale is usually around 1:500,000 - 1:1,000,000 in the more densely populated areas, or 1:2,000,000 or even less in the desert western areas. These are basically detailed road maps, primarily targeted to motorists; but for a bicyclist they are more convenient (and usually more detailed, too) than thick glossy national or regional highway atlases. They show all towns and townships (镇 zhen, 乡 xiang), and a few more major villages (村 cun ); railways and stations; all National (G) and state (S) and some county (X) roads, as well as major tourist attractions. The legend is usally all in Chinese, of course; but even if you don't speak the language, the map vocabulary is not that hard to learn. (You probably will need most of it to read road signs anyway...).

Some of the same publishers also produce provincial wall maps with essentially similar scale and content. Some travelers like them more (see Marian Rosenberg's article on Star Maps Publishing), but I'd rather pack an atlas into my bag, and get a map to hang on a wall.

Getting an atlas for the province you're currently in usually is not problem, as most good bookstores in the province would carry at least one edition. For out-of-the-province atlases, it is more of a hit and miss: a major "Book City" may have 2-3 competitors' atlases for the "home" province, and maybe also atlases for a dozen or more other provinces, but it's somewhat hard to predict which ones. If you have time and a fixed address in China, ordering from Amazon.cn is often your best bet. As of the early 2012, Amazon.cn take cash on delivery for many books, so you don't even need a Chinese credit card.

Most publishers update their atlases every year or two; still, some may be rather out of date, despite the purportedly recent publication date. And yes, occasionally you may encounter a "fantasy road" (in reality, a river of mud, or a construction site) or a "fantasy bridge" (in reality, a ferry). Occasionally, there are bigger bloopers: I've seen a few maps of this kind that manage to show Lüshun, Liaoning without its famous harbor. Hmm, maybe fighting the Battle of Port Arthur in was a mistake?

There are several competing publishers some with multiple maps series - Star Map Press (星球地图出版社), SinoMaps 中国地图出版社, Dizhe Chubanshe 地址出版社 (i.e., Geology Publishers) with their Dipper (北斗) series, and a few others. Which ones to buy, if you have choice?

Hey, my cheaper atlas said this was National Highway 209!

The best series of provincial atlases that I have seen is the one published by Star Map Press, and labeled 军民双用 (Jun-min liang yong, "Civil and military use"). They of course are nothing like real military topographic maps, but have better scale than other similar maps (1:300,000 for most provinces) and correspondingly better level of detail.

They may not be as good as you can see on an on-line maps, such as on maps.google.com or ditu.sogou.com - but that assumes that the online maps have a good coverage of the region of interest - which is not always the case! Still, the rivers and the switchbacks on the roads allow you to get some idea of what the terrain is like. These atlases are a bit thicker and more expensive than those of the competitors, or than Star Map's own "lightweight" provincial road atlases series (中国分省公路丛书) (maybe CNY15-18 instead of CNY9-12), but are certainly worth the trouble getting if you're cycling, hiking, hitchhiking (usual disclaimer: not recommended!), or making use on "very local" buses.

The reader should be warned that atlases from this Jun-min liang yong series are pretty hard to come by in shops, though, especially outside of the province in question. Exceptionally, I saw an almost complete selection of them in Quanzhou's "Book City" (the underground one, in the park near Quanshan Gate), but elsewhere you'd only see a couple of them at best, often for some random province you don't need. Amazon.cn, however, sells pretty much all of them (and at a discount to the cover price, too!). For example, here's one for Yunnan, or for Fujian. And here's Tibet and Xinjiang

Star Map Press' Jun-min liang yong atlases are to be commended for their economical use of space: instead of allocating one page per prefecture, and wasting a lot of paper this way, their maps correspond to squares of a province-wide grid. (There is still a table of content, which identifies pages by the major cities located there). The publisher also avoids the annoying "feature" present in the Dipper provincial atlases, which are padded with rather unnecessary single-page maps of adjacent provinces and their capital cities. (Which results in a huge duplication of space if one buys several provinces' atlases).

