Being English, the idea of my typical summer holiday is a stifling drive to the beach. Well, not a proper beach, as it’s England. You could certainly say it was sandy, but it takes the cheek of some over-zealous busybody working for the council to call it a beach. Like clockwork, upon arrival the dark clouds inevitably roll over and the family arguments begin. Perfect.
Here in China, my natural cynicism is swiftly disposed with when faced with such a vast and bewildering array of options of unique experiences and sights. The question of where to go can be a confusing one when armed with a Lonely Planet that looks twice as daunting as War and Peace and three times as big. Many foreigners are drawn to a familiar itinerary of locales – Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Yellow Mountain, Guilin. Everyone ostensibly returns with similar stories, so last summer I decided to do something a little different.
If you’re happy to get a little out of your comfort zone and cast the net a little wider, a whole other world awaits you. Another China sleeps out there, somewhere beyond the leering megacities and rustling bamboo. Verdant meadows of wildflowers too numerous to count, desolate deserts where the dunes rise up as mountains, skies so big they stretch on forever. So what are you waiting for?
Xinjiang, which translates as New Frontier, is aptly-named. If you ever look at a map of China, Xinjiang is the big empty space in the northwest corner. It’s bigger than Tibet. It’s bigger than France, Spain and Germany combined. It’s bafflingly huge, and yet more people live in Shanghai’s metropolitan area than in the entire province. Xinjiang is universally gorgeous, and our first destination, Kanas Lake (喀纳斯湖), took us to the very edge of the Heavenly Kingdom.
There is an old proverb in China: Heaven is high and the Emperor is far away. Nowhere does that feel truer than at Kanas Lake, a dormant watery brute nestled between the towering Altai Mountains. Getting there is no easy task. It took thirty-six hours from our little flat in Hangzhou to the alpine valleys. After flying to Urumqi, a bus sped us into the sunset, the desert sky erupting in a bloody crimson, and when we awoke we found ourselves trundling through the sweeping foothills, a sea of grass punctuated with the white tents of Kazakh nomads. We reached the lake in the afternoon and took up an offer of accommodation inside a Kazakh family’s ranch – a little group of rugged log cabins perched above the valley basin. Each morning we awoke to the gentle sounds of grandpa’s lute playing and the cries of eagles, and threw open the cabin door for that first breath of crisp country air.
The peaceful lake is bordered by mountains carpeted green with grass and trees, and in the distance looms Friendship Peak, where the borders of China, Mongolia, Russia and Kazakhstan meet. Many of the visitors and staff here are Siberian or Kazakh, and all incredibly friendly and curious. The glacial valley at Kanas defies description: so big that a camera lens can’t capture it all, dwarfing the little Kazakh and Tuvan villages that meekly crouch below.
A range of hair-raising activities are now opening up at Kanas, including whitewater rafting, rock-climbing and paragliding. There are lots of hiking trails around the lake, and campsites for those who can go without a warm bed and don’t mind the high altitude’s cold nights. Just don’t expect to be going swimming – I decided to go for a dip and nearly froze inside two minutes. I was lucky not to fall victim to one of the monstrous fish that live in the depths of the lake. The local legends of mysterious creatures dwelling beneath Kanas have recently been given credence by several shaky handheld videos that have surfaced in recent years, so if you come, come with a video camera! Kanas is recommended for its placid alpine beauty, the circling eagles, the still quiet and the sunset at midnight. Devoid of foreign tourists, it has that indefinable sense of detachment from the rest of China.
Back to Urumqi then, which is a great stopping-off point and the centre of Xinjiang’s transport network. You can expect to go back and forth to the capital city a few times if you spend a long time in the province as the city’s bus and train routes connect the province’s disparate urban pockets.
Our next stop was Turpan (吐鲁番), which at 154m below sea level is the lowest place in China, and having been originally settled thousands of years ago is the cradle of civilization in this part of the world. Famous for its grapes, the Turpans grow them by the million in their little oasis town to make wine or dry them in one of countless dusty brick outhouses to make raisins. Over the years Turpan has proven to be a veritable treasure trove for archaeologists, who have discovered hundreds of dinosaur fossils throughout the county, well-preserved by the dry desert climate. Many of these can be seen in the wonderful (and free) museum.
