Tag Archives: Photographs

Trinidad rain and sunshine on the north coast


A Saturday free (apart from those pesky e-mails) in Trinidad provided a great opportunity to get to know the island a little better (e-mails should be for offices, and people with nothing better to do!).  Thanks to Clint Ross for taking Marcel and me on pot-holed roads, through torrential rain, and avoiding the snake on the way…  It has to be one of the first times I have ever taken a spare day after a conference to go exploring. I must learn to do this more often.  Sorry to all of those still wanting a reply to an e-mail – I’m thinking of revising my policy specifically to exclude sending e-mails at the weekend!  I will have to find time to come back to the Asa Wright Nature Centre and go for long walks in the hills…

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Exploring Wuwei


Thanks to the wonderful hospitality of my assistant Chen Fei’s family, we were introduced over the last couple of days to the fascinating diversity of the area in the vicinity of Wuwei, in north-west central Gansu.  The city is situated along the Hexi corridor, leading westwards into central Asia, and has been subject to numerous cultural influences.  We had a kaleidoscope of experiences, including visiting the tomb where the famous bronze galloping horse treading on a flying swallow was found, wandering around the Confucius temple in Wuwei, walking in the desert at the edge of the city, learning all about how to serve and drink different types of Chinese tea, and then finishing up walking in the mountains near Tianzhu and being entertained by Tibetan dancers over lunch.  It was a brilliant time, and owed everything to the generosity of our hosts.

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Arrival in Lanzhou


We arrived in Lanzhou  from Beijing last night.  What a difference from my last visit almost exactly six years ago!  The Yellow River remains the same, but the number of high rise buildings and the amount of traffic are vastly increased.  Two dinners and a lunch later, the food has been wonderful – thanks so much to the generous hospitality of our hosts.  Today was relatively relaxed before we go out into the field on Monday – an opportunity to see some of the efforts of the local government to beautify the banks of the river: reconstructions of the old waterwheels, Longyuan park dedicated to dragon culture, statues of traditional folk stories, and a new wetland park full of beautiful flowers and walkways through the rushes.

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From cherry blossom to lotus flowers


When I was in Beijing in the Spring, the city was full of cherry blossom and magnolia flowers.  Now in hot, humid August there are not many flowers of any kind out, but the lotuses and water lilies on the lakes in Beihai Park and the Summer Palace add a splash of colour – especially above the weeds and debris in the not all-too-clean water…

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On returning to Beijing…


For my first couple of days back here in Beijing, I had difficulty connecting to my WordPress account, but have at last found a way to do so, and can catch up on my digital thoughts.  The contrasts with my visit in the spring:

  • the cacophony of sound from invisible animals/insects in the trees in the evenings – amazing walking around Weiming lake
  • it is so much hotter (temperature today around 30 C) and more humid (only currently around 62%; data thanks to Weather Underground)!
  • I’ve never seen so many people using umbrellas as parasols to protect themselves from the sun
  • almost half the people on the subway/underground/metro seem to be using their mobile ‘phones, albeit often for games (somewhat more than I reckoned in the spring)
  • bicycles and motorised tricycles as ever carrying a diversity of goods across the university campus
  • very, very few people seem to be wearing watches – how do they tell the time?
  • last time I had not noticed all of the trackways for blind people crossing the city, but all too often they are blocked or eroded and I have never seen a blind person using them…

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On Chobham Common…


We are very privileged to live on the edge of Chobham Common, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the largest National Nature Reserve in the south-east of England and one of the finest remaining examples of lowland heath in the world.  After days of summer rain, the sun shone through today, and I took time to wander across the common this morning, appreciating both the wide views across the heath as well as the beauty of the insects and flowers that flourish here.  Larks were singing in the sky, and gorse seeds cracked open in the warming sun; spiders lay in wait for their prey, while dried leaves caught in their webs.  It is a beautiful place as I hope the slide show below illustrates.

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Graduation at Royal Holloway, University of London, 2011


Last Friday was graduation day for Geographers at Royal Holloway, University of London. It was great to see three of my former PhD students getting their degrees.  Many congratulations to:

Likewise, it was also good to see so many of our undergraduates – particularly those doing my course on ICT4D – gaining their well deserved degrees.  Three of them – Olly Parsons, Ben Parfitt and Jamie Gregory – are spending time this summer in Uganda undertaking research in support of the Ugunja Community Resource Centre.  To follow them, check out

Many congratulations to all of our graduates!

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Top Ten Tips for International Visitors to the Peking University (北京大學) campus


When I was planning on visiting Peking University (also know as Beida, an abbreviation for Beijing Daxue the pinyin for Peking University 北京大學) I searched on the Internet for advice and guidance – and found really rather little of help.

