Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Maps of China and Russia

Time and again as I cycled through Russia and China, I found high-quality, and often very beautiful, maps of the regions I was passing through.

Yet these maps are pretty much impossible to obtain back home in the UK. The few that are available are often on sale at impossibly high prices.

For a long time I have wanted to do something about that. Good quality maps of China and Russia are available in China and Russia - and it's about time they were available here in the UK, too.

So I've decided to set up a specialist online map store, supplying exclusively foreign-published maps from countries whose mapping has until now been hard or impossible to find. Starting with Russia and China, I am working with local map publishers in those two countries to bring their cartographic wares to the UK market.

The maps will soon be for sale on www.farflungmaps.com - the home of quality maps of Russia and China.

The market is there, I am sure. Over half a million British nationals visited China in 2010, and nearly quarter of a million visited Russia. Add about the same again from France, and a million Germans. All these people need to know where they are going, and many of them would love a map as a souvenir.

Of course all these maps are available in China and Russia - if you know where to look. If you're on holiday, or on a business trip, chances are you won't have time to track down the local bookstore in Shanghai or Moscow. Really, you want the map before you leave home, so you can plan your travels, and you'll want it when you arrive at Pudong or Domodedovo airport, too.

Did I mention that all products on farflungmaps will be delivered free anywhere in the UK and Europe? The site isn't built yet, but it will be coming soon. Keep watching this space.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Windmill at Oelegem, Belgium

Friday, April 30, 2010

RIP 2wheels blog: 2005 - 2010

Following the announcement by Google that it will no longer support blogs which, like this one, are maintained by FTP, it will not be possible to continue publishing the 2wheels blog in its current form.

This will therefore be the final message on this channel. No further transmissions will be made.

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.

The Lord Google giveth, and the Lord Google taketh away.

Goodbye, over, and out - and thanks for all the fish.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Yushu (Jyegu / Jyekundo), Qinghai, China - before the earthquake: April 2006

Photographs from Yushu (Jyegu / Jyekundo), before the earthquake.

Looking north-east over Yushu town

Yushu (Jyegu) town from the south-west

Children's rides in the park in Yushu (Jyegu), Qinghai, China

Prayer flags on the hillside above Yushu

Prayer flags on the hillside above Yushu

Yushu town centre

Buildings around the monastery at Jyegu / Yushu, Qinghai, China

Buildings just outside the centre of Yushu

Hearts graffiti on earth wall, Yushu / Jyegu, China

Yak statue, central square, Yushu (Jyegu), Qinghai, China

Classroom, school, Yushu (Jyegu / Jyekundo), Qinghai, China
Statue of King Gesar, Yushu

Jiegu Movie Theater, central square, Yushu, Qinghai, China

A boy looks up at the giant statue of King Gesar in Yushu, Qinghai, China

Men experiment boiling a kettle on a solar cooker in Yushu (Jyegu), Qinghai, China

Supermarket in Yushu, Jyegu, Qinghai, China

Prayer wall in Yushu county near Jyegu town, Qinghai, China

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New Dell laptop just arrived

I'm unwrapping it live on http://twitter.com/2wheels

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chinese flashcards

I've created a little webpage which displays Chinese character flashcards. It began as a project to help me with my own Chinese character learning, but if anyone else finds it useful too, so much the better.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Birmingham public libraries

Taking a brief break from the cycling, I was looking for a map showing the location of all the public libraries in Birmingham, and couldn't find one.

So I made one. Here it is:

Map showing location of public libraries in Birmingham.

Any feedback and suggestions for how I could improve the map would be welcome.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Jiang Zemin and his Three Represents

Poster in Anhui province, China.

Text reads: Study the "Three Represents". Put into practice the "Three Represents".
(Pinyin: Xue2xi2 san3 ge dai4biao3 . Shi2jian4 san3 ge dai4biao3.)