The Turpan people are largely Uyghur, and the pace of life is lazy to say the least. Residents dress in colourful clothing, donkey carts shuffle languidly through the dusty streets, and families sleep outside in the open air together, all sharing one oversized bed. There are a wealth of places of interest near Turpan. We hopped on a minibus for an hour to Tuyoq (吐峪沟), a tiny oasis village in the shadow of the Flaming Mountain (火焰山) and surrounded by scorching desert. Tuyoq is an ancient holy place for Muslim pilgrims – the first Chinese man to convert to Islam is buried here – and it is said that seven trips here is equivalent to one trip to Mecca. Settled over 1500 years ago, to this day only 300 people live here, eking out a living from their modest vineyards, selling dried fruit and mulberry juice. The Uyghur locals insisted on taking us into their homes to stay for lunch with them. I’m not sure what we ate, as their Mandarin was just as bad as mine, but it was quite palatable. If you’re looking for a very special experience where you can really engage with local people and their culture, this is the place.
Later that day we had time to check out Jiaohe Ruins (交河故城), a must if you are into ancient cities. The largest, oldest and best-preserved earthen city in the world, a visit to Jiaohe is like stepping into a time machine. Perched atop a natural fortress of towering cliffs and settled over 2000 years ago as a major trading station on the Silk Road, the city was one of the busiest and biggest in the world at its peak. Strolling around the immense buildings you can really imagine a bustling city of merchants and traders, but don’t stay too long, as the intense heat will melt you into a puddle!
Our last stop in Xinjiang was the gorgeous Nalati Grasslands (那拉提草原). It is said that Genghis Khan discovered the thin valley hidden in the west of the province when he was leading an expedition through the cold and barren mountains. The freezing temperatures and lack of food almost finished off his exhausted and famished army, until one day they were confronted with endless green pastures. Nalati is picturesque enough when you’re a tourist with a bellyful, but to Khan’s troops it must have seemed like heaven itself. It is recommended you travel here in June to August, as this is when the blue skies and green alpine forests are complimented with the countless yellow dots of wildflowers dancing in the sun. Cast your eyes up and you’ll see the clouds heaving their bones over the mountaintops. A sight to behold! The valley’s foothills are inhabited almost entirely by Kazakh nomadic herders whose tents sit lethargically every kilometer or so, interspersed with flocks of goats and cows. If you are lucky, you may even see the nomads hunting with trained eagles – a traditional practice handed down from generation to generation.
We pressed on to Zhangye in Gansu province, a beautiful overnight train ride past the Tianchi mountains, 100km of wind turbines spinning languorously and a heart-stopping sunset over the desert. This Silk Road city was the birthplace of Kublai Khan and home to Marco Polo for a year and maintains a sleepy feel despite its size, with young children splashing in the fountains. The main draws here are the Reclining Buddha Temple, the statue of Marco Polo and the beautiful park, where a local man asked me to marry his daughter. No thanks, chief. The main reason people come to Zhangye is to see the Danxia landform: 500 square kilometres of arresting rainbow-coloured mountains, formed by sandstone and mineral deposits over millions of years. It’s a singular, psychedelic spectacle. The best time to go is a sunny day after rain, where the mountains shimmer gloriously in the sun. Unfortunately when we went, there was a terrible storm. Despite this, the landform was still unearthly and preternatural.
Our next stop was the big one: Badain Jaran desert (aka Badanjilin desert 巴丹吉林沙漠). If you’re sick of busy, ugly cities, then this is the place for you. Mysterious, miraculous and utterly isolated, the desert is difficult to get to but so, so worth the trouble. First you must get to Alashan, a one-horse town at the edge of the desert, and then rent a driver who will take you into the desert. Good research is a must here. I travelled with Mr. Fan, who was born to camel herders in the depths of Badain Jaran forty-five years ago. He’s lived there all his life. The rollercoaster ride through the desert is something I’ll never forget. The first hour is a rally race across scrubland and gravelly sand, but the following seven hours are where the real fun begins. Some dunes reach up to 500m high and every uphill struggle is rewarded by a sweeping vista as you clamber over the apex, followed by a terrifying plunge back down the other side. Our driver took absolute delight in using the dunes as skateboard ramps for his 4x4, tearing up the side, skidding 180° and diving back down.
