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a word of explanation

April 15, 2006

16th January 2007: This has been sitting, unpublished, in WordPress’ mind for eight months now. I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps I intended to edit it at the time. Anyway, I publish it now because the alternative would be to delete it. I will slot it neatly into April 2006. That is one of the joys of non-chronological journalising.

Now I think about it, I never did actually explain quite what I’m doing…

For a while I’ve had two essentially unconnected, but mutually compatible travel plans brewing in my head. Firstly, ever since I visited Jess in China the year before last, I’ve been planning to go back and travel in the south of China for a month or so (in fact, two years ago I came back from China so excited that for a few days I seriously considered using almost all my annual leave to go straight back the following month).

Secondly, I’ve been thinking since I-don’t-know-exactly-when that I’d like to return from Japan (specifically the small island in Okinawa that I lived on for my first two years) to London without using any planes. I have two reasons for wanting to do this: firstly, since I have no deadline to be back in the UK, I can’t see any reason to use a form of transport that is much more environmentally destructive than the slower alternatives. I think human beings have a stunning ability to mistake ‘socially acceptable’ for ‘morally justifiable’ (I’ll have to stop here, lest this turn into a somewhat beside-the-point-at-hand tirade about the way most public ‘moral debates’ seem to concern what rights minorities deserve, and are conducted by people who see it as an unfortunate necessity that their affordable footwear is assembled by people in distant countries who work fourteen-hour days in horrendous conditions for just enough money to stay alive…)

Anyway, I’ve flown far too much while living in Japan, and it has left a bad taste in my mouth: how can I, knowing how destructive and wasteful flying is, legitimately claim to be concerned about the environment while continuing to do it, entirely unnecessarily, several times a year? “Yeah, I know it’s bad, but how else do I go on holiday?” doesn’t cut it any more than “Yeah, it’s unfortunate that these shoes are produced in inhuman conditions, but those other shoes are so much more expensive.”

That aside, my other reason for wanting to travel overland is: because it’s fun.

Travelling very long distances by boat and train can be a bit trickier than catching a single flight, but it’s actually much more straightforward than I’d expected (even getting my Russian visa – a notoriously frustrating one to sort out – only took a few days via a travel agent in Hong Kong who specialise in trans-Siberian travel). I’ve also found Seat 61 a very useful source of information, too – it has nice, clear guides to travelling by train and boat from London to just about everywhere.

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