Overall, Star Map Press' Jun-min liang yong product truly stands out head and shoulders above the competition. Well, maybe one shoulder: despite generally better quality than the rest of the breed, this series has some minor, but annoying, shortcomings, even in comparison with more commonly available atlases:

It sort of helps if your map shows the same villages that the local bus schedules do, doesn't it?
  • Somewhat strange choice of populated places to show. It is actually a fairly common thing with online maps (like Google Maps): when you zoom in, the map shows smaller villages, but sometimes stops showing labels for some larger populated places. This is not much of an issue with an online map, but when you see it happens when you switch from a "worse" to a "better" paper map, it's annoying. For example, on the road (S207) from Xiazhai to Xiaoxin in Pinghe County, the less detailed SinoMaps atlas shows five villages (彭林 Penglin,长汀 Changting,枫埔 Fengpu,旧楼 Jiulou,厝丘 Cuoqiu), pretty much all of which are indeed landmarks: they are signed on the ground, and listed in the schedule of a local bus (which, helpfully, is posted at each stop along the road). On the other hand, Star Maps' more detailed Jun-min liang yong atlas choose to show a completely different set of villages along this route - of which only one appears on the locally posted bus schedules!
  • Similar to the competitors' products, these maps do show some of the railways and highways that are under construction (labeled as such). However, they certainly could show more of them - surely such construction projects usually take a few years, and detailed plans ought to be available to the mapmakers. It is particularly annoying that even when these maps show railways under construction, they don't indicate the location of the stations - which is something that the traveler need the most. The Fujian atlas doesn't even mark stations on the new Fuzhou-Xiamen high-speed railway, even though it must have been about to open when the atlas was printed.
  • Rather strangely for mass-market maps (perhaps, taking the series name too seriously?) the Jun-min liang young series is quite stingy with showing the location of various tourist attractions. For example, out of the thousands of the Fujian Tulou, only 10 individual sites are specifically entered on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Surely it is appropriate to mark them all (as some of the cheaper maps do)? But Jun-min only show three of them. Similarly, among Fujian's famous bridges, Jun-min shows the Anping Bridge but not the Luoyang Bridge - even though most competitors usually show both. Such omissions are unfortunate, because many road signs show directions and distances to such objects, so being able to locate them on the maps is quite beneficial even for travelers who aren't interested in these attractions per se.
  • The Jun-min liang young atlases probably show more of the county routes (the "X-series" roads) than other atlases, but they never label them. Some writers (see e.g. Marian Rosenberg's article) claim that no maps label them, but this is incorrect: for example, SinoMaps' Fujian road atlas (福建省公路里程地图册, from their 中国分省公路里程地图册系列 series) clearly shows and labels them all. These roads are important for country side travel, and at least in some counties they are signposted (even if not always consistently). There is no reason why a 1:300,000 map should omit these labels!



Hekeng Village, general view. As usual, all images are clickable.

[Previous: Kinmen ferries] - 2012-03-01 - [Next: To the Tulou Great Wall]

Hekeng Village (河坑村), or Hekeng Tulou Cluster, is one of the 10 sites collectively inscribed as the "Fujian Tulou" on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is indeed a complete village, with a dozen or so full-size tulou, plus some smaller adobe buildings. Now, there are probably a lot more than ten villages in Fujian's "Tulou Country" (primarily, Nanjing, Yongding, and Pinghe Counties) where one can find a dozen tulous, but Hekeng is remarkable for its absence of out-of-style "modern" (concrete) buildings - neither in the village itself, nor anywhere in site. So the entire village got inscribed as a heritage site, unlike, for example, Gaobei Village, where the "official" heritage site only includes the famous Chengqi Lou and a few neighbors.

