Once known as ‘The Pearl of the Orient’, Shanghai is now a meld of Blade Runner, Gotham City and The Jetsons. From the airport The Maglev, (the world’s fastest train), races at 430 km/hr into a city where the number of high-rises beggars the imagination. Cars drive through a sea of buildings scraping the sky, along multi-lane highways floating through the air to merge with massive overpasses. A hover-jet would not be out of place. By midday, the sun becomes an orange ball floating behind a haze of smog.
Yet Shanghai began life as a small fishing village nestled on the banks of the Huang Pu River, near where it flows into the mighty Yangtze. Despite her now gargantuan size, parts of the old town are still to be found – although they are rapidly vanishing. As the city rushes into the future, land is proving too expensive to preserve the past.
I started thinking about this when sitting in a coffee shop in Tokyo, fighting back the tears. I was watching my kids and husband on a roller coaster which after plummeting from a ridiculous building shot through an opening in a skyscraper.
That was not the reason I was almost sobbing. I’d come to Tokyo for a conference, and in less than twenty minutes had walked out, not to return. My faith in the medical world, humanity, education, even thinking had been shattered. The only thing which grounded me to reality was watching my family squeal with delight as they shot through a building.
How had it come to this? A small meeting of an international chapter of a cardio-thoracic society. In the foyer everyone looked the same. They dressed the same. No one expected me to be a doctor. I hadn’t dressed like one. I wasn’t male. (I love visiting Japan bit parts are very misogynistic.) And I wasn’t interested in hearing how someone had spent the last 6 months studying which finger gave the best reading on a pulse-oximeter.
Dodging traffic in Central, or struggling out of the MTR in Causeway Bay, it is easy to forget that Hong Kong is actually a mountainous island rising out of the sea; anywhere flat is usually reclaimed land. Most of the island is covered in dense vegetation, for this part of the South China Sea is filled with scrub-covered islands, making perfect hide-aways for those pirates who loom so large in legend and history.
Rising above the chaos of modern Hong Kong, The Peak has long had an exclusive air, offering a place to retreat from the chaos, the smog – and the heat – of the city. The mansions up here were (and remain) the retreats of the incredibly wealthy. Those without their own means of transport relied on rickshaws to reach the summit, an arduous trip taking over three hours. Then, amongst predictions of spectacular failure, The Peak Tram opened in 1888. With the best seats initially reserved for use by the Governor, The Peak could now be reached in 8 minutes, in all weathers save a typhoon. The Peak Tram was a complete success, and the rickshaws vanished.
Last night I went to a restaurant for a 20-mile meal, with all the fresh produce being sourced within a radius of 20 miles. (I know we use the metric system but I’m guessing a 32.18688 km meal doesn’t have the same ring to it.) I live an hour’s drive north of Sydney, and once you start looking, an incredible amount of wonderful food is grown locally.
Which is now starting to include my backyard. There is still so much to do, but spring has arrived so what we have planted has really taken off. Much in my herb garden self-seeded while we were rebuilding, somehow surviving amidst all the overgrowth to sprout forth once I’d cleared the bed. (Many have sent their offspring far and wide, and I’m always finding Chinese greens or lettuce growing at various places in the yard.) Continue Reading →
In the middle of the Tiber lies the picturesque Isola Tiberina. Even today the island remains an oasis in the chaos of modern Rome. On one side of the island lies the still medieval neighbourhood of Trastevere; on the other it’s but a short walk to the Colosseum and Forum.
The Isola Tiberina embraces two millennia of Roman history, for it has been important to Rome from her beginnings as a small river-side settlement through to her growth into the Eternal City. Founded in myth in and legend, the foundations of the island date back to the Iron Age – long before Romulus and Remus were mothered by their She-wolf.
Flying anywhere from Australia takes forever, arriving in another world before the break of dawn. It was still dark when the plane landed, and the train from the airport sped through unseen suburbs and endless tunnels. Even the Left Bank was still asleep when I emerged from the metro at St-Michel. Naturally, my hotel room was not ready. A light autumn rain fell, and cars splashed through puddles as street lights glowed in the mist. Tattered posters for jazz bands flapped in the breeze, and well-dressed Parisians hurried past on their way to work or else sat in cafes watching the rain.
For a little while I did the same, in the well placed Café St-Michel. Un cafe au lait, un croissant, and fresh butter to die for. I couldn’t believe the taste – such a rich, creamy fullness I needed only a little. So completely different to what passes for butter back home (although I do think my coffee is better). Continue Reading →