"In Wuyuan," my middle school conversationalist informs me as I slurp fried rice noodles for dinner, "many people say that the sky is blue and the water is clear."

This information may once have been true, but is surely at least 50 years out of date. Nowadays, as any fule kno, nowhere in eastern China is the sky blue or the water clear.

The day's main event was a flying visit to Jiangwan. The houses in the all other villages on the road were low, old, dark and pre-modern, but in Jiangwan, everything is tall, new, and freshly-painted. Everything is in straight lines and the people are dressed smartly. The reason for this is announced on a banner at the far end of the village: "Welcome the tourists both at home and abroad to come to visit Jiangwan, the ancestral home of the President Jiang Zemin".

There is a tarted-up high street that you can walk down, if you want (though this will cost you 50 yuan), and buy Jiang Zemin themed keyrings. About 25 girly guides are hanging around the entrance, waiting to show people round. This morning there were no paying customers. Perhaps when JZM goes up to the big Jiangwan in the sky they'll do better business. I doubt it though. Jiang is never going to be a folk hero like Mao, for all his Three Represents.

It's a pretty valley with rice crops in various stages of planting, growing and harvesting. All around are sharp, sheer wooded mountains; in the fields, t-shirts and hats on sticks scare away the birds. Huge water-buffalo wallow in streams.

A man ploughs his field with buffalo, shouting commands as he turns his single furrow. What does the buffalo think? Does he understand the point of ploughing? Why does he consent to walk up and down all day? Does he think that human beings have some pretty strange ways of having a good time?

There are praying mantises and bats, dead on the road, and little bright green snakes. I wonder: if there are this many dead snakes, how many live ones must there be out there? Later, I see a biggish one, grey brown, limping off the road at the sight of me, if snakes can be said to limp.

Cycling to Huangshan in Anhui, China

From my diary, Sunday 11th September 2005

Laoban tells me he gets 25 yuan per jin (1) of hickory nuts. That's what he charged me for bed and dinner. His son studies in Beijing, he says. The villagers line up to wave to me in the morning, mums and dads encouraging their toddlers to say "bye-bye".

Climbed all morning up to the Lu Ling Guan pass, between Zhejiang and Anhui provinces. An old gate-house fort stands guard at the top - as you move toward the provincial border all civilisation fades away and the land gives way to wild forest. The banner over the highway says "Chinese history and culture city. The Shexian county is welcome you."

Bananas and moon-cakes for breakfast, the bananas pretty standard but the moon-cakes unusual, stuffed with orange jelly. Perhaps it was they that got me thinking about Sir Edmund Hillary. A less modest scaler of the Earth's highest peak might have called himself Mountainary.

And then for some reason I couldn't get Bronislaw Malinowski out of my mind - yes, he who missed his stop at Warsaw Central and got off instead at the Toblerone Islands (or was it Chateaubriand?). And then along came good old Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard, another anthropologist, who decided to settle the long-running dispute between the structuralists (who wanted to build a better mousetrap), and the functionalists (who thought there was no point unless it caught better mice). He declared that in future everyone could call themselves structural functionalists (but not functional structuralists) - until a bunch of denim-clad Frenchmen led by Claude "Levis" Strauss showed up and started making a fuss, for reasons no-one could properly understand, about Tristram Shandy (or was it Tropicana?).

But this is by the by.

Up at the pass it was cool and the air in the high villages smelt buttery, but the road dropped quickly into Anhui and soon it was warm again. I left the nut-growers behind me; now I am back in rice country, with aubergines and peppers growing in the gardens. Further on there was maize, too, and cotton. The rice harvest was underway, stalks of rice laid out on the road to be threshed by the traffic, of which there is virtually none. Sheaves of beans drying at the roadside.

Tried to camp out tonight, but eastern China follows the "3 Unders" policy: everything is either under concrete, under cultivation, or under water. (This is a little-known precursor of Jiang Zemin's "3 Represents" policy, which in essence states that everybody falls into one of three categories, and the Party represents all of them, so be quiet and get on with your jobs, while we get on with governing you."