The desert is a dreamlike place: constantly shifting and too vast to comprehend. Without any trees or buildings for context, it’s difficult to get an impression of just how big everything is. The dunes are really mountains in their own right, and there is nothing but sand, sand, sand in every direction, yet even here there is life. As we were enjoying a swim in an oasis, two wolves appeared on the crest of a high dune, eyeing the herd of goats watering with us. Later, camels plodded in to drink and cool down from the baking 45°C heat. After an 80km drive we pitched up and watched paralyzed as the sun tumbled down behind the horizon, burning the sands a golden red. A calm came over us all. We hadn’t seen a single soul all day and were completely alone in this gorgeous wilderness, the luckiest people in the world. In Mr. Fan’s one room house beside a mirrored lake, his wife cooked us dinner made with a grass that grows in the oases. In the soundless desolation of night the sky was so clear you could see the silvery belt of the Milky Way silently gliding across the black. The sunrise over the lake was even more extraordinary, and we felt utterly alone.
It took us a day to get to Hohhot (呼和浩特), Inner Mongolia’s capital, and from there we went straight to Xilamuren grasslands (希拉穆仁草原), staying in yurts on a working farm. The trip was organized by Anda Guesthouse in Hohhot, and they come highly recommended by many who have stayed there. There were about six people in each yurt, and while this sounds like a lot, it really helps at night when it gets very cold indeed. The grasslands are flat in every direction – no hills, no trees. In the afternoon we strolled up to a crude stupa, so crude it was practically a pile of rocks. Entire flocks of birds paced and twitched by a lake and then scattered and took off in unison as we approached. Herds of stocky chestnut horses and cattle roamed freely through the grasslands, and we were soon to find out that the cows weren’t just used for food.
As Xilamuren is devoid of trees, the nomads who have lived here for thousands of years need an alternate fuel source. I was unaware of this, and was quite surprised when in the early evening we were instructed by the Mongolian farmers to grab a bag and snatch up all the festering cow dung we could find. Meadow Muffins, it seems, are rich in undigested plant matter and burn up a treat. The bag becomes surprisingly heavy once you’ve got a few cow crepes in there.
Being a holiday of magnificent sunsets, Xilamuren had a lot to live up to and did not disappoint. As it fell, the sun painted golden light across the endless plains, and the immense Mongolian skies were lit with every colour from a vivid cerise in the west to royal purple in the east. Sadly, it was to be the last sunset before our return to Hangzhou.
And so the holiday was over, but what a trip it was. The whole thing was done on the cheap, without much sleep and at a dizzying pace – 10,000km in 14 days! My aim with this article is to introduce another side of China that you may not have heard of, to inspire you to go out that door. It’s not just the scenery; it’s the people, who could not be more happy and interested to meet you. In places that are really off the beaten track, many people may have not had contact with non-Asian people, and they just want to talk to you and show you their life. We met a Kazakh man named Atay on the way to Nalati, and he had nothing to his name, but immediately he left the bus to buy us lunch when it stopped, despite our protestations. He insisted we stay at his house and meet his family. The owners of our hostel in Nalati told us we were the first Westerners to ever stay there. They really make the time in these faraway places twice as special; their openness and kindness melts the heart and always makes it hard to leave. I’ll say it again: What are you waiting for?
A couple of (hopefully) useful notes on travelling through Xinjiang. Due to terrorist attacks in 2014, you should be aware that all roads between cities have mandatory police checkpoints to check your documents. Enforcement is fairly arbitrary – at some checkpoints you will be waved through without even checking your passport, but others will be more thorough. Always make sure that you have a valid passport, a valid visa and a ticket to show where you’re heading to. Secondly, sleeper trains are a necessity here. The vast distances between places may mean up to twenty hours of travelling, so overnight train journeys mean you don’t waste your days travelling and also allow you to forgo the cost of a hostel or hotel. Book tickets in advance whenever possible and to avoid sleeper buses, which are smellier, less comfortable and slower. Thirdly, good command of Mandarin is really helpful too as few people speak English in the remote parts of China. Indeed, some may not speak Mandarin, so a Uyghur phrasebook may be helpful. Fourthly, pick your time of year carefully – winter is exceptionally cold. Check online for details of local festivals: there are lots of interesting cultural experiences that you can be a part of if you choose the right time to go.
Lastly, before travelling to Badain Jaran desert, check online if permits are required, as on occasion foreigners are asked to hold one before entering the area. When I travelled, the requirement had been lifted, but it could come back at any time in the future.