So, having been here for five weeks, I thought it might be useful to offer some simple tips for visitors from abroad so that they can start to enjoy themselves as much as I have done:

  1. The campus is approximately rectangular with the main gates in the middle of the east, south and west sides.  It is a haven of relative peace and quiet, amidst the noise and bustle of modern Beijing. Note that the pedestrian (northerly – illustrated) and vehicular (southerly) gates on the west side are separate, and there is a further pedestrian gate at the south-west corner.  Remember to take your campus card with you when you go off campus, so that you can get back in past security without any problems!  It takes about 15 minutes walk to cross the campus from west to east.
  2. Food: there are numerous different food outlets across the campus – for most of which you need a pre-charged card to purchase meals.  The largest, with the widest diversity of food is situated at A on the map below – but it can be noisy, and is definitely not the place for a quiet chat. If you don’t speak much Chinese, there is a self-service counter on the ground floor, and so it is very simple to choose the food one wants, and pay with your charge-card. One of my favourite places to buy delicious take away bing (a combination of a pancake and an omlette) is at B (illustrated).  ‘International-style’ breakfasts are available at C, as part of the Shao Yuan campus hotel complex.
  3. Weiming Lake (D) in the centre-north of the campus is a great place for an evening stroll – or somewhere to walk when one needs to think reflectively away from the office and the oppression of e-mails!  The blossom was really beautiful in spring, but I imagine that the cool of the lake makes it an equally pleasant place to escape in the heat of the summer as well.  Just to the west lies the university museum and art gallery, which are well worth a visit.
  4. There is a subway/metro/underground station just outside the East Gate  – known as East Gate of Peking University (at E on the map).  This is on Line 4 and provides ready access into the centre of the city, and all of the various tourist sites that can be visited.  It is best to buy a transport card (blue in colour), which can then readily be topped up.  Single journeys across the city cost a mere RMB 2, and the card must be swiped across the entrance/exit scanners when entering and leaving.  There are also airport style bag checking devices for scanning all bags being taken into the stations.  The underground system is excellent, safe and easy to use – with station names written in Chinese and English, and clear announcements warning in advance of the next station at which the train is due to arrive.  It takes about an hour to get to the airport by underground (lines 4 and 10 costing RMB 2) and then the airport express (costing RMB 25) – and unless you have a lot of baggage this is the easiest way to get there.
  5. Cash: contrary to what I was told on arrival, the cashpoint/ATM machines on campus do work with foreign cards (at least they did with my Visa Debit card), and so getting cash is simple. I tended to use the ones by H on the map (next to the Post Office)
  6. Accommodation: I was fortunate enough to stay in the university’s Chiatai International Centre (illustrated; part of the Shao Yuan complex at F on the map), which provides perfectly comfortable, clean accommodation, with a refrigerator, shower/bath, kettle and TV (you soon get to enjoy CCTV’s English language broadcast).  The hot water can be a bit hit and miss, but I generally found that it was fine at around 21.38 in the evenings.  The Centre gets very booked up well in advance, so if you plan to stay here do make sure that your hosts get you booked in.  It is by no means a modern 5* hotel, but I have really come to feel that it is home, and the staff are all incredibly kind and helpful.  There is an expensive restaurant and café on the ground floor (remember that in China this is known as the first floor). The one drawback is that not all of the US students staying there have yet acquired their hosts’ respect for other people’s ears!
  7. Internet access is generally good across campus.  The PKU wi-fi system works well (although you do need to get an appropriate username and password from the IT Services Department), and there is Ethernet connectivity at the Chiatai International Centre.  Skype (even video) works fine, and is a great way of keeping in touch with family and friends.
  8. Supermarkets: there are two main supermarkets on campus, with the nearest to Shao Yuan being Wu-Mei (G on map – illustrated; the other, slightly more modern and cleaner looking is at H, which has several cashpoint machines nearby). Although quite small, Wu-Mei provides most things one might want, including: bread, sliced cheese, cashew nuts, dried fruit, yoghurt, water, beer, fruit juice and wine. So, when you cannot manage the same basic sorts of Chinese food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and just need to have a cheese sandwich or fruit yoghurt for breakfast, this is the place to go. You can also buy the ubiquitous large flasks there for filling with boiling water and using to top up your tea cup throughout the day.  Just at the top of the stairs going down into Wu-Mei there is a small stall selling SIM cards and top-ups, and this is the best place to purchase your mobile connectivity.
  9. ‘Western’ food.  Should you want a relatively quiet and peaceful place to eat, apart from the university canteens, try the Café of Luck (I on map – illustrated), which serves a range of dishes such as steak and rice, salads, and pizzas (and even if you don’t speak fluent Chinese you can always point to the pictures), as well as cold beer – I always opted for the Tsingtao (although when that was not available the Yanjing was also not bad). Hidden away under the Centennial Hall there is also a small café called Paradis (see J on map) where it is possible to find reasonable coffee and capuccino – remember that China is a tea drinking country, and this is about the only place on campus where reasonable coffee is to be found – for that moment, when you are desperate for that wonderful bitter flavour, and the kick to the body’s energy system.
  10. Remember to walk on the right! Traffic in Beijing travels on the right – and this is also true (generally) of pedestrians.  So, when it gets crowded on campus, with thousands of people and hundreds of bicycles rushing to and from lectures, you will find it easier to ‘go with the flow’ if you walk on the right side.  And, do watch out for the silent electric scooters – they travel much more quickly than bicycles, and I am not quite sure why I have seen so few accidents!