The village temple. I suppose a feng shui expert was retained to site it correctly, with the hill behind and a water feature in front.
Same temple, with ducklings enjoying the water feature. (Plenty of ducks in the area, in general)
The ducklings

Unlike Gaobei or Hongkeng, surrounded by parking lots and full of vendors and other accoutrements of tourist trade, Hekeng apparently still is not on the tourist circuit. There are a few information plaques here and there, but that's about it. Probably, tourist buses stop here occasionally (this, after all, is just off the newly redone X562 - the main road from Xiamen and Shuyang to Gaobei and Yongding), but there were none during my visit. The place looks like a perfectly normal living and working village, and most tulous are still lived in.

Hekeng's Yuchang Lou. (The name is used elsewhere as well). With some seating in front of the main entry, motorcycle parking space, and space for laundry, the ancient tulou has many of the important features one expects of a 1970s Soviet apartment building.

Look-into-a-tulou (Yuchang Lou)

Inside Yongsheng Lou - one tulou that seems to be mostly deserted. Whenever you enter a tulou, there is this immediate feeling of a contrast between a hot sunny day outside, and a cooler, shady environment inside, as evidenced by the mossy floor.


Bus stop at Qujiang, with half a dozen buses a day to Xiamen.

As one goes west, Qujiang is the next village after Hekeng. It is less than a quarter mile away, but you can't see it from Hekeng (or vice versa), because they are separated by the shoulder of a small mountain, with a short tunnel taking the new road through it. (In the past, it must have been a longer drive or walk between the two villages). Qujiang is rather bigger than Hekeng; it may have as many tulous as Hekeng does, but they are now interspersed with modern buildings, such as the local school complex (which probably serves several nearby villages, including Hekeng).

Link: more pictures of Hekeng and Qujiang.

[Previous: Kinmen ferries] - 2012-03-01 - [Next: To the Tulou Great Wall]


Before Matteo Ricci: the first century of Sino-European interaction

The Anping Bridge - one of the famous ancient bridges of Fujian, built from giant stone blocks, over which Galeote Pereira and his fellow detainees were carried to Fuzhou 450 years ago - has been restored, even though the sea estuary it used to cross is now mostly dry land. (沧桑!。。。)
(This is a slightly modified version of my book review of "South China in the Sixteenth Century (Paperback)" on Amazon.com

Orchid Press seems to be in the business of reprinting older Western books about Asia, and they seem to be able to find titles that are worthy of reprinting. Although I have not seen this reprint of theirs, I have read the original edition, "South China in the Sixteenth Century (1550-1575): Being the Narratives of Galeote Pereira, Fr Gaspar Da Cruz, Op , Fr Martin De Rada, Oesa, (1550-1575) (Hakluyt Society Second Series, 1953)", and can congratulate the publisher on making this valuable book more easily available to modern readers.

Many books on the intellectual exchange between China and Europe, such as D.E. Mungello's excellent treatise on Jesuits in China, seem to begin the discussion with Matteo Ricci, viewing everything that happened earlier as a "pre-history" of sorts. In a sense, this is justified, as it were Ricci and his colleagues who made a true "exchange" a reality, as they were the first Europeans capable to directly communicate on a serious level with the Chinese intellectual elites.

However, the "pre-history" - the 70 years of failed, or only partially successful, attempts of establishing a line of communication between the two cultures (counting from the first arrival of the Portuguese to the China coast ca. 1513 and to Ricci and Ruggieri's moving from Macao to Zhaoqing to live there full-time in 1583) are also of great interest for historians. As Donald Lach notes, the first decades of these contacts were marked by almost total blackout imposed by the Portuguese on the publication of the information collected by them in East Asia. For the earliest reports of the Sino-Portuguese interactions, one should see Ferguson's "Letters from Portuguese captives in Canton, written in 1534 & 1536" (1902), which is out of print, but whose full text is available on Google Books. Chronologically, that is followed by the accounts of the contemporary Portuguese historians, João de Barros and Fernão Lopes de Castnheda. After that, it is the turn of the sources translated and annotated by C.R. Boxer in the book under review.