The Impossible Burger patty in a Burger King Whopper is the biggest bang so far in the galaxy of plant-based meats, and now that bang is even bigger: The Impossible Whopper goes nationwide at all 7,200 Burger King locations in the US on Aug. 8. After a successful test in St. Louis, which is battleground over the definition of "meat", the Impossible Whopper spread to San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami and other cities, but national rollout has always been the benchmark of a new era in fast food.
Nationwide availability of the Impossible Whopper does much to assuage concerns that plant-based patties are a fad, a concern cited as a reason that McDonalds hasn't yet made a similar move. When and if McDonald's does choose (really, anoint) a plant-based "meat" patty it will be a bellwether, thanks to the brand having twice the number of locations and nearly four times the sales as Burger King in the US. McDonald's introduced a McVegan in Germany using a plant-based "Incredible Burger" from Nestle that has all the hallmarks of clear broadside at Impossible.
The new McVegan made with Nestle's "Incredible Burger" debuted in McDonald's German locations shortly after the Impossible Whopper was announced.
While the big food chains offer burgers, tacos, breakfast sandwiches and soon bacon made with plant-based meat, an even bigger battle is shaping up in grocery stores. Impossible just cleared a major hurdle toward offering its plant-based meat in stores, thanks to a favorable FDA ruling over the safety of heme, the plant ingredient that allows the burger to "bleed." Barring any objections that offer new proof the heme is unsafe, Impossible could have its burgers in grocery cases by this fall.
Aside from a specially formed Impossible Burger patty that conforms precisely to Burger King's bun diameter, the Impossible Whopper features the same bun, cheese and condiments as a traditional Whopper.
The Impossible Whopper has moved from regional availability to taking its place on Burger King's main menu page.
"We're making meat from plants. That's never been done before," Impossible Foods founder Pat Brown told me, tacitly demoting competitor Beyond Meat's plant-based burger, which has been offered at most of the 1,100 Carl's Jr. restaurants since the beginning of 2019. "People have made plant-based replacements for meat, but they haven't made plant-based meat."
One way the Impossible Whopper will indeed differ from the original is price, costing a significant $1 more in an industry where brands have gone to war brandishing menus of items that only cost a dollar. As with electric cars, price parity with the established choice is a future linchpin to mainstream success.
On the left is the Impossible Whopper we hacked in Impossible's test kitchen. On the right, a traditional Whopper, indistinguishable visually and on the palate.
"Once we have products that taste the same or better and that cost less, plant-based and clean meat will simply take over," according to Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute, which champions plant- and cell-based meats.
"So very little will change in people's everyday lives as more and more meat is produced either from plants or from cells. Consumers will continue to buy burgers, chicken sandwiches and sausages, [but] those products will simply not have the adverse impact on our environment and global health."
Impossible says its team spent an inordinate amount of time getting its burger to survive the "death-defying drop" at the end of the broiler-conveyor without breaking apart.
The Plant Meat Wars are Just Starting
Burger King doesn't break out sales figures for Whoppers, let alone its expectations for the more expensive Impossible Whopper, but some insights can be inferred from a 2018 survey by Faunalytics. Assuming price was no different between beef and alternative burgers, 65% of consumers polled said they'd still stick with beef, 21% would choose a plant-based burger like Impossible, and 11% would select a cultured burger grown from animal cells, which isn't expected on the market until the early 2020s.
But Impossible's Pat Brown feels such surveys leave out the qualitative experience. "If you give them our burger, and then ask them the question again, a very large majority of them say they would definitely buy it and would be willing to pay a premium for it."
Acceptance of plant-based meats turns not only on taste, texture and price but on overcoming momentum. Environmental and animal welfare arguments have triggered a million conversations and social media posts about meat's issues, yet US per capita meat consumption hit an all-time high in 2018.
A case of Impossible Whopper patties, the result of a long effort to comport to the realities of the fast food industry, not the other way around.
And while burgers are the American diet icon, steaks aren't far behind, and an even bigger challenge in alternative meat marketing may soon unfold at fast casual steak chains like Outback or Texas Roadhouse. Unlike burgers, steaks generally arrive on the plate unadorned, without bun, cheese or condiments to mask any shortcomings. Get steak right, so the thinking goes, and the plant-based dominoes begin to fall.