In Shexian town there's a huge PSB (2) building with a banner that says "Mankind are harmonious with Nature. She Xian County are mixed with Beautifulness", and there's more on this theme a little further down the road: "Warmly welcome the 34th Miss Intercontinental to She Xian. Well-known town. Civilisation. Charm. Signed by: She Xian Committee of the Communist Party of China, and The People's Government of She Xian County." A picture of a beaming Miss Intercontinental, Miss Peru, and Miss Columbia, accompanies.

Out of town, past the the toll station, this: "She Xian County, the capital of Ancient Hui Zhou, greet the Beauties all over the world with a smile".

Oddly, no-one in She Xian smiled at me. What can this mean?

Anyway, I wind up here in Tunxi, the relatively unlovely town which serves as the railway depot for travellers to Huangshan Mountain. Grander hotels in town are trying to re-brand the place Huangshan City - they think it sounds better. It does. I book into a tiny hotel room in the middle of the bus station, brothel and sex shop zone. Definitely Tunxi.

(1) 1 jin = 0.5 kg
(2) PSB = Public Security Bureau (gong an ju) = Police

Zhejiang province, China

Saturday, September 26, 2009

New roads in Zhejiang (diary reprise)

Saturday 10th September 2005. Jiakou, Zhejiang, China

Starting to rediscover what distance really means in China. No longer is Huangshan just a day's drive away on the expressway, or Beijing an easy overnight on the soft sleeper express. Coming face-to-face with China's mammoth road-building programme, some of which, nearly-complete but not yet open to traffic, provided perfect riding, at least until I came to an unbridged chasm and had to slip and slide down a fifty-foot embankment to get back on the old road.

Of course, once they are open, these wonders in concrete and asphalt are deemed too smooth and stylish for mere bicycles, who have to pick their way along rotting old village roads, which roll up and down every hill available; the new motorways are miraculously flat even in the hilliest terrain.

Beekeeping is big business round here. One truck came past me stacked high with wooden bee-hives - and with hundreds of tired-looking bees struggling in its wake to keep up.

A boy at the side of the road, holding a huge snake by the neck. I suppose a snake is all neck, really. Unless you start at the other end, in which case it's really tail all the way.

On top of the buzzing of bees, the hills are alive with the sound of nut-huskers. That's what everyone around here who isn't keeping bees does: husks nuts. Hickory nuts, in fact, I discover. (Forget bamboo-stripping, that's yesterday's game.) You rake them out on terraces to dry, you soak them (I may have got the order wrong here), you feed them into some kind of shelling machine, you load them onto trucks. The roads run red with washed out nut-husk juices.

There are a lot of dogs round here but no-one seems to have told them about chasing bicycles yet. It is, surely, only a matter of time before they catch on to the fun that their doggy cousins around the world are having.

I'm sitting in laoban's TV room because he's too busy to check me in to his grotty mosquito-pit upstairs. He's doing something noisy, I expect that means nut-husking. The TV is playing "The Hills are alive with the sound of music" and "Doe a deer".

Aha! Laoban has just re-appeared, bearing glad tidings, no less. He has upgraded me to a much nicer - and apparently mosquito-free - room in a separate house across the road, with my own personal roll-down garage door.

Wander round a rather lost-looking supermarket (in this tiny one-street village), playing hide-and-seek with my appointed follower-around on the second floor.

Mrs Laoban cooks me yu xiang qiezi(1) with lashings of rice. Marvellous stuff.

(1) "Fish-flavoured" aubergine. This is the best thing you can do to an aubergine, and it doesn't taste of fish.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mr Bean at the Da Jiu Dian (diary reprise)

Friday 9th September 2005. Changle, Zhejiang, China.