In this book, first published in 1953, C.R. Boxer's did a great job of presenting the 3 most important first-hand accounts of Europeans' visits to China in the 1550s-1570s.

The original stone city of Quanzhou that so much impressed early European visitors has been mostly lost, but Quanshan Gate has been restored, and even got a couple turtles to guard it!

Galeote Pereira was, essentially, a Portuguese smuggler, detained for customs and immigration violations, as well as resisting arrest, in 1549. He spent a year in a Fuzhou prison, waiting for his death, and then - after a review of his and his compatriots' case by an inspector from Beijing - several more years in exile in Guangxi. After escaping, he wrote a rather desultory, but still fascinating, account of his experiences, later published by the Jesuits.

Gaspar da Cruz was a Dominican friar, who had widely traveled throughout the Portuguese colonial empire in Asia, and - after failing to convert any Cambodians to Catholicism - tried his hand, apparently, without much more success, in Guangzhou. Back in Portugal, he published (in 1569/1570) a small book that is considered the very first European book specifically about China. (As opposed to a chapter or two about China in Marco Polo or in Barros).

Martín de Rada was a Spanish Augustinian, who led a Spanish delegation to Fujian in 1575, with a view of setting up a permanent missionary system in China, and maybe even getting a small offshore island near Amoy (Xiamen) for the Spaniards' use, similar to the Macao had by the Portuguese. (Isn't it interesting how the "spiritual" and imperialist motives coexisted in so many early missionary stories?) The mission failed, for reasons not related to de Rada's own performance, but de Rada bought a lot of Chinese books in Fujian, and after coming back wrote extensively about the country, based both on his 4 months' experience there and the information translated to him from these books by the Chinese merchants ("Sangleys") living in the Philippines.

Later on, Pereira's, Cruz's and Rada's writings all became the basis for The History of the Great and Mighty Kingdom of China and the Situation Thereof, published by Mendoza in 1585 - which was to remain a European bestseller for the next 30 years, but became virtually forgotten after being superseded by Ricci's book (1615) and other Jesuits' works.

Nonetheless, the writings of the two Portuguese and one Spaniard collected and translated by C.R. Boxer, and provided by him with an erudite preface and notes, are certainly worth reading. Maybe not so much for what they tell about the Ming China - there are, after all, lots of great modern books on the topic - but for what they tell us about the Iberians' early attempts to understand the country around them. They have made some correct observations, and also have said some things that are laughable ... but, all of it put together, this was, in a sense, a foundation on which the first generation of European scholars of China (i.e., mostly Jesuits starting with Ruggieri and Ricci) were to build.

P.S. There is apparently a more recent, 2010 reprint. For some reason Amazon pages for different editions don't automatically link to each other (as they usually would), so I am putting in this link as a service to the community.


The home of the pomelo

Crossing from Yongding County to Pinghe County
Previous: to the Tulou Great Wall -- (2012-03-04) --

I would not have minded staying in the Nanxi Valley for another day, but it was already time for me to leave the tulou country, get to a train station, and back to Wuhan. There are no railways in the "tulou heartland", but a couple railway lines skirt the tulou counties from the northeast and northwest. So I had a few options. The most interesting, and my original plan, was to continue to the south, via Fujian southernmost counties and to Guangdong's seaside Shantou city; but due to a number of delays early on, I did not have time for this anymore. The next time, perhaps... The next most attractive option was to go north, to Longyan, through which one of the Xiamen-Wuhan trains runs. So if I had thought about it, I could have booked myself a ticket on that train, and had a choice of backtracking to the Xiamen/Zhangzhou area or pushing on to Longyan. But I had not thought of that in advance, and realized now that the ticket I had was for a train that does not run through Longyan. (Instead, it was to leave Fujian through a different route, via Zhangpu and Wuyishan). So I decided to go back to Zhangzhou, through which all trains leaving Xiamen for China's hinterland have to pass.