At the auspicious time and date of 10:08am, August 8th, Hangzhou International School (HIS) celebrated with a Groundbreaking Ceremony at its new site on Huxi Road (close to Yingcui Road). Students, Parents, Faculty, Board Members of the HIS Community attended along with a number of VIP guests, including Deputy Secretary General Of Hangzhou Mulnicipal Government, Mr. Cheng Hua Min, Deputy Secretary of Hangzhou Education Bureau, Ms. Zheng Li Min, Deputy Chief of Hangzhou Education Bureau, Mr. Mao Wei Min, Chief of Binjiang District, Mr. Li Zhi Long, etc.
Hangzhou International School (HIS) was first opened in 2002 at its current site in Binjiang, alongside the campus of No. 2 High School. HIS serves students from 2-18 years old and is the first International School and only IB and WASC accredited school in the region. The school enrolls over 700 students from over 50 nationalities. Graduates attend top universities around the world. The Director of School, Mr. Jeffry Stubbs, has worked with HIS for thirteen years and has seen the rapid growth of student enrollment over the past years. As the current school has reached capacity, the new campus will accommodate up to 1300 students and include state-of-the-art purpose-built facilities, including: 25-meter swimming pool, 650 seat theater, two soccer fields, three gyms, 3 libraries a design center, and separate early childhood facility. The new school will also meet the highest ratings for energy and environment design.
Since 2017, Hangzhou International School (HIS) has worked in collaboration with the Hangzhou Municipal Government, Hangzhou Education Bureau and Binjiang District government, to establish a new facility for future growth. In December 2017, HIS signed an agreement with the Binjiang District to lease land and build a new campus in the White Horse Lake area of Binjiang District. The new HIS campus is located at the foot of beautiful Langdai Mountain and surrounded by water canals and park space. White Horse Lake is located about a 15-minute drive from the current site. While the current HIS has been a wonderful home with many memories and achievements, the HIS community is excited about the additional facilities and 21st century design of the new campus.
HIS is an IB World School that offers the expatriate community in Hangzhou an inclusive international experience and curriculum (Nursery to Grade 12) based on the International Baccalaureate (IB) framework. HIS is the first and only international school that is fully accredited by an international accrediting association and authorized by the IB. The school currently serves students from over 50 nationalities. As a community, HIS administration, staff, parents, and students work closely to achieve high levels of success for every child. Graduates attend prestigious universities throughout the world.
Second time lucky: Daredevil French inventor Franky Zapata, 40, becomes the first person to successfully cross the English Channel on a jet-powered hoverboard a week after his first, failed attempt.
· French inventor Franky Zapata has crossed the English Channel on a kerosene-powered hoverboard
· The 40-year-old is the first person in history to complete the flight following a failed attempt last week
· He landed on the White Cliffs of Dover after just 23 minutes of flight following takeoff at Sangatte, France
Flying Frenchman Franky Zapata today became the first person in history to cross the English Channel on a kerosene-powered board not much bigger than a tea tray – saying it 'feels magnificent!'.
The 40-year-old set off towards the White Cliffs of Dover from Sangatte beach, in Calais, at 7:16am UK time in front of a cheering crowd.
Within seconds he was soaring through the skies looking just like a high-tech version of Marty McFly, the character played by Michael J. Fox in the ‘Back to the Future’ films.
There were shouts of ‘Allez le Flying Frenchman!’ and ‘Go Franky, go!’ including from Mr Zapata’s wife, Kystal.
And at 7:39am – 23 minutes later – the triumphant Mr Zapata landed at St Margaret’s Bay in Kent, saying: 'Frankly, this feels magnificent!'.
The army reservist and former Jetski champion lifted an arm in the air in triumph, shed a tear, and savoured his incredible success.
'There were no problems this time,’ he told waiting reporters. ‘Frankly, I’m tired – I’m not on holiday, but I’m elated. Thanks so much my team, and to my wife'.
'For the last five to six kilometres I just really enjoyed it. Whether this is a historic event or not, I'm not the one to decide that, time will tell.'
'We made a machine three years ago...and now we've crossed the Channel, it's crazy,' he said, before breaking into tears.
Ms Zapata had been left hugely disappointed on July 25 when he failed in his first attempt to complete the same 22.4 mile journey.
Then, he had crashed off a refuelling boat 12 miles into the trip, but this time a larger vessel and landing platform were used.
The self-styled ‘Flying Frenchman’ travelled at a speed of some 87mph, staying at least 49 feet above the water.
French naval vessels kept an eye out during the crossing in case of trouble.