Colleagues and students at the campus have gone out of their way to show us immense hospitality.  If ever in doubt, do ask your hosts for advice – be it restaurants, places to visit, the best bus to take to an obscure part of town – anything!  Many will go out of their way to take you where you want to go themselves, despite their busy schedules.  They will also relish the opportunity to practise their English!  Enjoy Beida – it is a great place to teach, think and do research.

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Student Spring Trip to the Miyun area


Last weekend (23rd-24th April), I was invited to join students from the Graduate School of Education at Peking University on their spring trip to the area around Miyun, about 100 kilometres to the north-east of Beijing.  It was an amazing experience, and a real opportunity not only to visit places that I would never otherwise have seen, but also a chance to learn more about student life in China.

We began at Chateau Changyu – a winery built to look like a French château, with a hotel complex in the form of a French-style village, replete with church, nearby.  I was amazed by the scale of the enterprise, as well as the rather surreal experience of visiting somewhere that was meant to be like France, but was very definitely not.  The nearest I came to feeling ‘at home’ was touching and smelling the Seguin Moreau barrels in the cellar! The wines were most certainly not cheap, with the most expensive one I could see being priced at around £1000!  They also had a fascinating wine museum that told the history of the company from its roots in the 19th century to the present day.  My favourite moment was when I came across a banner with the English translation “Oak barrel – Tim fragrance of wines”!

After spending a couple of hours walking around the winery and estate, we then headed northwards to the little village of Shitanglu, which describes itself as Beijing’s most beautiful village.  This is a place that is developing rural tourism on a considerable scale, with lots of properties having smart new buildings constructed to host visitors.  Eighty of us were dispersed into a couple of these properties, each of which had a series of rooms surrounding a central courtyard. Kindly, or perhaps because they did not want to suffer my snoring, they felt that I should not share one of the large beds where they were sleeping, and I was given the privilege of having my own room.  After dinner, we walked down to a nearby lake at dusk, and my training as a geographer with an eye for place came in handy as we found our way back beneath the startlit sky to our rooms.  And then the card games and mahjong began!

The next morning we headed off for the Taoyuan Immortals’ Valley, where I was promised a walk.  What a walk it turned out to be!  All in all, we spent about five hours climbing up to the head of a ravine, and then coming back along a ridge and very steep, slippery descent.  Alongside waterfalls, beautiful areas of woodland, steep cliffs etched by ancient rivers, and small lakes, I was amazed to find patches of snow and ice still surviving from the winter.  We had our picnic lunches at the summit, and the views stretched away across the valley and lakes towards range upon range of mountains in the far distance.

It was a really excellent trip, and I’m most grateful to all the students who made me feel so welcome!

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颐和园 – Spring at the Summer Palace, Beijing


After the rain on Friday night, the warm sun came out again on Saturday, and we left the PKU campus for a few hours to wander around the monuments and gardens of the Summer Palace.  Just a few stops on the subway north-west from Peking University East Gate station, we arrived at Beigongmen, and explored the numerous buildings, winding paths, and museums at Liheuyan.  Particularly impressive were the Hall of Dispelling Clouds and the Pagoda of Buddhist Virtue, but the replica shops along Sizhou Street, either side of the canal in the north, were also interesting and surprisingly picturesque.  A great deal of restoration work was done in advance of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, and the green, gold, blue and red painting on the buildings was resplendent in the sunlight.  This contrasts greatly with the much less restored buildings of the Garden of Virtue and Harmony.  It made a lovely day out, and a good escape from the tyranny of e-mails!

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