S309 climbing out of the Nanxi Valley

Still, there were actually two options. One, backtrack via Shuyang Town and Nanjing County. Two, take S309 south to Luxi Town, and then go east via Pinghe County. I chose the latter option, wondering what kind of road is ahead of me.

Indeed I had to wonder: as of the early 2012, Google Maps shows the new S309 route, going from the north, end in the middle of the Nanxi Valley, although sogou.com and printed maps show it going all the way through to Luxi and beyond. The truth, as I was to found out later this day, was to lie somewhere in the middle.

A shrine in the field, a familiar Fujian sight. (Upper Nanxi Valley)

As I left Shijia Village, the new road (S309) continued - and it was obvious that it was very new, with some construction work not finished yet. Certainly no mile markers, and few signs. Dense human population ended after Shijia, although a few scattered farmhouses and tulous could still be seen for a while here and there on the valley's slopes.

The mountains that separate Yongding County (where Nanxi Valley is) and Pinghe County (where Luxi is the first town) are not particularly high; according to Google Maps Terrain view, the elevation at the pass is somewhere between 800 and 1000 m. (Pretty much the same as on the Kettle Valley Railway between Penticton and Kelowna...) Still, they are pretty steep, and the terrain necessitated quite a bit of engineering tour de force on the part of the designers and builders of the new S309 (the one that Google Maps don't show yet; the Google Maps satellite view photos, being somewhat out of date, show the road still very much under construction). (I don't know how this range is actually called; some maps have Bopingling Range (博平岭) written all across the region, but I think that name properly applies only to a rather more northerly area, closer to Longyan City).

The traffic was very light; at some point, I saw a truck maybe a hundred meters below me (a kilometer or so by the road), and I saw that same truck - and no other vehicles - for the next 15 minutes, as it was gradually catching up with me on the winding road. At some point, there was a sign for a junction with what apparently had been the main road of the Nanxi Valley _before_ the new S309 was built: and that, of course, was just a dirt road with stones of all sides liberally mixed in.

S309: An occasional washout. (The green stripes on the hill slopes on the horizon are the mesh fabric used to cover newly exposed soil above the new roadway, where a retaining wall is going to be constructed later)

In many areas the slopes above the new road were covered with green mesh; presumably, this is where concrete retaining walls will be built soon. One could see construction teams with their trucks and bulldozers at a few places, putting finishing touches on the road itself, or fixing a washout.

When going over the main mountain pass - from Yongding County to Pinghe County - I'd occasionally see grapefruits (or, rather, pomelos) scattered along the road side. Pinghe County, as I was to learn the next day, was famous for its pomelos, but how did they get here, far from the orchards? It would be a strange idea for someone to drive 10 km (and climb at least 500 m) just to throw out some pomelos, and, anyway, most of them did not even look spoiled. I hope it was simply the case of a few boxes or bags of the fruit falling off a truck (or just a motorcycle, as the case may have been) taking them from Pinghe County to some market in the north, rather than that of a fruit-laden truck falling into the precipice, leaving just a few fruit behind! I picked a couple, and they are turned out pretty big.

Hengkeng, one of the first farmsteads on the Pinghe side of the county line

Eventually the road started going downhill, and soon the first villages belonging to Luxi Town, the first town of Pinghe County, appeared. Once in the populated area, the one kind of sign you'd notice was the one painted over all kind of stone markers or just fences: a promise to buy turtles (乌龟) at a good price, with the turtle purchaser's mobile phone number. I guess I should be glad I am not a turtle...

I am glad I am not a turtle!

I decided not to go to Luxi itself (which did not look that attractive from the road), but to continue for another 20 km or so to Xiazhai, the next town, over another minor mountain range. After about 3/4 of the way, I was out for a surprise: a few kilometers before Zhongteng Village (钟腾村) the new road suddenly ended at a construction site - apparently, the next few kilometers were still very much under construction, with gravel being laid and concrete being poured; there was no way through even for a bicycle. So now I knew why the traffic had been so light...

