Operation Storm City research trip to Asia: Retro-blog 1: London

In the run up to the launch of Operation Storm City in America, I thought I’d post up extracts from my diary written during my research trip to Asia. I travelled across China by train from Shanghai to the Sinkiang (Xinjiang) province, where I visited remote abandoned cities on the edge of the Taklamakan desert. After that I visited Chengdu, Hong Kong, and finally India. It took 5 weeks in total, and provided much important material for Operation Storm City.

DAY 1

Heathrow Airport:

If there was ever a day that would make you want to leave England, it would be this one: Grim, grim, grim. Heavy continuous rain pours down without letup. Heathrow airport as dreadful as ever !

Still, I’ve managed to cram everything I need into a 25 litre day bag, and I carry an additional, sort of terrible man-bag. It is ghastly to look at, but capacious enough to cargo cash, diary, phrase book, pens, notepads and much else besides.

I think the most impressive section of my meagre luggage is the pharmacy bag – better equipped than many a hospital. Dr E [a close friend] gave me a private prescription on little more than a beer mat. The chemist was happy to honour it, so now I have a marvellous array of antibiotics – it seems certain I shall need them, as gut problems are almost the first issue raised when mentioning that most exciting of phrases – ‘I’m travelling to India’.

The iPod has made it too, but space is at a premium in what T [husband of Dr E] described as my ‘Faraday cage’ day sack: it is a stealthy anti-theft bag which can be locked to something solid. Travel seems to bring the best out in inventors, and this creation promises unrivalled security, with its integral fishnet of wire to guard against knife attack, hence Faraday cage ref, which can be drawn closed and locked with a padlock. A wire protrudes so it can also be locked to something solid. I think a simple pair of pliers in the hands of a keen thief would gain access to the goods within a minute or so, but it does offer at least a modicum of safety. I’m travelling solo, so I can foresee times when I will have to leave my bag unattended on trains and so forth.

The Faraday bag is allowed aboard as cabin luggage – I cunningly put the heavy guide books etc… in the ample pockets of my North Face coat to fox the check-in luggage scales. Why, my daysack was as light a feather, while I on the other hand, struggled to stand upright with all my weighty items crammed about my person.

Some delay on the runway before we board to plane. We wait on the bus until two problems are tidied up. First a rogue pushchair – nobody seemed to own it, and for some reason it causes no end of trouble. People in luminous jackets arrive in great haste to examine it… closely. Finally, under guard, it is dumped on the back of a truck and driven away at great speed. (Surely terrorists aren’t using pushchairs?).

The second problem remains a mystery: Another luminous-jacketed man arrives with a screwdriver, bounds up the steps into the aircraft and does who-knows-what for five minutes to make us airworthy. He reappears with a grin and a wave, and we are ushered aboard. Once seated, the captain tells us in a jaunty tone what we’ve all been longing to hear: ‘it’s a great day for flying’. This leads one to suppose that some days he clambers into the cockpit and thinks: ‘not such a great day for flying’. 

Luggage:

1 Sports jacket (blue moleskin)

1 Pair of black jeans

1 Pair of tan chinos

4 Pairs of socks

4 Pairs of underpants

2 Shirts

1 Polo neck (turtleneck) jumper

2 Long sleeve t-shirts

1 Short sleeve t-shirt

1 Pair of Timberland boots – $500 (US) in cash, and $1,000 (US) in traveller’s cheques hidden in each for emergencies.

1 North Face jacket with zip-in fleece.

1 Diary

1 Pharmacy bag

1 Guidebook to China (guidebook for India and mosquito net sent ahead via courier to my hotel in India)

1 Copy of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘The Sword of Honour’ Trilogy

 

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