All along road people, old grandmothers especially, are stripping bamboo with beaked hatchets, tying up bundles of bamboo leaves, stacking and sorting canes, feeding them through metal stripping machines, loading them onto little trucks which disappear under their loads.

Some people are making good money out this, to judge by whole villages being rebuilt with huge gaudy Disneyland houses, pink Corinthian columns supporting gothic castle turrets on the roofs.

Later I pass a sign to Anji - "The Hometown of Bamboo". Irridescent blue and black butterflies in the bamboo forests.

This little village, Changle, doesn't seem to have hit the bamboo big-time yet, though it has at least two places to stay. At the first, I meet a very enthusiastic guest, singing the praises of the place. The laoban(1), though, is more downbeat about the idea of my staying. So I head across the road to the Long Feng Da Jiu Dian, where I find a room upstairs in a 5-bed dormitory.

Prowl round town, hunting my essentials: juzi(2), bananas, biscuits. Dinner downstairs at the Da Jiu Dian, spinach and tomato with rice. Mr Bean's steak tartare sketch is on the TV. Outside, the karaoke/disco is really thumping, someone hooting into the microphone with more gusto than talent. Good for him, I don't even have gusto.

Man tells me: "you know, you look really like a laowai(3)." I don't think he believed I am a real laowai. (Here in Changle!)

(1) Boss, owner, man-in-charge, person in authority, man with key.
(2) Tangerines, clementines
(3) Foreigner, especially westerner

On the way to Huzhou (diary reprise)

8th September 2005. Huzhou, Zhejiang, China

On the TV, Beijing beat Shanghai on aggregate, after extra time, last night.

Breakfast: bananas in room.

At Pingwang, a bridge takes the G318 over the Grand Canal. Last year I turned south here, towards Jiaxing and Hangzhou. This time I follow a small road to Hengshan and from there to Miaogang. This must be the only quiet road in eastern China. I can even hear the birds and cicadas.

Along the south bank of Taihu, duck farms with flotillas of white ducks, bright sun, clean air, no traffic, beautiful riding. Fresh smell of marshes coming off the wide, shallow lake, which stretches weedy and reedy to the horizon. A convoy of small boats chug along in line, collecting lake weed. Crab-fishermen mending their nets along the shore. At a little restaurant at lunchtime they offer me freshwater crayfish, which share a tank with a pair of sad-looking condemned fish. I go for my usual, fanqie chao dan(1). A mother ba-ing(2) her baby on the steps.

Tableau: peasants in straw hats cutting reeds and grass with scythes. What we pay our visa fees for.

Road runs along levee, with the lake on right, and garden plots full of cabbages and onions below on left. Warblers and egrets all along the shore. Rice fields glow green and then gold in evening light.

Outside zhaodaisuo(3) is a street of point-and-shoot fry-em-up stalls, you name it, they've got it - from bags of jumping frogs (live) to pig nostrils (dead). Up the road is a throw-the-hoop-over-something-ghastly game. There is no shortage of customers; the lucky ones don't win anything. The more unfortunate have to take some astonishing tat home: miniature hands made of plastic, and little china figurines that make garden gnomes look classy. The only prizes worth winning - mobile phones - are actually impossible to win because they are too big for the hoops.

Cricket: first day of final Ashes test. England wobbling at 115/3 at lunch.

(1) Fried egg and tomato.
(2) Potty training, without potty.
(3) Guesthouse, hotel

Leaving Shanghai (diary reprise)

7th September 2005. Jin Ze, China.

Sit for a Russian-style farewell with Aliona. Leaving hurts; I feel tight-throated. Ride the way I seem to know well now, past Hong Qiao airport, out onto the Huqingping Gonglu / G318. "Develop highway and vigorously develop Shanghai" encourages a sign above the road.

In Jin Ze, not only do they remember me from last year, they still have my registration sheet on the desk. They ask where my beard has gone. Noodles with a fried egg in a Lanzhou Noodle joint. Fat orange sun sinks in the haze and a tiny sliver of dark yellow crescent moon appears. Hotel room floor is concrete red splattered with yellow splattered with grey.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Zhutang, Yunnan province, China. 11th January 2006.