It was dark already, and going back would be silly, so I followed the "detour" such as there was - a dirt road climbing a mountain slope. The recent rain had turned the "road" into something that looked more like a river of mud. It was not of course all that different from any other dirt roads one would find in these mountains, so coming to a fork you'd try to figure the right direction by looking at vehicles' tracks, or waiting for a vehicle to pass - hopefully, in the right direction.

At some point, the dirt road came to a large and well-built rural house, almost a villa, from which music was heard, and I had a momentary doubt: maybe all those (few) cars I had seen had just being going to the villa owner's party, rather than following the detour? But I told myself that going back would be even sillier, and kept one; sure enough, after a while the lights of a truck coming in the opposite direction showed in the dark, and in another 10 min perhaps we met and passed each other; so this was a detour road indeed. It felt like navigating this river of mud took forever, but in reality probably it wasn't more than an hour. Eventually, I was back on the road, with enough clay stuck to my bike to build a tulou.

Xiazhai's tire shop & hotel

Pretty much every Chinese town (zhen) has at least one hotel of some kind, but Xiazhai's main street did not seem to have prominent signs for any kind of accommodation. Despite the late hour, a noodle shop was open, and the people working it were quite positive that a hotel was right there, on the next block, "right where they are fixing cars".

Morning in Xiazhai. Looking back to the hills I had come from the day before.

Well, there was indeed a tire shop there which I had already passed without paying much attention to; only now did I realize that there ~was~ indeed an "accommodation" sign on this building too! As it turned out, the owners (who apparently owned two building, across the street from each other) operated on a rather unique business model: tire shop downstairs and hotel rooms upstairs! The rate was rather high for a small town like this (80Y), but the room was nice, although with a little quirk: the manager was apparently very reluctant to give guests room keys, even for an additional deposit. (This is something I saw often in rural Hubei in 2008, but never since). Anyway, I got the key (although she came to collect it early the next morning, way before the actual checkout time), and got a good sleep on my last Fujian night.

This is where China's Walmart gets its pomelos (according to the sign)

In the morning, Xiazhai looked pretty nice. It is a local center for a thriving citrus fruit industry (apparently, "Pinghe County honey pomelos" are famous; they even have their own blog, in English), and had a nice farmers market just a block from my hotel, but there was not much to do here. I decided to leave early, and ride to Pinghe County seat (Xiaoxi Town), with a few detours to interesting sites along the road, and then take a bus from Pinghe to Zhangzhou.

Kids riding home from school

The front (southern) wall of Xishuang Lou: all stages of decomposition

One place I decided to see was Xishuang Lou (西爽楼), which the "exemplary tulous" table Huang Hanmin's book described as a huge rectangular tulou originally built in 1696. It was in Xi'an Village, a couple kilometers north of town along a pleasant rural road running across pomelo orchards. (This road actually continues to Luxi, and, according to the locals, is in fact the main route taken now by the traffic that would have gone on S309 if it had not been closed for construction). As it turned out - and which, alas, is fairly typical - Xishuang Lou is mostly in ruins, with just a few sections still standing.

Xishuang Lou: southern and eastern wall, or what's left of them
Unlike Rome's Coliseum, which has withstood 2000 years of neglect, a tulou needs to be lived in and cared for in order to survive. If the wooden roof is damaged, the rainwater soon will erode the walls; wooden framework may start falling apart, taking more of the rood with it, and sooner than you can say "deferred maintenance", you'll end up with a huge pile of clay. I had seen all the stages of this process in the numerous partially damaged, mostly dilapidated, or fully fallen apart tulous along my route, but at the gigantic Xishuang Lou, it seemed, you could observe all these stages at the same site. The front gate area was nicely repaired, though.

A round tulou in Xili village (Xiazhai Town): outside...

... and inside. Most residents have apparently moved to more modern housing nearby.

To be continued...