Calais authorities also gave him permission to keep the refuelling boat in French waters, something they had refused the first time around due to safety concerns.
Temperatures were above 25C on Sunday, the sun was shinning brightly, and there was next to no wind or waves.
The state-of-the-art device, which was built from scratch, resembled a souped-up tea tray and could reach an altitude of 10,000 feet. It was powered by five turbojet engines.
Mr Zapata wore a flying suit inspired by the lead character in the superhero movie Iron Man.
There was a maximum of 42 litres in Mr Zapata’s backpack, meaning he once again had to refuel half way across the Channel.
This meant landing on a boat, and swapping backpacks during a stop of no more than two minutes.
He added: ‘We created a new way of flying. We don't use wings. You are like a bird, it is your body that is flying. It is a boyhood dream. We want to follow a little bit in the footsteps of the pioneers of aviation.’
Mr Zapata hopes his device will one day enter commercial production, as a revolutionary piece of military hardware.
Last month, the board impressed crowds at France's annual July 14 Bastille Day Parade, where Mr Zapata zoomed through the air 50ft above Paris's Place de la Concorde dressed as a soldier and brandishing a rifle.
The Home-made Hoverboard that Flies at 120mph and Can Reach 10,000ft
Franky Zapata's designed his home-made hoverboard himself, which is inspired by the flying suit worn by the lead character in the superhero movie Iron Man.
Powered by five jet engines, the impressive 'Flyboard Air' can propel its driver through the sky at impressive speeds of up to 120mph and reach an altitude of 10,000 feet.
The state-of-the-art device, which he built from scratch, is powered by kerosene which is widely used as a fuel in the air industry.
Mr Zapata admits it is very similar to the hoverboard used by Marty McFly, played by Michael J Fox, in the Back to the Future films.
However, current models of the Flyboard Air can only stay airborne for about ten minutes on a single tank of fuel.
The impressive board operates via a small joystick and the rider must maintain a rigid body position while using small movements to help steer.
Last week, the Flyboard Air wowed crowds at France's annual Bastille Day Parade, where Zapata zoomed through the air 50ft above Paris's Place de la Concorde, donning soldier's uniform and holding a rifle.
Mr Zapata now hopes it will one day enter commercial production, as a revolutionary piece of military hardware - and he was even granted £1.26 million by France's Ministry of Defence to develop it.
Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said that the board would be 'tested for different uses, for example as a flying logistical platform, or indeed as an assault platform.'
He previously broke a Guinness World Record by using the hoverboard to travel more than 7,388ft off the coastal town of Sausset-les-Pins - but was almost prosecuted by France's Civil Aviation Authority for the impressive feat.
He has since flown the Flyboard Air across a stretch of the Arizona desert.
Mr Zapata initially designed a board powered by water jets a decade ago, using a hose from the exhaust of a jet-ski to power an aerial device.
It can blast riders roughly 30ft above the waves, and allow them to perform somersaults and other tricks.
It has been in commercial production for several years now and is popular among thrill-seeking holidaymakers across the world.
Mr Zapata then spent four years developing a device that does not need to be connected to a jet-ski, so can fly over both land and sea.
The missing link of the “New Silk Highway” is set to finally be completed. Construction has begun on a new highway that will stretch from Russia’s border with Kazakhstan to Belarus, serving as a critical part of the China-Western Europe transport corridor—an infrastructure mega-project that has been described as the “construction of the century.”
Once completed, the China-Western Europe transport corridor is meant to be the primary nervous system of the Silk Road Economic Belt, the overland portion of China's Belt and Road initiative. The corridor begins at the Chinese port of Lianyungang on the Yellow Sea and stretches along the Lianhuo Expressway, China’s longest road, to the Khorgos dry port on the border of Kazakhstan before moving through Russia en route to Western Europe. The corridor is meant to eventually combine road, rail and air transport hubs into a multi-modal ecosystem which could revolutionize the economic role of the central stretches of Eurasia and alter our paradigms of how goods are shipped between China and Europe. Ideally, this highway would allow trucks to travel between China and Europe in just eleven days, as opposed to 30-50 days by sea and 15 days by rail, making it the fastest overland option of the New Silk Road.