Laoban at hotel is a nice bloke with one arm. He shares the vice of many by wanting to engage me in conversation while I am brushing my teeth and my mouth is full of foam and bristles.

From the diary...

The first in what I hope may become a series of snippets from my diary.

12th January 2006. Shang Yun, Yunnan province, China

Funny little hotel room: two-tone walls, green and dirt, and a rotting arm-chair. But you don't expect much for 10 yuan. The laoban tried to get me to take a 20 yuan room on the grounds that I am "too tall" for a 10 yuan room. I think this is not in fact the case; time will tell.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Wind in the West

You may have seen Jonathan Watts writing in The Guardian yesterday about the Three Gorges of the Sky.

Here's his opening paragraph:

"In the vast natural wind tunnel that is Dabancheng, the gales that roar between the snow-capped mountain ridges get so strong that trains have been gusted off railway tracks and lorries overturned."

This takes me back 2-and-a-bit years to when I was trying to cycle through that vast natural wind tunnel, on days 158, 159, and 160. On day 158, in particular, coming out of Turpan, the wind was so bad that in six-and-a-half hours on a flat road I only made 47 km - and that was before the wind really started blowing. Once it really kicked up, making any sort of forward progress at all became impossible. I had to lie low in a culvert under the road and sit it out.

Someone told me at a petrol station that trains were blown off the tracks in that sort of wind; I wasn't sure whether he was exaggerating. Apparently, though, it's true. Either that, or Jonathan Watts got his information from the same bloke I did.

Friday, May 30, 2008

By way of a post-script...

It will please many of you, I think, to learn that Asmund is not only alive, but apparently also well.

(That link will take you to a page on Rob Thomson's blog - which I heartily recommend. He has some stories to tell.)


Friday, September 15, 2006

Now that's what I call breakfast

All photos and text copyright Edward Genochio 2006

Hotel sign, Dunhuang, Gansu province, China

All photos and text copyright Edward Genochio 2006

Camels on the lake shore, Xinjiang, China.

All photos and text copyright Edward Genochio 2006

Central market, Almaty, Kazakhstan.
All photos and text copyright Edward Genochio 2006

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Carrying pole, Guizhou, China.
All photos and text copyright Edward Genochio 2006

Petrol Station, Guangxi province, China.
Copyright (C) Edward Genochio 2006

Musician, Guangxi province, China

Vietnam Sunset

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bicycle Bounces Back into Belgium

21,542 km from Shanghai, or 42,000 km from Exeter, my bicycle carries me back to Belgium, 29 years and a month or two after having been born there. It's a long way round to getting nowhere.

It has rained a lot in Europe recently, as you have probably noticed.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


The hot news is:

1. It's hot.
2. I'm in Lvov (aka Lviv), Ukraine, where it is hot.
3. It's hot.

Apologies for lack of blog since China. Will make up for it one day, I promise.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hot news from Kazakhstan

Chaps, I'm in Uralsk.
Asmund will fill you in on the details, I expect.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Shymkent. Hot. Cycling. 14,288 km since Shanghai.
Hope you enjoy the new minimalist blogging style.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006


I apologise for the absence of any photos in the previous post.

Here is some clover, which made a nice soft bed for the night on the way to Almaty.

Almaty calling

Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Internet access here ain't what it is in China (where every second building has an internet cafe in the basement or the attic). Updates might not happen for a while.
We need Asmund back. It's going to take a concerted campaign to make him feel loved again, but with enough emails I think we can do it.

Please write to Asmund and say that you miss him and want him back on the 2wheels blog. The setting is perfect. I'm in Almaty, nobody knows where I'm going from here, and there may be no news from me for weeks on end. Asmund would be perfectly in his element, free to speculate wildly about any number of potential catastrophes.
I hesitate to publish his email address directly, but perhaps this will help:
The first word is the short form of Asmund's preferred form of transport. It is four letters long and rhymes with hike.