While the China-Western Europe transport corridor got its start in 2009, it was hamstrung by Russia’s reluctance to give its portion of the project proper attention and funding. For years, the corridor served as a high-speed transit route into the heart of Eurasia, rather than a bonafide “Silk Road” which properly connects the east with the west. Trucks would speed across China and Kazakhstan on one of the world’s most modern highways only to run aground at the Russian border, where they would meet head on with infrastructure of a more modest persuasion. However, the fortunes of this mega-project may soon change.
Dubbed the Meridian highway, Russia’s long-awaited portion of the China-Western Europe transport corridor is now under active development. It is to become a 2,000km toll road from the Sagarchin crossing point with Kazakhstan to the border of Belarus.
This new highway is slated to cost in the ballpark of $9.3 billion, with most of the financing coming from private firms rather than public coffers—although investors have sought $500 million of government backing to hedge against potential unforeseen political upheavals, such as the closing of borders. The main player behind the project is a Russian investment holding called LLC Meridian, a company that’s fronted by Alexander Ryazanov, the former deputy chairman of Russian gas giant Gazprom and current board member of RZD, Russia’s railway monopoly, who claims to already be in possession of 80% of the land the road is slated to pass through.
The Meridian highway is primarily being developed for cargo transport, and the main stream of revenue is expected to come from tolls, which Ryazanov estimates will take at least 12-14 years to recoup his company’s initial investment. However, the highway is also posited to generate a large amount of knee-jerk development along its route and create new jobs, in addition to reducing transport times from China to the west of Russia three-fold, according to the Russian Ministry of Transport.
One concerning aspect of the project is its geopolitical overtones. Jonathan Hillman of the Washington D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, points out that the route of the new highway subverts Ukraine, which “would add to a series of Russia-led transport projects that limit Ukraine’s connectivity with the east." Political objectives adulterating transport routes and countries battling their rivals with large-scale infrastructure projects are nothing unusual on the New Silk Road. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway, for example, takes a conspicuous long-cut around the contour of Armenia, further cutting the small country off from its neighbors and putting it on the outside of the trans-Eurasian cargo flows that are starting to trickle through.
Hillman also pointed out that Russia could improve the future of this project by removing glaring trade barriers in the Eurasian Economic Union. One of the biggest bottlenecks of the Belt and Road isn’t just the fact that there are gaps in key trans-Eurasian transport routes but Russian sanctions against the import and transit of many products that could otherwise be shipped overland between Europe and China, which has actually given rise to a competing new corridor that bypasses Russia to the south.
While Russia has always officially been a participant in China's Belt and Road initiative and the broader New Silk Road, the country's level of actual commitment has always remained in question. Spanning across much of the Eurasian landmass, Russian participation is necessary if China's Belt and Road is to flourish. Two of the major overland routes between China and Europe pass through Russia, and Russian and Belarusian transport companies are often the workhorses behind the scenes that actually make these corridors function. However, Russia has carried out policies, including the above mentioned sanctions, which run directly against the "win-win" nature of the Belt and Road, and have been prone to delay or otherwise hamper the development of key infrastructure projects that must pass through their realm. The start of the Meridian highway is a good indication of where Russia is leaning as the Belt and Road picks up momentum.
Last week, we posted an article titled “Do You Know How Much Urine is in the Swimming Pools?” The survey at the end of the article showed that more than 60% of respondents have peed in the pool.
Recently, the supervisors of the Municipal Health and Wellness Committee conducted random monitoring of 289 swimming pools in Hangzhou. The first list of pools that failed the inspection was announced. Let's take a look at them, you might have been to quite a few.
Remark: According to the "GB9667-1996 Swimming Pool Hygiene Standards", the standard value of free residual chlorine (pool) is 0.3-0.5mg/L; the standard value of urea hygiene is ≤3.5mg/L; the total number of bacteria is ≤1000CFU/mL.
The results are not all bad and there are some safe and clean swimming pools in Hangzhou. Check out the list of A-class swimming pools, and go ahead to have a nice swim.
A Little More to Know
Free Residual Chlorine: The requirement for free residual chlorine is to ensure that the water in the pool has a continuous ability to disinfect and can inhibit the re-propagation of residual bacteria in the water.
Urea: Urea in the pool is mainly derived from our sweat, secretions and excretions. Excessive urea content indicates a higher degree of contamination of the pool water.
Total bacteria: The total number of bacteria can be controlled when there is enough disinfectant in the pool, the pH value is kept within the specified limits, the circulation of pool water is appropriate, the swimming pool filtration equipment is often cleaned, and the swimming pool hygiene management is strengthened.