Then there is an underscore (_).
The second word is Asmund's first name, which rhymes with Hasmund and is six letters long.
Then there is an @ sign.
The third word is a well-known email service owned by Microsoft that has nothing to do with frigid females.
Then there is a dot.
The last word is three letters long and if you write it backwards looks like this: moc.
Please write to Asmund and tell him we need him.
Until next time,

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Day 272 - Cycling from Khorgos (China) to the Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan

Start: Khorgos (Huoerguosi), Xinjiang, China
End: Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan
Distance: 155 km
Time: 7'34"
Avg: 20.5 k/h
Max: 38 k/h
Total: 13,438 km
Total riding days: 175
Riding hours: 0930 - 2110 (Chinese time)

So, farewell then, China.

Across the border, the smell of low-octane petrol says: welcome back to the USSR.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Day 271 - Clock-watching in Khorgos

0 km etc.

In 14 hours time they will let me over the border, inshallah. Yesterday I haggled with the borderfolk for a long time. It really wouldn't be such a bad thing to let an honest man into Kazakhstan 2 days before his visa officially starts, would it?

You must wait here, said the borderman. Khorgos (Huoerguosi, the Chinese call it) is a lovely place, said the borderman. Time will fly here, said the borderman.

I am watching the time flying by, on the tips of growing grass.

Meanwhile, there is always the blossom.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Day 270 - Cycling from Sailimu Lake to Khorgos

Start: Hillside above Sailimu Hu, Xinjiang, China
End: Khorgos (Huoerguosi), Xinjiang, China
Distance: 90 km
Time: 3'50"
Avg: 23.7 k/h
Max: 48 k/h
Total: 13,283 km
Total riding days: 174
Riding hours: 0930 - 1930

Braked down the hillside from the world's most booooootiful campspot to the main road and went down down down an extraordinary green valley (how long it has been since things have been green and lush) full of Kazakhs chasing livestock around on horseback (the Kazakhs, not the livestock), and selling honey and honey-flavoured kvas, back into the hotlands, the flatlands, the really rather drablands of the Xinjiang semi-desert.

(No, I haven't shaved. That's Andrea, a German cyclist heading for Kyrgyzstan.)

An update, of sorts

Sorry, all very quiet here on 2wheels recently, I know. I have been pedalling furiously in a vaguely westerly direction.

I am now sitting in an internet cafe in a place whose name I do not know, not far from the Kazakh border.

More than that I cannot currently tell you. But when I can, you will be the first to know, I promise you.

Hang on in there.


Monday, May 29, 2006

Cycling around Sailimu Lake - Day 269

Start: Sailimu Lake (east end), Xinjiang, China
End: Sailimu Lake (west end), Xinjiang, China
Distance: 25 km
Time: 1'28"
Avg: 17.1 k/h
Max: 46.5 k/h
Total: 13,192 km
Total riding days: 173
Riding hours: 1905 - 2110

For me this has been the most beautiful spot in all of China. They save the best to last.

Green and white mountains, crystal waters, flowers everywhere, sunsets the size of... something pretty big.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Cycling from a sand dune to a lake: somewhere beyond Jing He to Sailimu Hu (day 268)

Start: Sand dune, 20 km beyond Jing He, Xinjiang, China
End: Sailimu Lake, Xinjiang, China
Distance: 116 km
Time: 8'27"
Avg: 13.7 k/h
Max: 36 k/h
Total: 13,167 km
Total riding days: 172
Riding hours: 0845 - 2030

Who's been leaving tracks in my desert campsite?

Oh, just a little beetle.

Things were a bit moister 116 km later, with the sun setting over the supposedly salty but in fact fresh enough to swim and cook in Sailimu Lake.